We’re The C*nts in Your Jungle – Billericay Town (A)

Football, eh? Bloody hell.

This wasn’t a normal first game of the season. Firstly, I was there; normally I can’t truly get back into football until the days have shortened, the urge to wear shorts has passed, and the County Championship winners have been crowned. Secondly, and more importantly, this match was a really big deal – not just for followers of K’s and Billericay, not just for followers of the Isthmian League, not even just for non-league fans, but for all real football supporters. Thousands of people up and down the country desperately wanted a Kingstonian victory, because K’s were cast in the role of David, taking on Goliath – and not just any old Goliath.

It’s perfectly normal for non-league clubs to get taken over by monied owners, who massively increase the playing budget in an effort to take their new toy up the leagues. While this is annoying for the rest of the clubs in that league, whose best players leave for a pay-day, and who know that they’re all chasing second place (barring catastrophic mis-management), it’s not remarkable. It doesn’t grab the attention of anyone outside fans of other clubs in the same league. That club become the team everyone wants to beat for a season, then they get promoted and everyone forgets all about it – until of course we meet them again on the way back down, the rich new owner having inevitably become bored and left the club with debts it can’t pay.

But Billericay are different, and that’s due to the very unusual nature of their benefactor, Glenn Tamplin, who isn’t like the other monied owners we’ve seen before at this level. One of his first major investments was to have a giant mural – or “muriel” as he prefers to call it – painted along the outside wall of the main stand. Its largest feature is a gigantic and genuinely disturbing representation of Glenn himself, in bed, having his epiphany of investing in Billericay in order to “win trophys” [sic] and “get to professional leagues”. The small detail that he first tried to buy a completely different football club – Dagenham & Redbridge – in order to realise his dreams is mysteriously overlooked. The point being that these are very much his dreams, rather than his dreams for Billericay Town Football Club. His first major decision as owner was that he would become first-team manager, making highly-respected and successful gaffer Craig Edwards’ position untenable. Billericay’s loss was fortunately Kingstonian’s gain, as Edwards moved to Kingsmeadow and masterminded a great escape from relegation at the end of last season, before plotting his revenge this year. Meanwhile, Tamplin began signing new players for ‘Ricay in numbers, and on wages, that have never been seen at this level of English football before. In addition to a host of top quality non-league talent such as Billy Bricknell, this summer saw the signings of Jermaine Pennant, Paul Konchesky and Kevin Foley, all of whom need no introduction. The Non-League Paper has estimated that ‘Ricay’s wage bill may be as high as £30k per week – something Tamplin denies, completely missing the point by saying that “nobody is on over a grand a week”. When Kingstonian’s wage bill is about £3k per week in total, having one single player on a grand a week puts Billericay’s spending into perspective. There may never have been such a colossal disparity in any league between one club’s wage spending and the others.

This spending is of course totally pointless: a good manager could easily win the league with a third of the budget, meaning that Tamplin is pissing his apparently hard-earned money up the mural, as it were. It almost feels like he’s spending such ludicrous amounts of money simply because he can – like the classless millionaire in a West London club spending £10,000 on a mediocre bottle of champagne. But what leaves a really sour taste in the mouth of owners, players and fans of other clubs in the Isthmian League is his total lack of respect for the competition, who don’t have the advantage of ex-Champions League and FA Cup finalists in their starting elevens. He has said that ‘Ricay would be top all season and anyone who (however respectfully) disagreed was a “hater”. He has said that Billericay are going to “smash this league”. He puts his pre-match team-talks up on Twitter to show what a great leader he is – of course, all they show is an angry, ranting man whose most insightful piece of advice to his clearly embarrassed players is “DON’T LET ANY CUNTS IN YOUR JUNGLE!”. Anybody who asks him to show his peers more respect is labelled a “sad keyboard warrior”. And, most critically of all, he thinks that football at this level is so tinpot that he – Glenn Tamplin, with no footballing experience – can manage a team to the title without losing a match.

