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

“4-1 To Director’s Loans” – Hendon (A)

1. I’ve been away on holiday for two weeks (three weekends, in footballing terms) and have thus happily managed to miss K’s season falling apart via three consecutive home defeats. So bleak were these losses that, having asked the assembled K’s in the Midland Hotel bar before the game about them, most people struggled to remember which game was which, although the consensus was that “the third one…was that Worthing?…was definitely the worst”. Tommy Williams had grabbed onto Sunday’s eventual Trophy victory against Lewes as a possible turning point, but as I read Lewes chairman Stuart Fuller’s excellent blog on the (delayed – thanks again Thameslink, you Tory-privatised, profit-driven, incompetent shower of shit) train to Hendon, I wasn’t sure I agreed with the K’s manager. Apparently Lewes – in the league below, don’t forget – were suffering major injury problems, including missing their entire first choice midfield, and yet we still laboured to a fortunate victory, and even then we only scored both our goals due to the tenacity and sheer goalscoring desire of Ryan Moss. Given all that, confidence in Kingstonian recording a victory was low.

2. But that’s not to say that morale in the Midland Hotel bar was low. At least a dozen behind-the-goal K’s had already assembled in the pub by 6pm, most having taken full advantage of the dire Thameslink service by filling the delay with a tin or two on the train, and so alcohol-induced exuberance had set in by the time we all set off for Hendon’s new ground.

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A severly delayed train is an away day opportunity, not a curse

Arriving from the north, it must be the strangest approach to a Ryman League ground: you walk downhill from a gigantic, floodlit Hindu temple through a completely dark park towards the floodlights of what you assume is the ground, then have to walk all the way around the perimeter hedge to get to the turnstiles, which are in the furthest corner from civilisation. Once inside, it’s clear that Hendon have done a superb job given their limited resources. There is an old covered stand down one side, which also houses the cosy bar, the relic of the previous set-up on the site; two small covered terraces on the opposite side for those who prefer a view from the touchline; and covered stands at both ends, one seated and one a tiny, shiny terrace. The view from the seated end, back up the hill to the temple, is particularly impressive. The only negative is the 3G pitch, which is both sloped and clearly suffers from the occasional irregular bounce, meaning that defenders quickly learn to resort to the old-fashioned Row Z approach rather than playing it out from the back. Given the progressive way Hendon teams tend to play, even sticking to their possession-based principles on the replica of the Somme that was Harrow’s pitch last season, this may be affecting them at home more than their opponents.

img_09373. K’s looked good from the off, finding space down both flanks in what looked like a deliberate tactic to stretch the pitch by keeping both wide men as far forward as possible. As such, K’s shape was more of a wide 4-3-3 than the 4-2-3-1 that it seemed from the line-up. Driven forward by a clearly pumped-up Lee O’Leary, playing against his former club, K’s began to fashion chances. Twice Joe Turner somehow failed to score at the back post from superb Youssef Bamba crosses from the right, bundling the ball wide and then hitting the bar with a header from two yards out. But it was third time lucky for the indefatigable Turner, who headed home yet another terrific cross from Bamba to put K’s ahead. At this point, Hendon fell to pieces, and K’s swarmed forward in search of further goals against a side even more bereft of confidence than those in red-and-white hoops. But the second goal didn’t arrive from a team move; instead, it came from a moment of individual class that would (honestly) have graced the Champions League games being played simultaneously. Norman ‘Aaron’ Lamont picked the ball up about 35 yards out, took a good touch, looked up, saw the keeper a little too far off his line, and then having taken the audacious decision to shoot from such a distance, had the skill to execute a perfect lob with the pace and dip of an Andy Murray drop shot to leave the Hendon keeper flailing and the K’s fans delirious. This goal deserves to be right up there in the pantheon of great recent K’s goals, somewhere close to Bobby Trainer at Sutton or Andre McCollin at home to Grays. Take a bow, Mr Lamont. Even after this, K’s didn’t let up, and added a deserved third via an O’Leary header from a pinpoint Joe Turner set play. 3-0 at half time, and game over. K’s did a good job of shutting the game down in the second half, added a fourth courtesy of the outstanding Bamba, and thoroughly deserved the 4-1 victory.

