From The Sublime To The Ridiculous – Harlow (H) & Worthing (A)

After two games, two wins and eight K’s goals in four days, it seems like a good time to sit down and write five thoughts…

1. If there wasn’t genuine evidence that it happened – a report, the score on football web pages, photos of the goals – I’m still not sure I’d believe that Saturday’s 6-0 win over Harlow wasn’t really a dream. Before Saturday, K’s had been thrashed twice, and our wins had been either rearguard efforts (Billericay and Merstham) or scrappy and slightly fortunate. More to the point, in previous match a first-choice K’s eleven were outpassed and at times outclassed by pub league Walton Casuals in the Alan Turvey Trophy. As such this probably goes down as the most surprising thrashing dished out by Kingstonian in recent memory, and that made it all the more enjoyable. This wasn’t a fortunate result; in fact, without some smart saves by Harlow’s keeper, it could have been even more. The (small) crowd were stunned.

2. So where on earth did this sublime performance come from? Well, the lineup *looked* balanced, and didn’t obviously have any weak links, for possibly the first time this season, and that undoubtedly helped. K’s lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with all eleven players in their preferred positions – or at the very least positions they are comfortable playing – and that certainly helped too. Tom Little’s left-footed overlapping runs down the left flank created the space for Kane Haysman to drift inside and find space, overwhelming and confusing Harlow’s centre halves. Meanwhile Alex Fiddes stuck to his task with great discipline – which was to stay wide on the right throughout, stretching the game wide and creating space for box-to-box runs from Lewis Taylor. Taylor – probably K’s most talented player at this level, if we’re honest – produced his first truly dominant performance since Billericay away, simultaneously offering defensive cover to Gogonas and the back four while also getting into dangerous attacking positions throughout. But the real difference was a mercurial performance at number 10 from Tom Collins, who had shown flashes of class before this point in his K’s career without ever delivering concrete results. Collins relentlessly found himself with the ball in space between Harlow’s back four and midfield, and he used that freedom superbly. Harlow had no answer to his creative passing and skilful dribbling, and he made the key move in three of the first four goals. Collins was only marginally less influential in the second half when he was being man-marked in an effort to reduce his influence. We can’t expect him to do this every week, and we probably shouldn’t even expect him to play this well more often than not – but when Tom Collins plays like this, I don’t think we’ll lose many this season.

3. From the sublime, then, to the ridiculous: the first half refereeing display at Worthing, which contained the single worst decision I’ve ever seen at a football game – and I was at Vicarage Road for the ‘ghost goal’. It was immediately obvious that the ref was going to be a factor in the evening. He clearly enjoyed the moments when the attention of the 151 hardy souls assembled was focussed on him and him alone, taking unnecessary extra time over every decision, and making overly dramatic hand gestures, a non-league Mike Dean in almost every way. He didn’t start the evening well, actively deciding to bottle a decision when Tom Derry was tripped when clean through, followed that up by missing two clear fouls on K’s players, and then gave us a free kick for such a weak challenge that the K’s players didn’t even appeal. The pressure started to build when he blew up for a K’s free kick when we had an almost comically clear advantage – Fiddes had actually skipped away after the ‘foul’ challenge, and was about to dribble into the box in a 3 vs 2 situation – because the K’s players told the ref in no uncertain terms how ludicrous this decision was. Sam Page was booked for his forthright contribution, and the ref had already started to punctuate his display by looking nervously at the dozen or so travelling fans behind the goal, who were being no less honest in their assessment. Presumably distracted, his big moment then arrived, when he passed from merely being an averagely poor Isthmian League official to proud holder of my award for Worst Refereeing Decision Ever. K’s attacked, the ball ricocheted off, and a Worthing player cleared the ball under no real pressure about 4-5 yards from the byline. The referee’s reaction to this was to very firmly give Kingstonian a corner, and then express genuine shock as the entire Worthing team, bench and supporters went apoplectic. Those in red and white hoops openly laughed. The strangest part of this story? The ref followed up this total embarrassment by having a largely competent second half!