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Against this backdrop, I didn’t take much persuasion to go all Kevin Keegan on Saturday morning: I would *love it* if we beat this arrogant bully. The chances, of course, were slim – and discussion on the train mainly revolved around what would constitute a “moral victory” even if we couldn’t win the three points. Particular joy would be had if ex-Billericay players Tom Derry and Ricky Appleton scored; even more enjoyable would be if Pennant, Konchesky et al had little influence on the game; and maybe, just maybe, with a bit of luck we could sneak a result…

Upon arrival at New Lodge it was obvious that Tamplin has spent his money on more than journeyman mercenary footballers: the ground, previously slightly decrepit and with a famously boggy and uneven pitch, has seen major improvements on all four sides and to the playing surface. An outside bottle bar has also been installed, something which should be a ground-grading necessity in my beer-loving opinion. Surprisingly, it was easy enough to get served given that Tamplin was predicting a crowd of 3000+ for the season opener; this mystery was solved when the attendance was announced as just 1141. Even that seemed generous, with large gaps on the terracing all around the ground and a quiet and subdued atmosphere among the locals. Mind you, it’s not commonplace for punters at the circus to chant, is it?

In the first half, K’s were absolutely brilliant, nullifying the anticipated Billericay dominance with ease: Paul Konchesky, at left back, was having a torrid time, looking more like a fan who’d won his place in a raffle than an ex-Premier League footballer; Jermaine Pennant had decided that he could take free-kicks, much to the relief of Rob Tolfrey but not the ‘Ricay fans behind the goal forced to dodge his wild attempts; home keeper Julian began to look less and less sure of his handling amid a barrage of questions on his pay-packet from behind the goal. The travelling supporters’ initial nervousness was replaced with something approaching confidence as the half wore on, and with the score a comfortable 0-0 after 30 minutes, Tamplin was forced into making his first substitution, to the great amusement of those in red and white hoops, and no doubt the enormous satisfaction of Craig Edwards. The mockery began in earnest.

“They’re coming for you, they’re coming for youuuu,
HMRC, they’re coming for you”

“Don’t’cha wish your gaffer was Craig Edwards”

Half time involved a kids’ penalty shoot out, trying to avoid a long queue for the sweet shop which had replaced the tea bar, and R Kelly being played over the stereo. Tamplin was out early for the second half soaking up the love from assorted well-wishers and hangers-on. It was a strange vibe, in all honesty, and about as far away from non-league football as it’s possible to get.

The second half, however, was about as typical as non-league football gets. ‘Ricay brought on a giant target man, who proceeded to cause absolute havoc in the K’s box, and for a ten minute period it seemed as if K’s couldn’t get out of our box, let along our half. ‘Ricay hit the post, but mainly their endless attacks were thwarted by a heroic rearguard action from the back four, heading the ball away time after time or blocking shots by throwing their bodies into the line of fire. K’s were being outplayed, but Billericay were being out-tried by a group of lads who were absolutely determined to show Billericay Town’s mercenaries, and show Glenn Tamplin in particular, that you can’t buy points in the Isthmian League, and that talented individuals rarely beat a well-organised and drilled football team.

As the half continued with the score remaining goalless, the home side become more and more frustrated. Gradually, spaces were opening up on the counter-attack, and us travelling fans found our voices once again, dreaming of a winning goal. Suddenly, Ricky Sappleton (immense coming on as sub) poked a through ball behind the ‘Ricay defence, and Tom Derry was clean through. Those of us behind the goal held our breath – was this the moment? – only for Derry to be hauled down just outside the box before he could shoot. It was a clear red card, and the referee didn’t fail to do his job. At this point Billericay allowed their frustrations to boil over, and turned into a rabble, probably not helped by the decision-making of their inexperienced manager, whose ego wouldn’t allow him to settle for a point. K’s swarmed forward, but it looked like a famous victory had slipped away when Jack Parter headed against the post from 6 yards – with the goal open – in the last minute of the game. And then, in injury time, it happened: Lewis Taylor ran through in acres of space, steadied himself, and slammed a right-foot shot inside Julian’s near post to send the K’s fans, bench, and director’s box, absolutely wild. The chanting began, and continued long after the final whistle:

“We’re the c*nts in your jungle,
We’re the c*nts in your jungle”

Some of the locals, the kinds of losers drawn to watch Billericay this season only by the certainty of victory, didn’t react particularly well to their bubble being burst by a proper non-league football club and a proper non-league football manager. A young Gary Monk look-alike and his mates even took the brave step of trying to start a fight as they were walking out, and then seemed surprised that people might take them up on their offer. After this, some of us couldn’t resist taking commemorative photo in front of Glenn’s mural/muriel that you see above. “Are you taking the piss out of our muriel, you cunts?” asked a delightful local lady pensioner. “Yes,” came the reply. We most certainly were.

