When did you realise we were leaving Kingsmeadow? Sure, we were told a couple of years ago, on a fateful New Years Eve, that a move away was on the cards in principle. Some might say that was more than enough of a hint to get psychologically ready. The beginning of the end at least.
Then it was confirmed for the end of 2016/2017. An actual date. No going back from that. A finite number of home league games to calculate. The end of the beginning of the end.
Finally, the announcement of Leatherhead as a groundshare. This was the surely the final end-game. The future was no longer an abstract fear. There was a plan that could be visualised and pondered and debated. Only an idiot could remain in denial.
In between, of course, there have been innumerable forum posts, tweets, blogs, terrace conversations, newspaper articles and semi-literate bedsheet banners.
These things, over a protracted period of time, could all reasonably be described as warning signs that Kingstonian’s departure was real, imminent and irreversible.
But, for me, despite everything and each item of evidence that had slowly accumulated, I swear the emotional penny didn’t truly drop until precisely 9.12pm on Monday 3 April 2017.
Ryan Moss had just scored. It was a goal so important that the joy all around us was adulterated by equal measures of relief and anger and disbelief and adrenalin-fuelled hysteria. Not for a long time has there been a moment at Kingsmeadow like it. Three hundred fans should not be able to lift the roof off. But we did. Even – and especially – a packed Block M in the main stand leapt and swayed and hugged and hollered.
And it mattered. Not beating Burgess Hill would almost certainly have meant the drift to relegation would continue. We needed this. We hadn’t seen a K’s win in over two months, 120 hours of grim frustration and pain and boredom.
After a positive first-half, with new manager Craig Edwards already imposing a tempo and structure which looked likely to succeed, K’s advanced further and closer to breaking the deadlock. The tension wound up a delicious notch with each passing minute.
Then a cross, a curious downward header from Lee O’Leary which struck the bar and there was Ryan Moss at the far post to direct the rebound into the back of the net.
A feeling of being utterly present in that one moment.
But then something else in parallel – a sort of Isthmian PTSD flashback to other moments, other goals, other feelings at Kingsmeadow: 25 years of jumping up and down under the lights, as a schoolboy on a Tuesday evening when homework was due, as a young man avoiding new life-decisions by sticking to old routines, now as an adult racing back from work and stress and an ever-creeping sense of mortality to catch a 7.45 kick-off.
It’s different at night. It always was. The bright lights create dark places under the terrace, the blue-black night sky envelops the stadium’s edges so that the only thing that exists in the world for 90 minutes is what the floodlights illuminate inside.
And then it dawned on me. This really was so close to the end. The final game under floodlights here I would ever attend. It was over. It had happened in slow motion. But it had happened all the same.
Ten minutes later, Joe Turner raced down the left, cut inside and belted a 20 yard shot to make it 2-0. He sprinted towards the John Smiths stand screaming his head off as the K’s fans did exactly the same.
A Ryman/primal scream. I can’t be sure what others were screaming about. But it felt like more than just another goal.
There’s two more games at Kingsmeadow but I’ve said my goodbye.
Match report by Taimour Lay.