Urgent Questions for the Directors

Despite all the (justified) off-pitch concerns around Kingstonian, the most important club officer will always be the First Team Manager. We are, after all, still a football club – and more to the point, the morale of supporters can handle almost any disappointment as long as we actually look forward to watching our team play and believe in the man in charge. The manager sets the whole tone of the club. After Tommy Williams’ soporific tenure, with K’s sleepwalking into oblivion, Craig Edwards’ personality was a shot in the arm for Kingstonian FC as a whole. Away games at Merstham and Billericay reminded us all why we should and will fight so hard to save K’s: this is not an ordinary football club. His departure, and his statement to supporters posted on the K’s forum, raise some very serious questions.

The directors are not good at communicating. It has been said many times that this needs to change. In light of this statement, it MUST change NOW, otherwise any goodwill towards those running the club will evaporate – and what is this club without its supporters? After all, we have no other assets!

Questions that need answering:

1. Was the budget cut after one month of the season? If so, why?

2. What is the budget now in relation to what Craig Edwards was promised at the end of last season? If it is lower, how has “boost the budget” money been separated out from the other budget as promised?

3. When Craig Edwards refers to the directors being “willing to release” Tolfrey, Taylor and Vilcu, what does he mean?

4. What progress is being made in attracting further personal/commercial investment into the club to plug the (alleged) budget shortfall, and why is Craig so upset that Mark Anderson is no longer involved day-to-day? Has nobody picked up his duties? If so, why has there not been a request for assistance?

5. Can the directors please give the fans an urgent update on progress in finding a ground, and confirm their strategy for this?

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Saving Kingstonian – A Manifesto (of sorts)

Plenty has already been said and written about the referendum on community ownership, and it’s not my intention to add too much fuel to that particular fire. In my view, the referendum was ill-conceived, poorly timed and badly delivered; as such, both the exceptionally low turnout, and the one-sided result, were hardly surprising.

But something positive did come out of the referendum process: the opening of a (limited) dialogue between the board and fans, and the start of a debate amongst supporters with different views about the short and medium-term future of Kingstonian Football Club. This was much needed. There is clearly a variety of opinions about what needs to happen in the next few months, and the next few years, in order for the football club to survive and hopefully prosper in the future. These opinions need to be aired, and ideas shared, because at some point very soon the remaining 250 die-hard K’s fans will have to pull together and implement change. The alternative is the death of Kingstonian Football Club as we know it. Anybody who denies that the club will gradually die without changing its current trajectory is deluded. That is not a criticism of the current board per se, because they have done, and continue to do, a great deal to keep the club alive – but more needs to be done.

Of course, by far the most important issue affecting the football club at the moment is that we are being made homeless at the end of this season. If we had our own ground, so many things would be easier to improve. But everything that follows can be done – or at least partially done, or started – independent of where the men’s first team is playing football.

In that spirit, what follows is a summary of ideas and suggestions that have been proposed either on the forum, in the pub, on the terraces, or at open meetings in the past that I think are good ideas. Think of it as a step towards a manifesto (of sorts) for how we all can help to improve Kingstonian Football Club, new ground or no new ground. Like it or not, we are all going to have to get involved.

A) COMMUNICATION & FAN ENGAGEMENT

  1. The people in charge of the club should communicate with other supporters as routine, not by exception. Whoever is in charge of Kingstonian – be it one all-powerful chairman who owns 100% of the club, or a committee of fans elected by a one-member one-vote system, or our current three co-chairmen – should engage with supporters without prompting, and without feeling like it’s a chore that gets in way of the ‘important’ bits of running a football club. In order to thrive and grow, K’s needs to develop a feeling of togetherness and a “one for all” spirit: we are, after all, meant to be a Club where we all have something important in common. More communication leads to more supporter engagement, and more supporter engagement will lead to more supporter involvement. More supporter involvement in the club cannot be a bad thing: if people feel more involved, they’re more likely to make the effort to attend matches; they’re more likely to drag friends and family to games; they’re more likely to buy a 50/50 or an extra drink in the bar; they might think about sponsoring a match or contribute to a boost-the-budget scheme. It’s about time that any board of Kingstonian Football Club recognized that actively building a sense of togetherness isn’t an aspiration, or something that sounds nice – it’s necessary, it requires action from those at the top, and it will deliver real benefits.

