The FA Cup Second Round: Restricted Views & Portaloos – Ks Reach The End of the Line
Rock music videos could never be accused of complexity or imagination. And the video for US Nu-Metal band Adema’s 2001 single ‘The Way You Like it” was no exception. But it contained a mildly-amusing running-joke.
The video’s storyline was little more than the band’s frustrated efforts to get into their own gig, until someone recognised them as, you know, the band. But, interspersed with the usual misogynistic rubbish which pock-marks the “art form,” one of their guitarists, Tim Fluckey, appeared slumped in a drunken stupor at random locations, entirely without explanation. You had to see it, I guess. And, last Saturday, you could.
“Football Focus,” the long-running BBC football magazine show, previewed Isthmian League Kingstonian’s FA Cup second-round tie with FA Trophy holders and National League table-climbers AFC Fylde, live from the King George’s Field home of fellow Isthmians Corinthian Casuals where the recently-nomadic Ks currently play ‘home’ games.
Presenter Dan Walker and colleagues Leon Osman and Clinton Morrison chatted to all manner of Ks people. And, at random locations, without explanation, “Kingstonian Ted,” a five-foot tall brown teddy bear draped in Ks red-and-white club colours, was in shot, staring wide-eyed past the camera, as five-foot tall brown teddy bears do.
Ted was there because of course he was. And treating a five-foot tall brown teddy bear so matter-of-factly made it visual comedy genius, with Walker et al brilliantly feigning obliviousness to Ted’s presence. You could imagine some viewers thinking “am I the only one seeing this?” And I suspect that Ted’s regular chaperone, long-time Ks fan John Bangs, is NOT into Nu-metal. So, hat-tip to him or whoever’s idea it was.
Fylde beat Ks two-nil, to reach the FA Cup third round for the first time in their 30-year history. But no Kingstonian, human or ursine, let themselves or Ks down. And, at the risk of sounding terrifyingly corny, that was a victory in itself.
It was a good game. Impressive Fylde boss Jim Bentley rightly suspected that a potential Cup upset had drawn Focus to the phallic-looking south-west tip of London. It would have been a bigger upset after Fylde led early on. And, when they scored again seconds before half-time, the contest looked over. But journalists hoping for gifted “Coasters coast to victory” headlines were disappointed. Midway through the second half, Ks strongly threatened a comeback. And while Fylde were indisputably deserving winners, the two-division, 42-place gap between the sides was rarely, if ever, evident.
The game, of course, was only the culmination of the media spotlight thrust on Ks by what Bird correctly identified as its “unquestionably winnable” nature. Ks beat troubled Macclesfield in the first round, by a four-nil scoreline, which was almost as attention-grabbing as the fourth goal being scored by actual, not metaphorical, Cristiano Ronaldo stunt-double Louie Theophanus. And Ks’ financial misfortunes throughout this century gave our tale the ‘rags-to-riches’ element which attracts otherwise disinterested and uninterested punters.
Maldon & Tiptree, one Isthmian level below Ks, rightly got the live match coverage, given their status and opponents Newport County’s recent, televised Cup heroics. But Ks had two Friday minutes on BBC London TV news. Chairman John Fenwick sashayed across screen in one of those set-up shots which often precede interviews, for no obvious reason (what a mover, though), and spoke eloquently of Ks’ ambition. And Sarah Brook, founder of the Sparkle Foundation, an orphans and underprivileged children support charity, spoke of Ks’ support for their work in Malawi, followed by the inevitable but charming shot of three-dozen-or-so Malawi kids chanting Kingstonian’s name.
And long-time fan Michael Cox filmed a terrific two-and-a-half-minute piece for the BBC website which featured in “Focus” and linked fascinating historical video clips and photographs to interviews with current directors Fenwick, Yioryos Vasilaras, the marketing executive known as “George” to his mates, and Mark Anderson. The first two have journeyed from terraces to boardroom. While Anderson has been Ks’ most public face in recent, difficult times.
“Our crowds are slowly coming back,” George noted, which was transformed into “Our CROWNS are slowly coming back” by a Beeb sub-editor, who was either offering an inspired play on Kingstonian, or wasn’t listening properly. And Anderson spoke of “the real, hard road back from the dark days of 2002” (when Ks were bought out of administration) and how the cup run “has given us back our self-respect and given us an identity again.” Spot on.
