Match Preview – Sutton United v Kingstonian (SSC)

Head-to-Head:

All-Time: P124 Kingstonian 34 Draws 35 Sutton 55
At Sutton: P59 Kingstonian 10 Draws 18 Sutton 31
SSC only: P24 Kingstonian 8 Draws 5 Sutton 11
SSC at Sutton: P9 Kingstonian 1 Draws 2 Sutton 6
SSC All-Time Wins: Kingstonian 13 Sutton 15

The knowledge that K’s have only won at Sutton 10 times in the club’s entire history is worrying enough, but considering that Sutton have won 6/9 home SSC ties within 90 minutes, a Kingstonian win in this fixture seems even more unlikely. Of course, this game was drawn to take place at Kingsmeadow, but because our board were scared of upsetting our all-powerful Womble overlords, we agreed to play the game away from home. Even if you place little bearing on historical trends, the statistics above show just how damaging that switch of venue is to Kingstonian’s prospects of going through to the next round.

Recent Meetings:

No Sutton v K’s preview – well, no preview written by a K’s fan, at any rate – can ignore the epic 2009/10 saga between these two old enemies. Promoted back into the Ryman Premier after four long years spent in the wilderness of the pub league, where the fiercest derbies were fought – quite bizarrely – against Molesey, K’s were determined to show Sutton that the club was back, on and off the pitch. As extraordinary as this seems now – with gates continuing to fall and K’s still treading water in the same division four years on – there was a feeling amongst the K’s support that the club was genuinely resurgent, and could compete with traditional Conference & Isthmian League peers such as Sutton on a level playing field once again. Despite the anticipation, the first meeting between the two clubs on an even footing since 2004 – at Gander Green Lane in December – was a poor game, notable only for a 30-yard looping strike from Simon Huckle (of all people) after home keeper Kevin Scriven had come off his line and mis-kicked a clearance.

But the fuse had been well and truly lit. Alan Dowson was furious after being sent to the stands; several of the Sutton players, notably a certain Mr Steve McKimm, were angry at the barracking they received from the travelling K’s fans; and perhaps most importantly of all, Sutton supporters – who don’t treat this game as a true derby, focussing their attentions on a friendly rivalry with neighbours Carshalton instead, but more of that later – were reminded that, for one set of fans at least, these games meant something.

So, to a warm and sunny Kingsmeadow in April for the return fixture. This time, there was absolutely no doubt that this was a Big Game. Both clubs were in the playoff places hunting promotion, and both sets of players – and now fans – were eager to draw first blood in the renewed rivalry. As a result, 946 punters came through the gates at Kingsmeadow, still the largest gate in a competitive game at the ground since 2002, and if we’re honest, probably still the largest number of K’s fans in the ground since the infamous visit of Bristol City in the FA Cup 4th Round Replay in 2001. As often happens in such situations, it wasn’t a great game. Sutton played by far the prettier football and dominated possession, but K’s always looked the more likely to score via the pace of Christian Jolley or the goal-poaching genius of Bobby Traynor. In the end, though, a moment of pure comedy saw K’s take the lead via a ridiculous Jason Goodliffe own goal. Sutton came back strongly in the second half, but K’s somehow looked to have seen the game out until a deserved Sutton equaliser in the 85th minute sent the away support into raptures. Steve McKimm chose to celebrate by gesturing obscenely at the K’s fans behind the goal, yet it was those massed into the Kingston Road End who had the last laugh. Deep into injury time, a Kevin Scriven kick was headed back into the space behind the Sutton back four, and Bobby Traynor ran onto it, all of a sudden clean through on goal. The ground went – for an instant – silent, those in hoops absolutely sure Traynor wouldn’t miss, but too scared to start celebrating prematurely. And, of course, he didn’t miss, cooly slotting the ball under Scriven and into the back of the net, sparking mayhem. I can’t think of another goal celebrated quite like that in recent times at Kingsmeadow – and sadly, it remains the last great bundle in the terraced Kingston Road End.

So, to the end of the saga – the inevitable meeting in the playoffs. K’s were magnificent on and off the pitch that night, but there’s no further wittering needed by me, because it’s all there to see on Youtube. Some amazing goals, none better than Bobby Traynor’s bicycle kick:

The following season, Sutton were a far better – and K’s a far worse – side, with the U’s going on to win the league, but K’s still managed to win the home fixture courtesy of a late Bashiru Alimi strike. Kingstonian were then soundly beaten at Gander Green Lane in the return match, the last meeting between the sides until this cup tie.

Match Preview:

I really don’t care who’s playing for Sutton, and who’s playing for K’s. Weakened sides, blah blah blah. If you want that sort of preview, go elsewhere. Instead, a rant on rivalry!

For the majority of Kingstonian fans, this is game to look forward to. Okay, nowhere near as big as the games mentioned above, but still, far more than a run-of-the-mill county cup tie. Why? Well, simply because it’s a game against Sutton. That sentence will invite derision from any U’s fans reading – we are “obsessed” with them, “deranged” apparently. I refute all of that. There’s never been a punch thrown, or even anything like the threat of it, between supporters at a K’s v Sutton game. As a fanbase, we simply gradually started to see Sutton United as our main rivals, and now we do see Sutton United as our rivals. As a football traditionalist, I know that sounds ridiculous – surely you can’t manufacture a real rivalry and anyway, why would you want to? – but it’s the truth.