  2. Install a membership scheme (or similar) so that there is a defined group of “Kingstonian fans” with which any board can easily engage. The only good thing that came out of the referendum is that we now have the beginnings of a register of Kingstonian supporters – because what did we have before? We had records of season ticket holders, but we don’t have many of those; we had members of the Supporters Club, but this seems to be focused on a limited number of things such as away travel, and has always been a body that isn’t for everyone. Yet we know, both in terms of attendances and anecdotally, that there are at least 250 people who are die-hard, passionate K’s. Those running the club need to be able to communicate directly with the vast majority of these people, so that they both feel involved (see above), and so that they can be asked to contribute to the survival of the club in whatever way they can. This club will need everybody who cares about it to help it, and the starting point for that is obvious: let’s find out as best we can who cares about the club. Then we need to find out how people can help, either financially, with their time, with their ideas, or just their regular attendance at games. It all helps – but we need to ask people for that help, rather than just hoping people will offer it.
  3. Create at least two sub-committees with specific tasks and roles, to feed into the main board at regular pre-agreed intervals. The specific nature of these committees would be up for discussion, but in my opinion they should cover as an absolute minimum:
  • Attendances and general marketing promotions;
  • K’s involvement in the local community;
  • Commercial income and promotions. 

    Unless something goes incredibly wrong with football, or I win the lottery, the board of Kingstonian FC will continue to be made up of unpaid volunteers, working part-time to help the club. This in itself deserves enormous respect – and in any criticism of our current co-chairmen, it ought to be borne in mind – because it is hard and largely unrewarding work. As such, why not use the experience, knowledge and passion of supporters to help to develop the football club? This approach has the dual benefits of (i) bringing more people into the fold and as such widening the number of ideas on the table, and (ii) freeing up the board’s time to focus on the new stadium and on the football side of the club.

  1. Develop and agree plans for an interim board structure which can be implemented with or without any vote on full fan ownership of club shares. This example maintains control for the 3 major investors, but includes supporter representation, and requires commitment from the manager. We are after all a football club! My preferred option:
    • 3 major shareholders, plus
    • 1 elected (or agreed) representative from club membership (see above – not Supporters Club), plus
    • First Team Manager.
  2. Allow supporters (or ‘members’ if scheme above is a success) to see the financial performance of the club. I said above that “more communication leads to more engagement, and more engagement will lead to more involvement.” This is also true in the area of finances. To flesh this out a little:
    • If income was lower than expected for the previous season, and the club has a shortfall, why not tell supporters and spell out the choice that either a) supporters cover the shortfall, b) the playing budget is reduced, c) further investment is required – e.g. a share issue?
    • If matchday income is up due to supporter involvement, why not let people know so they are heartened and re-double their efforts?
    • If it’s obvious that groundsharing is costing the club vast swathes of its playing budget, why wouldn’t fans redouble our efforts to bring extra income into the club in the short term?
    • This doesn’t mean that club finances would be completely open, because this would massively undermine both the board’s negotiating position with suppliers and the manager’s negotiating position with players. But there is no reason at all why a Profit & Loss summary could not be produced every year, and reviewed with club members. All I am talking about is something like this…(and please, accountants and business owners, don’t go mad at me…I know it’s “wrong”…I’m illustrating the sort of basic level of detail you’d need to illustrate how possible and easy this is. I also know that the numbers are totally unrealistic before somebody also comments on that):

 screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-19-34-03

B) VOLUNTEERING

Without dedicated volunteers, a non-league football club cannot survive. We are very lucky to have the people who currently act as volunteers, all of whom are universally recognized as brilliant. But we need more people to volunteer, firstly because the club cannot expect those people to carry on giving so much of their time and effort for ever, and even more importantly, because with more volunteers we can begin to improve what the club does on matchdays and expand our presence in the community, rather than just aiming to maintain the status quo.

In my opinion and experience, there are two main barriers to more people volunteering to help the club:

  • People don’t know the club needs help, don’t think that the club would appreciate the help, or simply don’t know how to go about helping;
  • People are scared that helping will be too big a commitment.

So, what needs to happen ASAP?

