“Der der der der, HOOPS, Nic Ciardini” – Dorking Wanderers (A)

Dorking away promised much: a new ground, to K’s fans at least; a new town to visit, for some of us; the prospect of a decent away following and some good pre-match plans; and best of all a K’s team to support who finally looked like a competitive outfit. And sure enough, the day started perfectly, with a bacon sandwich and a tin on the on-time train out to leafy Surrey. Even the weather was playing along: the sun was beaming down and, most incredibly of all, there was even the hint of some warmth in the air pre the donning of my beer jacket. Perhaps K’s winter of discontent was finally going to be over.

On the train journey, a couple of the day-trippers accompanying me asked about the current K’s team. Who should they look out for these days? “Andre McCollin is back. Tolfrey is still the best keeper in the league. The left back is good. And you can’t miss Ciardini, he’s a proper unit.” There wasn’t really much more to say: even I don’t know who half the players are at the moment, but as it turned out my instinct was right…Ciardini was a good man to mention. Somehow we moved onto impressions of Michael Caine in the style of Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in The Trip, perhaps because the legendary Londoner lives in Leatherhead – try saying that after a few pints – or perhaps because we are sad bastards, only for our terrible attempts at “she was only 15 years old” and “I’m not burying another Batman” to be interrupted by a stranger across the aisle:

“I work for Michael Caine.”
“You what mate?”
“I’m Michael Caine’s security. I can’t do an impression of him though.”
“Are you serious? As in, you work for him at the moment?”
“Yeah. I’m a Yorkshireman so he takes the piss out of me for me accent…”
“Does he like the Coogan and Brydon impressions of him?”
“Yeah he absolutely loves them. Not sure which one he thinks is better though. One of your impressions wasn’t too bad. Have a good day.”

That bizarre scene over, and having met up with some other K’s fans just outside Dorking station – “stick together lads, this Dorking mob are tasty” – we were led through the back lanes of Dorking by Simon, who’s moved “out to the sticks”, in his own words. LakeIt’s a glorious little town, with a babbling brook, a pond surrounded by parkland, and countless ancient narrow alleys, all overlooked by Box Hill. And once we got to the main street, things got even better, because there were several very old pubs just waiting to be explored.

We settled into the beer garden of The Old House, because if you can comfortably settle into a beer garden in February without being cold, then why wouldn’t you? A few pints of London Gold later – plus one pint of Thatchers Gold, because to one of our party that was apparently the same thing – it seemed a good idea to head over the road to the Kings Arms, a picturesque old pub, for one last pint before a taxi to the ground. The day kept on giving – this wasn’t any old taxi journey, but a rapid ride round Dorking courtesy of a one-legged driver who wouldn’t stop joking about his prosthetic leg: “I’m going to lock the doors, because if you run off without paying lads, I won’t be able to catch you”. It wasn’t easy to know whether to laugh or sympathise, but the way he drove we didn’t have long to think about it.

So suddenly we were dropped off at Wanderers’ ground, in the shadow of Box Hill and just off the A24. This was a properly tinpot setup, more befitting of the setting for the kind of cup tie against lower league opposition that K’s specialise in losing, rather than a place to watch an Isthmian League game. But it was very charming, especially the little wooden bar and tea hut, and the view of the Surrey Hills was spectacular. With the sun shining, and K’s due to attack the covered end in the second half, things were still looking good.

WesthumbleThings continued to look good in the opening part of the match, as K’s competed well and limited Dorking to half-chances. K’s went closest to scoring when the Wanderers right-back inexplicably smashed a back-pass towards his own goal. Incredibly fortunately for him, and incredibly unfortunately for the travelling fans who would never have ceased talking about this amazing own-goal, the ball rolled inches wide of the far post. Meanwhile, unlike his Enfield counterpart, the Dorking keeper remained irritatingly focussed in the face of the usual distraction techniques from behind the goal. Then out of nowhere Dorking took the lead, via mistakes from both K’s centre halves. A ball over the top was missed by one, and then the other one clattered into a clumsy challenge and gave away a penalty. With Tolfs in goal all was not lost, but the lad took a great spot kick and Dorking went into half-time 1-0 up.

