Sunday 12 January 2020

Three Stewards For A Flying Teddy Bear - Kingstonian FC Vs Enfield Town FC, Isthmian League Premier, King George’s Field (20/11/19)

It’s another slightly lonely and quiet solo drive for me today, as I retrace my steps South, as our Wednesday match day handicap means we are heading back to a ground we visited only a couple of weeks ago. Tonight I do have the dulcet tones of former England and Arsenal physio Gary Lewin, no I’m not giving him a lift to Tolworth high street, but he happens to be the guest on the podcast I’m listening to and as interesting, uplifting and slightly horrifying the story is about being credited with saving Eduardo's leg, but it’s not a patch on the witty back and forths I usually enjoy with Tom.

The railway arch that precedes the final few steps to King George's Field, is even more foreboding in the misty darkness, than it was in the light of day. The two men manning the impromptu road block, instruct me to park under the aforementioned arch, right in the middle of it’s deepening shadows and I’m hoping its a case of them offering me the best place to leave my car and not because they think I resemble its usual goat eating resident.

A train races by not far above my head, along the track that runs all the way along one side of the ground, instantly lighting up the place, before quickly disappearing again and plunging my surroundings into darkness once more.

With Tom yet to arrive, I head straight towards the clubhouse, the walls covered in usual trinkets you would expect to find in such a place, framed shirts and a selection of scarves donated by visiting fans from all over the world, as well as one thing not so common, the dark wooden Memorial with the names of those lost during World War One scrawled in gold. They are not though the former players of the team we are here to see tonight, but those of their landlords Corinthian Casuals.

I try my luck asking the person behind the table that by the size of it looks like it's been pinched right out of a primary school if he happens to be selling 50/50 tickets, however the gent in the club tie informs me, he’s a one man StubHub, selling “tickets for the FA Cup” instead.

Kingstonian FC (KFC), this evenings home side, might have been sofa surfing around the local areas non league grounds for a season here or a season there for the last couple of years, but their nomadic lifestyle has done nothing to hamper them cruising all the way to the second round proper of this years FA Cup. Their impending home match is the talk of the town, as is the upcoming visit of the Football Focus crew. Tonight's paltry league game, almost feels like a tedious formality, before Dan Walker and the gang arrive.

Waiting by the single open turnstile, a man in a woolly hat, who has adopted a rather toned down barrow boy persona is flogging programmes, attracting the attention of those coming through with his gentle call, depositing the people's money in the old leather satchel hanging around his neck, with KFC painted on it. I use the word satchel very specifically, on no account is it a man bag or could it pass off as the one Joe wore in Friends, its every inch an Indiana Jones. Just ever so slightly squatter and with the initials of a well known fast food outlet daubed on it’s side.

Never have I seen a more non league sight, then the one currently before me. With my programme secured, and still hovering around waiting for Tom, overhearing the man on the gate being informed in hushed tones that they are expecting the “league president” tonight, repaint the toilet and make sure the helipad is clear, a man, a man is using the top of a wheelie bin to sell his vast array of pins and badges. More than one of them real pearlers, a few with some real age and quality to them. Absent among the many fastened to what look like thin sheets of leather, is an Arsenal tie pin I got for Tom for his wedding day.

The newly arrived players of Enfield Town FC (ET) are far from impressed with quite how cold it is. “Bit nippy isn't it” says a punter freshly arrived towards the well wrapped up programme seller, whose response is ladened with a heavy dose of sarcasm, “really? Cor blimey”. The players are not quiet as eloquent, “its fucking cold” says one marching towards the changing room. Another is not at all bothered by the temperate, his quick tempo is motivated by something altogether more pressing, “need a wee, need a wee”.

I thought the man using a bin as a counter top would be hard to beat for lower league spectacles tonight, however the man clutching the almost toddler sized teddy bear wearing a red and white KFC scarf might just have trumped it.

Tom’s just arrived, and is drawn first to the badges on sale, the proprietor offering up a small torch to assist in his perusal, in the end he opts for a very classy “vintage” one, splashing out an entire £10 on it, he must have won a scratchcard or something. I’m sure his first stop would have been the burger van, but the shutter is still closed, however there has been the odd rumble from inside, and the recent opening of the door to its side has given up a suggestion of what is in store later on.

