Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game head to Carshalton to take in the sprayed bubbly and Samba-esque football of the Ryman League Cup Final.

Words by Daniel Magner. Photographs by Tom Sparks

The weather today has been changeable to say the least, blue sky one minute, rain the next and the occasional bit of moody rolling grey cloud that blots out the sun like in Independence Day. There was no need for a jacket debate, and I’m thankful I have it on, because when I leave to meet Tom I’m pelted with hail stones that leave small icy disc’s all over me.

Moments before heading underground mother nature has changed her mind again, flooding the tube carriage with warm sunlight, turning it for a brief moment into a greenhouse, forcing me to clamour at the zip of my blasted coat, trying to get it off. No doubt though when I get top side again, there might well be a hurricane blowing through.

At Victoria station I’m somewhat caught up in the rush hour crowd, and miss Tom. It’s not until he appears from the pack, reaches out, grabs me by the shoulder and starts to pull me against the tide do I escape the mob of half suited, half gym wear wearing zombies and Tom informs me that our intended train to Dorking, which he thought was a “very funny name” has been cancelled, and we only have a couple of minutes to grab an alternative one at the other end of the station.

The train is not surprisingly crammed, but thankfully thins out as we make our way through the suburbs of south London. When we manage to get a seat, we are able to rejoice in the fact this is our first evening game in a while where it’s not been pitch black since 16:00 and there is a high chance at least one of us will return home with all our toes. If it stays clear and a bit breezy, well then we will be in for a fine evening.

When we have to change trains we are briefly separated, but Tom lets me know he is thinking of me,“missing you”, is the message that appears on my phone. I’m stuck though next to an obnoxious telephone bore, talking unnecessarily loudly, using phrases like “needed it like yesterday” and some other jargon too dreary to recount.

I manage to distract myself momentarily by reading an article on-line about tonight’s match, The Ryman League Cup final or as it is now known The Alan Turvey Trophy named after the league’s long standing Chairman and President. The article informs me that thanks to both teams being well followed and the venue for tonight being close to both their patches, they are expecting “bumper crowds”.

Tom and I are reunited on the platform at Carshalton, it is apparent that Tom has been spending our time apart studying his weather app, “supposed to hail again at ten” he tells me, then quickly changes the subject to his other fetish “looking forward to some chips”.

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A sign high on a lamppost on a very nice tree lined road, trees that have been pruned to within an inch of their lives and look like as my Son once described them as bits of “ginger”, points us down an allotment flanked driveway to the the War Memorial Sports Ground.

Everything is very white and red, as a Spurs fan I’m instantly cautious and on my guard when surrounded by the colours of my enemies, it makes me feel like Ned Stark in King’s Landing. I am however intrigued by one sign which alludes to ‘kung fu’ and if it wasn’t for the closed gate I would have most definitely investigated. Is there a secret ‘Enter the Dragon’ ninja training camp here?

The turnstile is a white shipping container with two doors in the side, and once in the first thing Tom notices is the already humongous queue for food. His desire for frites is swiftly moved on to the back burner, and such is the brightness of the evening sun he wished he had brought his “sunglasses”.

Carshalton Athletic FC’s ground is dominated by a white terrace with small concrete steps and red pillars, that goes the full length of one side of the pitch. On top alternate Union Jacks and St George’s Crosses fly from white flag poles. The rest of the ground is somewhat minimalist in comparison, a couple of covered standing sections behind each goal, and a small all seater stand all pale in comparison to the all standing patriotic behemoth.

“Lots of black and white” notices Tom, as the majority of people we have seen so far are Faversham Town FC (FT) supporters. Some have already picked their spot at the back of the terrace, and have hung two flags on its back wall. One is black and white check, with ‘FTFC’ spelt across it in red, the other also black and white but a lot less Specials in design and says ‘Faversham Town FC’ and ‘Come On You Whites’. Not expecting this evening to have been able to add to our running tally of tinfoil FA Cups, it’s a welcome if not slightly odd sight when we notice a very fine example may I add hanging below the flags next to a FT scarf.