Player Ratings: Tolfrey 7; Goode 7, Inns 7, Hogg 7, Wells 7; *Bamba 9*, O’Leary 8, SBJ 7, Turner 8; Lamont 8; Moss 7

4. But my overwhelming feelings leaving the game weren’t really focussed on the match itself. Instead, fuelled by several beers on an empty stomach, I was contemplating on the way home just how much fun it remains to watch Kingstonian, even in these uncertain times. I laughed and laughed in the pre-match pub session (mainly at Ali’s insistence that he has been to Leiston). At the game, our fans went through the *entire* songbook, and it took almost the whole 90 minutes to do: this year’s first rendition of the Twelve K’s of Christmas took up a full five minutes, for starters. How many clubs have songs that go on for five minutes, referencing players from two decades ago, that are known in full by every supporter? A small group of Canadian tourists were so impressed on Sunday that they had trekked all the way to Hendon to stand behind the goal and support K’s again – and they might even come to Tonbridge on Saturday! Sometimes we forget that watching Kingstonian can be, and in fact should be, great fun. Last night brought that fun back. Long may it continue.

5. That’s why it’s particularly sad that we can no longer ignore the “off the pitch stuff” – as it’s always obliquely referred to – when we’re at matches, because the time has finally arrived when that ‘stuff’ is really happening: voting in the referendum officially opened yesterday. In amongst the supportive chanting last night, there were also renditions of “4-0 to director’s loans”, “we’re overspending, we don’t give a fuck” and, directed at supporter-run Hendon, “fan owned, and you’re 4-0 down”. These songs – as much a product of the pints being drunk as genuine opinions on the issue of fan ownership, to be fair – make the point, albeit not in an eloquent way, that there isn’t overwhelming enthusiasm among the fans for taking control of the club at this time. What a shame that, even on a raucous, boozy, loud night which ended with a 4-1 away win, we have to think about ownership structures and director’s loans.

We Are The Pride of South Chessington, The Mighty Kingstonian – Needham Market (A)

1. If you didn’t make the journey to deepest Suffolk – and with the trains in chaos as usual, I can’t blame you – then you might have seen the result, and thought, “hard earned away point”. You’d be wrong, because of one very important factor that you won’t quite understand unless you were there: Needham Market were woeful. Some of the NMFC players were so comically uncoordinated that it was a wonder they could run without tripping themselves up, let alone kick a football. Their number 8, in particular, was one of the worst footballers I’ve had the misfortune to have paid £10 to watch, and did nothing but hoof the ball up in the air all afternoon. Their centre halves viewed the ball like a grenade, and panicked whenever the ball was within 10 yards of them (which wasn’t often). They were amazingly bad. Behind the goal, we laughed at the NMFC efforts in the first five minutes, and talk turned to goal difference. We couldn’t fail to beat this lot, could we?

2. But fail to beat them we did – and on another day, we might have lost. After an initial five minutes of total K’s domination, in which Pico somehow smashed the ball over from 5 yards out, the sad truth is that K’s were no better than their relegation-threatened opponents, and often forced onto the back foot. Needham Market’s number 19, after initially being mocked for his shirt number – “you’re not even good enough to get in the matchday 18, 19” – went on to be a thorn in K’s side all afternoon with some direct running down the right hand side. A long-range strike from the home side caught the wind (or just caught Tolfrey unawares) and hit the post. Meanwhile, K’s offered nothing going forward, looking pedestrian and predictable. Bennett didn’t look interested; the new lad on the left barely touched the ball all afternoon; O’Leary looked lost; both strikers were subdued.

3. One of the mysteries of the afternoon was Tommy Williams’ lack of impact on the game. Needham Market lined up in a 5-3-2, looking to be solid first and foremost. We lined up in our standard 4-4-2, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But as the game went on, it was blatantly obvious that we weren’t going to play our way through Needham Market’s narrow 3 central defenders, and in particular that both our widemen were having shockers. I’m not a tactical genius, but changes clearly needed to be made if we were going to win the game, either to the formation or the personnel. Why didn’t we try and play with wingers? Or bring on Jake Kempton with more than 5 minutes left? Or just do something, anything, to break the dreadful monotony of the second half? Only Tommy will know. As a fan, it was very frustrating.