With both sets of players now out on the pitch doing their best to keep warm on what is turning into a rather frigid evening, Tom has no such concerns, he has no need to jockey around some cones, he is fully kitted out. “Full Scandinavian shit” he explained about the outfit he is wearing underneath his long coat, “a full onesie”. I only have the warming properties of a cup of coffee served in a china mug, and I’m somewhat mystified that a couple of KFC fans we get talking to about how they think the match will go for them, “probably be a draw, hard to call, their playing well, we're playing well” are only wearing shirts.

The man in the ageing Ryman League coat is in the well prepared camp, unlike the under dressed KFC supporters. The choice of music, a spot of Fleetwood Mac and the stylized image of the clubs shirt on the front cover of the programme tick all the right boxes, and with kick off still a short while off, the atmosphere is already building nicely. The bar is busy, the burger van has thrown open its hatch and has quite the crowd around it, which all bodes well for the evening ahead.

Having sampled the food here before, Tom has fond memories of what he will be able to sink his teeth into later, “If I remember correctly the burger is quite good”. My continued search for a 50/50 has drawn a blank, however with the very calming voice piping up over the PA, “good evening everyone and welcome to the  King George's Field” I’ve no time left to fret about that.

“For the Towners” he announces, reading out the visitors starting eleven, before moving on to those lining up “for the K’s”. With those formalities out of the way, he gives the FA Cup tickets one last plug, before a succession of good songs, cementing KFC as one of the better clubs when it comes to Spotify playlists.

I’m pretty sure its the song from the old Milky Way advert, the one with the two battling cars that proceeds what might be the best walk out music, not just in non league football or simply football, but the entirety of sport. Catching glimpses on the far side of the pitch for the first time the players and officials emerge, Everybody Wants To Rule The World by Tears For Fears then starts to play, causing an overpowering feeling of 80’s nostalgia to wash over me. For a second I'm not sure if I'm in a John Hughes film or at a football match, and like a few around us, are compelled to join in and sing along as the players walk out.

Each team are well represented behind the respective goal they are attacking as the half gets underway. This is no great surprise, both KFC and ET are two of the more well followed clubs we have encountered over the years. “Come on you K’s” shouts one of the group to our right, the group to our left are quick to reply with a song only viable on away days, on account of them normally playing in blue and white, “green army, green army”. The away fans just about edging it in the nose stakes, because of the presence of an air horn. “We are the Towner boys” they sing, which is followed by indiscriminate blasts of every half marathon starters go to.

Only three minutes in and someone has already taken the lord's name in vain. “Jesus” he cries in response to the KFC half volley grazing the outside of the post as it flies off the forwards boot.

It’s a breakneck start by the home side, probing into the ET box again they cause a mild state of panic, and the ball is eventually whacked clear after a scramble and the air horn soon follows the first goal kick of the night, the KFC keeper not disturbed a jot by the nearby ruckus.

To say that the KFC manger is vocal, would be a gross understatement. “Well done” he shouts, which he accompanies with some vigorous clapping, his side having just dragged a shot wide of the post, the fans behind letting out a simultaneous “ohhhhhhh”.

Chatty, opinionated or even verbose don't quite fit the bill either, he nigh on dictates every pass, every kick off the ball. His go to catchphrase unwittingly opens a small window into his own personal pursuits outside football. “Lock on, lock on” he commands of one player, sounding like a certain Starship captain. Be it a wild shot wide, that misses the single red and white KFC flag and clatters into the metal stand beyond or a simple side pass completed, he is more than happy to heap praise on whenever it is required.

“He's very animated” says a bewildered Tom, the man has not stopped since the first whistle.

What looks like a rush hour ferry me home to Surrey special, ie, a really, really long train rumbles by and despite the high octane first fifteen, the away side are still very much in the game and slowly start to apply some pressure of their own. “Get it in” demands one of their supporters, the player in possession does just that, firing the ball right across the six yard box, this time prompting the ET fans into an on mass “ohhhhh”, and it’s around this time I noticed the KFC supporting teddy bear from earlier has been been lashed to the front of the stand, slumped, he looks like a hostage whose been tied to a radiator, it's a bit gruesome if I’m honest.

Keeping his instructions a lot less Star Trek, the ET manager is using language a bit more understandable, “don't let him inside” he tells his full back. However by the way the player responds, he might as well be speaking Klingon, because he does just that, allowing the KFC winger to disappear up the side of him, where he cuts the ball into the ET box, only a fraction behind his teammate who was all ready for a tap in.

