In the second of our articles about the sporadic crowd trouble that disrupted several of last weekend’s matches, Mark Murphy reports from Meadow Park, where his team were on the end of two goals and a right hook from a club with a history of troublesome away support.
My team’s season finished at the weekend. We had a very good one, which exceeded most fans’ expectations – by quite some way too, after losing our first four league games and conceding, ulp, NINETEEN goals in the process. It had a disappointing end which, thankfully doesn’t appear to have masked the considerable overall achievement of reaching that end – a promotion play-off final after winning promotion last year, too. So, satisfaction all round and here’s to next year. Or so I thought.
My team, Kingstonian, lost the Ryman Premier Division promotion play-off final away to Boreham Wood, having finished behind them on goal difference (no surprises after the start to the season that they had) after the 42-match season. The final was a tight, nervy “defences-on-top” affair, destined to be swayed massively by the first goal, especially with two of the best goalkeepers in the division on show. On 50 minutes, Boreham Wood goalkeeper Tony Tucker made an outstanding save. And Wood broke the deadlock on 69 minutes, before doubling their advantage with two minutes left thanks to Dewayne Clarke’s superb 35-yard strike, a goal worthy of the prize it carried with it. So far, so normal, except that, on 56 minutes, with the game still 0-0, a supporter emerged from the end reserved for Boreham Wood fans, leapt over the fence onto the pitch, struck the Ks captain Francis Duku in the face and returned from whence he came, watched carefully before, I’m assuming, being apprehended by the two nearest police officers to the incident.
It’s been that sort of Bank Holiday weekend, what with Crystal Palace’s Clint Hill relying on sterling work from Sheffield Wednesday stewards to be able to leave the Hillsborough pitch unharmed after the two sides’ unbearably dramatic final league game, and York having to leave Luton’s pitch by the proverbial back door after their play-off semi-final success at Kenilworth Road had annoyed some of the locals beyond reason. The latter incident has garnered the attention, but the Boreham Wood incident was perhaps the most serious, and I don’t think I’m saying that because I was there as a supporter of the team whose captain was biffed in the face.
A very emotional Ks management have subsequently appealed to the Ryman League for the game to be replayed, arguing that the incident had a material affect on its outcome. At the time, coaching assistant Martin Tyler, as calm and thoughtful a man as his Sky TV commentaries suggest, was fuming. But otherwise the game carried on, superficially, as normal. There was no indication that the referee felt the players’ safety was in any way compromised. The rest of the Ks management team, visibly shocked though they were, made no obvious moves to match officials to take the players from the field, temporarily or definitively, and manager Alan Dowson restricted his initial post-match comments to condemnation of and amazement at the incident itself.
Yet there can’t have been any thing but a material effect on the Ks performance. They were, after all, attacking the end from whence the attacker came, a point Dowson acknowledged after the match. Duku took a smack in the face, and although he is six foot plenty (“only 5ft 10 when he jumps”, Dowson has often quipped), he would have thought twice about coming up for corners again, and probably dared not imagine the consequences of scoring, and other Ks players could be excused for feeling wary of the situation which, in a tight game, could have made all the difference. Proving this material effect is another matter entirely. There is no doubt that Ks second-half performance was at two distinct levels, very gradually asserting themselves before the incident, gradually losing the initiative after it. The argument could run, however, that this mirrored Ks first-half performance, during which they had two good chances in the early stages but were more on the back foot as the interval approached.
A replay would be a very strong punishment. And to hand it out to Boreham Wood’s players and management, who were utterly blameless, certainly feelss fundamentally wrong. Yet Boreham Wood as a football club has a history of exactly this sort of scenario. It is well-known at this level of the game that Wood attract a considerably less than desirable element to their “big” games. The Ks themselves have been the opposition on a couple of occasions, with their supporters confronted by hockey-stick waving fools back in 1995 and their supporters’ coach attacked after Ks won a virtual championship decider in 1998.
In 2002, their chairman, Danny Hunter, had plenty of strong words to say about “a mindless minority of morons” who, he said were “recently attracted” to Wood by their FA Cup run that year. “I will have no hesitation in having the culprits arrested and given lifetime bans from our football club,” he declared. The 1990s incidents pre-dated Hunter’s chairmanship, which might explain his ignorance about how “recently” those people were “attracted” to the club. But eight years on, whatever action he and his club may or may not taken to eradicate this mindless minority has failed.
Naturally, Kingstonian’s call for a replay has been viewed by some as sour grapes from the losers. “You were beaten fair and square,” and “you’re clutching at straws” have been the mantras from the Wood fans on various website discussion boards since the weekend (including one fan who said that Ks, “wouldn’t be appealing if you’d won,” which couldn’t miss the point more completely). The “Fan” family have been particularly vituperative on the Ks forum, usually at the expense of grammar and spelling. But “Neutral Fan,” “Football Fan,” and “Footie Fan” have all been of one mind on the issue… and one keyboard too, you suspect. “Neutral”, a Harrow Borough fan by all accounts (well, his/hers), made the point that Ks “camped” in Boreham Wood’s half for 15 minutes after the incident, which simply did not happen. Mind you, this fan also concluded that “you can’t take that away from the boys,” which suggests that his definitions of “camping” and “neutral” come from another dictionary altogether.
Given that the Ks management’s sense of injustice wasn’t immediate, there’s an intelligent argument to be had over whether they are clutching at a straw or two. It isn’t this one. There is, after all, precedent for the ordering of a replay, and Kingstonian were involved when it happened. In 1992, Ks were losing an FA Cup first round replay at Peterborough every bit as heavily as the 3-0 scoreline after an hour suggests – Peterborough, then as now (well, until last week), were in English football’s second-tier, and they were showing it. Then a 50p coin landed from a considerable height on the head of our goalkeeper Adrian Blake, who was badly dazed and carried off to the dressing-rooms where his nausea and dizziness wrought havoc on dressing-room floor and glass door alike.
Kingstonian responded, in those pre-sub goalkeeper days, by putting Andy Parr in goal, the smallest player in the team by nearly a yard. Kingstonian got the best goal of the night. Peterborough, however, got the other… nine. So imagine my surprise when the words which greeted me as I got home were “so, you’ll get a replay, then.” Gary Lineker’s definitive take on the incident was “it’s a difficult one”, which was due warning of his entire media career since, if only we’d been paying attention. The FA resolved the difficulty by ordering a behind-closed-doors replay, even though Peterborough United’s team and management were at least as innocent as Wood’s last weekend, and the result of the original game was beyond reasonable doubt… 3-0 or 9-1 doesn’t matter in a cup.
But after a couple of days reflection, the one thing I’m definitively comfortable with saying is that Kingstonian’s appeal was absolutely the right thing to do, regardless of its ultimate acceptance or rejection. For had they not done so, it seems the incident may have been glossed over entirely. As we have already seen, Wood’s efforts at eradicating their “occasional” morons have failed completely, and there’s no indication that they’ll succeed this time around either. While the match report on the Ryman League’s own website neglected to mention the incident at all, even though it was as much a part of the on-field action as anything else it did mention.
It would be fundamentally wrong to let the situation lie in that manner. And Kingstonian’s appeal was, at the time of writing, the only effort made by anybody to deal with it. I hope that situation won’t lie either. Should the game be replayed? I genuinely don’t know. There was far less of a case at Peterborough in 1992, yet the game was replayed. But my gut feeling is one of indecision. And if the authorities responsible have that same gut feeling, they won’t, by definition, make that decision. However, by asking the authorities to consider all the issues, the club, my club, are doing exactly the right thing. And when all the considerable dust has finally settled on this issue, no fan of any club could ask for more than that.