4. But despite all of that frustration, this was still a terrific day out. Needham Market is a nice enough village, with a glorious train station a short walk from the two pubs – one nice with good beer and no frills, one less nice with dreadful beer but with football, pool and darts to keep travelling fans amused. The ground had bags of character, with a bike shed (plus another burnt out bike shed) behind one goal, a huge hedge along one side, complete with ladders and a gigantic hi-vis pole so balls could be retrieved, and a homely bar. What’s not to like?

5. But, aside from hopefully the Turvey final, where do K’s go from here? In the week, Alan Inns issued a call to arms, saying the players in the squad needed to decide if they’d be happy finishing sixth, or whether they wanted to make a real go at getting in the playoffs. The response was this insipid performance, devoid of any quality or urgency. Perhaps there’ll be a reaction to this reaction? There certainly needs to be.

Player Ratings: Tolfrey 6; Bennett-Johnson 6, Page 6, Hogg 5, Wells 6; Bennett 4, O’Leary 4, Odametey 5, Newman 4; Gomez 5, McCollin 4

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly – Dulwich Hamlet (A)

As I and most of my away day crew members hail from proper South London, Dulwich away is our local game, and as such was just about the first date I looked for when the Ryman League’s trusty fixtures computer (also known as Dave, from the Three Crowns pub) finally finished its seemingly Herculean task, and released the fixtures this Summer. As it was scheduled for a standard Saturday 3pm game, there looked to be a grand day out on the calendar for November, and plans were made. We were even due to have an exciting guest appearance from James’ mate Jacopo, a big fan of lower league football in his native Italy, to provide some exoticism to the Kingstonian behind the goal support. It was fortunate, then, that Not Police knocked Hamlet out of the Trophy in the previous round, otherwise this would have been a blank Saturday after all. So here goes, the only time I’ll ever write this: three cheers for Not Police!

The day was meant to start at 11:30am in the Bishop pub, East Dulwich, but I – and almost all of the rest of the group – were running late. The almost unanimous excuse for this tardiness was being hungover – in my case, rather unexpectedly violently hungover and feeling extremely hard done-by as a result, considering I’d only had a quiet Friday night in the pub – and so the decision was taken to move immediately to the Flying Pig, which apparently served great food. The Flying Pig is a spectacularly Dulwich establishment: distressed walls, craft beers, pulled pork and bearded men in checked shirts. It was predictably excellent, and all of us had a superb couple of hours talking K’s and football in general.

As the travelling fans in the bar grew in number, and the pints of local ale started slipping down a little bit more easily, and the tables nearby starting tutting and shushing us more regularly, the feelings of pessimism about the game gradually dissipated, to be replaced by that most dangerous of emotions, hope:
“We always play better against the better teams”
“We held them at home, don’t forget”
“We’ve got a good record at this ground”
“We’re better away than at home”

By the time we left the pub, three points seemed pretty much assured. That decided, the only other thing left to sort out before arriving at Champion Hill was a couple of drinks for the game. I’m always one to buy drinks at the other club’s bar, in the hope that other fans do the same at Kingsmeadow in the spirit of non-league solidarity, but since a lot of the Dulwich fans don’t even buy drinks from their own bar, let alone ours, I figured I’d smuggle a couple of drinks in with me.

After the obligatory indecisiveness in the offie, I actually managed to miss kick off by a couple of minutes, although I didn’t miss any action. Not only because nothing had happened, but also because nobody down the K’s end would have had any idea if it had, such was the angle of the low sun. I couldn’t see a thing for the first twenty minutes or so, and as such concentrated on baiting the Dulwich keeper, who not only used to play for Sutton, but also was a bit on the porky side and not having the best afternoon. I also bought a 50/50 ticket, simply because the bloke selling them abused the Wombles while offering them to our behind the goal support. Good sales technique, sir. At some point during the first half K’s scored, an Alan Inns effort from close range, and all of a sudden the pre-match hope didn’t seem quite so stupid. Josh Casey, in particular, was having a terrific game in midfield, pulling the strings after finally put back in a position where he could do so.