Squirming at the sight of the ball flirting with the ET goal line, the home fans ohh and ahh as it ricochets around in the visitors box, “come on Kingstonian” shouts one fan, hoping his intervention will draw the ball over the line, but nothing comes of it and their latest attack confirms to both Tom and I that the home side are capable of playing some quite fantastic football at times, more than justifying their lofty league position.

Twenty minutes on the clock and KFC go close once more, testing the ET keepers resolve with a low
driven shot. “Frantic” comments Tom, KFC’s ability to close down the opposition and win the ball back is a joy to see, heavy metal football at it’s finest. The enjoyment of which is only marred ever so slightly in Tom’s eyes because their red and white striped shirt makes them “look like Where's Wally”.

A big shout for a ET penalty is energetically waved away by the referee, it looked close, the KFC supporters let out their loudest chant on the night so far tinged with relief it wasn't given, “come on you kkkkkkkkkk’s”.

Despite all his preparations, Tom is still suffering with the cold, “I think my fingertips may fall off”. The KFC manager is still repeating his now well used phrase “lock on, lock on” and when not checking if he still has all ten digits, Tom thinks he might have got to the bottom of why ET are looking at times a little disjointed in defense. “Bit of a weak link 3” he explains, “all out of position” and he’s noticed this hasn't gone unnoticed among the ET ranks, “6 isn't happy” he points out, the centre back is constantly scowling and Tom is starting to feel a bit sorry for the struggling left back, “he keeps getting shouted at.''

Tom recoils after a foul on a home player right in front of us and the home supporters celebrate that the referee has finally given something their way. A much stockier train passes by and then ET give the ball away at the back, and very nearly getting caught out.

“Fucking forward” screams a KFC player, it’s all they know, attack, attack, attack. The player in question I don’t think it’s one called “Cookie” Tom and I are still trying to work out who that is and the KFC manager makes it clear to his players he doesn't want them to “force” it, but to let things happen naturally, a very Manchester City holistic approach to things.

The main stand opposite us, with the name of KFC’s landlords emblazoned across the front is positively bustling, but one home fan behind the goal seems to have fallen over the railing, getting himself hung up on it, and looks in all sorts of bother. So much so, a fellow fan has to leap over to help him out.

A rare ET effort trickles wide and a brief sing off between the two sets of fans strikes up, but soon peters outs.

The referee at times is finding himself very much the centre of attention, from all corners. When the initial protests from the ET players after a foul on one of their numbers is ignored and with the player still down, the referee signals for play to continue, then pulling it back and instructing the physio to come on. It’s interpreted by the home fans as him doing what the ET player's tell him,and he is losing friends by the second. When a crunching tackle on the edge of the ET box sees them win back the ball and fly off the pitch in a blistering counterattack, is not penalized. Everyone is feeling like the victim.

Not far from the half time whistle, KFC’s managers voice is starting to fail him, “shoot, shoot” he tells his forward, his voice crackling and squeaking like my thirteen year old sons. The tackles are now flying in as we get closer and closer to the break, this inspires a few rousing songs from each set of fans, “we all follow the Towners” and it's their manager who is being forced into an early change, after a long touchline deliberation, they are required to make a substitution.

The home fans are far from sympathetic with the stricken ET player, and how long it’s taking him to leave the pitch, “try running”.

A succession of steps overs from one KFC players goes a long way in getting everyone's hopes up as he edges closer and closer towards the the ET box, his fancy footwork at the end of another blistering home attack, only for as soon as he is the box, does he slip over and all the promise is gone.

It's all KFC, but not before ET have another limp long range shot. If anything KFC might be accused of over playing at times, again they get to the edge of the ET box, but the exchanges and flicks all gets a bit fussy, and they lose the ball. Clattered to the ground on the edge of the home box, ET are awarded a late free kick, the air horn rearing its head as the KFC players arrange their wall. “Come on Towners” shouts an ET fan, the horn accompanying him, only to break mid blast like a teens voice, which gets a sizable laugh.

“Could have taken someones head off” laughs Tom, the walloped set piece missing the goal completely, instead thundering against the top of the stand.

More unnecessary step overs are followed by groans as KFC seem stuck in a loop of doing the same thing and being surprised when they get the same result.