There was still hope: K’s were attacking the end with some cover in the second half, and the healthy-sized travelling support tried to make some noise to encourage the yellow-clad lads forward. But Dorking were being held together by a mighty, talismanic performance by their number 7, Jerome Beckles, who was running the game from midfield. At one point he held off three challenges with ease before spraying the ball 40 yards to a Dorking winger. It was going to take something special to break Wanderers down, especially on the tacky pitch…and that’s exactly what happened. McCollin slipped the ball to West, who took a touch and then curled an exquisite right-footed shot into the top corner. You don’t see goals of that pure class at this level very often, and it inspired the rest of the lads, putting K’s on the front foot against a Dorking side who were suddenly hanging on.

But the man it inspired the most was Nic Ciardini. Ciardini has been the subject of some stick from the terraces in his time with K’s so far, some of it from this correspondent, and to my mind that’s been justified. This isn’t park football: he is being paid to play semi-professional football, against people who take their physical fitness seriously. I’m not saying he has to have the physique of a male model, but he should at the very least not have a belly. After all, most of us manage to be vaguely in shape despite not playing two matches a week plus football training – it must be genuinely difficult to be overweight when doing that much exercise! But as the cliche goes, the first yard is in your head – “with him the first five yards is going to need to be in his head”, said one fan at Enfield – and what Ciardini has shown so far in his brief time at K’s is that he has a great first touch, and clearly some real ability on the ball.He took that to a completely different level on Saturday. First, he cut inside onto his left foot and unleashed a screamer into the top corner, sending the travelling fans wild. Then, only minutes later, he again picked up the ball in the inside right channel, and this time ran into space before dispatching the ball into the bottom corner with real authority. Pints went in the air; Ciardini came over to the K’s fans and caused a massive bundle. “Not bad for a far c*nt!” he shouted in the middle of the celebrations. Fair play to the bloke.Bundle

The remaining minutes zipped by to a chorus of songs from the K’s faithful, largely serenading the chubby hero of the hour. Delighted to have witnessed three such brilliant goals, it was the kind of win that makes you realise why you love football and puts you in a good mood for the rest of the weekend. Having negotiated the death trap that is crossing the A24 in the half-light, we eventually made it back to the station pub, where my enthusiasm couldn’t even be dampened by being repeatedly thrashed at pool.

What a day out. Bring on Margate…

K’s Player Ratings: Tolfrey 7; Gogonas 7, Phillips 6, Francis 6, Musungu 7; Yao 7, Beere 6.5; *Ciardini 9*, West 7.5, Cundle 7; McCollin 6.5


“How Sh*t Must You Be, We’re Winning 3-1” – Enfield Town (A)

1. It’s been a long time since I’ve written one of these blogs – no doubt a fact that’s delighted the vast majority of you – but a much-needed K’s victory at Enfield has inspired your correspondent to pen five thoughts. It would be easy to blame a busy life and too much work for the absence of activity on this site for the past few months, but the truth is that K’s dire form has been the main contributor. Firstly, it’s not much fun to go and watch a dismal defeat and then sit down and write about it; I’d much rather forget about the whole experience the minute I eventually get home from Leatherhead (or wherever). Secondly, I haven’t even been to that many games recently – and I’ve missed some of those on purpose. For somebody who has already been to Lowestoft away and Bognor at Worthing on a Tuesday night this season, this is quite a big deal; in fact, thinking about it, this is the first time I’ve deliberately stopped going to K’s every week for about a decade, previously only missing games for other events or work. We’ve regularly been dreadful in the last decade, and we’ve had spells playing even worse, but in my view watching K’s has never been as depressing as it has been since November. You can’t feel a bond with a team that changes every week, up to 68 players now this season; it’s hard to feel like cheering on the new right-back every week when you know the manager has released a club legend in favour of a revolving door; it’s impossible to get excited about a “great new signing” as trumpeted by Dynan when most of the players we sign who aren’t on loan seem to be his overweight mates; I’m still fuming at the board agreeing to spend thousands of pounds on two players from Whyteleafe who are both now playing back in the pub league; I can’t stand having to buy a train ticket at Vauxhall to go outside the M25 on a long journey when K’s look like never scoring again on a pitch resembling the Somme; I hate that Sutton are fighting for promotion to the football league while we’re trying to avoid the trap-door to the Ryman One South. For the time being, I’ve just had enough. That doesn’t mean I’m not supporting the club – I’ve already done my bit this season – but I can’t motivate myself to go every week. But a big away day, you say? A few pre-match pints and a good sing-song? I’m there…and so I was there at Enfield and I’ll be there at Dorking and I’ll be there at Margate. Even K’s on-pitch performance can’t ruin a well-planned away day.

