What wasn’t to like about the prospect of a Bank Holiday awayday in Bognor, especially after the nonsense of two years ago? Quite a lot, it seemed, as K’s turnout was disappointing. Apparently there are people who have better things to do on a Summer Saturday than drinking on trains and paying money to watch 22 average footballers kick a ball around on the South coast: spending time with their wives and children; trying to meet people that might one day be their wives; washing their hair; watching paint dry. That kind of thing.
So a small group of loyal/easy-to-please fans of Kingstonian/drinking met up at Clapham Junction to catch the 10:08 to Bognor, armed with a few cheeky tinnies for the journey, because it would have been rude to the Ryman League fixture computer (also known as Dave) not to have a couple on the way. Having somehow negotiated the Mensa-level puzzle that is Southern Rail’s new Groupsave policy – I can’t claim credit for that one, but all I know is I was handed a cheaper than expected ticket – we boarded the busy train in good spirits. Conversation on the train centred, as usual, on a) how AFC Wimbledon are the root of all evil (even though we all know they’re not), and b) how much we hate the team in the league overspending to insane levels (two years ago on this journey Whitehawk, this time Moneybags Margate). Does non-league football make a person bitter, or do bitter people tend to gravitate towards non-league football? A subject for another day, perhaps…
The train pulled into Bognor, and suddenly the day was full of possibilities: fish and chips, beer, mini-golf and the arcades were all strong options. In the end we settled for a couple of pints in The Alex, a fantastic old-fashioned boozer near the station (but, crucially, not the nearest pub to the station, as these are always dives) which also boasts a Kingstonian mug hanging above the bar. Having not yet been to a midweek game this season, I turned conversation onto how we’d been playing. “Good individuals, but not a balanced team,” was the gist of the replies. Frustratingly, nothing that happened later in the afternoon dispelled that initial analysis.
After a couple of jars it was off to the seaside for fish and chips and some time on the beach. The chips were crisp on the outside but fluffy and a bit soggy in the middle; the batter was piping hot, stuffed full of beautifully fresh fish; the sea breeze freshened and the waves lapped gently on the shingle. It was perfect – at least it was perfect until the sun went in, it got cold, and one of our party added a slightly surreal air to proceedings by stripping off to his boxers and going for an impromptu swim.
Full of my generous lunchtime meal, I for one had no intention of walking to Bognor Regis Town’s Nyewood Lane home. Initially, my insistence on taking a taxi was met with scepticism from the rest of the group, bordering on potential rebellion. Clearly the rest of the group had forgotten that taxis outside of London are literally as cheap as chips. “It will genuinely be a quid each. I promise,” I lied, and on hearing this, the eight of us hailed two taxis and set off. Lo and behold, the meter read exactly £4 as we pulled up at the ground, and I was temporarily viewed with suspicion as some sort of taxi pricing clairvoyant.
The next pleasant surprise was being asked for only £9 at the gate, rather than the tenner it is at the vast majority of clubs (and ELEVEN POUNDS at Lewes – shame on them). As a result, I had no hesitation in offering to buy a golden goal ticket for my ‘spare’ pound from the man selling them in the club bar – that is, until he told me the prize was £40. “Are you sure – it should be £45?” I asked, quite reasonably, I thought, on the basis that most clubs’ golden goals operate on the same profit margin as their 50/50 schemes. But apparently the prize was only £40, and as a keen gambler – and thus keen to console myself when I lose that at the very least my stupid and unprofitable outlay represented the bizarre concept of “good value” – I couldn’t bring myself to hand over the pound coin. I knew I should, but I just couldn’t do it. The bloke concluded that I was obviously a dangerously odd individual at this point, and I can’t say I blame him, but I doubted he had a spare 15 minutes for me to explain that I was merely odd rather than dangerously odd, and so I let matters rest.
The game kicked off – as away games tend to do – with me in the bar, having forgotten that you can drink on the terraces anywhere but Kingsmeadow, and as such getting a last minute round. K’s attacked the open end, where the Bognor bar is situated, and as such the first half was spent largely in the presence of the largely amusing locals, including one fantastically well-informed small child. Not only was he genuinely – and suitably, in my humble opinion – impressed by the revelation that K’s won back-to-back FA Trophies recently enough for us to still sing about them, but he also knew we’d finished second last season. He was a non-league anorak just waiting to happen – his parents should get the boy a pin badge, a thermos and a subscription to Groundtastic magazine and let non-league nature take its course.