Some of the other lads hadn’t had the foresight to bring drinks into the ground, and baulking at the bar queue, I took one for the team and headed out to the offie with Dan to get them some refreshments at half time. This trip was a bit of a reminder of the other side of the local area, given what was going on inside the off licence. There was a customer in there, a bloke in his 20s with a staffie, off his face, arguing with the owner:
Staffie-man: “What you looking at you c**t?”
Shop owner: “Err…I’m trying to serve you, sir”
Staffie-man: “I SAID…what re you f**king looking at mate?”
Shop owner: “Please calm down sir, I’m serving you”
Staffie-man: “Do you wanna get cut? Do you? F**k it, I’m gone”

Charming. Back to the much more chilled-out surroundings of Champion Hill for the second half, where K’s started as they’d left off, largely comfortable in the lead. Meanwhile, things behind the goal were getting more and more boisterous: the chanting was increasing in volume (although with no roof, only us behind the goal would know that!) and the Dulwich keeper was getting more and more distracted. He even played rock, paper, scissors with one of us at one point, something that had all of us in stitches.

The game grew more intense, as challenges started flying in and other players started objecting to them. Then, the two crucial moments, in quick succession. First, Pico Gomez made a good run across his marker from a powerful right-wing cross and headed just over from 8 yards; then, Josh Casey got onto a through ball (of sorts) before the Hamlet keeper, but could only steer his effort narrowly wide of the far post. I’ve watched enough football games to know what was coming, particularly as Dulwich then brought on their best player, Harry Beautyman. “We’ll lose this, I absolutely guarantee it,” I said to the other lads.

And of course we did lose it 2-1, the winning goal sending the Hamlet fans behind the other goal wild, and prompting some distinctly unfriendly football-league style gestures from the four Dads with prams standing along the side of the pitch nearer us, who of course all denied any such behaviour after the game.

We headed to the most local pub – the Cherry Tree – to drown our sorrows and have a laugh. London away days are always good fun, but this one was more fun than most.

The day after, though, I was left reflecting on an afternoon of mixed emotions. Unfortunately, apparently the behaviour of a handful of K’s fans was very poor after the final whistle, which is a real shame – but not something I can really commentate on, as I had no idea it had happened until reading about it on the forum on Sunday. All involved are committed K’s fans, and really add to the atmosphere home and away, but this doesn’t sound good: reading about Dulwich fans with kids feeling intimidated did leave a sour taste in the mouth, hence the mixed emotions about the day.

The Good? A good, raucous travelling support, something that used to be a standard at every K’s away game but is now sadly rarer and rarer; a really, really fun day out, and a promise to come to more K’s games this season from a couple of the more sporadic attendees in the group; a much improved K’s performance, combing a higher work rate with a greater attacking threat.
The Bad? The result, particularly as it wasn’t deserved.
And The Ugly? Some of the stuff which went on after the final whistle…

Player Ratings, sponsored by A Head In The Hat Ales’ “Tommy”: Tolfrey TFA*; Goode TFA Drage TFA Inns TFA Blake TFA; Henry 7 Laidler 7 Pigden 7 Casey 9; Gomez 6 (4 first half, 8 second half), Hammond 6

*Too Far Away

Here For The Discus, We’re Only Here For The Discus – Barkingside (A)

Despite Barkingside being located in the civilised world – within the M25 – it was still designated as a Proper Away Day. So this Proper Away Day started in the only way possible, with an early meet planned in the pubs of Borough Market. Our merry band had arranged to meet at 11:30 in the Market Porter, which didn’t turn out well, because a) the Market Porter doesn’t open until midday, and more importantly, b) I arrived 45 minutes late. For that, I wholeheartedly blame Terry – of Terry’s caff – for his typically lackadaisical attitude to Saturday morning service, although to be fair the breakfast he did eventually serve up was of typically fantastic quality. So I found the rest of the group in the Wheatsheaf, nursing what looked suspiciously like strawberry flavoured cider. This was not to be the only surprising drink choice of the afternoon.

After a couple in the Wheatsheaf, it was time for an ahead-of-schedule trip to Barkingside, because a couple of us were taking the unusual away day step of interviewing the chairman for a piece in an upcoming programme. More on that in due course. We managed to negotiate the trap – that Barkingside actually play in Ilford, tenants like us, although google says otherwise – and took a train to Seven Kings instead of a tube further north. A short walk from the station, we reached the sign to “Ilford FC”, which pointed us rather confusingly into a municipal car park under a gigantic New Labour public building of some kind (apparently a school, though it could just have easily been the Council buildings). Fortunately, an old fella in a Barkingside jacket reassured us we were on the right track, and after another 50 yards, we paid our £8 to go through the turnstile.

Note the scribbled out "Competition"...!

Note the scribbled out “Competition”…!

