That was until I joined my schoolmates and had become a regular at Kingsmeadow. Kingstonian were pushing for promotion to the top tier of non-league – the Nationwide Conference.
They made it too. Names such as Eddie Akamoah, Geoff Pitcher, Terry Evans, Gary Patterson and Dave Leworthy were all familiar faces in our household considering my dad and brother used to go too.
Kingsmeadow was great but I became curious about non-league football in general. I began to wonder about other places to watch football, especially when K’s were away. I worked locally in Tolworth Tower, a dominating 60’s skyscraper until gone lunchtime on a Saturday entering time-sheets for a recruitment company. Therefore the majority of away fixtures were out of the question. I needed to find something local.
Armed with this knowledge, a work colleague and I headed down there for the next Saturday fixture. What we discovered was a far cry from Highbury or Kingsmeadow. Playing in the Isthmian League Division Three, Casuals were lucky to draw crowds of 70. I’d been used to being squashed on the Kingston Road End terrace watching K’s. Now, we had the freedom of the whole ground, though only the main stand and the Phillips stand at the far end had cover from the elements at the time.
But it was different in a good way; we were welcomed warmly. Everyone seemed to be friendly and you felt part of it immediately. We watched a cracking game too. 3-0 to Casuals against Epsom and Ewell. Whilst my mate was ambivalent to it, I was hooked. It wasn’t long before I was choosing to go see Casuals instead of Kingstonian. I told my mate, Steve – who still comes with me to this day, about it and Football at King George’s became a regular occurrence.
We met plenty of characters; there were the Pryor brothers – John (or ‘Bagman’ as we were sure he had a Tesco carrier bag surgically attached to him) would continually shout expletives at the referee. There was Gordon – a Ronnie Corbett lookalike patrolling the perimeter with his German Shepherd. Of course, there was the Phillips Brothers. Roger, who’d always converse with us on the gate asking if we’d seen the results of some other particularly obscure match elsewhere. “Hello chaps” came the welcome. “Did you see the result of Hartley Wintney Reserves against Chesham the other night?” Funnily enough, no. I miss Roger – he sadly passed away in 2019.
The football wasn’t great but nevertheless entertaining enough to enjoy. Watching the likes of Justin Georgiou – a Thierry Henry-esque player, sadly in looks alone. Tony Blunt, always cheered on by his sister behind the goal. Record appearance holder Simon Shergold, the enigmatic Jamie White and tri-athlete John Hotchkiss in goal. We soon learned all the names. We joked about Chris Watney – the young striker who was always listed but never played due to continual injuries. Spotting Watney on the pitch was a rare treat. There was Liam Raishbrook, who looked like Wimpey from Popeye and played like Bluto. ‘Speedo’ was the flair player. When Simon Sobihy scored, you knew it! He didn’t score tap-ins.
We even made songs about the players which Steve and I would essentially mutter under our breath. Songs such as how Hotchkiss worked down Haliwells on Tolworth Broadway because it was the only local thing that rhymed with Casuals (he works down Haliwells, he plays for Casuals). As far as we knew, he didn’t actually work in the hardware store.
It was a revelation to discover that Casuals had an internet message board at the time, though only populated by a handful of people. It was here that posted an adapted version of the Kingstonian song ‘the grass is green, the sky is blue’ for Casuals. We baulked at the fact that Tolworth Tower is in fact 21 storeys high and not 20, though it fits the chant better. It’s great to hear it sung every time a train passes now. It’s been modified in recent years and is much better for it. That’s thanks to a gentleman who quietly stood with his young toddler on the opposite end of the terrace from Steve and I, where we simply exchanged nods of acknowledgement. That chap is super-fan Roger Stringer – and his now grown up son, Billy. Rog and Bill are bastions of days gone by who have supported the club since before we first came.
The ground was more ramshackled than it is now. ‘The Theatre of Corrugated Iron’ as Nick Overend, a club official affectionately referred to King George’s. There was the TV gantry standing by the dugouts, optimistically awaiting its use should Casuals ever get a big game televised. It actually happened – once. Though it wasn’t exactly the bright lights of Sky Sports. Rather Cable 17 – a local channel broadcast on the Telewest cable network which featured a non-league show. Presenter Jimmy Thompson (known as Jimmy-Cam) hoisted himself upon the rig to film some evening action. Mine and Steve’s claim to fame was we briefly appeared on the highlights, standing behind the goal, looking over at the car park (before the days of the roof) clearly captivated by the action in front of us. Another host, Dickson Gill (Former Croydon & Walton Manager) used to talk about Casuals all the time on the show. We’d been broadcast to homes with cable TV all around the Kingston, Merton and Croydon areas and had hit the big time, clearly.
They were halcyon days and many fond memories come from that era. It’s brilliant to see what has become of this great club in recent years and the success and growth on and off the pitch. But there are times when I hanker for those days. Turning up at ten to three. Grabbing a programme and perusing over the results and tables. Watching Casuals lose and going home for some supper and to study the programme some more.
In a way, recent seasons remind me a little of those days. No – not the crowds or even the performances which are a delight to watch. We’re back to being proper underdogs. Fighting in a league that by rights, we have no chance on paper to be able to compete in. Every point becomes precious. But just as in those days, Casuals keep exceeding expectations and keep continuing to support this great club, found on the slip road of the A3 in suburban Tolworth.