Middle Road, Shoreham, was not the scene of one of our greatest triumphs last season. We turned up there at the start of last season for Shoreham’s FA Cup match against Horley Town and, at the end of the half-time break, whilst waiting for a drink at the bar, my eyes were drawn towards a bottle of sambuca behind the bar. I asked for two shots of it, but the barman didn’t really understand what to do with it, and gave me two large glasses of it instead. We watched the second half with one hand over our eyes and staggered home afterwards smelling vaguely of aniseed. We’re a year older and a year wiser now, though. We get to Middle Road fifteen minutes before kick off and settle for a pint instead.

This is a big day for Shoreham FC – probably their biggest of the season. Crowds for their home matches rarely stretch to three figures, but their normal opposition isn’t usually of the calibre of today’s opposition, Kingstonian. The Ks are a division above them in the Ryman League Division One, but are a world away in terms of organisation. Whilst Middle Road has a Portakabin for a bar, a tiny stand and the feel of an afternoon barbecue, Kingstonian share Kingsmeadow with AFC Wimbledon. They’ve brought a reasonably large (and quite noisy) away support with them, and they carry with them the unmistakable air of being a big club that has fallen upon hard times.

Kingstonian’s fall from grace was a sudden one. During the 1990s they won the FA Trophy twice – indeed, they are one of the very few clubs to have won both the FA Trophy and the FA Amateur Cup. Their FA Cup exploits drew them national attention more than once. In 1994 they beat Brighton & Hove Albion, and in 2001 they beat Southend United and Brentford on the way to a Fourth Round defeat by Bristol City. They had, however, not been managing their finances properly and collapsed into administration in October of that year over an unpaid tax ill of £179,000. This season, however, they have started strongly in the Ryman League Division One, with three wins and a draw from their opening four matches, and seem likely to challenge strongly for the league championship this season.

This afternoon, however, they start slowly, and the crowd’s attention is soon starting to drift towards the overspill from the nearby Shoreham Air Show, which is running a “Battle Of Britain” special this afternoon. The travelling support is noisy, but not so much so that it can’t be drowned out by a Lancaster Bomber rumbling overhead. Most of the play is confined to the Shoreham half, but Kingston’s attacking play is laboured and lacks invention. Those of us that had been expecting an absolute walkover in favour of the visitors are wrong. The warning sign comes just after the quarter of an hour mark when Dean Smith heads over the crossbar, and after twenty-six minutes, Shoreham take the lead when Grant Philpott’s free kick is not successfully cleared and Kevin Keehan volleys the ball in from close range. Kingstonian are clearly wobbling, and Shoreham are denied a chance to double their lead just before half-time when Owen Callaghan is fouled inside the penalty area only for the referee to give a free kick outside the box.

Half-time comes, and it’s not a minute too early for Kingstonian. They have been outplayed in the first half, and the players leave the pitch with the look on their faces of schoolboys that are about to be given a thorough telling off by the headmaster. We surrender to a shot of sambuca and a pint at half-time, but the extra alcohol isn’t really required. Shoreham start the second half as strongly as they ended the first, but fail to take the chances that they create. Kingston slowly start to assert themselves and hit the crossbar with a thunderous free kick, and it is starting to look like they will never break through when they equalise, after Dean Williams runs down the left wing and crosses for substitute Phil Huckle to score from close range. Three minutes later, a free kick on the edge of the penalty area sees the Shoreham wall leave a gap on the end of the wall big enough to drive a van through. Bobby Traynor threads the ball through the gap to give the visitors the lead. Shoreham, it is apparent, have already given their all. In the dying seconds,  we’re watching from the bar as Carl Wilson-Denis makes the final scoreline a somewhat flattering 3-1 in favour of Kingstonian.

The First Qualifying Round, then, sees Kingstonian drawn to play Ashford Town (Kent), who beat another blast from the past, Leatherhead on Saturday. After years of decline and now living very much in the shadow of their landlords, the signs are that Kingstonian could just about be ready for a revival of sorts. They may never scale the heights that they once did, and it’s scarcely creditable now that they finished in fifth place in the Conference as recently as nine years ago. For Shoreham, it’s back to the rather mundane reality of the Sussex County League, though they gave every impression of being a better team than their plce near the bottom of the league table would suggest. Ultimately, an enjoyable enough afternoon’s football, even without the distractions of too much drink and vintage aircraft.

There are some pictures from this match here