Chessington World Of Misadventures? A Kingsmeadow Update

Given the early-stage plans (or at least impressions) of a new ground for K’s that were made open to the public at Sunday’s game, it seems timely to take a look at the current situation, as far as I see it. I’m not going to confuse the issue of the ground by bringing discussions of club ownership into this article. The ground situation and club ownership are two totally separate things, and need to be kept that way, even if one of the oft-stated ‘facts’ is that it’s easier to get outside funding for a new ground if a club is fan-owned.

Like most fans – and interested parties – I’m not privy to any behind the scenes information at all, and I’m not a club official, so I can only go on what we’ve been told so far. Here’s my summary:

  • It is assumed that Kingstonian will leave Kingsmeadow at the end of the 2016-17 season – but this hasn’t been confirmed, or any reasoning offered;
  • Nobody outside of “the board” has been made aware of the outcome of discussions with Chelsea FC about possible terms for us to stay at Kingsmeadow;
  • “The board” are exploring the possibility of a new ground being built on the site of Chessington Golf Centre, in, err, Chessington;
  • This is green belt land (apparently – which is absolutely ridiculous, but that’s for another day) and as such any planning applications will be long, argumentative, and potentially unsuccessful;
  • Chessington & Hook United FC are rumoured to be directly involved in some way, but nothing has been said about it. Certainly they’re involved indirectly, as the ‘new’ ground would be almost adjacent to their current Chalky Lane home;
  • There have been no details provided about the ownership of this proposed ground.


In my mind, the above situation leaves more questions than answers. The factual questions are:

1. What actually was the outcome of the (presumably extensive) discussions with Chelsea?

2. Do we have to leave Kingsmeadow, or are we choosing to do so because of the terms offered?

3. Is there an option to remain at Kingsmeadow until any new ground is built? If so, and we are still intending to move out at the end of next season to groundshare: why?

4. Have we genuinely exhausted the possibility of playing at every single possible site closer to Kingston than South Chessington?

5. What is the proposed ownership structure for the new Chessington ground? Would we be landlords? If not, what are the terms on offer?

We, the supporters, should certainly be told the answers to questions 1 to 3 ASAP. They are the starting point for every other decision that needs to be made. Question 4 may be difficult to answer, but detail would be appreciated, particularly as regards the athletics stadium, which was swatted aside as an option with no details given. Question 5 may not be answerable at this time, but it has to be answered before any final decisions are taken. It is the be-all and end-all of the whole discussion, so much more important that some artists’ impressions of what a new ground would look like. Although a roof on any behind the goal terracing is an absolute must!


The more difficult questions that arise from the current state of affairs are:

1. Would South Chessington be a real home for Kingstonian FC?

2. Would moving onto Chessington & Hook United’s patch make us the ultimate hypocrites, as the ‘bigger’ club moving onto a ‘smaller’ club’s turf regardless of the consequences?

But there’s no point in even thinking about those tricky questions if we don’t know the full facts. It’s pointless debating the rights and wrongs of a move to Chessington is it turns out to be a bad move for the club anyway. And without being told the details, how can we tell if it would be a good move tor the club or not? I’d like to think I’m not a naive fool: I understand that there will be commercial considerations in what supporters can be told. But, for crying out loud, we need to be told something, soon.

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

Does Bianca Know You’re Here? – Billericay Town (A)

1. No discussion of this match can start anywhere else but the pitch, because it was the main feature of the match, and the main reason it finished 0-0. As a fan of a club which doesn’t have a pitch of its own to maintain, perhaps I can’t complain, but the pitch was in a disgraceful state. It wasn’t really that it was particularly devoid of grass (if you’re imagining a 1970s style mudbath), it was just dreadful: totally uneven, with humps and hollows all over it, and seemingly random patches of long, tufty grass interspersed with patches of bare, sticky sand. It made passing football completely impossible, and dribbling with the ball exceptionally difficult. I know it’s been a bad winter, but there were steeplechases run on better ground over the weekend, so I’m not sure that’s much of an excuse.

