I’ve said for years words similar to “The FA Cup is for other people, it seems” as Kingstonian crash out to a lower level team once again. Well, at last, the FA Cup is for us. And we, and I mean supporters, club officials, management, players, everyone with Kingstonian somewhere in their hearts, we thoroughly deserve it.
For the first time in my life, I can point at a historic FA Cup match involving Kingstonian and say with pride that I was there.
I did think that if we played without fear then we would give ourselves a chance of what would have been a surprise win, I thought a draw and a replay on Wednesday was definitely possible.
As it turned out, we did play without any fear, and whilst the second half (especially after Dartford’s second goal) was one of the longest in my life, the bottom line is that we will be in that draw tonight for the First Round Proper.
It might be old hat for older supporters who remember the glorious days of beating the likes of Brighton and Hove Albion, Southend United, Brentford, etc. and the sagas that were Peterborough United and Bristol City, but for me and a lot of our other supporters, this is dreamland. As a club official, I had never got past the Third Qualifying Round, only ever reached it on three occasions that I can vaguely remember, I only remember being in the Fourth Qualifying Round draw once when we could have had an away trip to Luton Town had we not lost a disappointing replay to St Albans City. So, this is completely surreal.
By my standards, I felt relatively calm on the trip to Princes Park – biggest FA Cup tie of my life and I’m relatively calm. I still don’t understand that. However, by the end of the game, the stress levels were louder than a Rammstein concert. It’s a wonder that my heart didn’t break out of my chest Alien-stylee, climb up to make eye contact (don’t ask) and shout “calm down, you idiot!”
There were tv screens all around the bits of Princes Park that I went to, and they were showing highlights of previous matches – it mostly felt like Darts’ away games against us. So typically there were lots of Dartford goals, and accompanying those goals were goal announcements. I still don’t recognise my voice when I hear it and once it was pointed out to me, it felt very strange, I didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or not…
I can still remember much of the game, and I still haven’t watched the highlights yet on Dartford’s YouTube channel. Reece Hall’s goal was beautiful, Louie’s goal so calm and measured but it came after a fabulous interception by Dan Hector. The penalty looked nailed on, but I am biased. Tom Kavanagh was an absolute iceman with his penalty strike. And then, we fell asleep for the first time in the game, Dartford got one back and it made for potentially a fraught second half. We’ve had so much go wrong in recent years, a Dartford comeback was not only a possibility, it was expected to happen.
We didn’t really park the bus in the second half, it was more of an executive mini-bus, really, but we were on the back foot for the vast majority of the time, though strangely Rob Tolfrey didn’t have too many difficult saves to make. I found myself looking at the scoreboard in the corner of Princes Park at least seventy times a minute. And then my stopwatch at a similar rate. Time slowed down to a crawl. And when the Darts scored again with nineteen minutes left, the speed of the crawl descended into ultra slow motion. I think I might still have afterimages of the red dots on the Dartford scoreboard temporarily singed into my eyes, either that or I really haven’t slept well. When the time went to 90 minutes, the scoreboard clock stopped, so the looking at the stopwatch went up to 140 times a minute.
The final whistle blows and it’s bedlam. Obviously tremendous disappointment for the people from Dartford, but I will say how magnanimous and friendly they were after full time even though they must have been hurting mightily – that football club was pretty high in my estimations before, but even more so now. “Scenes!” would probably be the caption if you could put the whole thing into one image. The planet Kingstonia is a happy place again, I can barely remember the last time this was the case – probably after winning the League Cup Final at Colston Avenue.
In retrospect, the noise levels during the game were almost overwhelming, supporters from both teams urging their guys on from minute one to minute ninety-five and then our people going crazy after that. I have to say that it was a relief when, about half an hour after the end of the game and finally it was time to leave the crucible, I moved into an almost deserted corridor. The quiet was deafening. Exultant and exhausted was how I felt at the time and to some extent, I still do.
I was interviewed by Riverside Radio shortly after that – they used to be called Wandsworth Radio until recently – not my first radio interview (I did a couple for a local BBC station well over a decade ago), but my very first straight after a game. I still don’t actually recall how many people were interviewing me, my mind was beginning to haze even more than normal, but I do remember some of blurb I came up with and I remember enjoying it immensely. There’s a link to my interview (bit.ly/2o5ATlB), I’m still not brave enough to listen back to it myself, but I hope I was at the very least coherent, if anyone from Riverside Radio does read this, thank you so much for allowing me to make a memorable day even more memorable.
Hayden Bird said when he took over as managers, in amongst many of things he said, that he wanted us to relate to the players, he wanted us to see a bunch of players giving everything and then we would be able to get behind them. We have that bunch of players. It is a joy to see them play. OK, we don’t always get the results we want, but these guys work so hard, I am amazed that they can get up a few days later and do it again. Ice baths must be the rage. I am now looking forward to games again, and I don’t just mean the First Round of the FA Cup, I am up for our match against Bognor (programme is already mostly done) and I will be up for our match against Corinthian-Casuals, for, regardless of the result, I am confident that we will see a Kingstonian team that will bring all that they’ve got to a game and if it’s not good enough, then well done to our opponents.
I’ve been asked who I want for us in the draw for the First Round tonight. The dream is Tranmere Rovers away, but there’s an awful lot of good choices out there, though I will admit that I feel a bit anxious as to how much work would be involved if we managed to get a glorious home tie against a Football League club. A bridge to cross later, the immediate thing is the immense pride I have that Kingstonian are in the same draw as the likes of Tranmere, Ipswich, Sunderland, Coventry, Blackpool, Portsmouth, etc., etc.
Calm down? No chance.