And it was 0-0 after half-an-hour…

The Kingstonian press-box is no place for the hard-of-statistic. Even before the end of their remarkable Ryman Premier Division victory over Cray Wanderers, we’d established that Ks scored 10 and 11 in the same Amateur Cup run in the mid-1960s. Indeed, one press-box habitué was at the 10-0 victory over Callenders Athletic: “a works team… BIC now, I think… Brian Wakefield scored a penalty…and he was the goalie.” And the last time Ks had declared at nine was in 1927, against West Norwood in the Athenian League – a result they may well be celebrating in East Norwood to this day.

Ks tannoy announcer, Robert Wooldridge, is one of the Ryman League’s best. And he wasn’t short of help as Ks ran up the goals. Almost as soon as someone asked “when did Ks last score seven?” Ks scored an eighth. Likewise, not long after he was asked “when did Ks last score eight?” Ks grabbed a ninth. And thanks to Robert’s excellent press-box organisation, the anal retentiveness of his press-box colleagues (myself definitely included) and some poor late finishing (Ks missed three clear-cut chances between goals eight and nine), we knew when Ks last scored seven, eight, nine, ten and eleven. I’d never seen us score nine. As we were reliving Ks goal-glut history, I could recall two sevens and eights in 1993/94, when Ks scored 101 league goals… but let in 64 and finished tenth.

Last Saturday, however, each goal added to my problems. I had 30 seconds to describe events to the Royal Marsden Hospital’s radio station and 220 words to convey proceedings to the nation, including Cray fans who weren’t there (i.e. virtually all of them), via the Non-League Paper (NLP), for whom I write Ks’ match reports. There were warning signs that goals were due. The fixture’s history abounds with high-scoring games. And Ks won 3-1 at Cray in early December, thanks in part to a terrific first-half display by goalkeeper Rob Tolfrey, since when the Wands went into freefall, scoring goals but conceding plenty more in losing six of their last seven league games.

The teamsheet explained the goals scored. Centre-forward Leigh Bremner has regularly been on Ks/Cray scoresheets. Likewise Michael Power, despite being an irregular first-team starter. The leaky defence wasn’t so immediately obvious, though. As the NLP’s Ryman Premier Division match reports sub-editor, I have become familiar with certain names – e.g. Wealdstone’s Richard Jolly, Concord’s Tony Stokes… and Cray’s goalkeeper Andy Walker. And even at Kingsmeadow last Saturday, before the goals started flying by, Walker showed why, particularly with a breathtaking 21st-minute save, tipping a dipping 25-yard ‘screamer’ from Andre McCollin onto the top of the crossbar at the fullest of full stretches. Indeed, the first half-hour gave no indication of the subsequent carnage, which possibly wouldn’t have followed if Cray had taken the lead in the 29th minute.

James Fray was so far offside that he was probably out of the linesman’s peripheral vision (match reporters must call this “a suspicion of offside” in the interests of non-bias). And Rob Tolfrey had to pull out his December form to stop Fray’s goalbound right-foot drive. Tolfrey made another save from the resultant corner. But within a minute Nathan Koranteng’s skidding low left-footer from 20 yards took the slightest deflection off a defensive ankle which, at that shot-speed, was enough to beat the previously unbeatable Walker.

The floodgates didn’t open immediately. In fact, when Ks assistant coach Martin Tyler arrived at the ground, it was still only 1-0. And, yes, I mean that Martin Tyler, whose proverbial doctor’s note for his 3.38pm arrival was rather convincing – he finished his Tottenham/Newcastle SKY TV commentary at 2.41pm. Considering that BBC Radio match analyst David Pleat had, correctly, noted that it often took over an hour to escape White Hart Lane’s environs after a match, Tyler’s traversal of London in that time showed considerable and extremely admirable commitment to the Ks cause.

Almost as if they knew Tyler was near, Ks started running lanes through Cray’s high, square and spread back line – with the centre-backs closer to the stands than each other. And on 43 minutes, brick outhouse-built midfielder Lewis Taylor pierced the gap with the ball at his feet to make it 2-0. There was time before half-time for Taylor to turn provider, crossing for Matt Pattison to head the third. And Radio Marsden’s loyal listeners were casually informed during the break that, as Cray had “played their part in an entertaining first-half, there’ll be more goals in this” in the second.

Taylor re-started the fun on 50 minutes, rifling home the sort of 25-yard drive from a half-cleared corner that destroys flower-beds in adjacent houses when it isn’t your day but nearly breaks the net when it is. And at 4-0, we thought the points were safe. Yet despite predictions that Cray heads would drop, they resolutely did not. Indeed, Cray’s contribution to the day should not be belittled. Teams beaten so heavily are often filed under “pathetic” long before full-time. Not Cray. The relatively diminutive Dan Parkinson nodded one in from a yard on 53 minutes. And the silence around the ‘Meadow was borderline-deafening when the ever-dangerous Bremner’s penalty made it 4-2 on 66 minutes, a minute after another Walker wonder save denied Ks striker Wade Small.