2. As such, no surprise that K’s only started with one of our two tricky wingers, with Peter Dean coming in (on his birthday) for the benched Malachi Hudson. The surprise given the conditions was that Bennett was so effective in the first half, cutting inside with real menace, and at one point nearly scoring the goal of the season. Just as Ali was calling ex-K’s striker Phil Williams “the non-league Paolo Wanchope”, Bennett was once again proving he is the non-league Riyad Mahrez by trying, and nearly succeeding, to beat the entire Billericay team in a slaloming run. “Bennett’s too good for you,” sang the small but enthusiastic travelling support, and in the first half that was quite often the case.

3. K’s were generally the better side in the first period, with Bennett to the fore, but struggled to create clear cut opportunities, and actually were indebted to a couple of decent Tolfrey saves to keep it goalless. The second half was precisely the opposite, despite neither team making any significant tactical changes, leading most to conclude that the conditions (pitch, wind, proximity to the bar) were clearly in favour of attacking one end. Billericay really put us under the pump after half-time, dominating territory and taking every chance to get the ball in the box. They met two K’s centre halves in imperious form, and a keeper who simply doesn’t look like making a mistake ever again, such is his consistency at the moment, and therefore ‘Ricay also struggled to really create that clear-cut chance to win the game.

4. Throughout this period, the home fans were becoming increasingly irate with the referee, who was having an inconsistent afternoon. From my vantage point down the other end, it was hard to tell whether the moans were fully justified, but it did seem as if K’s got lucky on a couple of occasions. However, that evened itself out when Andre McCollin set off on a storming run against Billericay’s tiring back four, beat one, beat two, and then when he’d reached the edge of the box and had one more Essex giant to beat, was cynically brought down. Andre was travelling at an angle rather than directly towards the goal, but he was brought down just as he was preparing to shoot on his left foot from about 16 yards. To most Ryman League centre forwards it wouldn’t have been, but all K’s fans in the ground knew that the ‘Ricay centre half had just deliberately prevented a clear goal-scoring opportunity. As such the K’s fans howled for a red; the referee brought out a yellow. As a result I don’t think the home faithful can feel too hard done by, really. A draw was a fair result.

5. On a weekend when a lot of people were obsessing about the Premier League, this was a brilliantly non-league occasion. Billericay’s ground is charmingly tinpot, from the goal nets that looked like they’d been bought off Hereford United just after Ronnie Radford scored in them, to the world’s smallest main stand, through to the (wonderful) ability for fans to enjoy a pint during the game. The players added to the lower-league feel: Billericay’s number 8 seemed to have been subbed for attempting two bicycle kicks in his own half*; Andre McCollin left the field for a piss mid-way through the second half; and Peter Dean shouted “PETER DEAN” for no apparent reason mid-way through a K’s attack. And in the truest non-league tradition of all, Billericay’s keeper lost his temper with the behind the goal travelling fans for no real reason, and for at least 5 minutes acted like a total clown.

That’s non-league football. And sometimes that’s why we love it.

Player Ratings: Tolfrey 7; Goode 6, Inns 8, Page 8, Wells 7; Bennett 6, Odametey 8, O’Leary 7, Dean 6; McCollin 7, Gomez 6

*He may have been injured, but it sure looked like he’d been subbed for showing flair!

Barbarians At The Gate – K’s Go To Kingston Council

In a (long overdue) first for this blog, some writing from someone else. Taimour Lay went to see what Kingston Council think about our future last Tuesday…and I’ve only just got around to posting it on here. Apologies to Taimour. Hopefully Kingston Council will be more proactive than me…

 

In the wood-pannelled mock-antique finery of the Guildhall council chamber, as solemn prayers are read and the Mayor enters to reverent silence, it’s easy to forget that K’s were born a good 50 years before this building even went up in 1935. Kingston’s heritage is as much about communities, continuity and collective memory as it is bricks and mortar and “invented tradition” – but more on that later.

