Apologies to anyone triggered by the title…
So, after eighteen seasons – we’ve finally left KM.
Not actually formally confirmed at time of writing on the OS, though the club’s merchandise emails have said exactly that.
And should L1 return Chelski have apparently said we can re-use it for the remaining games.
Though given our division’s fantastic ability not to make any sort of decision, we’ll be back in 2022.
But the signs have come down, the office stuff is being boxed up, and we head homebound.
And it’s a weird departure in so many ways, yet one that is typical of how we do these sort of things.
We left Plough Lane almost without warning, the last game at Selhurst led to you-know-what, and our last days in KT1 have gone with a whimper, not a bang.
No formal farewells, no end-of-tenure parties. Nothing.
But then, how many people are that sad in leaving? True, we had some good memories there, but just as Selhurst was inadequate because it was too big – KM was lacking because it was too small…
We’ll come back to that. Even before 2002, your editor occasionally visited Ks games on a spare Saturday, and the venue always seemed quite neat and tidy.
Certainly compared to other places like Gander Green Lane.
But strangely enough, I could never formally warm to the place. Maybe it was because Kingstonian fans were (and still are) a bit odd?
It’s ironic that Koppout was – supposedly – looking at KM as a potential new home for WFC. And while that was likely bollocks, it would have been a good substitute for remaining at Selhurst.
And definitely a zillion times more preferable to what actually happened on 28/5/02.
Before I start, I’m struggling with some of the precise timelines, so no complaints that I’ve got one or two things either incorrect, or the wrong way round.
Anyway, when this thing we call AFCW started, we needed a new home and quick. We settled on the place with the OK-looking redbrick stand, the big car park and the place on the 131 route from Wimbledon.
That bus route extended to Tooting Broadway, perhaps due to us using it, but after the traumas, it was good to be somewhere homely.
Though maybe a certain decision maker will regret their “we want to stay here forever” comment they made at the time…
But we turned up anyway, and started to find our places in what became our home ground until 2020.
As an aside, who remembers the first game we had at KM as AFCW? I bet nobody does.
Yet 4500 or so piled in to play Ks in a friendly that nobody seems to actually recall.
I didn’t do a writeup on it, and I don’t think the club did one either. But it’s listed on the results page, so we must have all been there.
But we started to find our feet there, who went where and all that. Your editor eventually found a good spot in the Athletics End, even if it was sans toit.
Hell, even christening it the Hardcore Athletics End (or hAE) was fun – after all, the hoi polloi gravitated to the Kingston Road End, while those of us down the other end were a little more refined.
Only a little, mind you.
One thing that came clear very quickly was how crap the place we first knew as the John Smith’s Stand was.
I remember standing there some games, and almost wanting 30% of my entrance fee back because I couldn’t see 30% of the pitch.
True, Kingstonian had no real reason to change that, given their crowds, but how they got away with such a poor design I don’t know.
In fact, after dealing with Mr Khosla, we quickly realised how much literally needed to be done there.
From memory, we had to relay the pitch PDQ, and a quick replacement of the fire resistance stuff in the main stand ceilings.
Actually, despite how neat it looked on the surface, KM was a bit of a clusterfuck underneath it – apparently it was built using domestic plumbing instead of commercial.
We needed to do a lot of stuff on it. And maybe it explained why, in that first AFCW season, we looked at going to Tooting and Mitcham instead.
Having an “open day” always struck me as odd, and how history would have changed if we moved into there instead.
But it never happened, partly because it never felt right, and as somebody said to me at the time – we’ve had too much upheaval already.
So, we settled into life at KT1, and all seemed well. We finally discovered our own places to stand/sit, our own places at the bar, and where to park.
Almost like home, it was.
We even had a roof over the hAE, though we succumbed to corporate pressure and renamed it the Tempest End. It was never the same again.
Already, there were signs that it was slowly becoming inadequate. We added more seats, tried to do something to the JS stand, and other such things as new toilet blocks.
It helped make the matchday experience better, but the more divisions we went through, and the bigger the crowds, the more obvious that became.
Up until we left Turdeyland, that was never much of an issue though – we were where we were, a return home was never really on the cards at that point, and it was more than adequate.
But attitudes over where we were playing definitely started to change, if not before the Conference South days then certainly in them.
I’m in no doubt that some decision makers would have happily seen us stay at a refurbished KM, and I’m glad they failed** in that.
** – partly, if not mostly, because rebuilding it wasn’t nearly as advantageous as first thought. But mentioning staying at KM always felt “wrong”, and a step too far.
Playing in the Conference South started to highlight why we couldn’t stay there for too much longer.
Remember at the time when we put away fans at the end of what became the John Green stand? At least we finally punished them by dumping them in the RyPiss.
The first “big” game I ever remember at KM was Wycombe in the FA Cup, in 2008. Though I regret the whole “renovate the ground” comment today.
But in my defence, I didn’t think returning home was an option a mere twelve years ago.
When we played Chelmsford and there was a lockout because so many people turned up, that’s when it started to dawn on people.