2. It looked very much like K’s wretched form was about to continue on Saturday. An already make-shift line-up with winger Yao at right back became an even more lop-sided eleven after only a couple of minutes when K’s only enforcer, Marvin Elliott, was forced off and replaced by nimble wide-man Connor Hunte. This left the K’s travelling contingent – and probably the K’s players, in all fairness – scratching their heads and wondering what system we were trying to play. At times it looked like 4-4-2, at times 4-2-3-1, and at times a narrow 4-3-3. A kind interpretation would be to give Leigh Dynan the benefit of the doubt and say that we were playing with the kind of tactical fluidity normally only seen at the highest level; equally, it was impossible to escape the conclusion that the players looked like they’d never met. K’s were 1-0 down and floundering against an Enfield side who looked cut out to play in the heavy conditions, boasting a big target man and two no-nonsense centre halves.

3. Then suddenly everything changed. Connor Hunte took a good first touch in the inside right channel, turned his marker neatly, ran with the ball for 5 yards and then slammed a left-foot strike from 25 yards into the far-bottom corner. It was a beautiful goal, made to seem even more out of place by both the appalling conditions in which it was scored, and K’s performance up until this moment of magic. The goal galvanised the patchwork Kingstonian team, and for the rest of the first half the game was relatively even, albeit with both sides struggling to play on the churned-up pitch in the freezing cold rain and wind. Enfield went closest to scoring when Michael West stupidly gave the ball away attempting an ambitious turn 25 yards out, with the recipient of this good fortune hitting the post, but the teams went in level with the travelling support in good voice.

4. After another excellent pint of Redemption Pale Ale at half time (only £3.30 a pint, making up for any semi-professional drinker the steep £11 entry to watch semi-professional football) the second half resumed in the pouring rain, with the pitch getting heavier and heavier. Your correspondent was already in high spirits – and not just from the pints of Redemption – as an absolute weapon of a horse, appropriately named Kalashnikov, had scored in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. The day already paid for, it looked like it really was going to be my lucky day as wave after wave of Enfield attacks were somehow repelled, either by the woodwork (twice) or by Rob Tolfrey (more than twice). K’s then broke down the right via an energetic run by Yao, who slipped the ball down the line to West, and his perfect cross was turned in expertly by arch-poacher Andre McCollin. Ooo yeah! Tolfrey then made two more superb saves before Jerry Amoo, on for the goalscorer, looked to be brought down just outside the box, but the ref pointed to the spot. Amoo dusted himself down as best he could in the conditions, and took a poor penalty which Enfield keeper Taylor McKenzie managed to let in. McKenzie had a wretched afternoon, conceding three goals without making a save, to add to the four goals he’d conceded to K’s in the reverse fixture. When this was pointed out to him – along with the indisputable fact that he might have got down better to the penalty if he were carrying slightly less excess baggage around the middle, shall we say – he responded by offering the behind the goal fans a fight in the bar after the game. Cue many deserved renditions of “we’re in your head”! If Carlsberg did non-league goalkeepers…

