Bennett’s Too Good For You – K’s v Canvey Island

1. After a disconcerting week where every thought and conversation I’d had about Kingstonian Football Club had nothing to do with football, this was an excellent reminder of how much fun coming down to Kingsmeadow and watching K’s can be. Sunday was pretty much the perfect home non-league game: the sun shone, the stewards were absent, funny songs were sung, the home team won (and played some really entertaining football in the process), and several of the away team’s players embarrassed themselves. I left the ground with a smile on my face and the satisfaction of several hours well-spent. It would be a terrible shame to lose afternoons like this.

2. The first mention has to go to Dan Bennett, a brilliant lighthouse in a dark sea of mediocrity, a man seemingly playing a different game with different rules to his teammates. He was a joy to watch. Three times he did something so outrageous that the only proper reaction was to gawp disbelievingly, and ask the fan next to you whether you were imagining things. If he learns to shoot – and if he could shoot he’d have had a hat-trick – he won’t be playing for K’s much longer, because this kind of skill belongs at a higher level.

3. Despite Bennett’s genius, we wouldn’t have won this game without another towering performance from Alan Inns at the back. It was good – for my heart rate if nothing else – to see Sam Page restored to the starting line-up along side him, but despite K’s looking generally more solid there were still a number of occasions that Canvey’s rapid, tricky forward players got in behind our defence. Every single time, apart from for Tuohy’s goal, Inns was there to block the cross of head it away, not by accident or some mythical English centre half skill of “wanting it more”, but because he read the game well enough to anticipate the likely cross and positioned himself perfectly as a result. He’s in great form and long may it continue.

4. Having said all of that about the excellence of Inns, Bennett and the Canvey forwards, the key event in the match was a dreadful challenge by the Canvey left-back on Dan Bennett. K’s had started slowly and weren’t really in the game, when mid-way through the first half, frustrated by Bennett’s reliable first touch and bewildered by his skill, the Canvey 3 reacted in the only way that Essex defenders know: by seeking to kick the superior opponent out of the game. The tackle happened right in front of where I was standing, and the remarkable thing about this challenge wasn’t that it was so late – that happens all the time in non-league – but that it was so malicious. The intent was so obvious that you could almost see the cartoon speech bubble above him as he prepared to lunge in, thinking “I’m going to break that skilful bloke’s legs before he mugs me off again”. To be fair, the challenge was brilliantly executed: above the ball, from behind, at massive velocity, landing on Bennett’s ankle. Fortunately Bennett got up from it, gingerly at first. Then, inexplicably, the ref only awarded the Canvey 3 a yellow card. But this so enraged K’s that as a team we woke up from our initial Sunday slumber and started playing at tempo, snapping at Canvey’s heels and pressing much higher up the pitch. This directly led to the opening goal, made possible by Dylan Casey chasing a lost cause, winning the ball back, and crossing for Pico Gomez to finish calmly – as he always does. K’s never really looked back.

5. To be fair to the referee, he was certainly consistent, being from the “it’s a man’s game” school of officiating rather than a disciple of the Spanish “no contact” philosophy. Dan Sweeney got revenge for the challenge on Bennett with a textbook reducer, also worthy of a red card, but was also given just a yellow. Soon afterwards, there was a clear yellow card tackle that yielded only a free-kick. As a result, this was a game that had a fair bit of niggle by the time the clock was winding down in the second half. And as a result of that, Canvey reacted in the way any Essex team would: by getting more and more mouthy, with predictably funny results: Canvey’s number 3 had wound himself up to such an extent that he managed to tackle himself…with the corner flag; Canvey’s 8 had spent the best part of 30 seconds berating his teammates to “keep the facking ball, for fack’s sake you facking mugs” before booting the ball aimlessly 50 yards the next time he received it; the fat centre half had lost it completely and got subbed; meanwhile, the keeper and right-back (a certain Mr Sheehan) were more interested in arguing with our fans behind the goal than playing football. And, of course, the coup de grace: their number 4 got sent off for kicking out at one of our players. Here’s to many, many more years of us watching talented Essex teams self-destruct at Kingsmeadow.

Player Ratings: Tolfrey 7; Goode 7, Inns 9, Page 7, Wells 6; *Bennett 10*, Sweeney 7, Smith 6, Casey 7; Kempton 7, Gomez 7

Kingsmeadow: Two Big Unanswered Questions

I was enjoying the season – new songs, foam hands, 7-0 wins and all that – until this statement was released by the three co-chairmen in the early hours of Sunday morning. On the face of it, the situation seemed both dreadful and inexplicable. Some of the seemingly inexplicable parts of that statement have since been clarified by Mark Anderson’s conversation with the King of Kingston. (It’s essential viewing, and available to watch here if you haven’t seen it already.) Essentially, our much-heralded lease until 2033 is nothing of the sort: it contains a one-year break clause, and also contains a clause whereby we would be charged market rent from 2018 were the Wombles to move out. As such, voluntarily taking the option to leave Kingsmeadow suddenly seems much less inexplicable – but equally as dreadful.

But taking the statement, the video interview and other facts we now know into account, there are still a number of points that need answering, please:

1. Why was the lease signed? Mark talks in the interview about break clauses being “standard business practice”, which is true enough. But he then goes on to defend signing the lease with the one-year break clause by saying that the break clause could be good for “both parties”. He seems to have two justifications for this opinion. Firstly, in 2008, when the lease was signed, AFC Wimbledon were still in the Ryman League, and therefore such a quick move to Merton could not have been foreseen. This is disingenuous nonsense: maybe AFCW could have taken a couple of years longer to return to the football league, and therefore a new ground for them pushed back to nearer 2020 than 2018, but could there ever have been a situation where AFCW were floundering around in the lower non-leagues until 2033? Of course not. Mark’s second justification is that Kingstonian may have wanted to use the break clause – and lo and behold, we do! This is a circular argument: the only reason we now need to use the break clause because it exists. As much as the three co-chairmen may want to gloss over it, by signing that lease in 2008, they may very well have signed Kingstonian FC’s death warrant.