Immediately, it was obvious that this wasn’t your typical non-league ground. For starters, it was a proper athletics stadium, not in the style of Enfield or Hornchurch, but where athletics was very clearly the number one sport. There were pits for steeple chasing, a special area for shot put, a hammer cage and best of all a raised platform for the race starter to get a better view. There was also a proper Italian style ‘curva’ behind one of the goals, still intact in all its glory, presumably from a time when the locals flocked to the track for entertainment rather than watching the X Factor. It was clearly going to be a memorable afternoon. This impression was reinforced when I was kindly handed a teamsheet. It seems Barkingside were initially expecting a Ryman League game!

Interviewing duties with Mark Anderson complete, we started a lap of the ground, tin of Carlsberg in hand (yes, their bar sold tins). Barkingside1 Unsafe TerraceAfter walking round the huge ‘curva’ of terracing at the Long Jump End, we intrepidly traversed the clearly marked “Unsafe Terracing” along the far straight until we reached a small covered terrace. There, we found a “Clapton Ultras” sticker, a reminder that the hipster football movement is not just confined to Dulwich, before bravely continuing through the rubble to the Hammer Cage End. This included a proper separate area for shot put, an electricity sub-station, a pair of shipping containers and an old clubhouse of sorts. The home straight was a little bit more conformist: an open terrace, a small stand, and a bit of terracing in front of the bar.

The match looked like it was about to kick off, as football matches tend to do, so after grabbing another cheap Carlsberg we thought we’d better take up a viewing position for the first half. The Clapton lads clearly had no imagination in deciding where to watch the game from. Why choose a boring down-the-side shed when you could stand on a huge terrace and pretend you’re watching Napoli? This is, obviously, what we chose to do – in no small part because you could literally pretend you were watching Napoli, such was the distance from the back of the terrace to the pitch. I am told that Rob Tolfrey made a good save during the first half, but I couldn’t possibly comment, as he was the best part of a quarter of a mile away with the low sun shining brightly behind him. K’s, meanwhile, huffed and puffed but didn’t really trouble the Barkingside goal, although Dan Sweeney should have scored when clean through one-on-one. This was a particular disappointment, as a track invasion was planned had he put K’s ahead. After half an hour, we bored of the football, which was beyond ordinary, and instead embraced the surroundings, cheering whenever a player had to retrieve the ball from the long-jump pit, and chanting about the athletics rather than the game. “Here for the discus, we’re only here for the discus”…

Barkingside3 BarHalf-time was spent in the superbly odd home bar, decorated with West Ham memorabilia and an extraordinary doll of what, I think, was supposed to be Elvis, but instead scared me witless. And then the kind of thing that makes a day out – Jamie won the raffle! And not only did he win the raffle, but the prize was a bottle of red wine instead of cash. The folk of Barkingside knew us well.

Needless to say, the bottle of wine accompanied us back out into the ground for the second half. Four of us took up by far the best vantage point in the ground, perching on the top step of the starter’s viewing point. The football remained appalling, livened up only by our drinking game – drink red wine whenever the Barkingside number 5 touches the ball – and by laughing at the standard of play. At one point, the Barkingside number 4, under no pressure, flicked the ball up so that he could volley it, simply because that way he could belt it further up the pitch. Meanwhile, K’s were managing to allow Barkingside’s token flair player in a side of big lads – the only one allowed long hair and to play without his socks pulled up, like something straight out of the 70s – far too much time and space. “You’re just a sh*t Gareth Ainsworth”, came the amazingly specific taunt from the K’s fans.

K’s did, eventually, score, prompting a big celebration from the travelling support, more out of relief than anything else. But no sooner had the cheering stopped, than Barkingside had scored at the other end. At this point, the afternoon stopped being quite so much fun, as Barkingside started to turn the screw looking for a winner. And they did find it, plus a third goal, to dump K’s out of the Trophy. Barkingside’s number 5 was so uninvolved in the second half that I’d barely finished my wine, which tells you all you need to know about K’s performance.