5. Enfield Town offer an example of a success story that K’s can emulate. A famous club (check), forced out of their historic home (check), eventually managing to return to an athletics ground within Enfield owned the council, after raising money to help to convert it into a decent football venue. The bar is brilliant, and somewhere any fan would go out of their way to spend an hour before and after games. There are covered terraces behind each goal. It’s possible to walk there from the town centre. What more could anyone want? I am in favour of using our £1 million on Cor-Cas under certain conditions, namely that we are full 50% partners in any scheme and future ownership of the facilities. But it always has seemed very odd to me that the Kingsmeadow athletics track is simply dismissed out of hand as a solution, especially when serving Kingston councillors are trying to tell the club that there is a desire within the council to make it happen. The inside lane of the running is always the same length, so the space inside the track is always the same size in total – it’s madness to suggest this as a sticking point when there’s a million quid to spend sorting things out. It’s more about: a) whether the £1 million would enable us to get *all* the facilities on site we would need to make the ground a good place to watch football, including a good bar, and b) whether a 3G pitch can dovetail with javelin, hammer etc. I don’t know the answer to the last question – but if that’s an insurmountable problem, why don’t the board members tell us that? It’s impossible to escape the conclusion that no serious thoughts have actually been given to the athletics track solution. When you spend an enjoyable afternoon at Enfield Town, that becomes ever harder to understand.

K’s Player Ratings: *Tolfrey 9*; Yao 7, Phillips 6, Bartley 6, Musungu 7; Elliott (Hunte 7), Ciardini 6, Beere 6, West 6; McCollin 6.5, Cundle 6

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

We’re The C*nts in Your Jungle – Billericay Town (A)

Football, eh? Bloody hell.

This wasn’t a normal first game of the season. Firstly, I was there; normally I can’t truly get back into football until the days have shortened, the urge to wear shorts has passed, and the County Championship winners have been crowned. Secondly, and more importantly, this match was a really big deal – not just for followers of K’s and Billericay, not just for followers of the Isthmian League, not even just for non-league fans, but for all real football supporters. Thousands of people up and down the country desperately wanted a Kingstonian victory, because K’s were cast in the role of David, taking on Goliath – and not just any old Goliath.

It’s perfectly normal for non-league clubs to get taken over by monied owners, who massively increase the playing budget in an effort to take their new toy up the leagues. While this is annoying for the rest of the clubs in that league, whose best players leave for a pay-day, and who know that they’re all chasing second place (barring catastrophic mis-management), it’s not remarkable. It doesn’t grab the attention of anyone outside fans of other clubs in the same league. That club become the team everyone wants to beat for a season, then they get promoted and everyone forgets all about it – until of course we meet them again on the way back down, the rich new owner having inevitably become bored and left the club with debts it can’t pay.

But Billericay are different, and that’s due to the very unusual nature of their benefactor, Glenn Tamplin, who isn’t like the other monied owners we’ve seen before at this level. One of his first major investments was to have a giant mural – or “muriel” as he prefers to call it – painted along the outside wall of the main stand. Its largest feature is a gigantic and genuinely disturbing representation of Glenn himself, in bed, having his epiphany of investing in Billericay in order to “win trophys” [sic] and “get to professional leagues”. The small detail that he first tried to buy a completely different football club – Dagenham & Redbridge – in order to realise his dreams is mysteriously overlooked. The point being that these are very much his dreams, rather than his dreams for Billericay Town Football Club. His first major decision as owner was that he would become first-team manager, making highly-respected and successful gaffer Craig Edwards’ position untenable. Billericay’s loss was fortunately Kingstonian’s gain, as Edwards moved to Kingsmeadow and masterminded a great escape from relegation at the end of last season, before plotting his revenge this year. Meanwhile, Tamplin began signing new players for ‘Ricay in numbers, and on wages, that have never been seen at this level of English football before. In addition to a host of top quality non-league talent such as Billy Bricknell, this summer saw the signings of Jermaine Pennant, Paul Konchesky and Kevin Foley, all of whom need no introduction. The Non-League Paper has estimated that ‘Ricay’s wage bill may be as high as £30k per week – something Tamplin denies, completely missing the point by saying that “nobody is on over a grand a week”. When Kingstonian’s wage bill is about £3k per week in total, having one single player on a grand a week puts Billericay’s spending into perspective. There may never have been such a colossal disparity in any league between one club’s wage spending and the others.

