Football: Chapple's belief in the old values

Kingstonian's manager will demand entertainment in the FA Cup tie with Leyton Orient.
Click to follow
The Independent Online
KINGSTONIAN. THE very name is redolent of short-back-and-sides chaps in funny hooped shirts, playing teams like Briggs Sports, Corinthian Casuals or Dulwich Hamlet.

For much of the century that is how it was, the club's main achievements being to progress from the Athenian League to the Isthmian and (in 1933) to win a solitary FA Amateur Cup. In 1960 the Ks might have featured briefly on Pathe News losing the final to Hendon.

This Sunday, on a giant screen in a pub near you, Sky Sports proudly presents the FA Cup, sponsored by an insurance company: Kingstonian against Bazza Hearn's Leyton Orient.

Fortunately for traditionalists, the man at the heart of the club's success is one whose values are as old as football itself. Geoff Chapple, now 53, has done for a series of non-League clubs what Brian Clough in his prime achieved at a higher level, lifting them to undreamed of heights. It might even be His Master's Voice speaking - without the bombastic tone - when Chapple says: "I like the game played a certain way. My philosophy on football is that there's grass on the pitch and that's where the ball should be, not in the sky. It's not too cheap to watch football and I base an awful lot on entertainment, sometimes even before winning, because there's more to life than winning a game of football."

Much of that belief can be dated to a time and place that Chapple still reels off without hesitation: "Saturday 8 March, 1980, the blackest day of my life. I broke my leg at twenty to four, got into hospital and got the news that my father had died at exactly the same time."

Playing career over, after progressing no higher than Aldershot reserves, he got a happier break into management with Windsor and Eton. "We'd just come out of the Athenian League and we went straight through the Isthmian divisions to the Premiership in four seasons, which is probably still a record."

In 1984 Chapple had his first sniff of glory in the FA Cup, only to be left aching for what might have been. "We were due to play at home to Bournemouth in the second round, but the pitch was under water, so the draw was made that night. First out of the hat was 'Windsor and Eton or Bournemouth will play Manchester United'. We drew with Bournemouth, lost the replay 2-0 and Bournemouth went on and beat Man United."

On the strength of his record down by the riverside, Woking approached him. Again, his recall of the detail is total: "They'd played seven and lost seven and were already out of the FA Cup. My first game was against Clapton and the gate was 87 people. We went down that season with 54 points, which was a lot. So we changed the personnel rapidly and grew and grew and it became a fairy-tale."

Colourful chapters included beating West Bromwich Albion (4-2, away), losing 1-0 at Everton and drawing at Coventry in the FA Cup; three FA Trophy wins in four seasons; and finishing runners-up twice in the Vauxhall Conference.

The story should have ended, or continued, with Woking reaching the Football League. Instead Chapple's last match as manager 18 months ago, was in front of 24,000 - including Pele - as they beat Dagenham in the Trophy final at Wembley. The celebrations were clouded by doubts about his future, as the club dithered over offering a long-term contract.

"I could never see myself leaving. I was treated as part of the furniture really. But I had a little daughter and I just needed security. I didn't ask for a pay rise: I was on the same wage in 1997 as I'd been in '92 when I went full-time."

Kingstonian, local rivals and a step lower down the ladder, saw their chance and offered a four-year contract, which Chapple accepted, not without regret. "It was a very sad day for me, because I'd put so much in there and I wanted to do a lot more."

He has begun doing it instead at the 10-year-old Kingsmeadow ground, just outside Kingston town centre, increasing gates from 400 to 2,000 and winning promotion in his first season to the Conference, where the red-and-white hoops now sit in the top six, comfortably above Woking (who have long since sacked his replacement John McGovern).

How does he do it? As with all the best managers, by the ability to judge a player, often in a trice, then sweet-talk him into signing, and fit him into "the jigsaw puzzle". Gavin Holligan, an 18-year-old striker, had been turned down by half a dozen clubs before Chapple signed him last summer on the evidence of a 10-minute spell in a pre-season friendly; once Kingstonian are out of the FA Cup, he will join West Ham in a deal eventually worth several hundred thousand pounds. That in turn will pay for the upgrading of Kingsmeadow to Football League standard.

Yet this is the sort of manager who does not even get an interview when a League club has a vacancy. Perhaps they, too, are living in the past.