2. What has been going on since 2008? 

a) Why have we been spending vast pots of cash each year on non-league journeymen in an effort to get promoted to the Conference South, when by getting promoted, all we would achieve is raising the bar for the standard of ground we’d have to build in a few years’ time? And why have we been spending all that money when if we’d taken £30k out of the budget each year we’d now have the start of a decent-sized stadium fund?

b) Why haven’t we been trying to engage the community and pursue larger gates if the end goal was a “community club”?

c) Why wasn’t the new stadium planning started in 2008 so that when push came to shove we’d be prepared and know how much money we’d need and what options were available?

d) Most of all, why weren’t supporters told the facts so we could do what we’re now, at the very very last minute, being asked to do – to help? Mark made a big play in the interview of saying fans weren’t offering to help. Well, err, why would we if we didn’t know the full facts? If I’d known since 2008 that the club I support was slowly dying, maybe I’d have offered to do something about it more than what I’ve already done over the past few years?

People may be reading this thinking, “what’s done is done and now it’s time to move on”. That is absolutely true. But for me, the future starts after these questions have been answered fully, because the answers are a big part of the future: do I want these three men to carry on running my football club or not when the dust has settled? Hopefully – and I really do mean that – there are good answers to the above questions, and Malcolm, Mark and John can continue to part-fund the club in the future, albeit in a different structure with much greater involvement from the supporters.

Don’t You Wish Your Keeper Was Rob Tolfrey? – Harrow (A)

1. Let’s face it: this was a real smash and grab. A very welcome win, yes – but not as the result of a coherent, dominant performance. There could’ve been no valid complaints from K’s had the 3-1 scoreline been reversed, in all honesty. But that doesn’t mean this was a poor effort: this was a dogged, resolute and determined 90 minutes from K’s, and that counts for a lot, especially when performances so far this season have been the definition of fair-weather. Aaron Goode and Alan Inns in particular were like a human wall between Rob Tolfrey and Harrow, protecting the K’s goal with any limb they could. The one moment that best summed up K’s industry and desire was when Aaron Hopkinson chose to dive headlong at a ball being shielded out by the giant Harrow centre half near the byline for a goal kick, nearly injuring himself in the process. If I can’t see good football for my tenner, that’s the sort of lunatic commitment I want to see instead.

Aside from the backs to the wall effort from K’s, though, there were two major reasons for the result: the two goalkeepers and a controversial refereeing performance.

2. Don’t you wish your keeper was Rob Tolfrey? Harrow certainly must have been left thinking that at 5pm on Saturday. This was a vintage Tolfs masterclass: assertive and commanding from crosses, unbeatable from shots and perfection with his left boot in getting the ball clear. The Harrow keeper, on the other hand, had an absolute shocker, the sort of afternoon that makes a season of watching non-league football worthwhile. After only a few minutes, he somehow managed to let a weak Ty Smith shot from 20 yards squirm through his grip and into the net. Under the usual questioning from the away support – “did you win your place in a raffle, mate?” – and some new lines of enquiry – “can I lend you a couple of these foam hands, keeper? You look like you need them” – he managed to get worse and worse. He’d already spooned one backpass out of play when a few minutes later he chipped another straight up in the air to Pico, and that led straight to our penalty and second goal. He should even have done better for K’s third, beaten at his near post from a tight angle by Jake Kempton’s shot when Kempo had in all honesty pushed himself far too wide to look like scoring. Even better, he’d brought two mates down to the game to watch him play, and best of all they chose to stand behind his goal, right next to our fans. They called us “a bunch of f*cking pricks” throughout, but didn’t actually have either the balls to kick off or the brains to walk off and stand somewhere else. They had a terrible afternoon.

3. The referee? His decision to award K’s a penalty was certainly a mistake: in trying to turn, Pico tripped himself up and went down rather than being tripped by the Harrow defender. Later in the first half, a Harrow goal was disallowed in controversial circumstances, but as this happened at the other end I only know it was controversial due to the volley of abuse directed towards the ref and linesmen by the amusingly irate home support. Conceivably, it could have been 1-1 at half time rather than 2-0.

4. On the point of the home fans: what has happened to Harrow Borough FC over the Summer?! A ground that is normally so eerily silent that you can carry out a spoken (not shouted!) conversation with the fans at the other end was transformed for a period of the second half into, if not quite the Ali Sami Yen or the Westfalenstadion, a place with some genuine hostility and atmosphere. At one point there was shouting coming from three sides of the ground, something I’ve never seen in all my visits to Earsmead. More, please – this was the first time I’ve ever enjoyed a visit to what is normally a deathly dull football ground.

5. Barring the (slightly weird) 7-0 win there’s not been a lot to cheer about K’s performances so far. Max Hustwick is making mistakes and getting punished for them; we’re not dominating games through central midfield as we’d like; we’re looking too predictable and slow going forward; Ricky Sappleton looks off the pace. Work to do. Yet despite another average performance this was a fun day out, and it carried on the theme of K’s season so far: not great on the pitch, but pretty good off it. Behind the goal it feels like there’s been a concerted effort to just have a laugh – not really at anyone’s expense, but in general. It’s working, with new chants and foam hands galore. Let’s keep up the momentum, whether we improve on the pitch or not.

Player Ratings: Tolfrey 9; Goode 9, Hustwick 5, Inns 8, Casey 7; Bennett 7 (Hopkinson 7), Smith 6, Sweeney 6, Dean 5; Sappleton 4 (Kempton 8), Gomez 7