19 March 2012
London FA Senior Cup Quarter Final
Kingsmeadow, Norbiton KT1
Team Talk. Avid readers (hello to both of you) will know that this isn’t the first Tale from the Kingsmeadow Pigeon Stand, having opened our blog with a trip to last season’s game between AFC Wimbledon and York City. However, it’s only fair that we give Kingstonian, the rightful natives of Norbiton, a fair crack of our Pigeony whip. So we girded our collective loins and headed south-westerly for the last remaining 2011-12 London Senior Cup Quarter Final.
Despite roots dating back to 1885, Kingstonian’s current incarnation is the result fo a merger between Old Kingstonians and Kingston-on-Thames. Old Kingstonians, then of the Old Norbiton Sports Ground (now Kingsmeadow) acted as the reserve team, whilst Kingston-on-Thames were based at Richmond Road, the club’s ground for nearly 70 years between 1919 and 1988.
Kingstonian are somewhat of a cup specialist, despite only winning the FA Amateur Cup once (compared to Dulwich Hamlet’s impressive 4 titles) they were twice successful in winning the FA Trophy in the 90s thanks to the Midas-handed management of non-league icon Geoff Chapple.
These days, Chapple is ensconced in the boardroom of Conference South champions-elect, Woking, and Kings are stewarded by Geordie and all-round good guy, Alan Dowson whose coaching staff also includes the only non-sexist at Sky Sports, Martin Tyler.
Whilst the glory days of the mid to late 90s have passed, Kinstonian are currently enjoying a stable period in the Isthmian Premier having recently escaped the clutches of Step 4, following promotion in 2009. I was (un)fortunate enough to see them lift the Isthmian Division 1 South title that year as they beat Dulwich 2-1 in Craig Edwards’ last game in charge of Dulwich. That was the last time I saw Kingstonian and here I was, back with the Hamlet; determined to see the Pink and Blues depart victorious.
Park the bus. Norbiton Station is about a 10 minute walk from Kingsmeadow, although if you are after a few jars on the way to/from the ground, I suggest you go the extra stop into Kingston. The walk out of town along London Road and then Cambridge Road will take you no more than 20 minutes at the very most. If you’re coming by car, there is plenty of parking although access is via a single road so it might take a while to get out on busy matchdays.
Homefield advantage. We covered a lot of ground when we visited last year, so I’m going to focus on the bits restricted by the Blue Square Powers that be.
Entry, despite being cheap (reduced to a bargain £7 for this County Cup tie) was potentially more tricky than expect as Kingmeadow seem to be operating some sort of No Fat Chicks policy on the turnstiles. Luckily, it was more spacious than initially feared but non-leaguers aren’t exactly renowned for their svelte physiques and I can think of some who would struggle. Still, it means there’ll be plenty of chips for the rest of us so no bad thing.
Once through, I was delighted to see some badges for sale. Terry’s Badges, a massive highlight of visit #1 and of many visiting supporter’s trips to Kingsmeadow were not there but another vendor with the same level of passion for pins had turned up. WHilst his collection was admirable (especially for a monday night match, he didn’t seem to have the same gravitas Terry.
Either the button-on business isn’t as lucrative as he hoped or he didn’t think the Dulwich massive would be big spenders. Whatever the truth, instead of a majestic table in the style of Terry’s Badges, had been replaced with the top of a wheelie bin.
Optimistically, they were trying to push a Hamlet badge for £20. We might be pink and blue dandies from the right side of the tracks but we’re not idiots. In fairness, the amiable bin/badge attendant admitted that badge might not actually be worth £25 and in fact he seemed willing to let it go for a fiver. I guess when you’re trading out of waste receptacles, you don’t have much leverage, especially when the colours are wrong. Maybe that’s what drove the price up.