Both teams are warming up, and the sun is proving a little troublesome, low in the sky it is forcing many of the players to run around with an outstretched hand to shield their eyes. One FT coach wants the team to liven up a bit, “too quiet” he shouts, the players instantly start making a racket, like someone flicked a switch. Further up the pitch, and trying to not get hit by stray shots, Tom takes the chance before returning a wayward ball to do a few kick ups in his sparkling new pair of Turkish silk slippers or are they trainers, I can’t quite tell.

“Good evening and welcome to the War Memorial Sports Ground” says a voice over the tannoy, who gratefully interrupts the succession of iffy songs that have been playing.

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Walking around it’s difficult not to notice the amount of signs telling you what not to do. Metaphorical teachers wagging their finger at you, some are justified ‘entering the pitch is prohibited £50 fine’, some are a little child catcher ‘children are prohibited from playing in this stand’ and one on the players tunnel is frankly absurd ‘no ball games are allowed’.

There is a definite feeling of anticipation, which is only heightened when a plinth, not dissimilar to the one you see at the beginning of a Champions League match, but without Gazprom on it yet, the rumored sponsorship is supposedly coming in 2018, is placed on the edge of the pitch with the match ball balanced on top. Behind it, a fair crowd has formed waiting for the players to appear. When someone gets the nod, the tunnel is completed when two large caged doors are closed by the stewards, and not long after both teams arrive. As they wait for what feels like an age, a Kingstonian FC (KFC) supporter jokes with one player about his bright orange neon footwear “they’re not proper football boots”.

“Ok guys have a good game” says the referee who eventually leads both teams through a red garden gate, onto the pitch, past the plinth where he collects the balls. With any big occasion, comes the dignitaries, and there must be one third of the world’s blazer population here this evening, with gold buttons buffed, club and league ties ironed, the band of them takes their turn shaking hands with the lined up teams, all to the backdrop of “Right Here, Right Now’ by Fat Boy Slim.

KFC’s supporters who have been a bit thin on the ground until now, make a grand entrance, standing at one end of the ground, they cheer their team, and hike huge handfuls of sparkling confetti into the air, “we love you Kingston we do”.

“Enjoy the game” says the voice over the tannoy and moments later we are underway.

Such was their pre match display, we decide to join the KFC fans. As we pass the turnstiles, people are still coming in with the game already started, but by the looks on some of their faces, ‘what the fuck’ it would seem they have been caught out by the slightly unorthodox 19:30 kick off.

The floor and pitch around the KFC fans is a twinkling and sparkling like a Liberace costume, a lot of it has to do with one fans bulging Sainsbury’s bag. His hand half cocked like the hammer on a revolver, ready to discharge more into the air at a moment’s notice. Every so often the wind picks up, sending it swirling all over the place.

There is a heady, reminiscence of my teens, with a towel at the bottom of the door, God I hope my parents don’t come home smell wafting in the breeze, The KFC fans, are clearly embracing their club’s chance to add to the silverware cabinet, they also have their own flag hanging from the back of the stand, and are belting out chant after chant, “Shala, la, la, la Kingstonian” and “come on the K’s”. More often than not the games we go to can be quite affairs and Tom is spot on when he says “it’s nice to hear a bit of singing”.

Customary at most non-league games, is for the fans of each team to stand behind the the goal they are attacking, and then do the halftime swap. The majority of the FT fans though are hunkered down, spread out across the big terrace which a few of the KFC fans can’t understand.

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On thirteen minutes the KFC’s supporters are rewarded with sticking to tradition when they and us have a close up view of the FT player chesting the ball into his own net for the first goal of the game. His face drops, the realisation of what he has just done plays out across his mortified face just a couple of feet in front of us, it’s almost a bit awkward being so close, it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for him. The KFC fans are not so sympathetic as they rush the fence, banging on the hoarding and letting out a long loud drawn out “coooooome onnnnnn youuuuuuu KKKKKK’s”. The remaining contents of the Sainsbury’s bag is now fluttering down, and one person is not bothered one iota in the way the team have gone ahead, “it’s a Cup Final, take any fucking goal”.