We were here on a wet Tuesday night for a little slice of local democracy [which mostly appears to involve Tory and Lib Dem councillors casting pantomime looks at each other]. A petition calling for the protection of Kingstonian’s status as the town’s senior football team had gathered 600 signatures since October, granting us the right to present it to the full Council on 15 December.

The timing turned out to be propitious – just last week AFC Wimbledon got the go-ahead from Merton Council for New Plough Lane, meaning the sale of Kingsmeadow to Chelsea will be completed soon, with K’s homeless by the end of the 2016/17 season. If ever there was a time to shout “K’s matter!”, this was it.

There was a good turnout from fans – around a dozen in the public seats, most in K’s shirts, including former chairman Jimmy Cochrane [who bought the club from Khosla in 2005], current co-chairman John Fenwick, Colin Deadman, Yioryos and Tina, Ali Kazemi, Simon Grier, Paul Foley and a few others whose names I still don’t know despite 15 years of terrace promixity [knowing but also sort-of-not-knowing other K’s fans is one of our strange community’s virtues].

Part-time Villa fan Jamie Cutteridge duly stepped up to a teak table and microphone and used his allotted 5 minutes to say a number of things, including:

…. There’s this indelible connection between a football club and its place. Back in the good old days, when football was football, the club was an expression of the community, a place where fans came together to be part of something bigger, something that reflected their home. When you go to the Chelsea you’re a consumer, at Ks you’re an integral part of a voluntary enterprise. You win together, you lose together. It’s a glorious mess. It’s church. It’s family. It’s home. It’s K’s. It’s Kingston. 

And now, that home, quite literally is under threat. The recent approval of AFC’s move to Plough Lane coupled with their decision to sell Kingsmeadow to Chelsea and the Premier League club’s apparent desire to be sole users, will leave Kingstonian homeless. This leaves both practical implications – where on earth do we play? – and emotional implications – it’s our home, our fans were involved in building it. Many fans are left confused by the apparent lack of covenant or agreement over the use for the ground – the youth team from a West London Premier League side doesn’t seem to fulfil the suggested remit of the borough’s senior team. To what extent there was, or wasn’t, a strict covenant is debatable and may be academic now, but clearly there was some agreement on the use of that land, some protection for the borough’s senior football team, a protection which your predecessor council in the 1980s saw fit to put in place. But with no apparent agreement to protect us, and those decisions made, it looks like, either for the short, or the long term, that future, those fans, those connections to Kingston, will lie outside of the town.

We understand that the club and council have been in conversation about possibilities and we realise, that in Kingston, facing the brunt of the South East’s housing crisis, that there are no easy solutions. But Kingstonian matters. These names on this petition matter. It matters when you get asked the score on a Saturday night when you’re walking down Kingston high street in those famous red and white hoops. The shirts in this building matter. And as much as a last minute winner against Lewes might feel like it matters, what matters more than anything is Ks continued existence, and its survival at the heart of our town. 

But the 600 names I have with me ask one thing – Keep Ks in Kingston. Not just in Kingston Borough. For many Ks fans, the idea of just keeping Ks in the borough would be a pyrrhic victory. It’s better than nothing but it takes the club away from its roots, because Kingstonian, its glorious history and idiosyncratic name, represent Kingston. They represent the market square, the River Thames, the bridge, Tiffin school, the pedestrianisation of the town centre, Banquet Records, the university and this very council. They’re not the Borough’s club, they’re Kingston’s club. 

The reality is this: two deals have dramatically altered Ks future– Rajesh Khosla’s sale of the lease to AFC, and AFC’s sale of that to Chelsea. Despite any donation from AFC, generous or otherwise, we ourselves can’t keep K’s in Kingston. Be it a deal with a developer or intervention from this council, the future of this town’s club no longer lies in its own hands. There is a real danger of drift, of years of uncertainty and homelessness draining the life out of the club. 

