Alan Dowson has left Kingstonian, finally exhausted by the time and effort he’d put into the job. That says it all really – in the end, his dedication to the job, his obsession with detail and preparation, was just too much to bear. He didn’t leave because he’d lost interest, or because the team was under-performing, or he feared he was doing a bad job. He just cared too much.
It’s hard to put into context how depressing it was to be a Kingstonian fan when Dowse took over. We were lower mid-table in the pub league, nearer to relegation than promotion. We were playing terrible football. We’d seen Stuart Macintyre break up a decent side which beat Wimbledon in the Surrey Cup Final and replace it with a team that didn’t care. Attendances had dropped to an all-time low, back in the time when some people still did watch non-league football. And then a bloke with a reputation for grinding out 1-0 wins as Walton & Hersham manager was handed the reins. I, for one, didn’t think for a minute I’d be writing this piece seven and a half years on with K’s having finished second in the Ryman Premier, but he grabbed the club by the scruff of the neck through sheer personality, and hasn’t let go at any point since.
The first time I thought, “we could be onto something here” was an away game at Molesey. The management team actively encouraged the behind-the-goal travelling fans to wind up the Molesey keeper – something I thought was brilliant – and K’s played swashbuckling football, topped off by a stupendous goal from recent signing Bobby Traynor. It was, in many ways, the start of things to come: a connnection with the fans, attacking football, and Bobby Traynor goals.
The championship season showcased everything that was good about Dowse. The seemingly never-ending contacts book was raided to sign players with real pedigree. Then, these good players were bonded together into a proper squad with team spirit and a winning mentality. Next, Dowse quickly found a winning system with the players he had – a 4-4-2 with Dean Lodge cutting in from the left wing – and the wins started coming consistently and relentlessly. There was the February wobble (another strangely consistent part of Dowse being in charge), but as always, Alan kept his nerve, made some great decisions, and got the team playing winning football again. It was a masterclass in how to manage a lower-level non-league club, and it delivered a thoroughly deserved championship.
The following season also epitomised all the good points of Alan Dowson. One of his great qualities – loyalty – meant that he felt he had to trust the team that got us promoted, but they weren’t good enough. So he acted decisively and brilliantly, shipping out several of the heroes who weren’t up to it, and bringing in a host of top-class players. This was all carried out in the space of a day which came to be known as Dowson Day. Of course, Alan had made all the right decisions. The players he’d kept gradually adapted to the higher level of football; the players he brought in fitted in well; the players he let go never really played at the same high level again for any proper period of time. That season ended with K’s in the playoffs, and probably our best victory under Dowse, a terrific 4-2 derby win at Sutton. Of course the season really ended with the Boreham Wood debacle, something that hurt Dowse more than it did the players and fans, because such a good, honest man just couldn’t believe the injustice handed out to his club was allowed to stand.
Equally, despite all of those positives, it’s true to say that watching Kingstonian could occasionally be a frustrating experience during the last seven years. This isn’t just quibbling about whether 3-5-2 or 4-4-2 would have been better on any given day, or whether player A or player B should have been selected – in my view, that’s up to the manager, and fans should leave off second guessing every managerial decision – but every now and then, Dowse selected a team that you just knew would play badly. As a fan, you’d see the line-up, gulp, and think “this could be a long afternoon”. East Thurrock away this season, for instance, or Simon Huckle starting at number 10 in a bizarre 3-6-1 lineup a few years back. If anything though, these oddities were just another feature of meticulous, obsessive planning rather than the act of a desperate manager shuffling the pack. The opposition in each case would have been scouted (possibly even more than once) and weaknesses identified – and then a team would be selected to prey upon those specific weaknesses. In other words, Dowse sometimes overthought it, becoming too reactive and not showing enough faith in his own players to dominate the opposition by playing our best players in our best shape.
This is when Kingstonian have been at their best under Dowse: a clear gameplan, backed up by good training, played out by motivated, good players. The last 15 games of this season offer the perfect example of how good a team built by Alan Dowson could be: we were highly organised, fiercely competitive, but played really good football in an unusual system. I’ve enjoyed the last three months of football-watching as much as any. Even driving back on a Tuesday night from Leiston after a 0-0 draw, I didn’t regret going. Why? Because it was so glaringly obvious that all of the players had given their all, something that’s a depressing rarity at this level. And it doesn’t get much better than watching your team effortlessly stroke the ball around the park at the home ground of the runaway champions, as we did at Wealdstone only a few weeks later.
It’s sad to lose a manager as committed and inspirational as Dowse at any time, but for him to leave when he’d finally put together a team that looked like it merited a place in the Conference South is hard to take. Such is the nature of non-league football that a new manager will have new ideas, a different contacts book, and an alternative vision for a successful side. It wouldn’t be a great surprise now if this excellent team broke up and disbanded. What a shame that would be.
But back to Dowse. Thanks Alan, for steadying a sinking ship, righting it, and setting it back on course (albeit at a slower rate of knots than you would have wanted). Thanks for genuinely caring about a little non-league club and its supporters. Thanks for bringing in terrific people: Mark Hams, Gary Abbott and Martin Tyler. Thanks for signing Bobby Traynor. Thanks for re-signing Dean Lodge. Thanks for beating Sutton. Thanks for beating Sutton again. And again. And again! Thanks for the championship – those tense away wins in Spring, the great victory against Cray, the pitch invasion at the end of the Dulwich game. Thanks for the football we played this season. Thanks for playing Allan Tait at number 8 just so we could sing a rhyming song about him. Thanks for your humility. Most importantly, thanks for ‘getting’ Kingstonian FC.
Good luck Alan, and don’t be a stranger to Kingsmeadow.
Now, altogether then:
Our Dowse, is a football genius,
Our Dowse, is a football genius,
Our Dowse, is a football genius…