  1. Be open about volunteering requirements, wishlists, and “nice to haves”. Sometimes we are told if the club desperately requires more volunteers, but when were we last told if the club would benefit from, or even could do with, more volunteers? Some roles cannot be done without: turnstile operators etc. Some roles are clearly very beneficial: 50/50 salespeople etc. Some roles are important, but have hidden rather than direct benefits: programme editor. And some roles are nice to have people to do, but not essential: social media etc. Let’s get this all written down, and then fill in who does the roles currently. Let’s see where the gaps are. Then let’s advertise internally every summer and see which gaps can be closed. I’m sorry to say this, but it seems like a closed shop at the moment…a bit of a clique. We’ve got to stop that immediately.
  1. Set up a volunteering rota for as many roles as possible to involve more people and spread the demands more thinly. Some people can’t make every game, or can only make 10 games a season…so why prevent them from doing what they can to help? The ‘regulars’ might really appreciate a day off, and some people won’t want to spend every home game volunteering, but would help every other game (for instance). Equally, something important might come up on one day of the season (a wedding, a funeral, or anything!) and even the most dedicated volunteer might not be able to make it. Getting a ‘sub’ in shouldn’t be difficult in 2017. I bet any money that setting up a rota such as this would massively increase the number of people who would be prepared to volunteer. As an easy example, I was prepared to help with the club’s Twitter account provided it was an irregular thing. As somebody else was also prepared to do the majority of the work, we took it on, and took one of Robert’s many many roles from him, giving him a little less to do. As a further example, sometimes there’s one 50/50 seller, sometimes two. Presumably the club makes an extra £30-50 or so when there’s the second seller, but as it stands nobody can commit to doing it every single week. What if 2/3 people said they’d cover that role between them? It can only benefit the club.
  1. Organize volunteering through one point of contact (which does not have to be one person). One of the reasons that the above two points don’t currently happen is that things aren’t well organized (and I don’t mean ‘Matchday’, overseen brilliantly by Alan, or the media stuff overseen brilliantly by Robert…I’m talking in general here). Sorry if that offends anybody, but it’s the truth. It would be a big commitment for somebody to take this on, but again, could 2 people share the role perhaps?
  2. Be explicitly and more regularly thankful of our volunteers! These wonderful people deserve to be celebrated and venerated. Let’s do that more.
    • Introduce a “Volunteers Day” every season to thank the people who keep the club running. Every volunteer gets in for free, gets a free drink voucher, gets to go on the pitch at half time or whatever, etc
    • Print people’s names in the programme – if they want!
    • Encourage ex-volunteers to return to the club, even if they don’t want to volunteer again. People who’ve given so much of their time to the club should always feel welcome, no matter what happened in the past
    • And anything else – ideas welcome!

C) MARKETING, CROWDS & MATCHDAY EXPERIENCE

  1. Set up a committee with responsibility for this area (see above). Let all ideas be welcome and make sure the committee is a totally open shop, not a clique.
  2. If schemes are trialled, we need to be able to quantify whether they are a success, a qualified success, or a failure. This isn’t easy and it will require some expertise – but we do have a remarkable group of supporters. We then need to focus on what works, and stop doing what doesn’t work. Sounds obvious, but we’re in the dark at the moment. What is the best way to use willing volunteers’ time in promoting the club?
  3. Set genuine targets and measures on attendances to improve things. I remember a couple of years ago at an open meeting, Mark Anderson insisted that “gates aren’t going down actually – they’re at the same level they’ve been at for the last few seasons”. To anyone who came to home matches, this was clearly bollocks: you only had to look at the crowds to see we were, and still are, gradually losing home fans. But he was just looking at the overall ‘average attendance’ stats, which masked the fact that we had about half a dozen massive travelling supports that year. Come on: let’s do better than this. There’s a load of measures we could put in to track whether things are improving – and to keep the necessary and intense focus on expanding the supporter base. If we don’t do this, the club will die. The problem is that we’re going to be groundsharing, and gates will go down inevitably. From that low point, we need to bounce back.
  4. Focus on matchday experience: it is what makes the difference for new supporters, and when all’s said and done, what keeps existing supporters coming back season after season. In practical terms, at the moment, would we pay slightly more for a groundshare with cover at both ends and the ability to drink outside? I think we probably ought to consider doing that. People come for the day out, not for the game…and actually, K’s have got a lot to offer. Our fans are passionate and witty; we have great songs; we have great history to sing about; our travelling support can be really impressive and fun to be a part of. Let’s use all of that as a positive rather than either ignoring it, or even worse, seeing it as some kind of negative.

D) COMMERCIAL & OTHER INCOME STREAMS

  1. Set up a committee with responsibility for this area (see above) – this doesn’t have to be all new people, because why ‘punish’ those working so hard in this sphere at the moment?
  2. We need more people selling the club to businesses (or wealthy individuals, I suppose). At the moment, there’s basically the chairmen plus one volunteer. How can we make this happen? I’m not sure I have any answers, but we’re not going to get very far if someone out there can’t come up with the answers.
  3. We need something to sell: we need to be the community football club of Kingston-upon-Thames. (That doesn’t necessarily mean ‘community owned’). This requires us to massively increase our links with the local community, so that we’re not lying when we say that a) we have great reach in the area for local businesses, and b) we have a great local brand. This is the hardest one of all, but not impossible, as other clubs at our level and below have shown. AFC Wimbledon leaving Kingston will help – but not if we don’t become Kingston’s football team once again.