Last week the whole country celebrated the return of AFC Wimbledon to Merton, and a local council prepared to stick its neck out and bring them home. Will you do the same? The decisions made over the next few months and years, by you, our elected councillors, are going to define the next 100 years of Kingstonian. It’s not the 300 fans that will watch us play East Thurrock this Saturday that are counting on you. It’s generations of Kingston children, decades of wandering souls who end up behind the goals and find a home there. It’s those that have gone before, all the way back to 1885, those there now and those yet to come. This is Kingston’s team. This is Kingstonian. Keep Ks in Kingston. Thank you.”

Cue woops and applause [mainly from me] and then a series of short responses from the councillors [a full debate will follow next year]. Councillor Tolley declared his interest as a K’s fan and sponsor but disappointingly failed to tear off his lumberjack shirt to reveal the red and white hoops beneath. Tolley said that K’s remain an integral part of the town’s community and heritage. Losing the club would, to some, be akin to losing All Saints Church.

Then Tory Council leader Kevin Davis made his curious contribution. I know we’re meant to be building bridges/making friends/suspending disbelief but the tone he struck was somewhere between withering dismissal and wind-up. It was certainly a surprise that he chose to use this occasion to say “we’ve been here before. It feels like every few years, we’re asked to rescue K’s” – prompting us to ponder when exactly Kingston’s Tories have previously roused themselves to ensure our survival. He also said “I know we all want to see K’s in the Premier League but let’s be realistic”, seemingly unaware of our limited top-8 Ryman ambitions.

Davis was, at least, honest about the challenges and the limited role of the Council. Merton had it “easy”, he said – all that council had to do was grant the planning permission, the site-work had been done and the momentum came from elsewhere. The “two issues” for K’s are finding a “major development site of at least 5 acres” [and “there aren’t [m]any in the town, whether private or council owned”] and finance [“I’m not privy to the sums K’s are receiving but I gather they’re more than generous”].

Intriguingly, he added as an aside that the Chelsea Chairman “had come to see me” but there hadn’t yet been any substantive discussions over K’s future. He also revealed that “the K’s directors [sic] are meeting another developer tomorrow” for exploratory talks.

Other councillors made positive, if vague, noises. Liberal Democrat Rachel Reid, who’s been known to come to K’s, and whose ward is in Chessington where the rumour-mill suggests a new mixed housing development may be in the offing, offered her support. Tory councillor Geoff Austin, a K’s patron, spoke while wearing a club tie. Diane White, speaking after the meeting, said she’d be with us on Boxing Day for the Dulwich game.

Another councillor asked that “politics be left out of this” but the sizeable elephant in the council chamber remains that any site, if it is found, will bring issues of housing, affordability, community value and infrastructure to the fore – the very things on which this council is likely to disagree.

After half-an-hour, that was that and the meeting moved on to arguments over “high-rise” towers, during which one Tory councillor bemoaned “ugly” modern developments in the town, though she failed to single out the Noodle Stand by name.

See here for the Comet’s coverage, in which Davis accused Councillor Tolley of being a “barbarian” for making the [entirely sensible] comparison between K’s and Kingston’s heritage: http://www.surreycomet.co.uk/news/14149106.Kingston_Council_leader_calls_opposition_councillor_a__barbarian__over_Kingstonian_debate/

There’ll be a full debate next year. Please come. The more barbarians at the gate, the better…

The Sale of Kingsmeadow by AFC Wimbledon to Chelsea FC – What Might It Mean?

It seems only yesterday that I last wrote about the possible sale of Kingsmeadow, but events are now picking up pace. AFC Wimbledon fans have voted overwhelmingly (apparently by 98% to 2% – and we must thank those brave 2%) to sell Kingsmeadow, the ground built for and by Kingstonian, to Chelsea FC.

Most of the media reports have contained a paragraph, usually at the end, referring to what will happen to Kingstonian as a result of the sale. (On the face of it, this is an improvement on the situation up to now, when Kingstonian have seldom been mentioned when Kingsmeadow has been discussed.) These articles universally make a comment along the lines of, “Kingstonian will use the money from AFC Wimbledon to move to a smaller, more manageable ground within the borough of Kingston”. Leaving aside that it is heavily implied in all the articles that the money from AFCW is a highly generous donation – when of course it is only partly that and partly a commercial settlement – this leaves the casual follower of this whole episode with the strong impression that Kingstonian FC wants to leave Kingsmeadow.