This was a great day not just for Kingstonian and Craig Edwards, but also for non-league football as a whole. The moral of the story is this: if you don’t want the c*nts to get into your jungle, don’t treat your peers like c*nts.

K’s Player Ratings: Tolfrey 9; Goode 9, *Page 10*, Rogers 9, Little 9; Fiddes 8.5, Gogonas 9, L Taylor 10, Parter 8.5; Taylor 8.5, Derry 9

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Going Up? The Ryman Prem Run-In

After all the discussions about the ground, fan ownership, and Chapple knows what else, it’s a pleasure to be writing something for this blog that’s 100% about football. That is, after all, what football clubs are supposed to be about.

With the win last night against Bognor, K’s have forced their way right back into the promotion picture in the Ryman Premier League. With the end of the season less than three weeks away, let’s have a more detailed look at how it’s shaping up.

The title race:

Hampton & Richmond Borough: P43 Pts 88 GD+47
Sat 9th: Farnborough (A)
Sat 16th: Grays (A)
Sat 23rd: Enfield (H)

As a K’s fan, the thought of Hampton winning the league and scoring 100+ goals in the process is deeply frustrating. That’s not because K’s and Hampton have any sort of rivalry – we don’t – but because Alan Dowson had four opportunities to build a team like this at Kingstonian, and didn’t manage it. It’s rumoured that Dowse has had a bigger budget to work with at Hampton than he had at Kingstonian, but even so, where has this free-flowing dominant side emerged from? Why haven’t they had the standard Jan/Feb Dowson Wobble? Why hasn’t he panicked and released half the team in March? It seems that, at Hampton, Dowse has turned into the manager that he could have been at K’s, given his enormous contact book and superb motivational talent. Good luck to him – it couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke.
It would take a massive collapse for Hampton to lose this now, although their run-in is slightly tougher than East Thurrock’s. Two wins will be enough, and surely they’ll do it.

East Thurrock United: P43 Pts 84 GD+49
Sat 9th: VCD (H)
Sat 16th: Harrow (H)
Sat 23rd: Lewes (A)

If Hampton’s dominance under Dowse this season has been surprising, then East Thurrock’s promotion charge has been astonishing. Without spending shedloads of cash, the Corringham club have (at the time of writing) scored the most goals, got the best goal difference, and have the top scorer (Sam Higgins) in the division. That’s quite some achievement – but it doesn’t look like it’s going to win them the title, even if they get the 9 points they’re likely to get from their last three matches. They absolutely destroyed K’s at Kingsmeadow in December, and I don’t think I’d be the only one who’d fear playing them in the playoffs given their immense goal-scoring power. However, teams finishing 2nd don’t have a great record in the playoffs, especially considering that it’s two home games in this format, and the disappointment of missing out on the title could make them vulnerable to a post-season upset. That is – if Hampton don’t bottle it beforehand, of course…

The not-quite-in-the-title-race:

Tonbridge Angels: P43 Pts 80 GD+40
Sat 9th: Billericay (H)
Sat 16th: Merstham (H)
Sat 23rd: Burgess Hill (A)

Angels have been a very good side all season, without ever threatening to be good enough to win the league. They’re solid, well-drilled, and have good players – but they don’t have that touch of genius that title-winning teams possess. Having said that, they’ll be exceptionally tough to beat in the playoffs, home or away. It’s very possible to see them finishing the season with promotion.

Bognor Regis Town: P40 Pts 76 GD+30
Wed 6th: Burgess Hill (A)
Sat 9th: Leatherhead (H)
Tues 12th: Wingate (H)
Sat 16th: Leiston (A)
Tues 19th: Brentwood (H)
Sat 23rd: Hendon (H)