Still, you can’t let a little thing like being-knocked-out-of-the-FA-Trophy-by-a-glorified-pub-team-having-conceded-three-of-the-worst-goals-of-all-time-and-therefore-your-season-probably-being-over-in-November ruin a day out, can you? So it was back to London Bridge for another couple of beers, and more proof that we are the famous, the famous Kingston (clap, clap, clap, clap). The two blokes next to me asked the correct question, “what’s that scarf, mate?” (the incorrect question is “how did Arsenal get on today?”) and upon hearing the answer Kingstonian followed it up with the even more correct question, “didn’t you lot used to be really good?”, so that I could regale them with tales of past glories. Yes, we’re not famous anymore, but at least we were once. I’ll drink to that.

Bognor Regis: Sun, Sea and Suspicious Shooting

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 Kingstonian Mug. No, not Chris Kelly - an actual mug

The Kingstonian Mug. No, not Chris Kelly – an actual mug

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.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside...

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…

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.

I remember the pitch as being flat...

The ‘bar’ end. Although I remember the pitch as being flat…

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.

K’s Tackle Essex – Hornchurch (A)

There’s already a pretty comprehensive review of Saturday’s game available here, by Jamie Cutteridge, and I don’t disagree with anything he’s written. But, because I’m bored on a cold Monday morning, here’s a few more in-depth thoughts:

1. This wasn’t a game of two halves; this was a game of four centre halves. For Hornchurch, the experienced Dave Rainford didn’t put a foot wrong all afternoon, always seemingly a crucial second ahead of play, while Rickie Hayles was simply immense. Hayles was involved in an epic (and bruising) physical tussle with Ryan Moss for 90 minutes, and became the first defender this season to win the battle, stopping Moss from holding up the ball consistently and crucially, from getting on the end of any balls into the box. For K’s, both Sam Page and Matt Drage continued their imperious form. To be honest, Page is simply too good for this level – but in Drage he has a defensive partner who perfectly complements his qualities. As a pair, they were once again magnificent.

2. Given the defensive qualities of both teams through the middle, it was always going to take a moment of genuine quality to break the deadlock. During the course of the match, there was one such moment from both sides. First, George Purcell teed himself up for a volleyed lob from the edge of the area, and was very unlucky to see his highly technically impressive effort hit the bar. Then, in the second half, Andre McCollin managed to wriggle away from Dave Rainford for just about the only time in the game courtesy of a terrific turn, and in the freedom he suddenly enjoyed struck a fierce left-footed drive from 25 yards, which Urchins keeper Inigo Ecehpare was only too glad to palm away. Other than that, there were chances from set pieces for both sides, but this was a 0-0 borne out of quality, not a lack of it.
Make no mistake: this was an excellent point. Hornchurch are set up to be mean and solid, and won’t lose many games this season, especially at home. In their captain Frankie Curley, they have the sort of midfield colossus that K’s have been seeking for years, a giant of a man who snaps into challenges, wins goal kicks in the air, and makes sure nobody can bypass the midfield. A nasty bastard, yes, but an excellent nasty bastard.

3. Having said all of that, perhaps both teams’ back fours wouldn’t have found it quite so easy had the pitch not resembled a First World War battlefield. It wasn’t just uneven – at one point Aaron Goode suffered a bobble so large the ball hit him above the knee – but also had such long grass that proper passing football was nigh-on impossible. As a result, K’s were extremely tactically astute, dropping off from the first tackle or the first header, and clustering nearby to make sure they won the second ball – because that was what counted. Following this strategy, K’s generally dominated territory even if they didn’t dominate possession.

4. Again, another pat on the back for Dowse – the K’s player who saw most of the ball in dangerous areas was Charlie Knight. This is surely exactly what Dowse set out to achieve, as he’s the K’s player most likely to produce a moment of magic with the ball at his feet. Sadly, it wasn’t to be Charlie’s day: he simply didn’t put enough good crosses into the area, and even when he did manage to get a decent ball into the box, Hayles or Rainford got a head to it  before McCollin or Moss.

5. So a fairly drab 0-0 in grey conditions in an athletics stadium in Essex. But a bad day out? Not a bit of it. The K’s travelling support were in fine form, ‘coaching’ the rather unfortunate Hornchurch schoolboy left-back throughout the 90 minutes after his initial lippiness, and winding up the Urchins captain successfully on a number of occasions. It was good fun, how non-league should be. And most importantly, us travelling K’s fans were delighted with the effort, attitude and commitment shown by every player in a Kingstonian shirt. Last season, we’d have lost this game. The season before last, we’d have lost this game. The Margate debacle season, we’d definitely have lost this game. This was an important test, and K’s passed it.