Mark Harris v Alan Walker, Head to Head
Not being terribly inclined to trek to Tranmere (as it was obvious we would freeze, play crap and lose), I ventured along to Kingsmeadow, home of Kingstonian to watch them take on the lovable Stones. And it only dawned on me as I entered the ground, that with one side coached by uncompromising ex-Gill centre half Alan Walker, and the other coached by uncompromising ex-Gill centre half Mark Harris, it was unlikely to be anything approaching tippy-tappy…
Alan Walker, of course, is more famous for hitting Maidstone’s post in the first Kent derby. With his head. He cuts a fine figure these days (certainly compared to the Stones’ boss, the hyperactive and foul-mouthed Lloyd Hume who scuttled around his technical area berating the officials and generally mucking about like a naughty schoolboy), a commanding presence to his team but joking along with supporters. And you still wouldn’t mess with him.
Mark Harris, instrumental in our record breaking defence of 95/6, was rather more subdued, sulking throughout and apart from a brief look of thunder just before half time which suggested he was going to eat his defence during the interval (Kingstonian had juts shipped a third goal), he didn’t utter a word. He looked a broken man, a far cry from the big, hard, yellow-card collector of yore.
No doubt there are many Stones fans who would view a Gill as unwelcome at one of their fixtures (judging by some of the infantile bollocks a minority spout on our message board – even a brief look at their Forum today showed nearly as much interest in our progress at Prenton Park as in their own team’s fortunes), but I’m going to be nice to them. For starters, they played Kingstonian off the pitch. It ended 3-0, it should have been several more. Led by Sam Tydeman (son of Dick, and the tiny white-haired creature who was mascot when we played West Brom in the cup in 1982, much to TVS’s amusement at the time), they played all the decent football while the home side simply lost their discipline. If Walker and Harris are coaching sides modelled on their own careers, you would have expected the first brawl to come before 70 minutes, but it didn’t. Finally, out came the first red card, and several more home players could have received their marching orders on another day. Thinking back though, I don’t recall either of them being sent off playing for Gillingham. I remember times when they should have been sent off(Walker’s headbutt against Burnley one year, while Harris piled up around 100 appearances under Pulis when we clocked up a dismissal every half hour or so – guess they just went about their violence in a subtle, understated and unseen manner).
And as for the Stones fans – the crowd was 421, over half of whom had travelled from Kent. They certainly took the home club by surprise, judging by the tea bar queues. And they were pretty vocal, with plenty of derogatory chants about the big club in Kent. It’s nice that we still mean so much to them. Whether they’ll ever return to Maidstone and continue to climb up the pyramid is open to speculation (many had their doubts that they could ever sustain league football even with their own stadium in their home town) – the current plans involve a miniscule site and there is still a phenomenal amount of funding work to be done – this level of support demonstrates that they have never lost their “big club” status at this level. They must outnumber the home support at most grounds they visit, certainly clubs with minute fanbases such as Walton Casuals, Molesey and Godalming.
Kingstonian meanwhile have long lost their upward mobility, and are a club dead on their feet, a ragged bunch of ill-disciplined idiots, their attack led by the ancient David Leworthy, a team branded “a disgrace to the history of the club” according to some of their more vocal followers. Less than ten years ago they were established in the Conference, attracting four figure crowds and playing in a modern council-built stadium. But financial meltdown led to a sale to a local businessman Rajesh Khosla, who quickly alienated a lot of the support. Simultaneously came the well-documented Wimbledon / Franchise saga and the birth of AFC Wimbledon. Amid immense positive publicity, they became tenants at Kingsmeadow though not a penny went to Kingstonian due to some careful ownership by the Khosla family (the club and ground were seperated between relatives). AFC Wimbledon bought the leasehold of the ground, with Kingstonian reduced to tenants. They pay a minimal rent to the Wombles but a lot of their sources of secondary income have been extinguished. The AFC Wimbledon story is undoubtedly a wonderful one given the ghastly Milton Keynes outcome, but some in SW London do not view them as the darlings forever portrayed in the media. Certainly looking around Kingsmeadow – now rebranded as The Fans Stadium – a lot of it is beginning to turn blue and yellow where once it was red. Something the Stones fans may have pondered on before their gleeful return trip around the M25, uncomfortable echoes of what happened at Watling Street when Maidstone moved in with Dartford nearly 20 years ago.
The Morty Vicker