Whoever says “the league table doesn’t lie” has never followed non-league football, where the table frequently does lie, some years worse than others. This year it’s going to end up telling an absolute porker. Bognor Regis Town have been the best team in the Ryman Premier League this season, yet they won’t win the league, and they may end up finishing as low as 4th. They’ve been victims of their own success in the cups, getting through 3 rounds in the FA Cup, and no fewer than 7 rounds in the Trophy, beating Bath, Maidstone, Altrincham and Torquay along the way, and progressing all the way to the semi-final. In the process, given replays and the two-legged semi-final, they’ve played 14 cup matches (excluding county and league cups) on top of their league fixtures. This led to the Rocks facing an almighty fixture pile up in Spring, and they’ve been playing Sat-Mon-Weds-Sat (or similar) for the past few weeks. That really puts professional players’ moaning about being tired into perspective, given they’re doing all that on top of their day jobs. Perhaps inevitably, finally, in the last week, it’s caught up with them: they’ve lost to Enfield, Dulwich and Kingstonian and the title is now out of reach. But this Wednesday’s trip to Burgess Hill represents the last of the fixture backlog: after that they’re back to a manageable two games a week, and no more long midweek away trips from the south coast.
Given the kinder fixture list approaching, I think they’ll recover their form and surge into the playoffs. And if they do, they’ll be the team to beat, whatever the league table says – as long as they’ve still got something left in the tank.

The playoff race:

Dulwich Hamlet: P42 Pts 74 GD+34
Sat 9th: Leiston (A)
Tues 12th: Brentwood (A)
Sat 16th: Lewes (H)
Sat 23rd: Needham Market (A)

Dulwich wobbled badly in the in February and March, including losses to VCD and Lewes during a run of 6 without a win, but seem to have found their feet again with home wins against Tonbridge and Bognor. That makes the play-off race very interesting, because on form, Dulwich are a seriously good side…and if they are back on form, it’s not hard to see them taking 10 or even 12 points from their last 4 games. Given Hamlet’s superb goal difference (+7 of which has come against K’s), even a haul of 9 points would mean K’s would need to win 4 of their 5 remaining games to claim 5th. Eek.
But 3 of Hamlet’s last 4 games are away – their away record reads a far from impressive W8 D5 L7 – and Ryan Moss continues to get more abuse than goals in a Dulwich shirt, so all is not lost. Plus there’s the traditional Dulwich bottle job factor. Yeah, I’m clutching at straws there. Hamlet are certainly favourites for 5th place at this stage.

Enfield Town: P43 Pts 73 GD+20
Sat 9th: Merstham (A)
Sat 16th: Needham Market (H)
Sat 23rd: Hampton (A)

Enfield haven’t really been in the promotion picture at all, and yet here they are sitting in 6th with three weeks of the season remaining due to a strong recent run, which included a most unwanted 4-0 marmalisation of K’s. However, given both Dulwich and Kingstonian’s friendly run ins, it’ll take 9 points and a bit of luck for Town to have a chance of 5th. Stranger things have most certainly happened.

Kingstonian: P41 Pts 72 GD+19
Sat 9th: Brentwood (A)
Mon 11th: Farnborough (H)
Sun 17th: Staines (H)
Tues 19th: Farnborough (A)
Sat 23rd: Merstham (A)

Last but not least, the mighty Kingstonian. It’s been an unusual season: we’ve seldom looked brilliant, but we’ve seldom looked awful either. Until this week I wouldn’t have given us a chance in the playoffs themselves, as we’d been consistently outclassed against the top teams, instead picking up points ruthlessly against the poorer sides in the division. But in the last 10 days we’ve smashed champions-elect Hampton, and deservedly beaten Bognor. The only problem is that both this victories were recorded at Kingsmeadow, yet even if we do make the playoffs, it’ll take two away wins to get promoted. As such it’s fair to say that in the event of finishing 5th, we’d be outsiders to go up. But we certainly wouldn’t be no-hopers. There’s always the strong possibility of magic from Dan Bennett and Andre McCollin, plus the likelihood of big-game performances from the team’s experienced and resilient spine of Tolfrey, Inns, Page and Odametey.
And it’s this belief in the quality of the players in the squad that gives me hope we’ll do well enough in the last 5 games to grab that 5th spot. Our record against teams in the bottom 8 is exceptional (we’d be 2nd!), and although we’ll be facing a vastly different Farnborough to most other teams in the division, I’d take our XI over the opposition’s in all five matches. The problem could be Womble-driven Sat/Mon and Sun/Tues fixture pairings to manage. But how many points will we need?

One thing’s for certain: it’ll be mighty close.

Order Out of Chaos – Ryman Premier Fixtures 2014/15

1. The Ryman League’s – and Alan Turvey’s – ridiculous obsession with empire building means that 46 league games somehow have to be squeezed into a season that also includes the FA Cup, FA Trophy, County Cups and the all-important Ryman League Cup. It’s insane. If the idea was to provide clubs with more matchday income over the course of a season, then it wasn’t properly thought through. There’s evidence from sporting competitions all over the world – the MLB in the US, T20 cricket in the UK to name but two – that all cramming more fixtures into a season achieves is to maintain the same aggregate attendance over the course of a season, but cut average attendances over the medium-term. So in practice, that means two more bills for overheads for home games, two more coach bills for away games, and fewer people in the ground on matchday. It’s counter-productive.