It’s always hard to imagine Kingsmeadow as a league ground, it feels very Step 1-2 and it seems fitting that the K’s still call the place home, and rightly so. Few improvements seem to have been undertaken to account for their tenant’s/host’s lofty new position. A few extra seats were noticeable on each end of the main stand and a subbuteo-esque TV tower now sits above the stand on the other flank. Unlike the prissy world of League 2 or even Step 1, there’s an easy path to allow you to roam freely around the ground.
Being able to explore to our hearts content, we marched into Kingstonian’s excellent, if not slightly hidden bar. The bar can be reached either from the back of the main stand or, far more pleasingly, down the tunnel. As we marched onward for a Monday evening livener, my eye was drawn to a small broom cupboard next to the bar. Adorned with red and white, this tiny wee room was a goldmine of Kingstonian swag that almost rivalled the majesty of Sutton.
As well as a plethora of Kingstonian related goodies, I was delighted to stumble (quite literally) upon a pile of old programmes and second-hand books and VHS tapes, many of which were familiar from my youth. The Saint Michael (M&S to our younger readers) guide to American Football was a particular highlight from my childhood but it was the History of Soccer, a three tape epic through the beautiful game, that I have the fondest memories of. As a young lad growing up in deepest darkest Spain, this boxed set, together with the Story of the World Cup, ET: The Extra Terrestrial and a fuzzy feed of Gibraltar TV from 300 miles away were my only English Language companions. If only they had a copy of Alex Kid on the Sega Master System, I would have been in my element.
Prawn sandwiches. The bar itself is a good space and manned by couple of proper old school bar-types complete with short-sleeved shirt and tie. Unlike Champion Hill which promises much from its four real ale pumps but perennially fails to deliver anything more than London Pride (if you’re lucky), Kingsmeadow seems to have a rotating guest ale, on this occasion a taste of the motherland in the form of Deuchars IPA.
The main tea bar was shut so food and hot drinks came from of a burger van parked at the end of the main stand. I didn’t partake in anything but there seemed to be a hell of a lot of smoke or coming from there. Maybe some Steamed Hams were on the menu.
…and the game. As you might expect, neither team fielded a full strength eleven. However, considering both sides were in action two days before, it was heartening to see both sides come out and have good go. Still, you know you’re in for a cracker when the teams run out to Rule the World by Tears for Fears.
Kingstonian are a decent looking side and they looked comfortable throughout most of the first half. They seem like a well organised bunch for the most part although questions do have to be raised about their big number five, Ian Gayle, who looked decidedly uncomfortable throughout.
Kings opened the scoring early with a bold shot-cum-cross from Allan Tait from fully 40 yards, deceiving all and sundry, including most of his own teammates. Despite this pretty slow start from the Hamlet (due in part to massive delays on the trains meaning the some of the squad didn’t exactly have their game-face on), the pink and blues improved steadily and were unlucky to fall behind to a goal from hapless defender turned super striker, Gayle, midway through the half.
The second half started positively for Dulwich as Ian Gayle’s dodgy back-pass let Omarr Lawson clean through on goal to make it 2-1 in the 46th minute. In truth, I was still raiding the club shop when Dulwich scored so the above description is pieced together from the most reliable sources of the Hamlet Rabble although I prefer the double-overhead kick, ricocheting off the back of the goalie descriptions that also seemed to be doing the rounds.
Kingstonian looked more than happy with a 2-1 lead and seemed over complacent at times as Dulwich continued to attack but Kingstonian dealt with the pink and blue onslaught with ease as the Hamlet rarely tested Rob Tolfrey in the Kingstonian goal. In the end Kings were worthy winners…just, and will go on to face Cray Wanderers in the semi before a potential final against either Hendon or (squatters) AFC Wimbledon.
Post-match rubdown. Kingsmeadow is a great wee place. It’s hardly cut out for league football but for Step 3, it’s a bloody nice ground. Kingstonian were relatively entertaining and whilst it’s hard to judge a team based on a performance in a County Cup against a team from the division below, they seemed to have a number of talented players who, with a few additions, may make them highly competitive in the Isthmian Premier next season. I just hope Dulwich are in there with them.