So let’s make something clear: I do not know a single Kingstonian fan, official or board member who actually wants to leave Kingsmeadow.

Let’s break that down into the usual questions that follow such a statement:

Why did you sell the ground in the first place? “We” didn’t. A brief history: Kingstonian went into administration; a man called Rajesh Khosla bought the club and its assets; he then sold the ground to AFCW and pocketed the money, and then handed over a football club in dire straits to Jimmy Cochrane; Jimmy saved the club from bankruptcy, then sold on to (effectively) the current co-chairmen, who saved the club again and put it on an even keel.

Why don’t you buy it back then? This one’s obvious: there is no way a club like Kingstonian can get its hands on £3 million (or whatever the price is).

Didn’t your board say the ground was too big for you? Yes, they did, and I have no idea why they said that. It isn’t – and it was a stupid thing to say from a PR point of view anyway because it makes it sounds like we’d rather move out than stay. Bulldoze the blue monstrosity at the Kingston Road End (something that I’m sure any K’s fan would donate money towards) and you’d have a perfect non-league football ground.

But if Chelsea are going to own Kingsmeadow, wouldn’t moving to a new ground in Kingston that you owned be better for you anyway? Fair point – yes it would. Firstly it would mean we’d have long-term security; secondly we’d be a much more sustainable club because we’d have control over our own income streams (pitch hire, bar takings etc), which we wouldn’t at a Chelsea-owned ground.

Okay, okay, so why can’t you just stay and groundshare with Chelsea while you explore options for a new stadium? The answer at the moment, as a fan, is that I don’t know. I don’t yet know why we have seemingly committed to leaving Kingsmeadow and spending money groundsharing elsewhere. I presume it’s because Chelsea don’t want us to stay, but at the recent open meeting none of the co-chairmen said that they’d had a proper conversation with Chelsea FC.

Therefore the next step – surely – is for the co-chairmen to speak to Chelsea FC urgently and clarify their intentions. As far as I can see, there are three ways it can go:

a) Chelsea immediately rebuff any sort of approach and won’t even negotiate: If so, what on earth have we got to lose by then waging a hearts-and-minds war with them in the media? There would be no downside (that I can see), and the potential upside of them being shamed into letting us stay for at least a couple of years.

b) Chelsea say they’re not keen, but are open to negotiations: Well let’s negotiate then! If the terms eventually are so negative that we basically can’t stay, then we’d have to leave, but at least we’d have tried.

c) Chelsea actually say they’re open to us staying and working in a partnership, providing we can meet certain criteria: happy days! Surely, surely staying in the town of Kingston is preferable to being nomads moving from groundshare to groundshare. Even if the deal struck was a short-term one (for say, 5 years), wouldn’t this at least buy us time to explore other options for a new ground as they arise?

But whatever happens with groundsharing, be that at Kingsmeadow, or as is currently likely elsewhere, we are still being put in a position where the club will eventually die without a new ground. So what are the chances of that?

To me, the chances look somewhere between slim and none. Land in Kingston is incredibly expensive, and largely unavailable – or earmarked already for housing. The money from AFCW would nowhere near cover a new ground in the town of Kingston, as far as I can calculate. Yes, there are grants that would get us closer – but I just can’t see how a new ground in Kingston is financially viable without more money from somewhere. Apparently the Athletics Ground is not a viable option, but it’s not been explained properly why this is the case, as AFCW’s lump sum would surely allow a massive upgrade of facilities there.

Which brings us to the apparent solution our board are pursuing: build a new ground, but not in Kingston. Reading between the lines of various statements made by our board and the council, it seems as if the site earmarked for a possible new ground in the near future is the current site of Chessington Golf Centre. I actually joked with friends when this whole situation began a year or so ago – and our co-chairmen started very deliberately using the phrase “in the borough of Kingston” as opposed to “in Kingston” when talking about a new ground – that we would end up in Malden Rushett, still technically in the borough but literally as far from the town of Kingston as possible while meeting that requirement. Incredibly depressingly, it looks as if this joke is what may end up being presented to us poor supporters as the future of Kingstonian.