2. But credit where credit’s due: if clubs are going to have to play 46 league games, it’s an eminently sensible move to front-load the fixture list with the vast majority of midweek games scheduled for August and September, when a) the weather is guaranteed to be decent, b) people feel like spending their evening outdoors as it’s a decent temperature and fairly light, and c) the Champions League isn’t on the telly. The knock-on effect is that K’s (and everyone else in the league) will have played 15 games by the end of September. In other words, a third of the season will have gone by the time teams are normally ‘settling into a rhythm’ and other cliches to that effect.

3. As such, clubs need to radically re-think their traditional approach to budgeting. Rather than seeing how things are going, and then if they’re going okay, splash some cash just in time for the FA Cup and Trophy qualifiers, clubs need to spending a big chunk of their annual budgets up front to secure an excellent, competitive squad for August and September. Squads can then be trimmed in November (especially if the Cups haven’t gone well) as the fixtures dry up, and then added to again in late March if a top 5 charge is looking on the cards.

4. In this respect Kingstonian have done well. The squad has real depth through its spine: three top-class centre halves, four proven central midfielders and three big-name strikers have all signed on for a full pre-season with the club. It is debatable whether the realignment of fixtures helps or hinders moneybags Margate. While they have an embarrassment of playing riches to choose from – and as such will find it easy to cope with two games a week for two months – it may take time for Terry Brown to find his best eleven and the best system for them. For that reason it’s certainly true to say that the best chance opposition teams will have against the cash-rich Kent club will be early in the season, and as such perhaps the early weighting of games has done the rest of the division a favour.

5. Kingstonian’s fixture list is a mixed bag. There are some excellent outcomes – Bognor away on an August Saturday, and the traditional raucous visit to Lewes in March being the main two – but rather more disappointing ones. VCD (whatever that is – it sounds like it causes a rash) represent the August bank holiday fixture and we also play them away on New Year’s Day. This means the two clubs have been ‘paired up’ by the league. Why?! Clubs with no fans should be forced to ‘pair up’ together. If K’s were playing Dulwich instead of VCD in those two fixtures, there’d no doubt be 500 added to the aggregate gate over the two games. In my opinion, that fact should play a direct role in fixture lists at this level, where every penny counts. Games likely to draw bumper crowds – bank holiday games, Christmas, Easter, the last game of the season – should be marquee fixtures. A radical idea? Perhaps – but nobody would lost out if it were implemented.

Bring It On: Playoff Semi-Final Preview

Head-to-Head – This Season

Saturday 16th November, at Hornchurch: 0-0

K’s passed a major test in grinding out a hard-fought and well-earned 0-0 in a tight, cagey game on a bobbly pitch. Hornchurch were exceptionally well organised, big throughout, and had real quality up front; meanwhile K’s were exceptionally well organised, big, and had real quality up front. Nothing much has changed since, although some of the personnel have.
Here are my thoughts at the time on the blog.

Saturday 15th March, at Kingmseadow: 1-1

This was the game after the game that stopped the rot (the win at Margate), and no less important. Hornchurch bullied a K’s side that was still lacking in confidence from its dire run in the first half, and dominated a central midfield of Sweeney, Laider and Pappoe which was still finding its feet. In the second half, it was a different story, as K’s put in a valiant effort to grab a deserved point – and start the run that’s seen us finish in second place. All Kingstonian fans will hope that the second period proves more instructive than the first in determining which side will have the better of this playoff game.

Match Preview

Tactically, it’s fairly clear how this game is going to play out, as both sides are similar. It will be a major surprise if it isn’t a tight game of high quality decided by either a moment of genius – a terrific team goal, or a 30-yard wonderstrike – or, given the high stakes involved, a big mistake.

So let’s make sure us fans do what we can. Let’s not lose patience, let’s not demand that the players “stick it in the mixer” given the size of Hornchurch’s back four, and let’s not demand a kamikaze approach from the lads. We should trust in the system and the players that have seen us go from no-hopers to Ryman runners-up.

