“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.

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

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.