Bognor 1

4. The match itself against Worthing – although at Bognor Regis, of course, as evidenced above! – was far less remarkable, even if it did provide K’s with another three points. In the first half K’s were the definition of lacklustre, passing the ball slowly and with little intent, and far too reactive at the back. This approach allowed Worthing to grow in confidence and while they didn’t really deserve their half-time lead, it was hard to argue with the scoreline. But just as it seemed K’s inconsistency was becoming consistent, the players produced a much-improved second half performance to turn the game around. We were on the front foot, playing the game in the Worthing half, and at least putting the home side – without a win this season, remember – under some much-needed pressure. However, chances were at a premium until Saturday’s hero Collins, who had struggled to find any space in which to operate, was replaced by on-loan Gillingham forward Noel Mbo. Mbo was immediately a direct presence alongside Tom Derry up front, and in this more traditional 4-4-2 K’s looked more dangerous – as is often the case against poor sides. Derry (or was it actually Mbo with the final touch?) poked home the equaliser, and as the loyal travelling faithful* found their voices to try to inspire K’s to a winner, Mbo scored a delicious winner on debut, cutting inside on his left foot and calmly curling the ball into the far bottom corner. It was a difficult, clinical, dare I say professional finish, the kind you seldom see in the semi-pro Isthmian League. Mbo looks like a great option, and his class was the difference between a poor side and a below-par side on Tuesday.

5. What might all of this mean for the season? Without wishing to get splinters up my arse, it is really hard to say. My gut feeling is that the overall quality of the league is weak this season, and that’s why many teams, and not just K’s, are struggling to hit reliable form. I don’t think that the league has already taken shape – it’s likely that one or two of the teams who’ve had a poor start will sign a couple of players and end up in the playoffs, and if Worthing get back home sooner rather than later, they are capable of putting together a run to escape relegation. (At least, I certainly hope so, because they’re an excellent club and we missed the away day this year!) With only one relegation place this year, and with Billericay odds on to win the title due to their ludicrous spending, this really isn’t the season for clubs to dip into their reserves to boost their budgets. Canny chairmen will be keeping their chequebooks dry this term, and spending any saved money next year, when there are the normal number of relegation slots to avoid, and the outside chance of winning the title. Basically, I don’t think these crazy rollercoaster results are going to stop any time soon – so let’s have a laugh, throw our arms in the air, and enjoy the ride!

*who really do deserve a pat on the back, given it wasn’t possible to get back to London by train afterwards…


Player Ratings:

v Harlow: Tolfrey 9; Rodgers 7, Vilcu 7, Page 7.5, Little 7.5; Gogonas 8, Taylor 9; Fiddes 9, Haysman 9, *Collins 9*; Derry 8

v Worthing: Tolfrey 7; Rodgers 7, Vilcu 7, Page 7, Goode 7; Gogonas 6, Taylor 7; Fiddes 7, Collins 6, Haysman 6; Derry 7

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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.

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.

Alan Dowson’s Magic – Bognor Regis (A)

Alan Dowson’s magic,
He wears a magic hat,
And when he saw the Ryman League
He said top 8 is a realistic target

The day ended with the above chant being sung to bemused Londoners and tourists in Victoria station. The day started in Victoria station with bemusement as to how, as always, two of the party of six intrepid travellers managed to have to sprint for the 10:32 train, especially given that one of the offenders had been at Victoria at 10:15. In both cases, the answer was obvious by the plastic bags they almost threw onto the departing train – they had been shopping for “supplies”, which on a Saturday train journey is – as we all know – code for alcohol. This was the away day equivalent of a football club displaying what journalists always call a “clear sign of intent” in the dying moments of the transfer window. In the same way the QPR were panicked into buying Chris Samba for £12.5m and £100k a week – “somebody at QPR seems to have missed the Maths lesson where they taught about decimal points”, quipped Tony Barrett in the Times this week – Matt was rushed into laying out £11.70 for four lukewarm cans of Magners. It’s debatable which last minute purchase represented the worst value.