And we should make noise. A lot of noise. Relentlessly.

I believe. Bring it on. COME ON YOU K’S!

The Wheels Have Fallen Off – But Why?

The wheels have yet again fallen off a Kingstonian promotion charge in February. What’s gone wrong this time?

1. Too Much Tinkering
Yes, there have been injuries, “illnesses”, suspensions, and the odd player leaving the club in a hurry. But we haven’t had a proper injury crisis, or a sudden exodus of our best players. In fact, the best players have been largely available all season: Tolfrey, Page, Drage, Casey, Moss, McCollin. If those six are fit, and have trained, then they should play in their correct positions. The rest of the team can fit around that depending on who is available, but in my opinion you’d also be looking to get Aaron Goode and Tommy Kavanagh in the starting eleven whenever possible. So why the endless tinkering when we’ve got such a good, reliable spine to the team? Why the never-ending chopping and changing of formation and personnel? Why, when it comes to it, doesn’t the management have confidence in the players that put us nearly top of the league? Because that lack of confidence has now been transmitted to the players, who don’t look like the same group of lads as a result.

2. Baffling Tactics
There’s a few examples that could be used of the muddy thinking currently dominating our management team, but here’s last night’s line-up as it was set out, with this fan’s opinion of their best position in brackets:

K's Crazy FormationYou don’t need me to tell you that it was madness. And you don’t even need me to tell you how bad we were in the first half – of course we were. What must the players have thought? It’s the sort of decision-making that leads to managers losing the dressing room…so let’s hope that hasn’t happened. Play players where they are meant to play, please!
We were almost top of the league playing a straightforward, old-fashioned 4-4-2, adapting into more of a 4-5-1 against the top sides, as for example we did so successfully at home to Dulwich. However, now that we’re in the second round of fixtures, teams are coming into games with a distinct gameplan, and as such Dowse has rightly worked on a Plan B. This Plan B is a 5-3-2 – which was proposed on this blog a few weeks ago, in case anyone accuses me of hypocrisy – and the system has had its successes, particularly against teams who play in a very direct way. But is was only ever meant to be a Plan B – in other words, a system to use when Plan A wasn’t working! Instead, we go into every game using a different system, and as a result the players have lost their rhythm.

3. We’re building the team around Sean Ray
The most non-sensical of all the things that have happened in 2014 is that we are now building a side around Sean Ray, an immobile wrecking-ball of a centre half. Yet, within the squad, fit and ready to play, we have a centre-half partnership which kept a record number of clean sheets early in the season, and who look as if they were born to play together as part of a back four. Matt Drage and Sam Page are superb, and they don’t deserve this madness. It’s as if Manchester United had built their side around David May in the 90s rather than Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister. I’ve nothing against Ray – he is, by all accounts, an excellent bloke and a force for good in the dressing room – but he is mediocre at best, and should be used as a substitute, to kick and head anything that comes his way in the last ten minutes when we’re defending a lead, rather than made into the lynchpin of the side.

4. Players
The players also need to take responsibility for a lack of desire in the past few weeks. You shouldn’t be letting Thamesmead back into a game by thinking it’s already won, by taking your foot off the pedal. You shouldn’t be failing to win half the 50/50s you go for, something that happens all too regularly for this fan’s liking. You shouldn’t be failing to track back because it looks like a bit of effort. You shouldn’t be sulking and moaning and sitting on the floor when things go against you; you should be trying to put things right. You shouldn’t be using a few moaners in the Main Stand as an excuse for poor home performances. And I don’t care what tactics the manager uses – you shouldn’t be fucking losing to a team who haven’t won in the league since November!

5. Bad Luck
Finally, there’s no doubt we’ve been unlucky during 2014. At key moments, events have gone against K’s, all arguably affecting the final result in the matches when they occurred:
– Met Police’s first goal, scored as a result of a refereeing aberration;
– Maidstone not having a man sent off when McCollin was hauled through clean on goal;
– And last but not least, Rob Tolfrey’s once-in-a-career howler just after half-time against ETU.

But you can’t put the slump down to luck. I’m losing faith. Yet this is a talented group of players. They deserve to be called talented because of what they’ve shown on the pitch, as individuals and as a team, rather than simply because of their reputations. As such, I hope this is a blip. I hope we recover and start playing the sort of football we should be – because at the moment, what’s on offer just isn’t good enough. Over the last eight days I’ve spent £30 on gate money and I honestly feel £30 out of pocket. It’s been that bad. Come on You K’s. You’re better than this.

