Casuals & Ks: The Tolworth Derby

by | Sep 2, 2021

It was 27 hours after a Rangers/Celtic match. But Tolworth, in ‘leafy suburban’ Surrey, on Bank Holiday Monday, was somehow the place for derby invective and passion, magnificent and misguided. There were, effectively, no away fans at either game. Rangers refused to countenance Celtic fans at Ibrox for their narrow, deserved 1-0 victory. And while Kingstonian were technically visitors to Corinthian Casuals’ King George’s Field (KGF) ground, for their narrow, undeserved 1-0 victory, KGF has been Kingstonian’s home too, since they began groundsharing with Casuals in 2018. Since when, relations between the clubs’ fanbases have descended into a rivalry as pathetic as, if so far less dangerous than, anything Glaswegian.

Kingstonian have a 100% record in the sides’ five meetings as groundsharers. And they started and finished Monday’s game as league leaders, while Casuals entered and exited second-bottom. But the match was a role-reversal. Casuals could have led three-nil after half-an-hour. They skied an early sitter, hit the crossbar with a close-range header. And veteran Ks keeper Rob Tolfrey made a string of fine saves which belied his approximately 94 years, before Kingstonian finally fashioned a couple of chances, as Casuals’ impressive pressing game succumbed to weariness.

The game was an arm wrestle after half-time. But Ks’ 61st-minute goal was, ahem, ‘unexpected.’ Speedy striker Daniel Ajakaiye was clumsily bundled over in the box by a Casuals defender, who could have been penalised for stupidity OR a foul. Gus Sow netted what some kidz call a ‘Pirlo’ but which will always be a ‘Panenka’ to those (of us) old enough to have seen the original dink down the middle as the keeper leaps in one badly-guessed direction. And, late on, Tolfrey saved Ks again, as their efforts to close the game out veered between the Arsenal defence of Tony Adams, Steve Bould et al and Arsenal now…on stilts.

“A desperately difficult derby,” Kingstonian’s website noted in its hot-take on proceedings. Very, VERY correctly.

However, the afternoon sampled plenty more from the menu at Weird’s Bar and Grill. Not least a truly wonderful array of Casuals fans. Initially, it looked to this outsider as if all the hipsters that followed Dulwich Hamlet in their rise up to and out of the Isthmian League had been barred from South-East London. Flags and banners screamed ‘cosmopolitan’ with the ranks of the “Airdrie Casuals” making the “Sussex Ks” flag of Brighton-based Ks fan Ian seem parochial. And then there were the Brazilians.

The link between Casuals and Brazil is well-documented. Corinthian Casuals were formed in 1939 as a merger of the separate Corinthian and Casuals clubs. And the original Corinthian FC were a group of university players who undertook foreign tours to promote the game. One product of a 1910 tour to Brazil was the formation in Sao Paulo of Corinthians Paulista, who have regarded Corinthian and Corinthian Casuals as their forefather club throughout their rise to winning the World Club Cup twice.

The link is direct and genuine, with the two clubs playing a famous friendly match in Sao Paulo in 2015. Paulista fans’ visits…no…pilgrimages to KGF, on matchdays and other days, dare back a decade and more. And there were dozens of them, sounding like hundreds of them, celebrating their late summer Bank Holiday in Tolworth on Monday. The men (I’m told) and the women (I can tell you) were almost universally good-looking. Antitheses, all, to human oddments like me who watch non-league football.

Ks fans’ responded with hearty renditions of “Argentina, Argentina,” unexpected geopolitical bantz, as if the Falklands War never happened (“horrible club,” tweeted ‘Evolucao Corinthiana’). And there were stage-whispered suggestions that “Messi is better than Neymar.” Although as Neymar’s first pro club was Corinthians’ city rivals Santos, that was perhaps not as antagonistic as hoped. And nothing stopped the Paulistas’ party. Indeed, just as the game offered no clue as to how Ks were 20 places above Casuals in the league, the immediate post-match singing offered no clue as to its result. I certainly felt momentarily as if I was leaving the ground after a defeat.

The other weird aspects of the day were less joyous, though. As per, alas, some Ks fans decided that Casuals’ matchday was the ideal time to ask where their money has “gone” and that Casuals players were the ideal people to ask. And some Casuals fans decided that “foxtrot Oscar” was the ideal response. This antipathy is dwarfed by Rangers fans’ anti-Irish racism (“the famine is over, why don’t you go home?” they gleefully sang, after Sunday’s game, as the police escorted, rather than arrested, the singers of a song ruled as racist by Scotland’s courts in 2009). But in the context of non-league football, it is dismal.