After what was meant to be a quick stop-off (but turned into a mini-session) in the superb old-fashioned Bognor boozer The Alex, it was off to the seaside. And what a day it was to be beside the seaside – a clear blue sky, a freshening wind, barely another soul in sight, and a superb bag of chips and mushy peas. IMG_0050

With time running out before kick off, there was a clear choice between mini-golf and the arcades. Having decided on 9 holes of mini-golf, Ross took charge of negotiations with the ticket seller in his own unique style:
“We’ve only got time for nine holes – how’s about twenty quid between the eight of us?”
“It doesn’t work like that, mate – how do I know you won’t play all 18?”
“We don’t have time to play 18, and anyway, look at this hole here! It’s shit! If they’re all like that we won’t even play nine”
“For you, the price has gone up to a fiver, my friend.”

Off to the arcades it was, then. If I learned one thing from Saturday, it’s that even on a 2p machine, it’s possible to lose a significant amount of money in an insignificant amount of time. Still, a good time was had by all – and even if we left with lighter pockets, as a group we gained two cuddly toys, three furry dice, a miniature boot, and a £5 note (from the ‘Bank of Cheryl Cole’, unfortunately).
IMG_0058
A taxi to the ground, the magnificent Nyewood Lane, brought a rendezvous with a pleasing number of travelling K’s, including an entire stag party on tour. It also brought a very pleasing glimpse of the K’s lineup, which boasted no glaring weakness and a strong bench. And it was the quality of the subs’ bench which was to prove the deciding factor in the match. At this point though, after the recent postponements, disappointing away crowds and debacle at Hendon, it was just nice to be at a non-league football game between two decent sides watched by a decent crowd.

Unfortunately, the first half was, well…rubbish. Organised, committed rubbish – but rubbish all the same. The only thing worse than the game was the home keeper’s metrosexual haircut, although being as folically challenged as I am, I left the inevitable abuse to others behind the goal, and they didn’t let the side down. Fortunately, you could quaff a pint on the terraces, or so we thought. Emerging from the clubhouse for the second half with what we all felt might be very necessary supplies (if anything, a pint would take away the boredom if the football carried on in the same vein), we were told it was only possible to drink in the clubhouse end of the ground. This meant that a dozen or so K’s fans spent the first ten minutes of the second half huddled in the corner rather than behind the goal we were attacking, which was far from ideal. But it also meant that everybody behind the goal for the rest of the game had just necked a pint. Any coincidence, then, that us K’s fans made a good old-fashioned racket throughout the second half? Somehow I think not…

After another frustrating 40 minutes in which both sides huffed and puffed but created very little, it was Kingstonian who struck the crucial blow. The fresh legs – and finishing ability – of Wade Small made the difference, as he calmly curled a low strike into the bottom corner, past the Bognor keeper’s despairing dive (and dire barnet). The travelling fans went mental, and went wild again when the ref blew his whistle after a tense period of injury time.

This was a tremendous victory. Bognor are as well-drilled and organised as it is possible to get at this level of non-league football, and they seldom lose at home, yet over 90 minutes, the home side weren’t allowed to create a single clear-cut chance. K’s were obdurate and reliable at the back, full of energy and attitude in the middle, and never stopped chasing lost causes up front. This was the kind of performance that means a lot to supporters: it wasn’t a game won with skill and fancy football; it was a victory gained by graft, determination and a burning desire to win three points. And (certainly until these pitches clear up), we’ll need more of the same, please lads.

So a delirious group headed back to the Bognor clubhouse for a celebratory ale, and then wandered back into town. Only one wrong turn later – which isn’t a bad achievement given how strange a route you have to walk – we were back in The Alex. A quid check of t’internet revealed we were up to 4th in the table, and the landlord remembered the precise round we’d ordered five hours earlier, and started pouring the moment we got through the door. Now that’s a class end to an away day.

Except of course, it wasn’t the end. The train journey home delivered a drinking game – borne out of two cuddly toys, three furry dice, and a miniature boot – which consisted almost entirely of singing:

Alan Dowson’s magic,
He wears a magic hat,
And when he saw the Ryman League
He said top 8 is a realistic target

And this meant that the away day really ended in Victoria station, with a bemused public being educated into how Geordie managers play down expectations in non-league football. Classy? No. A public service? Certainly.