“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.

You’re Not Fit To Referee – Hendon (A)

So far this season, I’ve written five in-depth thoughts about games I’ve attended – tactical observations, opinions on the opposition, descriptions of key moments in the game for those who weren’t there, and so on. For Saturday’s game against Hendon, there’s no point. The game can be summed up very quickly: on a dire pitch – not Hendon’s fault, to be fair – this was a dire game decided by a goal scored as a result of a dire defensive mistake. Rob Tolfrey made a notable save during the second half, and Andre McCollin deserves a mention for his work rate and perseverance up front. That’s all I have to say.

The view during the first half. The quality of the game can be summed up by knowing that one Hendon free-kick (which took at least 3 minutes to take) ended up two-thirds of the way up the fir tree in the picture

The view during the first half. The quality of the game can be summed up by knowing that one Hendon free-kick (which took at least 3 minutes to take) ended up two-thirds of the way up the largest tree in the picture

The reason that’s all I have to say is that the game itself – the match involving 22 players kicking a ball around the pitch in an effort to score goals, and therefore win the game – was completely irrelevant. The referee made absolutely sure that he was the only show in town, the only man on the pitch worth watching, and the chief contributor to the afternoon’s ‘entertainment’.

This ‘entertainment’, for which most of the crowd had paid the not insignificant sum of £10 to watch, consisted of the man in black blowing his whistle at entirely random events about every thirty seconds the ball was in play. There would then be a delay of two to three minutes while the referee pottered about the pitch, often booking the nearest Kingstonian player for ‘dissent’ (when in fact they were simply asking him to hurry up play), arranging the players to his satisfaction, telling the free kick taker to move the ball, talking to more players, and then allowing play to continue. For another thirty seconds. Repeat for ninety minutes.

This man should never referee another football game again. He is an enemy of entertainment, a thief of joy, a pathetic attention-seeking nobody who referees purely so that the crowd is looking at him. He did not simply have ‘a bad game’. Referees make mistakes – at our level, they make dreadful mistakes – but these are human errors, borne out of a poor decision made almost instantaneously. The better referees will make fewer of these errors of judgement, of course, but such mistakes are forgivable. This referee did not just make mistakes, however – his entire style of refereeing was designed to stop a game of football being played, presumably because he cannot handle a flowing game of football, being incapable of getting anything right at the slow pace of this game, let alone in a full-blooded affair. In other words, the only possible explanation for a such a bizarre display of officiating is that he ruined the game deliberately.

This rant has nothing to do with the referee favouring Hendon over Kingstonian on the day. In fact, he missed the two worst tackles of the game, both deserving of bookings at the very least, both perpetrated by Kingstonian players. There’s not even any point going into the specifics of the litany of appalling individual decisions he made, the worst of which was to send off Wade Small for jumping for the ball. The only reason he appeared to favour one team over the other was that the senior Hendon players figured him out straight away, became his on pitch ‘friends’, and refereed the game on his behalf; the Kingstonian players, on the other hand, naively went about their business for the first half an hour rather than getting in the official’s ear, and therefore bore the brunt of the decisions. On another day, it could have been Hendon who had a man sent off and several players booked.

But what is certain is this: he will ruin every single game he referees.

A final note. As if the referee’s determination to render the spectators’ afternoon futile was not enough, the Hendon team embarked on one of the most extraordinary – and depressing – episodes of timewasting I’ve seen during a football game. 1-0 up and playing against ten men, Hendon tried every single trick in the book: three minute substitutions, deliberate fake throws, s-l-o-w goal kicks, waiting a minute to take every single set piece, ‘running out’ of footballs on the bench, feigning injury, and probably more I didn’t even notice. Their senior players also insisted that the referee send off Wade Small, assisted by ludicrous play-acting from the Hendon keeper, who ought to be ashamed of his antics. This sort of conduct is to be expected in the Premier League, but at non-league level, where most of the players turn out for the love of the game, it is disgraceful – and has certainly soiled my opinion of Hendon as a club, who have built a reputation for fair play over many seasons. Again, this is not one-eyed ranting; I would be ashamed if Kingstonian ever resort to such tactics.

What a dreadful afternoon for non-league football. Is it any wonder gates are down when we subject loyal fans of non-league to 90 minutes, in freezing conditions, of the worst entertainment possible? Why should the eleven, then ten players, in red-and-white hoops by the only ones even vaguely trying to provide a spectacle for the paying punters?

I can only hope for a rip-roaring goal-fest against Lowestoft to get that out of the system. If you weren’t there on Saturday, be thankful.