All You Need Is Moss – Staines Town (A)

1. Having missed the first four games of the season, I came through the turnstiles at Wheatsheaf Park – having reluctantly paid the exorbitant £12 to get in, something of which Staines Town should be thoroughly ashamed – fairly excited at the prospect of seeing some new players and full of hope for the year ahead. But my bubble of enthusiasm was burst pretty quickly by conversations with people who’d actually seen K’s play. I was told that we were “dreadful”, “hopeless”, and worst of all, “not bad in a funny way, just bad in a bad way”. Given that background, the result was a pleasant surprise, and left me wondering what all the fuss was about. This was a 2-0 win that wasn’t too dissimilar to the 2-0 win at the same venue last season, and by the end a result that was fairly comfortable.

2. Last season, the K’s striker that led the line at Staines and dominated the game from the front was a certain Ricky Sappleton, in what was undoubtedly his best performance in a red-and-white hooped shirt. This year, there was an equally impressive performance from returning hero Ryan Moss, the clear man-of-the-match and by far the best player on the pitch. Moss won flick ons and held the ball up, as he will have to do playing in this side, but he did so much more than play the role of a limited Ryman League number 9: he also ran in behind, worked the channels, passed the ball well, and best of all scored one and set up another. Well played.

3. Moss is clearly our star player and showed his quality…but the concerns fans have had about performances haven’t been about Moss. What about the rest of the side, and the team in general? Rob Tolfrey is still a genius, and the back four is solid – Bruce Hogg deputised well for Innsy – so no problems there. Pico is class and should link well with Moss, given Pico’s general tendency to drop deeper to receive the ball and Moss’ desire to lead the line and run in behind. We’ve also got Tom Derry to return from injury, so up front we seem well covered.

4. Clearly, then, the issues are in midfield…and on the evidence of this 90 minutes, the issues are still very much in midfield. Positives first: Joe Turner bustles down either flank well, has a great engine, and is a good dependable player at this level. Aaron “Norman” Lamont had a decent debut on the right, and provided a lot of fun when he switched to the left-wing for those of us calling him Norman (which was, in fairness, everyone). But what is frustrating for us paying punters is that the issues have *obviously* been in midfield ever since we lost Bennett, Odamatey, O’Leary and Smith…and yet we haven’t signed any proven midfielders to replace them. Instead, given that Tommy seems to have finally realised we have a serious problem, his contacts book – apparently known as the “emergency phone book” to one K’s fan behind the goal – has been raided for Ola Sogbamnu of all people, a man who played centre half last season and is part of a song about the worst Kingstonian players of all time. He’s clearly improved since then, because Sogbamnu was actually half decent at Wheatsheaf Park, putting himself about in front of defence and winning some important headers and challenges. But given he has no quality on the ball and questionable positioning when playing in midfield, he surely can’t be a long-term solution. And then there is his midfield partner on Saturday, Dan Gallagher. In the interests of fairness, I won’t say too much before I’ve seen him play more than once, but he was as bad as it gets on Saturday…and those fans who have seen him more than once didn’t suggest his performance at Staines was an aberration. Yet he’s keeping Saidou Khan out of the team, and is being preferred to Peter Dean in central midfield, which must mean they’re not in top form either. Eek.

5. Despite all of that, it’s worth repeating that we won the game. In spells, we were actually pretty good, particularly in the second half, when we looked altogether more solid and like an actual football team. In truth, we should have scored more than two: Ryan Moss somehow skied one from about a yard out (and was then serendaded with a cheeky chant of Ryan Miss Miss Miss by the away support) and K’s managed to waste two glorious chances on the counter attack. So some positives, and we’re out of the bottom four.  But make no mistake, this was a game between two poor sides rather than K’s completely turning the corner. Please, please, please, Tommy Williams: do what you should have done during Summer and free up a chunk of the budget for a proper midfield player, because if we do that, I think we’ll be a pretty good football team.

Player Ratings: Tolfrey 8; Goode 7, Hogg 7, Page 8, Wells 6; Lamont 7, Gallagher 3, Sogbamnu 5, Turner 6; Gomez 6, Moss 9

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Going Up? The Ryman Prem Run-In

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

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

The title race:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The playoff race:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.