Rob Tolfrey Tribute
Expanded from the version in Saturday's programme, Taimour Lay presents a tribute to Kingstonian goalkeeper Rob Tolfrey.
In September 2019, Tolfs gave an interview to celebrate his 500th game. Sitting with a bottle of lager, a Golden Glove award, a gift hamper and a Kingstonian Ted beer mat, he offered an explanation for why he has stayed at K’s for quite so long. “A lot of it is unfinished business. The first season I came we lost in the playoffs, it still haunts me losing that Boreham Wood game, you sort of want to put it right and then you want success with a club you’ve been at for so long and one year turns into another…”
In that Autumn before Covid struck, Tolfs was edging ever closer to the appearance record. “I know when it might be,” he said, “I’m aware of the record and I’d be proud, but I’ve just got to worry about the next game.” It turns out he was right to not look too far forward. As March 2020 rolled round, the season was first suspended and then expunged. The 2020/21 campaign didn’t fare much better.
Even if it’s taken until 11 September 2021, this day was always going to come. There was also the strangest of coincidences earlier in 2019, a harbinger that can only be described as fate. Rob was visiting a family member in a local hospital and got chatting to the patient in the next bed. It was none other than… Micky Preston, the K’s player whose appearance record he was so close to breaking. By all accounts, Preston wished him well…
It should be noted that Preston could have made his record unassailable. He played roughly a decade for K's but had 8 years away from 1974, moving first to Sutton (to join an old K's manager Ted Powell) for three seasons, then Woking, then Leatherhead before returning to K’s at the end of his career. Had he stayed, the defender could have added another 300-400 appearances and made it close to 1000. Even Tolfs would’ve struggled to beat that.
But you never know.
My favourite Tolfrey quote? From the man himself, when interviewed by Simon Murray in 2016 after his testimonial against AFC Wimbledon. Why had he become a keeper in the first place? “When I was seven or eight years old, my brother would never pass to me and I got tired of running around after the ball so I went back and stood in goal and that was that!”
Now for some tributes from former K’s players and fans:
Tolfs was an absolute gent and what an achievement. He would always stay out after training with me for finishing practice and pens. Such a top bloke and unbelievable attention to detail.
What can I say about Robert Tolfrey? Well, first of all, never shout abuse at him or about his family otherwise he will jump over barriers to get ya! Haha but no seriously the word legend gets thrown around too often but there is no other word that represents and is more deserving to an individual than Rob. He has stayed loyal, always represented the club with such professionalism and given his all every game, that is for sure. Rob is reliable and honest, his calming presence at the back is a positive for any defence in front of him. His left foot is better than most outfield players, his right foot however is awful, it’s shocking. He loves to give the pressing centre forward a Cruyff turn, this has definitely given a few managers grey hairs over the years. When people talk or think of Kingstonian, there’s one person that comes to mind and that is Tolfs. I never knew Tolfs personally before joining Kingstonian, but I knew what a good goalie he was from playing against him and his reputation, we quickly became close and part of a car school of me, Tolfs and Pagey. We then grew to become best mates and even though at the time I felt obliged to help him out, because he had terrible dress sense and had terrible spiked hair, so I took him under my wing and educated him on both matters. I couldn’t help his dancing though or delay the loss of hair unfortunately. We speak most days and see each other often, even though it’s in a different capacity now, as we both have daughters, two weeks apart in age, so bars and restaurants are now parks and soft plays. He has always wanted to achieve this landmark and I’m so happy for him to have conquered this as I know how much it means to him. So congratulations you old fart, hope you get a clean sheet and win to mark the occasion, and I’ll see you later to celebrate.
Rob Tolfrey, what a K’s legend and guy. I played with a Rob with hair and without hair but one thing that never change is the distribution with the ball at feet or in hands. Tolf, what a achievement, such a humble guy, was a pleasure playing with you sir… also note that he didn’t like being chipped at training …
First of all Rob as a keeper, he is a true professional in everything he does from the training ground to game day! His detail is incredible and he never ever stops practising and striving to get better and better. One the best keepers I have played with. Rob as a person is just a top bloke, I have knowing him for years even outside of the game and he really is a true gentleman, would do anything for you, always got your back and what you see is what you get, love that about him. One thing he does need to work on is his dance moves on a night out!
What Tolfs has achieved at Kingstonian FC is incredible. He has shown loyalty and immense dedication to one club which should be applauded and recognised throughout the non league pyramid. Tolfs is a wonderful technician and I have fond memories of him hitting half-volleys into my chest on the left wing from about 40/50 yards away. He has a superb left foot and is fantastic shot stopper. He’s not only a special player but a true gentlemen and whenever our paths have crossed within the footballing world, no matter the result he would take the time to catch up. A wonderful servant to Kingstonian and I’m sure many more games to come. Well done mate. Thumbs up.