Yes, a rivalry can gradually develop. Not a rip-roaring, all-encompassing rivalry which is in supporters’ blood, such as West Ham/Millwall or Porstmouth/Southampton, built on years of mistrust, prejudice and violence, but you wouldn’t want to create that sort of brutal antagonism in the friendly non-segregated world of non-league football. Yet a rivalry can still develop fairly easily, providing there’s some basics in order and then a few things all fall into place…which in this case they have. So, the basics:
1. Is the game a local one, making it likely that there’ll be a large travelling support at matches and as such a good atmosphere? Yes.
2. Are the clubs balanced enough in terms of history and traditional playing level that a rivalry between them isn’t ridiculous? Yes – although the U’s would (rightly) claim to be the ‘bigger’ club overall, K’s have won more meaningful trophies and the two clubs have been playing each other for decades on and off.
3. Are both clubs lacking an intense rivalry with another club? Sort of. K’s have no rivals at all: Woking – the club’s most traditional, long-standing opponent – are now a club far, far bigger than K’s, and that’s why K’s fans latched onto a new ‘derby’ against Sutton so eagerly. Sutton have their so-called derby against Carshalton, but having been to a couple of these games, there’s no intensity to speak of in the stands. It’s all a little too friendly, like a shit Everton v Liverpool game.

Basics in place, a series of events helped the rivalry to grow:
1. The ‘bigger’ club was humiliated by the ‘smaller’ club, and then reminded of this humiliation at every possible occasion. This very definitely happened when K’s beat Sutton 6-0 in the FA Trophy Semi-Final. (What a K’s starting XI that was, by the way!)
2. There was then a lull in hostilities, but even when K’s weren’t very good, there were still games like this humdinger at Kingsmeadow to keep the fire burning.
3. Something created tension even between the most level-headed members of each club’s fanbase. At league level, regrettably this often involves fan violence; in our ‘derby’, extraordinarily, this involved Sutton signing an extremely average holding midfielder called Steve McKimm. But such is the tinpot nature of non-league football! McKimm is widely liked and respected as a reliable club stalwart by Sutton’s supporters – after all, he is a highly successful family man with a big house and a nice car (or is it a nice house and a big car – I forget). But he is mocked and abused at every turn by K’s fans, reviled ever since an alleged spitting incident (denied to this day by McKimm, hence the ‘alleged’) in K’s dismal defeat at Brockenhurst in the FA Cup. It still rumbles on now, and no doubt will rear its head again in this fixture. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the whole saga – and there is no doubt it is a nonsense that there is even a ‘saga’ to speak of – McKimm gives games between the sides that extra edge a real derby game possesses.

And eventually, with the sad and continuing demise of both Carshalton and Tooting leaving K’s as Sutton’s only real local rivals to speak of, this fixture may even become a proper derby match, as important to the U’s as it is the Ks. But given K’s recent gates, particularly this season, perhaps this is just the start of the demise for Kingstonian FC too, which brings me onto the next point, that…

Yes, you do really want to create a rivalry, because it provides three huge benefits. 1. It gives Kingstonian FC a permanent, powerful target: to play at a level above, or at worst the same level as, Sutton United FC. This is a good long-term goal for Kingstonian – Sutton are a well-run club, and hanging onto their coat tails is no bad thing, leading to ambition in owners and fans. If we’re absolutely honest, part of our club’s burning ambition to get promoted this season is in order to get our derby back. It drives us on.
2. If we are in the same league, it offers a genuine financial benefit. If you’ve been reading this preview carefully – and if not, why not? – you’ll have noted that 946 people paid to watch the last league derby game at Kingsmeadow played on a Saturday, nearly treble the average gate for that season as a whole. But the profit to the club from that fixture would have been far more than treble the usual: of those 946, hundreds crowded into the bar before kick off, during half time, and after the game, something that seldom happens for other fixtures; double the usual number of 50/50s and programmes were bought; the club shop did a roaring trade; and most importantly of all, the ‘big game’ drew people back to the club and reconnected them to it. If local residents come to the Sutton game every year – and they will do so, let’s not forget, only because they know that it’s their local club’s “derby” – then they’re far more likely to come back to the club for a run-of-the-mill league game in future.
3. It’s fun. It means there’s a big game to look forward to, even in a mundane mid-table season. It means fans sing old songs, and old fans come back into the fold for one night only. It’s a good thing for K’s supporters.

Sutton fans still don’t see Kingstonian as their rivals – we’re well aware of that and don’t need reminding. We’ll no doubt be mocked for singing songs at such a ‘nothing’ game by the Sutton faithful, as evidence of how small a club we are. But – and this is the point – we don’t actually care if our rivalry isn’t reciprocated. It’s our football club, we’ll ‘hate’ who we want to, and we’ll have fun doing it.

Altogether now:
Build a bonfire, build a bonfire…