This spending is of course totally pointless: a good manager could easily win the league with a third of the budget, meaning that Tamplin is pissing his apparently hard-earned money up the mural, as it were. It almost feels like he’s spending such ludicrous amounts of money simply because he can – like the classless millionaire in a West London club spending £10,000 on a mediocre bottle of champagne. But what leaves a really sour taste in the mouth of owners, players and fans of other clubs in the Isthmian League is his total lack of respect for the competition, who don’t have the advantage of ex-Champions League and FA Cup finalists in their starting elevens. He has said that ‘Ricay would be top all season and anyone who (however respectfully) disagreed was a “hater”. He has said that Billericay are going to “smash this league”. He puts his pre-match team-talks up on Twitter to show what a great leader he is – of course, all they show is an angry, ranting man whose most insightful piece of advice to his clearly embarrassed players is “DON’T LET ANY CUNTS IN YOUR JUNGLE!”. Anybody who asks him to show his peers more respect is labelled a “sad keyboard warrior”. And, most critically of all, he thinks that football at this level is so tinpot that he – Glenn Tamplin, with no footballing experience – can manage a team to the title without losing a match.


Against this backdrop, I didn’t take much persuasion to go all Kevin Keegan on Saturday morning: I would *love it* if we beat this arrogant bully. The chances, of course, were slim – and discussion on the train mainly revolved around what would constitute a “moral victory” even if we couldn’t win the three points. Particular joy would be had if ex-Billericay players Tom Derry and Ricky Appleton scored; even more enjoyable would be if Pennant, Konchesky et al had little influence on the game; and maybe, just maybe, with a bit of luck we could sneak a result…

Upon arrival at New Lodge it was obvious that Tamplin has spent his money on more than journeyman mercenary footballers: the ground, previously slightly decrepit and with a famously boggy and uneven pitch, has seen major improvements on all four sides and to the playing surface. An outside bottle bar has also been installed, something which should be a ground-grading necessity in my beer-loving opinion. Surprisingly, it was easy enough to get served given that Tamplin was predicting a crowd of 3000+ for the season opener; this mystery was solved when the attendance was announced as just 1141. Even that seemed generous, with large gaps on the terracing all around the ground and a quiet and subdued atmosphere among the locals. Mind you, it’s not commonplace for punters at the circus to chant, is it?

In the first half, K’s were absolutely brilliant, nullifying the anticipated Billericay dominance with ease: Paul Konchesky, at left back, was having a torrid time, looking more like a fan who’d won his place in a raffle than an ex-Premier League footballer; Jermaine Pennant had decided that he could take free-kicks, much to the relief of Rob Tolfrey but not the ‘Ricay fans behind the goal forced to dodge his wild attempts; home keeper Julian began to look less and less sure of his handling amid a barrage of questions on his pay-packet from behind the goal. The travelling supporters’ initial nervousness was replaced with something approaching confidence as the half wore on, and with the score a comfortable 0-0 after 30 minutes, Tamplin was forced into making his first substitution, to the great amusement of those in red and white hoops, and no doubt the enormous satisfaction of Craig Edwards. The mockery began in earnest.

“They’re coming for you, they’re coming for youuuu,
HMRC, they’re coming for you”

“Don’t’cha wish your gaffer was Craig Edwards”

Half time involved a kids’ penalty shoot out, trying to avoid a long queue for the sweet shop which had replaced the tea bar, and R Kelly being played over the stereo. Tamplin was out early for the second half soaking up the love from assorted well-wishers and hangers-on. It was a strange vibe, in all honesty, and about as far away from non-league football as it’s possible to get.

The second half, however, was about as typical as non-league football gets. ‘Ricay brought on a giant target man, who proceeded to cause absolute havoc in the K’s box, and for a ten minute period it seemed as if K’s couldn’t get out of our box, let along our half. ‘Ricay hit the post, but mainly their endless attacks were thwarted by a heroic rearguard action from the back four, heading the ball away time after time or blocking shots by throwing their bodies into the line of fire. K’s were being outplayed, but Billericay were being out-tried by a group of lads who were absolutely determined to show Billericay Town’s mercenaries, and show Glenn Tamplin in particular, that you can’t buy points in the Isthmian League, and that talented individuals rarely beat a well-organised and drilled football team.