Unfortunately I don’t have many stories to tell, but I know he loved a cup of Tea at half-time and wore two pairs of socks and basically used a whole roll of underwrap for his shin pads. But, all in all, he’s a lovely bloke and would help anyone out if they asked. But he moans like a old git and I can’t believe his still going but he has probably got the best technique for kicking out of his hands which has kept him playing at a very good standard.
I’ve had the pleasure of playing with Tolfs for a number of seasons now and enjoyed every moment. He has obviously been fantastic for the club but also for me personally he’s been amazing. We’ve shared some unbelievably funny moments and memories, which I couldn’t possibly share! I often go to him for advice both in and out of the game which he will always give an honest assessment on which I think everyone would say is something they love about him as a person. He’s a really top bloke and I hope to share many more memories with him yet. Congratulations Tolfs!
Rob was a great goalkeeper. He joined the same time as me when K’s were in a bit of a pickle and contested and won the No1 jersey off another legend in Luke Garrard. He came in and was immense, I can’t even remember a mistake in our time together and most of all a class bloke off the pitch. Although a bit weird. But what keepers aren’t?! Congrats Rob. Great effort.
K’s are very lucky to have such a consistently performing goalkeeper between the sticks for such a long time. Not only are they lucky to have a top keeper but on top of that Tolfs is a real genuine likeable guy. Most keepers are a bit weird and have something missing in the head but Tolfs breaks this mould! Great that he’ll break the record this weekend and I’m sure he’ll keep playing and performing for seasons to come.
To stay at a club for that long says it all really. Obviously it means he’s been very consistent and never had to be replaced, he’s always been very dedicated in the way that he trained and just put a lot of effort in. I liked playing with him, I’m sure I’m responsible for a lot of the saves he’s made lol. Top keeper, top bloke and a hell of an achievement.
Whoever was going to take over from club captain Luke Garrard was going to find it difficult but in came Rob and he has to go down as Alan Dowson’s best ever signing. The best thing for a defender is having confidence in the person between the sticks and Rob gave us that in abundance, although during our playing days I’d never let him know it. I was a bit of a wind up and would be on at him to catch shots, kick better and would regularly tell him he was rubbish in training. This was because I knew he could handle it and my hoping was that he’d be thinking “I’m gonna show that Thommo”.
Off the pitch a truly awesome guy and to play so many games is testament to not only keeping up such a high level of performances but also looking after himself and his body. Was a pleasure playing with him and he still regularly rings me up wishing I was in front of him again, so Hayden if you’re reading this…
Nothing tests loyalty more than time and Rob has passed with flying colours. Rob is Mr. Consistent and rarely dips below a 7 out 10. Still can’t believe he jumped into the crowd against Bognor when somebody made a comment about his hairline, it was very out of character. Rob is very reflective, and quite a deep thinker- I think this is why he has remained number 1 for so long. Reflects after defeat and adapts his game. Certainly in my time there were games when he kept us in the match with multiple breathtaking saves. I know this has been the case for the past decade. Top appearances is no mean feat for any footballer at any club. The best way to reward him would be to get the promotion that I know he so desperately craves! Good luck Tolfs.
I saw Rob Tolfrey make his Kingstonian debut in a cup defeat at Walton and Hersham a few short months after my 18th birthday. Today he will break the Kingstonian appearance record a few short months after my 30th birthday. Much has changed in the interim, in my life and at K’s, but his continued presence between our posts has provided warmth and stability, like a cosy jacket you turn to again and again, whatever the weather. Players, managers and grounds have come and gone but there is Tolfs, an often brightly-coloured figure in the distance, repelling shots, kicking accurately, doing his utmost to help Kingstonian win. He is so deserving of breaking our appearance record, and knowing how much the club means to him only makes this significant piece of history more special. Congratulations, Rob.
Favourite moment: Easter Monday 17 April 2017 - away to Merstham (managed by Hayden Bird!) - Rob saves a second half penalty and K's win to stay up in the year when they leave Kingsmeadow. We could have sunk without trace at Leatherhead if we had been relegated.
From 100 yards away, I always think Rob Tolfrey is very well turned out. Long sleeved green shirt (there has been various shades, I personally prefer a traditional green), black shorts, white socks over the knee. That seems to be Rob's outfit of choice, although recently he has been spotted in an all lime green number with a short sleeved shirt. But seeing that figure at the other end makes me feel warm and safe on even the coldest night in far flung small towns. That is what you want from a goalkeeper. No obvious weakness, no particular strength. Just been the best Isthmian League goalkeeper for well over a decade. No matter how silly things got in front of him, he's been our rallying point. As long as we have Tolfrey, everything is ok.