My own attitude towards KM soured at the end of that season, in the game against St Albans.
That we did away with segregation that day to get as many people in as possible told its own story.
But it felt so squashed and just a tad unpleasant.
I don’t know whether that was the catalyst for the first steps towards going home, the timelines seem to roughly match up.
KM was never suitable for crowds above 3500, and the problem was that in the Conference that’s close to what we were getting.
As an aside here, a few brief sentences about our relationship with Kingstonian here. It should have worked out, but didn’t.
Perhaps naively on our part, we expected them to make plans to eventually buy back what is after all their home ground.
But for whatever reason, they didn’t. In fact, they seemed to spend more time pointing fingers at us than actual fundraising.
Christ, we even gave them £1m, which some of them charmingly describe as “blood money”.
If that’s the way they still feel, can we have that back? We’ll make better use of it…
Back to KM, and its increasingly unsuitability coincided with our foothold into the professional levels of football.
Even as a Conference side, we could get away with it for a time before we needed to do something.
When the back bar got converted into hospitality**, it ruffled a few feathers but it further highlighted its limitations.
** – I never ate in there, and to be honest I’m glad I didn’t. It always looked more like an upgraded working mens club without the tin ashtrays.
We got into the League, and once the club announced the intention to return home, I think that was “it”.
Mind you, we nearly lost that EFL place, and THAT penalty against Fleetwood will be one of the highlights of our stay there.
Though while typing this, I still remember the Barnet horror show a few weeks earlier. KM felt eery that day, and it wasn’t just because of the cold weather.
Once NPL got the go-ahead, and even despite the hurdles we’ve had since December 2015, going to KM fast became a chore.
I suppose Chelski buying the leasehold tested many a loyalty towards the place, as in it was no longer “our” ground.
It wasn’t to begin with, and I don’t really care they own it now, but we were clearly on the way out by then.
The truth is, unless you sat down the views were never that good – even in the Chemflow End.
Plus, when we started going to some pretty decent away venues, you returned back to KM and you realised just how non-league it looked.
And really, that’s what KM was – a non-league venue.
A ground that had outlived its purpose for the past decade, no less. When you start finding faults with going there that you previously didn’t, it’s time to move on.
Your editor’s last game there happened to be Ipswich Town, and as it turned out a fitting way to end it.
That evening felt as cramped as I ever remembered it, even more so than the Liverpool game, and had a feeling of inadequacy that I don’t recall before.
Hell, even standing in the bar area beforehand finally lost its charm.
Though the queuing system employed didn’t help matters. It did sum up the whole make-do-and-mend approach that being there eventually became.
If you were to ask people what they’ll miss most about KM, it will be the pre-match gatherings for drinks.
I guess that’s what the idea of the “Fanzone” at NPL is, though chances are people will tend to stick to their own groups and have their own routines from now on.
Though to be honest, I won’t miss that side of things. Sometimes, I think people tried to pretend it was like old Plough Lane when it wasn’t.
A certain Mr W J Downes said before the WHU FA Cup game that the KM bars reminded him of our old venue.
I understood the sentiments, but he wasn’t right.
KM was only ever a means to an end, a temporary home, and it’s perhaps unsurprising that many aren’t upset to be finally moving on.
That said, it would be unfair and dismissive to pretend there weren’t good memories there, because there were.
Admittedly, I’ve managed to miss most of them over the years, but beating the Ammers, playing Liverpool, surviving against Fleetwood, beating t’Stanley in the L2 playoffs and a certain game against a certain Bucks franchise are in recent memory.
The non-league days are more hazy, though beating Chelmsford in the Conference South lockout game still springs to mind.
And when you think about it, KM is a unique venue. After all, we’ve hosted Sunderland, Ipswich, Bolton, Coventry, Charlton, Millwall, Blackburn and Leyton Orient in competitive league fixtures there.
We’ve also played league games against Withdean 2000, Merstham, Bashley, Hastings United, Carshalton, East Thurrock United, Team Bath and Leyton too.
And all within the last two decades.
It’s going to be strange knowing none of us will be going there for a competitive fixture involving AFCW any more, unless Ks move back there and we draw them in the FA Cup.
The drive, or the bus ride there, hoping to get your parking spot/place in the queue for the bar. None of that will happen any more.
Maybe a few will pop along to Chelski Ladies once the CV19 dust settles, although I suspect the vast majority of us won’t bother. It is just another venue now.
Actually, I suppose the whole Coronavirus stuff has done us a favour, because it means we can now focus on returning to NPL, rather than have to go through an awkward goodbye to KM.
We’re not in the position Brentford are with Griffin Park, where they’re likely never to have that poignant final moment.
I think people were starting to get very fed up being in KT1 this season, as though it was an irritation that our home games were there.
It wasn’t the fault of the venue itself, it served its purpose between 2002 and 2020 and did it mostly OK enough.
But I won’t miss it.
Oh, and a confession about KM I’ve kept inside for many years that I can only now express – I thought Fat Boys was over-rated…