As the half continued with the score remaining goalless, the home side become more and more frustrated. Gradually, spaces were opening up on the counter-attack, and us travelling fans found our voices once again, dreaming of a winning goal. Suddenly, Ricky Sappleton (immense coming on as sub) poked a through ball behind the ‘Ricay defence, and Tom Derry was clean through. Those of us behind the goal held our breath – was this the moment? – only for Derry to be hauled down just outside the box before he could shoot. It was a clear red card, and the referee didn’t fail to do his job. At this point Billericay allowed their frustrations to boil over, and turned into a rabble, probably not helped by the decision-making of their inexperienced manager, whose ego wouldn’t allow him to settle for a point. K’s swarmed forward, but it looked like a famous victory had slipped away when Jack Parter headed against the post from 6 yards – with the goal open – in the last minute of the game. And then, in injury time, it happened: Lewis Taylor ran through in acres of space, steadied himself, and slammed a right-foot shot inside Julian’s near post to send the K’s fans, bench, and director’s box, absolutely wild. The chanting began, and continued long after the final whistle:

“We’re the c*nts in your jungle,
We’re the c*nts in your jungle”

Some of the locals, the kinds of losers drawn to watch Billericay this season only by the certainty of victory, didn’t react particularly well to their bubble being burst by a proper non-league football club and a proper non-league football manager. A young Gary Monk look-alike and his mates even took the brave step of trying to start a fight as they were walking out, and then seemed surprised that people might take them up on their offer. After this, some of us couldn’t resist taking commemorative photo in front of Glenn’s mural/muriel that you see above. “Are you taking the piss out of our muriel, you cunts?” asked a delightful local lady pensioner. “Yes,” came the reply. We most certainly were.

This was a great day not just for Kingstonian and Craig Edwards, but also for non-league football as a whole. The moral of the story is this: if you don’t want the c*nts to get into your jungle, don’t treat your peers like c*nts.

K’s Player Ratings: Tolfrey 9; Goode 9, *Page 10*, Rogers 9, Little 9; Fiddes 8.5, Gogonas 9, L Taylor 10, Parter 8.5; Taylor 8.5, Derry 9

We Love You Kingston, We Do – AFC Sudbury (H)

1. Rejoice! At last, a properly convincing performance from Kingstonian in the 2016/17 season! But what a shame – and a waste – that it’s taken until a full quarter of the way through the season, including a disastrous and ugly FA Cup defeat, to get to this point. It’s an even bigger shame that the issues we’ve had in putting a coherent team together have been so obvious, and therefore so avoidable. Sometimes it’s a mystery to paying punters why an eleven put on the field just doesn’t fit together as a unit, and ends up performing as less than the sum of its individual parts. There have been several K’s elevens during this spell in Ryman League mid-table purgatory that, on paper, seemed like they should be really good football teams, but have never convinced on the pitch. So I’m not saying this management lark is easy. But what is easy is looking at a squad in pre-season that contains only Joe Turner as a proven midfielder at this level, having lost Odamatey, O’Leary, Smith and Bennett, and thinking: “I reckon we’re going to have a problem in midfield”. What is also easy is realising within about 45 minutes that the most convincing thing about Dan Gallagher’s ability as a footballer is his haircut. What is even easier to understand is that if Ola Sogbamnu is a Ryman Premier league holding midfielder, then Rajesh Khosla is a trustworthy and valuable member of society. Yet somehow it’s taken until October to put together a first eleven that looks like a proper football team – and I’m afraid to say that’s incompetent management. Tommy Williams may very well turn it around with the squad we’ve now assembled and K’s may very well go on to have a good season. Obviously, I really hope so. But you don’t wildly praise a salesman for good Q2, Q3 and Q4 performance if he missed his targets so badly in Q1, through factors entirely within his control rather than bad luck, that he misses them for the whole year. Therefore, I think what our management team need to do is be a bit more humble: recognise that criticism they’ve received so far this season isn’t personal; it’s entirely objectively justified. Perhaps it might be time to think about what went wrong over pre-season and in August and September, and try to learn from those mistakes, rather than hitting out at people pointing those mistakes out?