When A Win Isn’t A Win – Wingate & Finchley (H)

1. First of all, a look at the positives from last night’s game:
– A win is a win;
– A clean sheet is a clean sheet;
– Ryan Moss was magnificent up front in every way: he was a constant goal threat but he also led the line with physicality and perseverance;
– Against eleven men, K’s were the better side.

2. Sadly, though, I left the ground last night feeling fairly depressed about where our football club is going this season. And I say our football club, not our football team, because it’s actually the off-field stuff which is beginning to bother me more. 201 people watched Kingstonian v W&F last night, the lowest league gate that I know of – and there were at least 20 Wingate fans in attendance, making it even worse. We need a radical new approach to attracting new supporters to Kingsmeadow, as the current strategy clearly isn’t working. There needs to be some big, strategic thinking at board level, and a proper targeted plan to improve gates over years, not months. Target an average of 400 next season, 450 the season after, 500 after that, and so on – and then review why we haven’t managed to hit those levels. I’m sure there are plenty of fans who would be willing to give up time – and perhaps even some money, given some of us have already offered to chip in for something similar – in order to try to save this football club. I really do mean “save this football club”, by the way – because what’s the point of a football club without supporters? I don’t want to support, and in fact wouldn’t support, a club like Harrow Borough, and if nothing is done, that’s where we’re headed. Having said all of that, my biggest worry is that it may not even be possible to attract a significant number of new fans to games when for £5 more you can watch League Two football in the same stadium. God’s speed to Merton, Dons.

3. The other problem is the general matchday experience at Kingsmeadow, which hardly encourages new supporters to attend, or those who go regularly to have a great time. There’s one major thing we can’t control – the fact that we now play in a three-sided ground – but the others we can have some influence over. I got into the ground at 7:44 last night, to be informed there weren’t any 50/50 tickets because “someone forgot to order the new books”. I’m sure that was an honest mistake by whichever volunteer does this, and I don’t mean to demean the great work they do, but it just adds to the feeling of the club becoming more and more tinpot. Again, as has been the case all season, there was no ale available at half time (it “ran out” after the first couple of half time pints were poured, despite there being four taps available in theory) and again, I was told, “it’s okay, I’ll get you a Guinness”. If the bar staff – and bar manager – don’t realise that wanting a pint of ale and being offered a pint of Guinness is the same as wanting a pint of lager and being offered a pint of cider, then I give up hope. Are the club hierarchy putting pressure on AFCW over this clown of a bar manager? He is directly costing us money. For instance, several W&F fans refused to buy anything last night as all they really wanted was a pint of ale. Worst of all, there seemed to be a toxic atmosphere in the Main Stand last night. The football didn’t help – it was fucking dreadful, no matter what Dowse says, and no, it certainly isn’t hard to play against nine men Alan! – but when there’s only 200 people in attendance, 25 negative voices can be heard very well by those on the pitch. The solution? Not to ban them, or have a word, but to get higher gates and drown them out! It’s as simple as that.

4. The limitations of the current squad were laid bare last night. Dowse clearly thought that 3-5-2 was the way to play against W&F, having presumably scouted them accordingly. To achieve that system, we had a winger up front (Charlie Knight, who did okay), an out-and-out full back at wing-back (Aaron Goode, who actually acquitted himself really well), and our best central midfielder at left wing-back (Josh Casey). If Dowse wants to play 3-5-2, we need at least two players in key positions, something the manager conceded in his post-match interview. But it needs to be remembered that the team which put K’s in a top 5 position by winning consistently earlier in the season played a classic 4-4-2. Let’s not tinker for tinkering’s sake.

5. Finally, it has to be said that Wingate & Finchley were absolutely outstanding in the second half with nine men. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more determined half from a team at this level. Hats off to the nine players on the pitch and the Wingate manager, who organised his team exceptionally well, shifting his lads around like chess pieces as we desperately tried new approaches. How a team can be so brilliantly disciplined one half, and so rash in the other, remains somewhat of a mystery, however…

Match Preview – Maidstone United (H)

There’d be a certain irony if tomorrow’s game were to be postponed – this is, after all, Maidstone’s first game due to be played on grass since the Conference’s decision to vote against allowing 3G pitches. But *if* the game’s on – and despite Kingsmeadow’s fantastic drainage, the severity of the weather expected to arrive suggests that’s a big if – then it promises to be another mouthwatering clash between two of the best sides in the Ryman League. So here’s the good, the bad and the downright ugly sides of the two teams.