So let me make something else clear: personally, for this Kingstonian FC supporter, a club playing in South Chessington would not be a club that I would actively support. I would still go to the odd game to see my mates (if some of them were still going), but I could not call myself a true supporter of the club, and I would not dig into my pockets like I do currently to try to make it succeed. That’s because I don’t support The Royal Borough of Kingston FC; I support Kingstonian FC, the team that has represented the town of Kingston-upon-Thames with pride (and occasionally glory) for 130 years.

Out of the club’s hardcore support of around 300, this may very well be a unique opinion – although from talking to others at games, I’m almost certain it’s a fairly widespread view – but that really isn’t the point. We’re not saving the long-term future of the club for the 300 people who go on a Saturday in 2015. We’re trying to save the club for future generations of people growing up in Kingston who want to play for their local club as boys and girls, and who want a club to support either every Saturday – or at the very least when a big cup game comes around and the excitement in the town is palpable. The current threat is that Kingston loses its grand old football club: we’ll be homeless, hemorrhaging money away year-on-year in groundshares, and sooner or later go bankrupt. But we’d have ceased to be Kingston’s football club long before we went out of business, because we simply wouldn’t be Kingston’s football club while we were playing elsewhere. Moving to a new ground in South Chessington wouldn’t avoid that catastrophe. Kingston’s football club would still have died; there’d just be a club called Kingstonian playing in a different town.

And I’m sure AFC Wimbledon fans, of all people, can empathise with my view on that.

Wet, Wet, Wet – Dorchester Town (A)

1. Why on earth did I set off at half nine, knackered, get soaked on the way to the station, and then drive for more than three hours to a non-league football game? That’s certainly what I was thinking five minutes in, with the rain so hard and the wind so strong that I was getting wet under a covered terrace, and with K’s 1-0 down already to a farcical goal. Dorchester had got in down our left, crossed the ball in, and Aaron Goode simply smashed the ball home from six yards. He didn’t slice it or shin it – he hit it right off the laces. Only Aaron will know what he was trying to do, but whatever the reason for it, K’s were really up against it.

2. Dorchester then piled on the pressure for the next 15 minutes, and K’s had to cling on to stay in the tie. The Dorch gameplan was very simple – get the ball out wide as quickly as possible and pump the ball into the box – but in the first quarter of the game, it was extremely effective. The swirling gale-force wind made defending high crosses exceptionally difficult, and K’s were missing the physical presence of Sam Page at the back. The pitch was also awful, more suited to a 3 mile chase at Cheltenham than a football game, and as such you couldn’t really blame the home team for their approach. As a result of all this we just couldn’t clear our lines properly, and whether it was from a long ball or a long throw, the ball just kept coming back into our box.

3. But it was from one of these panicked defensive situations that the game turned in K’s favour. The ball was half-cleared to Harold Odamatey, and you could almost see him think to himself: “fuck this”. He put his head down and drove through the wind and rain deep into Dorchester territory, before laying off to Gomez, who hit a low cross to the back stick where Reece Beckles slid in to score. From nowhere, suddenly we were level, and the players’ body language went up several notches. Almost immediately, K’s swept forward again and Gomez put K’s in front, to send the hardy few away supporters mental.

4. From that point on, K’s looked the more potent team, full of swagger and attitude. Instead of being battered, in the main we managed to keep Dorchester’s long ball game at arm’s length by closing down the ball better in midfield. In no small part this was because Harold Odamatey was immense. He didn’t just cover every patch of mud, breaking up play and winning the ball back for K’s, as he’d done so well in recent games; he also got forward at every opportunity, adding numbers to K’s breaks and giving Gomez the support he needed. Pico was also at his best, a real menace for the Dorchester defence, a potent mixture of holding the ball up and also running in behind. There was no shortage of effort from all the other lads, who really out a proper shift in, but in the conditions there just wasn’t enough quality on show, and defensively we never quite really convinced.