The following minutes are filled with various people re enacting the own goal, turning their chests in slow motion into the imaginary ball, just as the FT player had, but they are not quite able to get his crestfallen expression quite right. When KFC get another corner, the FT player is quickly reminded of his mistake “get your chest out”.

All the action is now only going one way, the league difference between the clubs is evident, as the minnows are pinned back. When they get a rare chance at the KFC goal, it’s close, a “rasper” says Tom, but it’s just over, “come on you whites” shouts a solo voice.

With the sun gone, and the wind increasing, one corner flag near us is almost horizontal, Tom’s thoughts have moved to food, something to warm him up, but he is troubled by the potential wait “queue has not moved since we got here, want chips!”

“You thought you had scored, you were wrong, you were wrong” sing the KFC supporters, towards the FT player’s, bench and fans who have just noticed mid celebration the linesman with his flag in the air for offside, and the feeling of being back in the game and all level are quickly dashed. I think it’s fair to say they did not deserve to be on a level pegging, but it’s a bit harsh nonetheless. At least it injected a bit of life into what has until now been a poor game, and as Tom put it a bit “tense”.

One FT player warming up talks to his teammates from the sidelines, telling them the linesman “fucked it up” it wasn’t offside, but they are to “get on with it” they are not to dwell on the disallowed goal. Heads seem to have dropped significantly, and it feels like a long way back for them already. The fans offer their own bit of encouragement “come on Faversham” but it’s intermittent, and is not said with a huge amount of belief.

“We are too good for you” is the ever so arrogant KFC chant when they go two goals ahead just before half time, but I guess the score doesn’t lie and if I’m honest the game has resembled a training match at points. A swift attack is followed by the players and fans celebrating together and once again the air is filled with more glitter and confetti. When it settles we can make out the torn up pages of The Sun newspaper, about all its good for, that makes up some of it, “love non league confetti” says Tom smirking.

“We love you Kingston we do” sing the fans once again, as the teams go off. We swap ends, the FT fans are sticking to their spot. Tom returns from his food run, most impressed by the condiments to choose from more than the food, “tomato relish” on offer he tells me, which is a “first for non league”. He is accustomed to the Bearnaise sauce or Thousand Island dressing at the Emirates, so has much higher expectations than most.

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Once the teams eventually return from the break, a break which felt very long, we overhear one time conscious person who says he timed it at “19 minutes”. KFC warm up with all the intensity of a team who have been told, ‘same again please’ by their manager, going through sprints and stretches all together. FT on the other hand come out in dribs and drabs, warm up in groups of two or three with all the intensity of a team who have been told ‘oh well, that’s that then’.

Tom has got so cold, tonight’s final quite the contrast to last years, which was a barmy spring evening, all linen suits and parasols, he contemplates a few visualisation techniques, and starts talking about pints in a pub garden in high summer, hoping it will do something to help thaw him out.

If one had any doubt that it’s just not going to be FT’s night, it is surely confirmed when not long after the restart they hit the crossbar with a great free kick. The KFC fans, a supportive bunch like most football fans are, ask “how high do you want the goal?”

Such is the confidence of the winning team, the game gets very step over, dropped shoulders, drag back heavy as they start to show boat, perhaps needing to entertain themselves, considering their opponents are little more than just present, “it’s like watching Brazil”.

Any further FT misery is momentarily put on hold when KFC fail to convert a penalty. The camera men with their howitzer sized lenses rush into position, but are disappointed when the player completes his stuttering run up, but can’t prevent him dragging it wide of the post, and for the first time the FT fans have had something to cheer.

If FT are going to score it’s going to have to be spectacular, and when one player almost lobs the KFC keeper, there is a quick intake of breath, “ohhh close”. The man in goal for KFC has had little to do, but still gets a Pussy Cat Doll themed song for his efforts “don’t you wish your keeper was Rob Tolfrey, DONTCHAA!”.

They have a healthy mix of songs and chants, one is a bit Alan Partridge when they mention the “pedestrianisation” of Kingston city centre, one has Tom licking his lips and brings on visions of Zinger Tower Burger “we’re the famous KFC”, my favourite is probably the pitch perfect hummed rendition of Greensleeves.

