Football came home (to Kingston)
Taimour Lay writes in the programme about K's supporters following England during the summer.
After eight months without a match K's fans caught Euros fever at Wembley, writes Taimour Lay.
Fans spent a lot of the winter decrying “BCD” (Behind Closed Doors) but many of those lamenting Covid could at least follow their own club, albeit in the virtual realm via a stream. Even our local rivals at Step 2 – clubs we often haughtily dismiss as “pub”/tinpot outfits - managed half a season after the Vanarama South’s recognition as “elite” attracted government funding, before the deal fell apart amid recriminations at the end of January.
But for Kingstonian and the world at Step 3 and below: nothing. No games. It has thus been eight and half months, since 4 November 2020 to be precise when Haringey were trounced here and AFC Wimbledon scouts noted the name of the hat-trick scorer Corie Andrews, that K’s came to King George’s Field for any kind of fixture.
How did we fill the time? An energetic Hayden Bird used zoom to spread hope and optimism during a period of national peril. The Masked Singer held millions in its thrall. I became a father. And several whatsapp groups flourished in which embittered K’s fans surveyed the wreckage of the Isthmian. Nor did a total hiatus stop idle transfer gossip (Ryan Moss set to return? Alfie Doughty to Celtic!) and ground speculation (let's share with Brentford). And, from March 2021, we focused relentlessly on Sutton’s near implosion at the top of the Vanarama National. Alas, they managed to secure promotion but we consoled ourselves that their greatest ever season had largely occurred with no one watching.
Taimour Lay and Jamie Cutteridge at England v Italy
And then, this summer, Euro 2020 rolled around one year late and K’s fans finally had a chance to physically meet, enter a stadium together to watch a game and, crucially, care about the result (groundhopping at friendlies in Yorkshire doesn’t count).
For a long time the England scene, home and away, has attracted at least a dozen from Kingstonian’s ranks. Somehow, the experience of following another team steeped in past success but trapped in a rolling nightmare of contemporary failure has felt comfortingly familiar.
Head to England’s international adventures and K’s will find you. Strolling through Lisbon in 2004 ahead of England’s imminent defeat to Portugal in the quarter-final, my classic yellow Grolsch away shirt led another K’s fan to shout “that looks a lot like Taimour… hang on, that is Taimour!” and I was thus greeted by a group of K’s sunning themselves in Rossio Square. In Marseilles in 2016, as Russian thugs descended amid blood and broken glass, an ever equanimous Ollie Steele emerged from a train station, through a thick fog of tear gas, to say “fancy a drink?”.
But this was on a different level. Granted, it was (mostly) happening in London. But astute UEFA ticket portal tactics, allied to years of Supporters Club credit earned by Gary Ekins’ trips to Moldova, meant that at England v Germany, a scarcely credible 20 K’s fans were in attendance, the highlight being the presence of former full-back Wayne Finnie at Las Iguanas, Wembley’s best kept pre-match secret. And it was with Finnie that we bundled, the defender showing that he still has a good leap, as Sterling and Kane’s goals sent England through.
Even better, with Declan Rice (raised at the Triangle in New Malden), Luke Shaw (Kingston-born) and Reece James (one of our own youth teamers, whose father now runs the Under-18s), we had legitimate claim to be at the heart of the action.
England v Denmark saw dozens again make the trip north. With a seat by the corner flag, my biggest regret of the night was the failure of the Hayden “LoveBird” bedsheet banner to satisfy Wembley’s stringent fire safety requirements (a rigorous attention to stadium entry procedures that was not replicated at the final four days later).
Ali Kazemi on Wembley Way before England v Germany
Sunday 11 July, then, when 31 K’s fans (and various hangers-on) packed out the Black Lion in West Hampstead before kick-off for “our” biggest final since the Alan Turvey Trophy triumph in 2016. And, for the record: we all had tickets, not that it helped much when trying to navigate through Wembley Way.
My abiding memory of the summer: celebrating Shaw's goal (scored directly below us) with Jamie Cutteridge, Rupert Cane and "Talky"/Torquay Pete, surrounded by the spirit of K's and sound and delirium after so many months of silence and isolation. For a moment I closed my eyes and it was an equaliser at Lewes, a consolation at Aveley, a winner against Corinthian-Casuals. Football had come home. To K's.
K’s supporters before the England vs Denmark game.