5. Sadly we didn’t manage to get over the line. Pico hit the keeper when one-on-one; Beckles couldn’t tip the bouncing ball past the advancing goalie when through on goal; and the (extremely inconsistent) referee only gave K’s a free kick, and only gave the Dorch defender a yellow, when he was clean through and taken out very, very close to the edge of the box. As such it wasn’t a surprise that Dorchester equalised, but it was a surprise that we managed to score again, leading to an ironic chorus of “4-0 to the hooped Brazil”. Still, this was a superb effort. More of the same on Monday, please.

Player Ratings: Tolfrey 7; Goode 6, Inns 6, Hogg 6, Wells 6; Bennett 5, Odamatey 9.5, O’Leary 7, Smith 5; Beckles 7, Gomez 8

Thoughts On The Open Meeting – Kingsmeadow & Fan Ownership of Kingstonian

I attended the open meeting on Saturday after the game. People have been asking for an unofficial summary, so I’ve written one. Some important caveats:

– I took no notes at all;
– I’m writing this on Tuesday, so will have forgotten massive chunks;
– These notes are NOT minutes: they are my recollections and obviously reflect what I felt at the time was important, as unimportant bits I’ll have forgotten;
– I’d had three pints before proceedings started!
– These are MY interpretations, and I make no claim to them being anything more.

The Co-Chairmen’s Statements

Mark Anderson spoke first, at reasonable length, setting out the facts and the current situation on the ground as he sees it. As I recall, there was little in this summary that has not already been covered in the interview and the original statement. Of more interest was Mark’s views on the supporter ownership element of the proposed changes to the club. There will be a vote – of some description, see below – on which route the club takes “in the New Year”, and whether it reconstitutes as a community-owned club. There are “multiple options” being explored here. Without putting words in Mark’s mouth, one of the key drivers for this is apparently the potential increase in commercial income that can be gained as a result and that it will improve the chances of funding for any new ground. It is certainly the case that this push has come from the co-chairmen and not from the supporters – which to me is putting the cart before the horse. This element of the evening left me concerned, as much as all of us in the room appreciated Mark’s honesty.

Malcolm Winwright then spoke, and did add a couple of of nuggets of detail to do with Kingsmeadow. The first of these, supported by (I think) Colin Deadman, is that there is no covenant on the land to speak of – and as such there is no obligation on any of the parties involved to keep K’s playing at Kingsmeadow. This is obviously critical. The second piece of information was background on the (complicated) leasehold situation of the ground, and why we find ourselves in this position. Essentially, the writing has been on the wall ever since Khosla managed to separate the club from the ground in 2002/3. He had built annual increases in rent that the club would pay the owner of the ground into the lease itself, meaning that the football club found itself in an intensely weak negotiating position with AFCW throughout the last 12 years, basically relying on their charity and goodwill. As I understood it, this is one of the reasons that the perimeter lease was signed over for the terms that it was, which we now know did not guarantee us a 25-year lease at Kingsmeadow, as was previously understood. Work is ongoing behind the scenes to clarify some of the detail on this.

John Fenwick added little at this point because he agreed with all that had been said so far, saying that he had been concentrating on the day-to-day running of the football club, leaving a lot of the ground negotiations and work to Mark and Malcolm.

Questions From The Floor

Laurence Cooley made it clear he was dead against the idea of stopping being a limited company – largely because the trend has been in the other direction. The chairmen commented that they were not clear that this is true at our level: viz. Enfield Town, Hendon, Lewes, Tonbridge. These examples were used throughout the evening, because they show that a) there are many models of community ownership, and b) there are various levels of success to be had! Horsham was also brought up on numerous occasions as the “example to avoid”. This was perplexing. Nothing that was said by anybody, at any point, convinced me that we won’t be in *exactly* their scenario: with a big lump sum in our pocket, but without a ground to play in, and therefore that lump sum being eroded away year-on-year paying for groundshare deals. There was no reassurance on this, apart from the fact “we don’t want to end up like Horsham”. Well, obviously – but why will we be different?