“Four to add” I just about hear the referee tell a player over the latest ET song, “we love you Town we do” and what a four minutes it turns out to be an exhausting end to end blur. ET have another shout for a penalty turned down and despite their best efforts KFC cannot grant one fans wish of getting a “goal before half time”.

Tom’s visit to get food was almost as quick as a KFC attack and I’ve just about finished ear wigging on a couple of KFC fans dissection of their teams first half performance, “not many shots” was the resounding conclusion, and he’s returned, seemingly having only purchased chips. Tom can see the shock written across my face, telling me it's down to his “honeymoon diet”, but I can smell a rat and tell him just that, bullshit, seconds later he's retrieving a burger from his coat pocket. “Double patty” he informs me, “didn't ask for it”

The extra beef, didn't come without a downside though, with a look of chagrin, he tells me he “lost half” of his “onions”, when he “took the lid off” his behemoth to “put some sauce on and they fell out”.

As the players reappear the single home flag is rehung, a passing train momentarily drowns out the music and a single ET fan gives up a confident shout of support “come on green army”. Someone on the ET bench asks the players adjusting to the cold that he wants them to get going right from the start, and Tom tells me his “toes are numb” and it's time to “get the big socks out”.

Lucky for us the new half shows no sign of slowing down, two minutes in and an ET free kick skims off the head of the intended player on the edge of the six yard box and then a few minutes later they have another pop at goal from distance, this time the effort has a lot more venom.

The sluggish start by the home side, means their manager is required to give his captain a bit of a rocket, “get them out the dressing room” he screeches and continuing with his less than orthodox one liners, he tells his team they need to “get information to the ball”. It’s almost like eleven different blokes have come out and the ET supporters can sense the difference, “come on you Town, come on you Town”.

As far as the strung up teddy is concerned, his day just goes from bad to worse, and having not been securely fastened to the stand for the new half, having swapped ends in the break, he has just fallen. ET carry on looking the far better of the two sides, a back heel finds the forward skipping into the box, only for this final touch to let him down and the keeper gathers.

The angry shouts of “off, off, off” go unheard by the referee, not one but two fouls eventually fell the advancing home player. The referee allowing them to play the advantage before he is cut down and the free kick is awarded. “It's all your doing” gripes one of the many KFC supporters barracking the man in change, who they don’t feel he has a good grip on things and it’s their players are feeling the consequences.

More choruses of “off, off, off” flood from the stand and the ET supporters take it as a chance to have a dig at their counterparts, “we forgot that you were here” and not content with giving the referee grief, the teddy bear has just been flung onto the top of the stand.

The long delay before the free kick is taken can mean only one thing, its awful. The teddy is now on the pitch, forcing the referee to intervene for a moment and much to Tom's amusement the presence of “three stewards for a flying teddy bear” who was saved from the pitch, then hurled up into the air again, is like something from a farce.

Maybe it's the treatment of the teddy or the fact the home side haven't exactly been dynamic since the restart, but there has been a definite shift in mood. Where the fans were content with singing among themselves, they are now serenading each other, “shit club no fans” sing the KFC supporters, “shit fans no ground” reply the ET ones.

Sipping from a red mug, the KFC manager has been notably quieter as of late, the air horn officially
replacing him as the loudest thing here and it's taken his side almost twenty five minutes to “get out of the dressing room” as he put it, showing their first flash of class when their forward ventures forward, only to lose the ball at the vital moment.

Why it's taken them quite so long as it has to stir only they will ever know, but KFC are soon in again, this time one on one with the ET keeper, but the low shot is saved, sending one substitute leaping from the bench in frustration. “Come on kkkkkkk’s” chant the home fans, who stay on the edge of their metaphorical seats when the resulting corner is whipped in, showing plenty of promise, but it's cleared.

A low buzzing helicopter hovers close by and the game is building towards a thrilling crescendo. “Come on you Town” ripples from one end of the ground, “come on Kingston, come on Kingston” from the other. KFC have truly found their stride, turning well in the box, the player slams his shot goalwards, but it’s blocked. Now well and truly up to speed they go close again, one player shimmy's past the ET defense with ease, but his shot is high and wide.

“Keep your heads up boys” insists one home fan, with all these missed chance, he is concerned perhaps they might be talking a bit of a toll on morale. Flitting about the police helicopter, looking I suspect for the teddy chuckers, is a mild distraction and the ET fans are growing restless with their teams performance, they've had plenty of the ball, but their final pass is severely lacking, “come on Enfield”.