On the pitch, the fare was uninspiring. The Bognor eleven were a pale imitation of a Bognor Regis Town FC side – they still tried to pass the ball, but instead of caressing it around the pitch, opening up space and making the opposition chase the ball all afternoon as they usually do, most of the Rocks players treated the ball as if it were a grenade. I can only hope for the locals’ sake that this was due to a lack of confidence caused by Bognor’s dreadful start – four straight losses – rather than either a lack of passing ability in their current squad, or a change of approach by management. You can’t put a price on locals knowing that going to Nyewood Lane results in seeing a terrific, open game of football, whatever the result – and as such I trust that the management will stick to the club’s “pass and move” principles. Kingstonian, meanwhile, clearly had the better players, but didn’t really string a proper move together all half. Andre McCollin had two fantastic chances, hitting the bar with one and somehow contriving to miss the other, but these both resulted from good long passes over the top of Bognor’s back four rather than an incisive team move. K’s will need to attack with much more intelligence against better opposition.
After getting a pint for the second half – “we might need it, it looks like being one of those days” being the general refrain – the K’s travelling support decamped to the covered end of the ground, devoid of any locals, who prefer to stay close to the bar. K’s remained dominant, but lacked an incisive killer pass or cross. The wing play was laboured and uninventive: Chris Henry doesn’t look great, on this evidence, and playing Dan Sweeney out wide in a proper 4-4-2 is just odd. Even worse, both McCollin and Hammond were trying to run in behind rather than one of them dropping off, meaning there was nobody playing at ‘number 10′ to take advantage of the space in between the lines. Despite all this, K’s still created chances against a Bognor side desperately lacking in confidence, with McCollin hitting the post when clean through (he really, really should have scored that one) and the Rocks scrambling an effort off the line. The sucker punch, as everyone behind the goal could sense, was just around the corner – and unsurprisingly, Bognor went ahead with only a few minutes to spare.
I must admit that my mind wandered off at this point, so convinced was I that it was simply going to be “one of those days”, and I checked other scores. My sizeable bet on Fulham to go down, made pre-season, was looking like spectacularly “good value”, I couldn’t help but notice. Hopefully they don’t actually go down – cheaper ticket prices at the Cottage would not be good news for Kingstonian. Back on the pitch, K’s huffed and puffed, helped by the introduction of The Chest (Nathaniel Pinney) and Alex Oddai, who added a bit of unpredictability and directness down the right flank, but heading into injury time it looked like a classic smash-and-grab three points for the Rocks. But then, a twist in the tale: with Rob Toflrey up for a late, late free-kick, confusion reigned in the box, and Pinney was left with a simple header to secure a point.
Most of the group were up for a celebratory pint in the clubhouse after the game, but unfortunately a local DJ had already set up, and even worse, had already begun to ply his dreadful provincial trade. I’m often glad to have grown up in London, but seldom as glad as when I realised that the local youth of Bognor were going to be subjected to this as the highlight of their weekend, whereas their counterparts in London would have two days out at Carnival instead. So, back to the Alex – or so we thought. Unfortunately Arsenal’s Number 1 fan, Simon, had other ideas, and insisted on a trip to a pub with sport on the telly so he could watch their match against Everton. Regrettably, this was the pub nearest the station, which was indeed a dive. As I always find with club football on telly these days, it was unwatchable – although apparently it was a “great game”, according to the pundits. Most of us repaired to the Alex at half time for some proper beer in a proper boozer, leaving the fans of the Greatest League In The World supping on their dodgy pints.
After a few beers and some lively conversation – a little bit too lively for one of the locals, who was far from impressed, unfortunately – it was back on the train to London, armed with supplies for the journey. A lengthy stop in the middle of nowhere meant the journey needed a drinking game, and so the annual ritual of playing K’s themed ’21s’ on the train back from the seaside was maintained. I won’t sully my reputation by detailing too many of the special K’s themed rules…although turning the number 8 into “top 8 is a realistic target” was a touch of genius worthy of the great Alan Dowson himself.
So, a good day out – how can you not have a good day out on an away day at Bognor Regis? – but questions remain about this K’s side. The day started with one of the party remarking that K’s have “good individuals, but not a balanced team”, and this game just reinforced that view. We’ll need to improve, and fast, because I can’t face the thought of losing on Saturday to a team managed by the man with the big house and the nice car.