I asked about what I felt was a misleading line in the notes handed out – about any payment from AFCW “clearing the club’s debts” – to clarify the situation. I was reassured that the club had no operating debts beyond what any business would have in any given month – PAYE etc – and so this was just clumsy phrasing. I then asked about whether a 51% fans / 49% investors ownership model was one of the options being considered, given that it would seem to apply perfectly to our situation, in that we could become a “community club” without losing the incentive for people to invest larger sums in the club. From the answers it didn’t sound like something that had been thought about at all so far, but I was later reassured that all options were on the table. Personally, I think a club as small as Kingstonian becoming one member, one vote would be disastrous – but that doesn’t mean we can’t become a fan-owned club, because there are middle ways. See Hendon and Tonbridge as two successful examples.

The option of sharing or working out an arrangement at the athletics track was dismissed out of hand, which was heartbreaking – as I can’t see another obviously good solution.

There are two groundsharing options being pursued potentially: one in the borough, and one just outside the borough. The one inside the borough is obviously The Hyphens, but the latter could mean one of several clubs. Understandably no details were given at this point.

We could be groundsharing in the 2017/18 season, meaning next season would be our last at Kingsmeadow. This would not be the case if AFCW’s move was a) delayed by planning process, when we would stay for another season, or b) thrown out entirely. In the case of Plough Lane being rejected completely, the answers were not altogether clear, although Malcolm said we’d stay at Kingsmeadow until we had a new site sorted. One of the themes of the meeting: the board are 100% clear that we need to leave Kingsmeadow soon, i.e. in any circumstances. I’m still not 100% clear on why that is. Even if we were being charged rent to groundshare at Kingsmeadow from 2017, surely it would be a lot better to be paying rent to play at ‘home’, rather than paying rent to play at Cor-Cas or Hampton or Met Police? I assume the three men in charge feel the same way, but this wasn’t made explicit enough in my opinion.

Groundsharing decisions (specifically) will 100% not be taken by the co-chairmen and would be taken “by the fans”. But asked to clarify whether all “major decisions” would be taken by the fans, given that decisions are being taken all the time and the club is nowhere near fan ownership yet, the answers were a bit vaguer. “We’re not going to sell you a pup,” said Mark. Well, I totally accept that – but are you going to hand over a situation that the majority of fans wouldn’t have pursued were we in charge at the moment? That is the question, and I’m not sure that was resolved to my satisfaction.

Then a longer discussion on fan ownership. Major decisions, specifically the vote on ownership structure, will need to be taken in the coming months by Kingstonian supporters. Yet it was rightly pointed out by a few of people, Jon Tolley and Ali Kazemi among them as I recall, that there is no agreement on who or what constitutes “a Kingstonian supporter” at the moment. Membership of the Supporters Club doesn’t cover it, as the Supporters Club membership has dwindled over recent years. There is no longer a K’s Trust, and although the Trust had a membership in the high hundreds at one points does anybody still have those details? Probably not. Malcolm in particular was also worried of the other side of the coin in this matter – that people could effectively “walk in off the street” to vote on Kingstonian’s future on the night of the vote. But personally, I’d be worried about the other side: that many many loyal K’s fans who care about our club might be denied a vote. By far the best idea was to allow people to sign up to some scheme to vote – effectively starting an “electoral roll” of K’s fans, possibly costing a nominal sum such as a pound to join to prove consideration. This is something that needs to be much more seriously thought about over the coming weeks.

There was a lot more discussion, but I can’t remember it. Sorry. There will apparently be minutes.

Conclusion – Worried But Hopeful

Overwhelmingly the meeting was positive. The mood was one of finding solutions, not apportioning blame. But writing this all up, it’s interesting which bits have stuck in my head three days on – the most worrying parts. There’s a lot of work to do to make me less worried, but by the nature of this meeting, at least it seems as if people are up for it.