Trains, choppers, horns and the constant loop of “ETFC, ETFC” means one could be forgiven for thinking ear defenders could be in order. Tom is enamored with one KFC players facial hair, “proper maverick” and again the home bench are on their feet in anticipation of taking the lead when a shot from the edge of the box hurtles through a sea of legs, and surely unsighted, is saved by the ET keeper.

“You fucking bald cheat” screams one KFC fan, after the ball having bobbled along the ET goal line is hooked clear, but they are sure it was over.

Such is the current home onslaught, the nearby ET supporters are taking comfort in small mercies, “we'll have that” says one, after the home pressure is relieved when a foul is awarded. “Come on Towners” pleads a single voice, however the relief the foul gave is only momentary, and their goal is being peppered, it's all one way traffic.

The pressure their team is currently under, does not stop the ET fans behind the goal cracking into a country classic, with a North London twist, “take me home, country road”, although they do hesitate for a second when one of their players takes a ball straight in the face, leaving him prone and looking dazed to say the least. The home fans think he is just wasting time, so one ET supporter fills them in on the finer details, “he was hit in the head you fucking moron”.

“Play, play, play” says the KFC manager, his voice all but gone, he’s been reduced to a whisper. Far from losing their voice, the KFC supporters are still in rousing form “we got a foul, we got a foul” they sing, the free kick in a promising position might just break the deadlock, but the shot is high and Tom’s now sure any chance of seeing a goal has gone, “yep 0 - 0”.

I’m not so sure, hunting in pairs, the KFC players are voracious in their hunt for possession. Only an away foul stops them in their tracks, and the sight of a yellow card has one away fan confused, “it's not a bookable offence”.

“Fucking hell, drinks frozen” says Tom sipping from his subzero Coke, the match now in a constant state of flux, one team piling forward in search of the winner, only to loose possession and then beat a hasty retreat to try and make sure they don't get overrun themselves.

Now only able to squeak, the KFC’s managers voice has “gone” chuckles Tom, lucky for his team because they just gave the ball away on the edge of their own box, allowing ET to turn and shoot. The match is so there to be won and its either going to be a mistake or a stroke of genius that will do it.

“Go on Billy” urges an ET fan as their prolific front man shapes up to shoot, letting fly, it’s blocked and then the home keeper goes all sweeper keeper, charging out of his box to coolly and with good feet control a wayward through ball, only once the ball is cleared are home hearts able to return to where they belong.

ET continue to be unable to make that all important forward pass, “nooooooo” moans one of their fans when just a straightforward ball to the front man would have made all the difference, and it’s not a chance of their creation, but because of a KFC foul on the very edge of their box, that hands ET the chance to pinch the win. “That's cynical ref” says an ET fan, it's then their turn to suggest a player should get his marching orders, “off, off, off”.

The free kick joins the rest taken tonight as not being a very good one, this one whacking against the wall, making every spectator wince.

If we hadn't been entertained enough tonight, we get one last treat when the KFC manager storms up the touchline to remonstrate with the linesman, “what the fuck are you doing?” he asks right in front of us. Less than a few feet away, the referee of course can't stand for this behaviour, blowing his whistle he stops the game. “If you want a conversation, wait until the end” he tells the seething manager, who slowly starts to back away towards his technical area, “come out that far again, I’ve only one choice”.

The ET players and staff applaud the travelling fans stuck on repeat come the final whistle, “ETFC, ETFC” and quite the crowd made up of both home and away fans surround the tunnel to cheer off the departing players.

We all like to see goals, not as much as we like to see giant teddy bears flung about or men using bins as a pop up pin shop, but goals are where for most people the entertainment lies, the excitement derives from, and I’m no different. I want to see thirty yard screamers and bicycle kicks as much as the next bloke, but tonight it just wasn't meant to be and if I’m totally honest with you, I didn't mind one bit.

Rubbish I hear you cry, but hand on heart the lack of goals really made no difference. The match had more than enough going on, on and off the pitch to keep me happy. It's not just the 4 - 4 or wins after being behind that stick in the mind, but the 1 - 1 and 0 - 0 have their place too.

I can confidently say that was probably the best 0 - 0 I’ve seen……………I think.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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