Grier's Guide to the 2019-20 Season
Simon Grier concludes his series of looking at past seasons with a look at 2019-20; a season that Ks fans won’t forget for a long time.
Things are rarely boring at Ks and a few of the seasons in this series have, in their own way, been bizarre and unpredictable. The ups and downs of 2009-10; the late escape from relegation in 2016-17; the total chaos of 2018-19.
But nothing could match 2019-20 for being unpredictable and it’s hard to know whether to be more surprised that Ks got to the second round of the FA Cup or that a global pandemic shut down the Isthmian League, football, and life as we know it.
Hayden Bird had got the vacant managerial position and brought with him a large chunk of his former Merstham side which had lost in the previous season’s playoff final. He promised a more attractive style of football, stability in the squad and better engagement with the fans – he would eventually deliver all three.
A stuttering start
But given the success that was to follow it’s easy to forget how badly Ks started the season. The first three games were all drawn, the most dramatic a 3-3 at home to Margate in which Louie Theophanous bagged a hat-trick. But then a horrible August bank holiday weekend saw consecutive 3-0 defeats to Hornchurch and Bishops Stortford; already, Ks seemed to be in crisis again.
Eventually the dismal run was broken with a 1-0 win at Bird’s old club, Merstham. And it would be the first of four consecutive clean sheets which also saw Ks get through the first two qualifying rounds of the FA Cup with comfortable wins over Walton Casuals and Eastern Counties League side March Town United.
Bird was angry with his side after a 2-1 defeat at Worthing but the real turning point came on a night of biblical rain at Haringey Borough. Ks toughed it out to win 1-0 through a Jerry Puemo goal and for the first time, it felt like the side has really shown its mettle.
FA Cup glory
Next up in the Cup were Weston-super-Mare and after a drawn home game, Ks travelled in good numbers to Somerset for the replay three days later. Those who made the long Tuesday trip saw one of Ks’ best performances for years, a highly impressive 4-1 win that saw Ks into the fourth and final qualifying round for the first time since they received a bye to that stage as a Conference club.
The game was just eleven days later and Ks faced Dartford away. Quickly they were in dreamland, racing into a 3-0 lead away to their Conference South opponents amidst chaotic terrace celebrations in a world where social distancing was still an unheard of concept. Dartford pulled it back to 3-2 but Ks hung on resolutely to advance to the first round proper.
The draw, Macclesfield away, was largely met with disappointment. Big enough that they’d surely beat us, but not in the league of the dream draws such as Portsmouth, Coventry or Sunderland. But as the days ticked down to the game it was clear that all was not right off the field at Macclesfield. Amidst rumours of players going unpaid, it wasn’t clear whether the game would go ahead at all and if it did, what sort of team the Silkmen would field.
That question wasn’t really answered until the day of the game but the rumours turned out to be true; Ks were facing a team largely made up of youth players and would be heavy favourites for the game. The youngsters did their best but it was quickly apparent that they were out of their depth, Ks racing into a 2-0 lead before eventually winning by 4, comfortably controlling the game while enjoying 65% possession. With victory beyond reasonable doubt, Ks fans spent much of the game joining in with the home side’s protests against their owner.
The dream run came to end in the second round, with a 2-0 home defeat to AFC Fylde. But with Football Focus filmed from King George’s Field that day, the run had put Ks firmly back on the map and given the supporters long-overdue joy.
Meanwhile, Ks were also putting together an FA Trophy run – wins came against Corinthian-Casuals, Blackfield & Langley and AFC Sudbury to also put Ks in the first round proper of that competition.
The first round was another memorable occasion for Ks, turning in a fine performance to beat Alan Dowson’s Woking 3-1. An eventual replay loss to Leamington was disappointing but getting to the second round proper of both the Cup and the Trophy was beyond any reasonable expectations that Ks fans could have had.
An abrupt end
In the league, it left Ks with a significant fixture backlog but they hoped wins in their games in hand would fire them up into the playoff mix. It didn’t materialise though, with a lot of frustrating draws – six in seven games through late January and February - meaning Ks would never quite haul themselves into the playoff mix. The loss of Theophanous to Division 1 North’s basement side Romford didn’t help, leaving Ks short of firepower up front.
Ks visited Lewes on 7 March and won, although other than the players avoiding handshakes it still felt like little was different to normal. But four days later at home to Cheshunt, as the pandemic gathered momentum on the Continent and increasingly within the UK, there was a more end-of-days feel to the occasion as Craig Edwards’ strugglers completed a league double over Ks.
The following day Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta tested positive for coronavirus and the Premier League was suspended, quickly followed by the Isthmian League and all other football within the UK. Ks were 10th at the point when the league season was cancelled, which didn’t really reflect how well the team had done, but few fans would have swapped the cup runs for a higher finish. Meanwhile we’re all left wondering when, and how, non-league football will be able to resume.