With the game not really proving to be much of a spectacle, the fans start to chant the name of the league Secretary and President, they seem caught in a hypnotic state like members of a non-league cult, “Alan Turvey, Alan Turvery, Alan, Alan, Alan”. Like every good Devine Being, he will occasionally walk amongst his followers, to reinforce his position. Out of nowhere in his long black jacket and flat cap he appears much to the delight of his followers, chant and he will come.

They demand a song from their leader, we are bit far away to hear if he does, but he is happy to pose for countless selfies and seems delighted to be serenaded by the KFC fans, who try and work his name to the tune of “No No” by Two Unlimited.

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Not sure if they are members of a rival cult, and some non-league holy war is about to unfold, but on the far side of the pitch a group of people are waving inflated balloons at us. Not sure if they are FT or KFC fans because the colours of the balloons represent both teams, but they don’t seem to be goading anyone, in fact they look very happy, if not a little bit mental.

“Dive, dive, dive” shouts someone from the seated stand, where no children dare play, sounding like the captain of a World War Two submarine when a KFC player goes down in the box.

The game now is in its final throws, and still unable to understand why the man behind us is standing under an umbrella when it’s not raining, KFC add three more goals in quick succession, putting the game well out of sight, if it wasn’t already. Tom puts it perfectly, FT have been “totally outplayed”. They do hit the woodwork again, and go close from a corner, but can’t do anything about the KFC third which is an unreachable curling shot into the corner from the edge of the box.

Between the fourth and the fifth goal there is a flare up which involves most of the players and both benches, but quickly simmers down, the KFC fans seem to think it’s “just because you’re loosing”.

KFC’s fourth is a close range shot, and as if to add insult to injury to FT, KFC’s fifth takes the final touch off a FT defender, jabbing at the ball rolling goal wards, and taking it beyond the keeper. All three are received by more confetti, which must contain a newsagents worth of newspapers, a can of silly string appears and at just before full time I notice the unmistakable shape of a bottle of Champagne in one fan’s hand.

On the final whistle the conversation amongst the KFC fans turns to “are we going on the pitch?”. Some straddle the fence, some pop over but don’t stray too far, one bolts but soon returns, the rest look on waiting for the person next to them to break for the centre circle, but are not quite ready to take the plunge themselves. One thing they all do, and what they have done pretty much the whole match is sing “we love you Kingston we do, we love you Kingston we do” as the man with the Balthazar does his best Lewis Hamilton, popping the cork and wasting every drop.

Not wanting to get a scolding from one of the many ‘you can’t do that’ signs, we walk around the pitch to the players tunnel, by this time the bulk of the KFC fans are celebrating with the players on the pitch, holding their flag up, and getting doused by the players this time with more fizz,“can the spectators get off the pitch” says the now slightly grumpy voice over the tannoy.

A couple of people quickly hurry to erect the advertising boards and the plinth reappears this time with the trophy on top which has red and white ribbons on the handles, along with fold away table with tablecloth and all, which has the medals on. Again the choice of music is a bit odd, the ceremony takes place with music that sounds like it’s from the credits of a daytime quiz show, and most of the players look cold and keen to get it over with.

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The officials get their medals first, then the voice asks for a “warm round of applause for the losing finalists” as FT are up next, I’m sure just wishing they can get changed and go home. The KFC’s players are hovering in the background, waiting for their moment.

It’s not a player but the Son of one who has joined his dad and leads the KFC squad up to receive their spoils. Once the long yellow train behind him collects theirs, they make the short walk to the highly polished trophy, which is waiting patiently to be hoisted.

“Championes, championes” sing some in the crowd, one player vigorously shakes a bottle of bubbly, waiting for the stragglers. “Whooooo, whoooooo, whooooo” gets louder and louder, the player with the bottle can’t wait and sprays his team mates. Alan Turvey has the duty of handing his namesake to the KFC captain, and on lifting it above his head receives a resounding applause and the bang of handheld confetti cannons in the crowd, once again the music changes, this time to a bit of a samba vibe as the players and staff take turns to pose with the trophy.

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