Focus filmed extensively in the club bar, with fame-hungry fans stationed around the FA Cup itself. And given Ks fans’ predilection for foul language during games, I was worried that Focus would be hauled off-air mid-stream. But the worst that could be said of the Ks barflies was the preponderance of beards (among the men, anyway), which made our fanbase resemble the sort of hipster collective Dulwich Hamlet fans are pilloried for being…by other non-league fans, Ks fans as much as anyone. That apart, they were a lively, amusing backdrop.
Anderson called the Cup’s prize-money a “major stepping-stone in our search for a new ground or potentially a partnership with the guys here (Casuals),” the latter seeming the better bet just now. But his highlight was “when the portaloos arrived, because anyone in non-league knows that if you have to call in extra toilet facilities, you’ve got a big game on your hands.”
The fans loved Mark’s toilet humour. Two of the hipster collective nodded in middle-class approval while others struck up a chorus of “portaloos, portaloos” after Walker declared it the first time he’d “ever heard cheers” for temporary toilets. Listening from my turnstile-operator’s hut, 40 yards away, I’d wondered what the cheering was for. I would never have guessed that.
Decorum was returned by Margaret McCormack, wife of the late John McCormack, ex-club president and Ks’ second-highest all-time goalscorer. Margaret noted John’s tendency to be “stood at the goal” waiting “for somebody else to give him the ball,” which sounded “a bit like Gary Lineker, then” to an increasingly-cheeky Walker. And she stressed how the many families involved with Ks made “family club” more than a cliché (her son, John, was stood beaming behind her in his chief steward’s uniform).
“I need to take you to every game, this is great,” Walker laughed as mentioning Manchester City got a heckle. “Magnificent,” Walker declared about…well…I’m not sure, when he entered Ks’ dressing-room moments later before Theophanus could put his shorts on. And although he feigned disapproval as chants of “there’s only one Dan Walker” emerged just before the programme’s end (“there’s no need for that”), he was surely inwardly delighted.
Ks’ bar performance (a highlight however dark our days) could only have increased the crowd. And the Ks’ website forecast of “close to or in excess of 1,000” was soon exceeded. Few grounds at English club football’s seventh-tier are entirely fit for all big-game purposes. And the King George’s Field turnstiles are as decrepit and creaky as their operator. So, the usual “late rush” was especially hectic. But it was great to see so many familiar faces for the first time in varying ages, especially those now living in, among other places, Bournemouth, Brighton, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.
But if the turnstiles were tested, the press area was pounded. Walker had noted that it was “a bit of a squeeze” for the Focus trio in the press box itself. And while he’s a long fellow and Morrison is a big unit, there’s nothing to Osman. So when the press pack descended, space was as tight as it was in the Coasters’ penalty box during most of the game.
Ks’ hard-pressed press supremo, Robert Wooldridge, was spectacularly hard-pressed. And you couldn’t but sympathise as his face said “what can I do?” when I asked if he could save one seat for my post-turnstile incarnation as Non-League Paper match reporter. “I only have one arse. I talk out of and sit on the same one,” I pleaded. It was to Rob’s eternal credit, then, that he saved me the seat with which the petit Osman had earlier struggled.
With so many lap-topped journalists in such a small space, wi-fi radio waves must have been colliding like bumper cars in an over-busy fairground at the height of summer. Yet despite all this “wireless fidelity” (not what Wi-fi is short for, I know), there were wires everywhere, with wires seemingly coming out of wires too. And with the concept of electric light being for “other people,” it was impossible to transmit any information or see the page onto which I was typing while reaching the keys with which I was supposed to be typing.
And the press box is SO aligned with a pillar holding up the stand and the goal into which, as luck would have it, both goals went, that it felt designed that way. Thus local-ish radio station Radio Wey were in ‘restricted view’ country. And their commentary often combined speculation and my ‘best’ efforts to indicate who did what to whom and how, via mime, interpretive dance and/or pointing at a name on a team-sheet we could barely see. The “real” journalists (Rob and Radio Wey very much included) were awe-inspiringly unfazed by everything, though. Accustomed to it, I guess.
So, Kingstonian didn’t reach the third round, where Sheffield United now await Fylde. Heartfelt best wishes to them. However, the in-form Blades might have taken the Cup rather too seriously for our comfort, given the unlikelihood of Chris Wilder’s impressive team being dragged into Premier League relegation squabbles. But Kingstonian got it right in the second round. And, terrifyingly corny or not, that really was a victory in itself.
The Sparkle Foundation’s website is at https://sparklefoundationng.org