Grier's Guide to the 2008-09 Season
Continuing his reviews of season past, Simon Grier sees Ks win promotion to the Ryman Premier at the fourth time of asking in 2008/09.
Ryman One South had some upsides - some nice days out and less travelling but as they embarked on their fourth season in it, Ks fans were nonetheless sick of the division. After all, it was the lowest level Ks had ever been at and three consecutive failures to even make the playoffs, let alone win promotion, were beginning to grate.
Despite threats to the contrary though, Alan Dowson kept most of the squad that came seventh the previous season and bolstered it with three key additions. Carl Wilson-Denis would be a much-needed target man to pair with Bobby Traynor, while Adam Thompson and a returning Max Hustwick promised to improve a leaky defence. Tony Bedeau, capped four times by Grenada with over 300 League appearances for Torquay and still just 29, was also an exciting signing though his spell at the club ultimately proved to be short.
A blistering start
Dowson started with a clear idea of his gameplan though and the season began in spectacular style. Lodge and Traynor in particular were absolutely rampant in the first two months and both netted on the opening day as Ks blew Sittingbourne away 4-0.
They would not lose in the league until 3 November, by which point they were well clear at the top. The first 13 games yielded ten wins and three draws, with Ks' free-flowing attack netting some 34 goals. They were particularly strong at Kingsmeadow with Whyteleafe, Burgess Hill and Chipstead all conceding three and Leatherhead four.
Corinthian-Casuals, often a bogey team during the Ryman One South years, were hammered 5-2 away. The biggest threat to the run came at Croydon Athletic but Traynor netted a last minute equaliser to secure a 3-3 draw after a Lodge shot was handballed. They also showed steel in a goalless draw at Stompond Lane.
Luke Garrard was a solid presence in goal; Thompson, Hustwick, Jamie Beer and Nick Rundell Ks' best back four for some years; Tommy Williams and Simon Huckle paired creativity with physical presence in the middle; the more circumspect NJ Lampton on the right balanced Lodge's incredible flair on the left; Traynor and Wilson-Denis were both in the goals up front. Jon Coke, Wayne Finnie, Jason Turley, Jon Neal and the enigmatic Phil Williams provided able backup.
FA Cup drama
All the while, Ks were flying in the FA Cup too. Sussex League Shoreham took a surprising lead but were beaten 3-1 and Ashford Town were brushed aside 3-0. In the second qualifying round Ks turned in one of their best performances of the last decade, destroying Conference South Braintree 4-0. Lodge scored all four goals and duly picked up the FA's player of the round award.
The third qualifying round again saw Conference South opposition visit and another fine performance from Ks. They fell short against Hayes and Yeading though, two late penalties sinking them 3-1 after an enthralling cup tie. The only poor performance for Ks came in a surprise FA Trophy defeat, 3-2 at home to struggling Whitstable Town.
The unbeaten league run eventually ended though, at home to Worthing, and although Ks bounced back with a 4-2 win at Whitstable thanks to a Traynor hat-trick, their form began to waver. This was in large part down to the loss of Lodge, who had been catching many eyes with his performances, including those of Conference Premier Northwich Victoria's scouts.
He left, and by December a home defeat to the same Sittingbourne side they had brushed aside in August marked five consecutive failures to win at Kingsmeadow. Ks' place as league leaders was now under threat but a fine 4-2 away win at second placed Cray preserved it for the time being, Wilson-Denis netting two including a beautiful lob from 20 yards.
Consistency remained elusive though, with Ks hammered 4-1 at Worthing and further defeats following at Merstham and at home to Croydon Athletic and Corinthian-Casuals, although the hapless bottom club Crowborough were brushed aside 6-0.
Dowson's response was to introduce youth, bringing defenders Robb Sheridan and Tom Dilloway into the starting eleven. Traynor scored a brace to see off Godalming Town but three days later a 2-0 defeat to promotion rivals Fleet Town, where Ks were physically bullied, saw the experiment quickly end. By this point Ks were down to fourth in the league, albeit with games in hand in a tight division.
The London Senior Cup could only prove a distraction and elimination at Croydon Athletic was no worry but the game did feature a remarkable event: Traynor's only missed penalty of 52 taken in the red and white hoops.
Thankfully, Dowson had an ace up his sleeve. Things hadn't worked out for Lodge at Northwich and in March he returned to provide the creative spark Ks had missed ever since his departure. He made a slow start, lacking fitness at first, but after the Fleet game he helped inspire Ks to six wins and a draw in their next seven games.
They fought off a late comeback to win 3-2 at Chipstead, eased past Crowborough again and after a 1-1 blip at home to Whitstable, returned to the top of the table when Wilson-Denis headed the only goal of a tough game against Walton and Hersham, with Garrard excellent throughout. Victories followed against Folkestone, Eastbourne Town and Burgess Hill. The latter was an extremely ill-tempered contest where it was remarkable that the referee only sent off one player, The Hillians' Gavin Geddes.
It left Ks three points clear going into Easter Monday and a huge clash at home to Cray. With The Wands just three points behind and boasting the better goal difference, the game was billed as a title decider and thanks to a concerted marketing effort from the fans a bumper crowd of 746 came to cheer on Dowson's men. Ks didn't disappoint, running out 2-0 winners thanks to a Huckle strike and a Hustwick header.
Ks were on the verge of the championship, needing just a point from their last two games. They managed three at the first attempt, although it was a nervy encounter at home to Dulwich Hamlet; they trailed 1-0 for much of it but fittingly Lodge struck the equaliser in front of the KRE to send the fans delirious. Tommy Williams made sure of the title with an emphatic late winner and the celebrations began, on the pitch, in the changing room and then long into the night. A potentially awkward finale at Ashford a week later became a promotion party in the early summer sun, finishing 1-1 with a late Huckle winner ruled out for offside.
The title meant Ks could finally claim to be on the up again after what had seemed like eight years of almost perpetual downswing since Tony Thorpe's heartbreaking equaliser at Ashton Gate. Traynor finished the season with an incredible 36 goals, his reliability in the penalty box proving remarkable for the Ryman League. Wilson-Denis notched an impressive 19, which combined with his hold-up play made him an invaluable partner.
The midfield contributed plenty of goals as well. Lodge scored 12 despite missing over three months, Huckle netted ten, Tommy Williams nine and Phil Williams seven. Ks' discipline was good too, Dowson's men picking up just one red card all season when Huckle caught a Walton Casuals player with a wayward elbow.
The season was a triumph for the club but also a personal triumph for Dowson, inspiring his charges to a well-deserved title – it secured his status as a Ks legend and we wish him well in his recovery from his recent illness.