Kingstonian

The Good: K’s are a contender largely because we’re the side with the best defensive record, having conceded just 25 goals in 27 games. This is no accident: Rob Tolfrey is the division’s best goalkeeper, dominant, agile and consistent; Matt Page and Matt Drage are both dependable, strong centre halves, but an even better partnership; and Josh Casey is an impeccable further shield to the K’s goal sitting just in front of the back four. Other teams will have to continue to work hard to score against Kingstonian. Another strength for K’s is the front pairing of Andre McCollin and Ryan Moss, who must be giving opposition managers headaches every week – as they’re both strong, quick and goalscorers, how on earth do you manage to mark them both out of the game? The simple answer is that you don’t: they’ve scored 40 goals between them in all competitions so far.

The Bad: But apart from Moss and McCollin, goals have been hard to come by – and as a result K’s are the lowest scorers of the leading pack. Alan Dowson would have expected a better return from players such as Charlie Knight and Dan Sweeney, both capable of shooting with venom. Perhaps Dan Sweeney’s late strike against Dulwich is the first sign of improvement in this area? The only glaring weakness in K’s first eleven is at right-midfield. Dee Okojie has tried hard, but not offered a consistent end product, and has tended to disappear from big games; Charles Ofusu-hene offers power and direct running, but has failed to track back once too often, and never manages to get to the by-line; and meanwhile the mercurial Matt Pattison – probably the most talented player in the whole squad – has struggled to such an extent this term that he’s been farmed out on loan. And it’s the loan market Alan Dowson has turned to in a quest for a solution, by signing Iffy Allen from Barnet for an initial month – but it’s early days for the young winger. If K’s can threaten more often down the right flank, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

The Ugly: Referee Chris Thomas’ display against Met Police knocked the stuffing out of K’s, and helped to lead to a 2-1 home defeat in K’s last game. When that match was played, K’s would have gone four points clear at the top of the table with a win, and would have grabbed hold of the Ryman League by the scruff of its neck. Instead, by losing that game, and with all K’s competitors winning since, K’s are very much back in the pack. A great opportunity missed.

Maidstone United

The Good: Maidstone are consistent – they’ve lost only 4 of their 28 games so far this season – and that’s a quality very few Ryman League teams possess. In particular, the Stones as solid as their pitch when they’re playing at home, being unbeaten there this season. Although some of the locals – probably not the ones who went to Sittingbourne and Ashford, I’d imagine – have been complaining that there have been too many draws and not enough wins, last week’s 7-2 destruction of the Beavers should have broken that particular dam. As far as players go, Frannie Collin has 17 league goals so far, meaning there’ll be 3 outstanding strikers on show on Saturday.

The Bad: All four losses suffered by the Stones this season have come on the green, green grass (well, okay, the brown, brown mud in most cases) away from their Gallagher Stadium home. In particular, a recent 4-1 defeat at Thamesmead was a remarkably poor return. Let’s face it, Thamesmead are dire. But even their ‘bad’ away record isn’t that bad when it’s inspected more closely: they’ve won 8 out of 12, including a win at Bognor, and 2 of those 4 defeats were at fortresses Wealdstone and Dulwich.

The Ugly: The Conference’s vote to not allow 3G pitches, for next season at any rate, means that as it stands Maidstone United would be refused promotion to the Conference South if they win the title or the playoffs. How will the squad react to the knowledge that no matter how they do this year, if they stay at Maidstone they won’t be Conference South players next season? I strongly suspect that the players won’t care – they’re already being paid better than most of their peers in the higher league – but what is the next step for the club? Certainly, it seems only a matter of time until the authorities come to their senses and allow 3G at all levels of non-league, but until that happens will Maidstone continue to push to win the title when the money spent on wages could, perhaps, be better spent on increasing their new ground’s 2200 capacity in preparation for eventual life in the Conference?

Prediction

Unless something unusual happens – an early sending off, one player having the game of his life – then this should be a very close match between two very good teams. K’s caused Maidstone enough problems in August, despite the 2-0 loss, to suggest that the Stones won’t have it all their own way, but Maidstone will be cock-a-hoop after their seven goals last week. I’ll chicken out and predict a 2-2 draw.