Some Cray voices made themselves heard, though. An especially robust tackle by the Wands’ Chris Saunders was greeted with accusations of “two-footed” from the more biased Ks faithful (a case of ‘one-eyed’ fans seeing ‘double’). This attracted an especially robust response from a Cray fan who suggested that “he wouldn’t do that, he’s only 24.” However, there wasn’t much time to ponder the psychotic effects of 25th birthdays, because Bremner’s penalty was the first of four goals in… eeek… five minutes. Cray centre-back Billy Burgess tried a back-header to Walker which seemed ill-advised even before it got stuck in a soft part of the pitch. And McCollin nipped in ahead of the stranded Cray custodian to make it 5-2.

The gaps in Cray’s defence were now becoming chasms. Taylor seemed to have the proverbial ‘lot of work to do’ when he swooped on possession 40 yards from goal. But ‘one bound and he was free’ to fire the ball under Walker and complete his hat-trick.Then, with Robert starting to lose count, if not control, Saunders scored again for the Wands, who were now entering ‘plucky territory.’ Six-three after 71 minutes. And the fun was far from over. Small was substituted two minutes later, probably to have a good cry, having failed to add to his goalscoring tally while all around were enhancing theirs – Walker producing two of his finest saves to deny him. Small may one day look back on this and laugh. But not yet.

More significant was the injury Cray’s Michael Power somehow sustained wellying one ball over the stand. Normally a striker, Power must have been something of an emergency centre-back. And shorn of whatever experience he offered, Cray’s heads finally did drop. To add insult to Power’s injury, Small’s replacement was Paul Vines, who was a Cray player in the sides’ December meeting. And he set the goalscoring off again on 80 minutes before his sublime control and pass gave Pattison his second, three minutes later, to make it 8-3 and have the Ks press-box hunting through the on-line record books and personal memory banks. Ks should have had double figures, on the basis of the chances they missed at 8-3. But they grabbed a ninth in stoppage time when Koranteng, who started the madness off, curled an audacious left-footed effort past Walker, finally at his tether’s end.

Radio Marsden were generous. “Have as long as you like, we’ve been looking forward to this,” said their sports show’s enthusiastic and talented presenter Jason (the cheque is, I presume, in the post, Jason). He did ask me “if” (ha!) I knew when Ks last scored nine… and probably regretted it long before I got to the bit about West Norwood. He’ll know better next time. And I used all my considerable (ha!) editing skills to squeeze all the day’s key events into my 220-word NLP match report. It was tempting to be seemingly-controversial and make Walker man-of-the-match. But Cray fans might have thought I was taking the ****, even though he did make a number of good saves… and at least two outstanding ones. So I named Taylor instead (which emerged as a more poignant and appropriate decision than I realised, as he played just two days after his mother’s funeral).

Having had to take a dispassionate and professional view on the day (albeit not that professional, considering the pittance the NLP pays me for my talent…only joking), the enormity of the result – literally and figuratively – didn’t really sink in until I saw ‘normal’ people from the ‘real’ world referencing it on social media sites. And, in truth, it still looked odd when I typed it out at the top of this blog. The context is important too. The Wands have recently lost key players. Injuries and other non-availabilities also took a toll on Saturday’s line-up. And Cray’s next results will help tell Saturday’s true tale. But, still, 9-3, eh?.

As a former centre-back at this level, who prides himself on defensive organisation, Ks manager Alan Dowson was far from satisfied. And you sort of knew what he meant, although anyone watching the first two minutes of his immediate post-match interview and ‘unaccustomed’ to his extreme north-eastern accent would have assumed we’d lost. Dowson revealed that it had been a bad time for Ks on & off the pitch. Others connected to the club passed away recently and they lost an appeal against having to replay a match at league leaders Whitehawk after floodlight failures ended the original fixture 14 minutes early with Ks two-up – this despite Whitehawk’s lights failing at Malaysian betting syndicate-frequency (co-incidentally, I must stress).

But he added that the club’s reaction, both off and on the field, had restored his faith in it (if not his faith in the football authorities). Dowson is strong on the importance of building a club and he, Tyler, assistant manager Mark Hams and others have rebuilt that sense of “club” at Ks after its early-century financial disasters and administration in 2001. That is something for which he and others should be lauded more. Nine goals in 59 minutes helps club spirit, too, of course. And even if the result proves insignificant in the bigger promotion picture (nearly half the division is involved in a tight struggle for play-off places behind the intermittently-lit Whitehawk), the game will be talked about for decades. As Dowson’s post-match interviewer Jon Tolley noted, correctly, there were “twelve goals, with neither keeper playing particularly badly. ”

AND it was 0-0 after half-an-hour…

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