E) LAST BUT NOT LEAST…FOOTBALL!

  1. Re-integrate Kingstonian Youth into the Kingstonian Football Club structure. As it stands, K’s Youth use the club’s famous name and colours – and in return, the name “Kingstonian” and the red and white hoops get great exposure in the community without any actual financial outlay. But can’t we do better than this – and shouldn’t we be aiming to do better than this? In my direct experience, people in Kingston presume – wrongly – that Kingstonian FC has overall control of Kingstonian Youth. Leafletting in Kingston, I’ve twice had the finger pointed at “the club” for increases in youth subs, or poor quality coaching. This can’t be right. There needs to be a direct link between K’s Youth and the first team. Younger teams should come to matches as guests far more frequently than they do, bringing their parents, and then given incentives to return beyond a free season ticket; they should feel part of the Club. Slightly older teams should be encouraged to see a pathway to the first team. The U18s should be producing players capable of playing some role in the future of the club: this may not be a direct transition, but one that happens later in life. It cannot harm the club if more good footballers based in London have an emotional connection with Kingstonian Football Club as a whole. And it will genuinely help the football club in terms of both ground-building and commercial sponsorship to be able to point to these links as real and tangible evidence of its importance to the local community.
  2. Develop a reputation as club that plays entertaining football. If the future of the club is on a 3G or 4G pitch via a period of groundsharing, then in my opinion this is extremely important. Particularly when we’re groundsharing, gates will plummet unless we are playing attractive, entertaining football. This does not necessarily mean tiki-taka, which often doesn’t translate at non-league level, but must mean excitement, and hopefully goals. Of course this isn’t easy, and doesn’t happen overnight, but it is possible. And if we do manage to build or create a home of our own in future, then becoming known as a ground where you’ll be entertained will a) bring in sponsorship, b) increase gates, and c) improve the chances of developing links with professional clubs, both in terms of lucrative pre-season friendlies, and in terms of loaning their young players.
  1. Define and agree the role of First Team Manager and Assistant Manager, and recruit on that basis. Since Geoff Chapple, we have had managers with vastly different approaches to a role with the same job title, and Assistant Managers who range widely in their experience and qualifications. What actually is the role of the management team, apart from to set up and football team to win football matches? Should they also be told that they’ll be expected to deliver any of the following?
    • To make sure the team plays attacking and entertaining football?
    • To bring contacts and potentially increased commercial investment into the club?
    • To act as part of the club’s work in the community, promoting the club?
    • To get involved with other areas of the club (e.g. Youth, Academy or Ladies teams) in a coaching capacity?

And if they can’t do anything other than trying to win games, should the club be prepared to pay them less than a manager who can? In my view we should.

  1. Have a first-team football strategy, and implement it. The non-league season is uneven, both in terms of the spread of fixtures, and the importance of fixtures: put bluntly, some parts of the season matter more than others. There are more midweek league matches at the start of the season than the middle and the end (unless there is a bad weather winter); all-important FA Cup and FA Trophy games are in September, October and November. Obviously, there is also no transfer window, and most players aren’t on a fixed contract. As such, a sensible manager will front-load his budget to take this into account. If a cup run brings in some money, he’ll be able to maintain the slightly higher level; if not, he may have to cut cloth accordingly. And if there’s a promotion chance or a relegation battle at the end of the season, extra funds should then be provided as a calculated gamble. If we’re comfortably mid-table, it may be that the budget can be squeezed even further without letting players go who are in the manager’s plans for the following season. This should all go without saying…but it doesn’t seem to happen at the moment. Our team in August and September was a shambles, and we’ve just signed an expensive player on contract when we can’t go up or go down this year. Go figure.

Words are easy. But achieving any of the above won’t be easy – and the changes and developments in this piece are only a very small part of those required. It’s going to take a lot of action and commitment, possibly over a long period of time, to make Kingstonian FC a success once again. But this great club has one big advantage: a large group of passionate and dedicated people who are desperate for the good times to return. If we all work together, we can make it happen – but it has to start right now. Let’s get started.

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

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

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…