The matchday antipathy between the fans continued after the sides’ previous meeting, a 3-1 ‘home’ win for Ks, in February 2020. Some of us were ‘escorted’ from the ground by teenage Casuals fans hunting the most vocal proponents of the “where’s your money gone?” mantra that night. Fortunately, the targeted Ks fans were mostly homeward bound, being old enough to drive, unlike their putative assailants, who were one scarf round the wrist and a set of flared trousers from 1970s hooligan chic but had to rush home themselves as it was getting past their bedtime on a school night.

There is more credible, if not physically threatening, antipathy from Casuals’ more sensible fans. And the idea that the two clubs could co-exist merrily at a future re-developed KGF has become more threatened with every terrace question from Ks fans about ‘missing’ money.

The theory, if that isn’t too grand a word, is that Casuals should be in rude financial health, given how they benefit from the Ks groundshare (rent, bar takes et al) and that their player wage-bill is world-famously zero. And HMRC got a few namechecks on Monday. Little of this appears reliant upon recognisable fact. Although one of Monday’s terrace contributions resembled a forensic analysis of Casuals’ financial reportage, with particular importance attributed to brackets around certain numbers connected to Casuals’, let’s say, taxation strategy.

But such an analysis would be better presented to relevant investigative authorities, not to a non-league goalkeeper during a match. Bracken was certainly hacked off with it (part of the intent, of course), so anxious to give the ball back to Sow straight after the penalty that he fired it left-footed at Sow’s head. Fortunately for his disciplinary record, he missed. Although maybe he just wanted to escape the aural clutches of the accountancy jargon spewing forth from behind the goal.

And yet…one aspect of Monday’s ‘experience’ does question Casuals’ financial governance. Casuals and Ks average 2020/21 crowds were 386 and 325 respectively. So 500+ would have been expected on Monday. And it was no surprise that considerable queues had formed when I arrived at 2.30, as only one turnstile was open. Yet this wasn’t the main issue. Monday’s turnstile operator, Brian Phillips, is the sort of volunteer upon who keeps ‘non-league’ going at all, a far worthier beneficiary of any UK honours system than many O, M or CBEs. He’d try to count the crowd on his own, if asked.

The thing is, on Monday, he’d have had to. There were no tickets issued when I was going through. The turnstiles don’t have crowd-counting mechanisms…the one I operate on Ks matchdays, which was closed on Monday, barely has a stay-in-one-piece mechanism. And with the best will in the world (which Brian arguably possesses), keeping count of adult, OAP, student and underage admissions is ‘your mission, should you choose to accept it’ territory. So, when a 650-looking crowd was announced as 524, and the more incredulous of our number who loudly suggested that ”you’re guessing,” they might have been right. Even THIS wasn’t the main issue, though.

Periodically, a steward walked along the queue to advise that credit card payments were accepted through the gate by the turnstiles. This cut the queues helpfully and is a huge advance on Ks matchday cash-only admission arrangements, which puts us in a minority of Isthmian Premier Division clubs. “We’re barely into the 20th century, let alone the 21st,” I ‘explain’ to Ks matchday punters disappointed at being unable to pay by card.

But, on entering the ground, I discovered that there was no card check at said gate and no credit-card payment queue in immediate sight. And I don’t doubt that many would have chosen not to pay rather than go hunting for a place TO pay. “We rely on people’s honesty,” a steward inside the ground smiled, displaying a lovely, but utterly misguided faith in human nature. “Where’s the money gone?” Well, some of it might never have come at all. And when a 650-looking crowd was announced as 524, this might have been partly why.

Casuals/Ks should not be a bitter and twisted rivalry. The clubs have co-operated closely on charity initiatives. Since Casuals took up permanent residence in Kingston borough in 1988, many Ks fans have cheered them on at KGF when Ks weren’t playing. And whatever Casuals coin from groundsharing, Ks benefit too; returning to Kingston borough, after a groundshare at Leatherhead which Ks fans then called a “bit of a kick in the teeth” compared to moving to… er… Corinthian Casuals.

There was plenty to love about Monday (be honest, 1-0 wins are always extra fun when the opposition has most of the chances, whoever you are). I often behaviour-shame our fans. But those still going, after Ks’ recent history, are TRUE fans. And both clubs are fine clubs with fine people. Which gets too easily, too often forgotten.