My favourite Tolfrey display: Walton Casuals away in the Surrey Senior Cup 2nd round, played at Merstham in November 2015. No one cared. The attendance was 35. Apart from Tolfs. He cared, he always cares, which is why he has become such a longstanding hero. Not only did he save a penalty in 90 minutes, he was instrumental in the eventual 9-8 penalty win.
I remember the first time I saw a young Rob Tolfrey playing for Whyteleafe. A certain Alan Dowson liked what he saw too and made sure we got him, via Horsham, later that year. Rob used to have his own two-tone Nike goalkeeper shirt, which wasn't part of our team kit - a superstition he wouldn't budge on. We managed to get a K's crest sewn on to it, until eventually wrecking the poor lad's shirt with a plastic sponsor patch all across it. That shirt wouldn't have lasted anyway, as here we are a dozen years and a record 558 games later!
Rob will have seen it all, the ups and the downs. Countless times we said hopefully "see you next year" at end of season do at the Kingsmeadow bar. Rob would often be politely non-committal and we would worry about how we could keep such a top goalkeeper. Yet he stayed with us, driven by a loyalty and friendship - Rob has always been so popular off the field too.
The record books started to be opened, examined and re-examined over the past year or so. The legendary Micky Preston sat for so long at the top with a great number of appearances. But now is the reign of Rob Tolfrey. They say 34 is still young for a goalkeeper - it's younger than me so seems reasonable - and there's still so much more he can achieve with us. Let's see where that number goes in the chapters that follow.
B brilliant Tolfrey
I saw Micky Preston break the previous record in 1985 and am so glad to see it being broken by one of the nicest chaps you could wish to know.
Memorable game: Mon 27 Sept 2010 FA Cup replay v Margate at Kingsmeadow, he saved 3 out of 5 penalties and so won us the match.
What is a football club? It’s not the manager (sorry, Hayden). It’s not the owners, however solid they are as stewards of heritage. It’s not the ground, thank God. It’s not even the fans (well, not quite). It’s some sweet spot where stories, shared histories, moments, familiar faces, places and names coalesce to create something bigger than its constituent parts.
Actually, sorry, that’s complete bollocks. What is a football club? It’s not the players, normally, but I’m willing to make an exception: what is Kingstonian? For me, Rob Tolfrey.
Rob Tolfrey is Kingstonian. His first Ks’ game was a week or so after mine, so it’s impossible to extricate 12 years of false dawns, managers, ground moves, rumours of ground moves, cup runs, cup defeats and red and white hoops, from the man who’s been ever-present throughout that time. I’ve never really experienced K’s without Rob, and can’t really imagine doing so. Not even Leigh Dynan’s revolving door could get rid of him. In fact, he’s the lens through which many of those key moments in the last decade or so make sense. When he cried at Dartford, we were all crying. When he bundled after keeping us up at Merstham, we all bundled. His pain against Hornchurch was our pain. For 12 years, our moments have been his moments.
Congratulations on your achievement Rob! We've only worked together for two months, but your late match-winning save vs Corinthian Casuals was outstanding and, as I understand it, typical. Here's to many more!
Who ever would have thought this young unknown keeper who signed from Horsham back in 2009 would be making history? For a club that formed in 1885 and with the way players in non league come and go we are privileged as fans of the club to be witnessing this legend become the record appearance holder.Too many memories over the past 12 years, too many amazing saves, winning one on ones and of course saving penalties! On top of that to hear and read so many opposition fans give him praise really does show what a special player Rob is! I hope Rob stays with the club after he retires as he will always be our Number 1!
One thing that sticks out when I think about Tolfs’ time at K’s is coming up with his classic ‘ABC’ song. At the time he already had the ‘Dont Cha’ chant which seemed to work well. But a player of Rob’s quality can never have too many songs and at K’s we’ll always try to be creative and come up with our own unique style of terrace hits rather than using your standard, generic football chants that are used by everyone. It doesn’t always work out that way, they don’t always take off but seeing as this one is still being sung at games over a decade later, it can’t be too bad.
Given how long ago this was I can’t be exactly sure when this terrace banger was officially created. I’m almost certain it was during Rob’s first season with us 2009/10 and it was certainly a real group effort. As I remember it, it was an away midweek game somewhere towards the back end of the season and I think we were losing. One of the songs played at halftime was the Jackson 5 belter ABC. The first line just dropped into my head and I pitched the idea to the guys behind the goal. Filipo, Rex, Belly, Ali, Si Grier, Jon Tolley and myself then spent a large part of the second half chucking lines around and piecing it all together until we finally arrived at the version we sing today. As far as I’m aware there is no other club around that have a chant to the Jackson 5’s ABC. Which makes that song one of a kind and very fitting for a player like Rob Tolfrey.