2. But as much as they deserve to be under pressure for throwing away FA Cup revenue and giving the rest of the league a dozen game head start, Tommy Williams and his team do deserve credit for finally getting it right – because they’ve managed to do so in an unorthodox way. Firstly, placing faith in Sean Bonnett-Johnson as a central midfielder has been a masterstroke – and one that shows Williams must be a fundamentally good coach. I can’t think of a single supporter who’d have picked SBJ as a really good central midfield box-to-box dynamo based on his previous performances in red-and-white hoops, yet that’s exactly what he’s proving to be. Secondly, Aaron ‘Norman’ Lamont looks for all the world like a winger: he’s short, a bit stocky, and quick with the ball at his feet. But again, the management team have seen hidden potential in a player that isn’t immediately obvious, and Lamont’s best performances in a K’s shirt have come at number 8 or number 10 rather than on the right wing. Thirdly, the signing of Michael Onovwigun looks inspired. To this observer, he seems a cut above anything on the pitch whenever he is playing – which will hopefully be more often from now on.

3. On that note, it was the introduction of Onovwigun off the bench that changed Saturday’s game, because until he came onto the pitch, the result was in the balance. This wasn’t always looking like a straightforward and comprehensive 3-0 win. In the first half, despite K’s having far more of the ball, Sudbury were the team who created the chances, and Rob Tolfrey had to make one particularly fine stop to keep it goalless at the interval. Following half-time, K’s were as improved as my mood after having a fantastic pint of ale in the bar, something that is generally about as likely as meeting a Duwlich Hamlet ‘fan’ in South London who isn’t the kind of smug wanker that makes even socialists like me think twice about voting Labour. We scored a good goal when Pico impressively curled in a shot after a positive Lamont run through the middle, and we looked for a few minutes like adding a second and going on and dominating the game. But that isn’t what happened, because K’s back four and midfield got deeper and deeper, whether through lack of confidence or (what would be more worrying) tactical instruction, and left both of our excellent centre forwards increasingly isolated and unable to influence the game. As such, Sudbury pressed on and the next goal seemed likely to be an equaliser – albeit that the back four looked as solid as it has done all season and limited the Suffolk lads to half chances and a couple of scrambles from set pieces. Cue the eventual introduction of Onovwigun, a couple of crunching tackles won in midfield, a remarkably good early cross from Youssef Bamba and a towering header from Alan Inns, who had to beat not only the Sudbury defender but also Ryan Moss in the air to score.

4. That meant it was game over. For the rest of the match, K’s were really impressive: in total control, passing the ball well, and looking dangerous whenever we had the ball. One of the main reasons we looked so dangerous was the ten minute masterclass in tormenting a full back given by Bamba between the second goal and his substituation. Bamba looks like a real asset: he is a decent dribbler, and quick, but there’s plenty of Ryman League wingers who can offer that. The reason Bamba has the potential to be such a good player is that he has the rarest of non-league abilities: he can put in an early cross with enough dip and swerve for it to be attacked. In his brief time with K’s, he has already delivered two of these exceptional crosses, both attacking the KRE, and both resulting in K’s goals. As such, full backs think, “I’ve got to get tight to this bloke and stop the cross”…and then he can knock it past them and run down the line. The lad is an exciting prospect.

5. And actually, this K’s squad that’s now been put together is an exciting prospect, because there aren’t any weaknesses. The back five is obviously excellent, and Bruce Hogg is a very good deputy – although the players need to start proving this label by continuing what they started on Saturday and conceding fewer avoidable goals. Onovwigun and SBJ could be a terrific midfield partnership. Turner, Bamba and Lamont are strong, positive, attacking wide players – and Lamont has proven he can play in central midfield, giving Tommy another tactical option. Up front we are strong. Pico and Moss were superb on Saturday, and are developing a good understanding, and Tom Derry will be an asset once he’s got fit.

So, onwards and upwards…at last.

Player Ratings: Tolfrey 8; Goode 6, Inns 7, Hogg 7, Wells 6; Bamba 8, SBJ 7, Lamont 7, Turner 8; *Pico 8*, Moss 8

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.