Champions (unofficially)

You do realise we only got a point from the Beaverdome and we haven’t actually won the league yet. We could still lose 7-0 against St Albans, and H&R can easily win 7-0 against Maidenhead. And……… oh, fuck it:

AFC WIMBLEDON
(as good as) CONFERENCE SOUTH CHAMPIONS 2008/09

Dear Football Gods. You have given us all enough grief over the past few years so I’m calling this for us now. Even we couldn’t let slip a 14 goal advantage. And if we did, the first thing I’d do is call the police in to investigate. It would be the most iffiest set of happenings in football since Bromley in injury time last Monday. So fuck you.

Anyway, let Kempton Park 1 Wimbledon Village 1 sink in a little bit. Just let Jon Main’s header repeat itself in your mind over and over again. If that feeling starts to numb a little, just remind yourself of how you felt when their goal went in. How you felt when the much maligned Sam Hatton’s shot was saved in the first half. And the deflected shot in the second that just went to their keeper. And DK looping over the bar. And then Hussey’s cross, and JM’s jump, and connection, and your reaction afterwards….

And then think of the shit from Bromley last Monday. Think of the outright gobshite comments coming out from there afterwards. Think of the time at WSM where we relied on Jamie Pullen’s hands right at the death, only to find out that H&R had, yet again, got a last minute winner. And think of Eastleigh, with that handball. Hell, if you can think of any other incidents this season that has tested the patience beyond acceptable levels, just do it.

And then think of Chris Hussey’s cross and Jon Main’s header again.

Funny how history repeats itself doesn’t it? Around about this time last year, we were going into an ultra-tense period. We were losing games at KM to people like Harlow, and there was a very real sense that we’d fuck it up. Fast-forward to Staines away, and remember what a warm, sunny day that was in West London. Yesterday had exactly that same feel, even down to the ticketing arrangements.

I’m sure right now nobody actually remembers the game. I’m going to try though, with the very limited notes I ended up making…

First things first. When I heard that Hussey wasn’t playing and Haswell was, I already had flashes of doom in front of my eyes. Remember the games against Chelmsford and Wycombe when TB did the same thing and it kept backfiring? OK, I know why he did it yesterday, and for once it actually worked. That said, I can’t help thinking that like Inns, MH will be on the out-list come the summer. Also on the teamsheet was JG, which wasn’t exactly a surprise. I think he was being wrapped in cotton wool especially for this game. If I remember correctly, I’m sure he postponed his retirement last season so he could push us into the Conf. Wonder if he’ll have a swansong for next season? If indeed he doesn’t call it a day after next Saturday.

One thing that did surprise me was JM on the bench. OK, I know I slagged him off on Friday, and it was clear my words did the trick 😉 But you would have thought that he would have been given an extra chance with this being such a big game. Perhaps it was the kick up the arse he needed? Obviously worked…

The game itself? Well, it was a bit of a strange one if truth be told. First half, it was pretty impressive defensively from us. I think the way we showed the physical side to our game stunned H&R a bit. We needed to win the intimidation battle and we did – I honestly think it threw them. Of course, we started to tire a little bit towards the end of the first half, and all of a sudden the free kicks and throws started pelting in….

Second half? Well, the only surprise was that H&R didn’t add to their one goal. Which was basically us falling asleep at a corner, them doing a short one for once and basically catching us out. Cue eye rolling, tutting under our collective breaths and a silent mutter of “here we go again”. Just like last season when Staines went 1-0 up. OK, we went on the attack, but you all know that feeling you get at games when you just don’t think it’s going to go in…

I’d like to be smug here and say that I knew we’d score despite everything. But that would be bollocks, because I wasn’t. I’m not faulting the effort of the players at all, but when you consider the trouble we had recently with scoring goals, plus how we apparently played in the second half against Bromley, you did wonder if the luck had finally run out for us.

Of course, luck is a strange concept. We all knew we were owed something, but I didn’t think it would actually be in the manner we got it. Chris Hussey came on as sub and to be fair he aquitted himself well enough. It was about two minutes left (or was it four?). I’ll have to see the replay of two of their players colliding with each other, as the buildup is a bit of a blur. All I’ll say right now is, the ref probably thought they were both going to get up, which is why Hussey could continue. Anyway, he crossed a decent ball, Main was at the right place at the right time, and the rest is yellow and blue history….

Some players really did stand out yesterday. Has Lewis Taylor really been out for close to a year? I can see why TB raves about him. Danny Kedwell deserves not only player of the season but a hat-trick against St Albans. And when he returns, Luke Garrard may find it pretty difficult to dislodge Jay Conroy. I do expect some changes after the season ends. I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see a Paul Lorraine-esque figure come to AFCW. Maybe even Quiche himself, especially if Woking go down. Can we honestly expect people like Finn to be here next season? Then again, he might do better in a higher league with better quality players around him.

But all that is for the upcoming weeks and months. Like last season, this is going to take a little while to sink in. In a way, it’s still not a full blooded celebration (from these quarters anyway) because we’re still not officially champions. But it would have to be the freakiest of all freak happenings for anything to go wrong now. And apparently, Maidenhead (H&R’s next opponents) really don’t like the Axewounds, so they’re not going to roll over for them. Bromley might have, though……

Got to say, there were times during the season when I thought we’d blown it. Especially in March. It was a genuinely held belief as well, and I’ve had questions asked of me recently why exactly I felt this way. Here goes – I had serious reservations about whether we would have the energy to keep plugging away to grind out those results we needed. Even as far back as Maidenhead, I thought we looked a bit shaky at the back. I always thought we had the talent to do it, but the sheer physical and mental strain would have told on us. The games in March were painful, but the ones in February were if anything even worse.

But it’s that period that, in hindsight, is where we won the title. After all, we gained the top spot on 27th January and never relinquished it. At times you got the feeling the players themselves knew that the energy would sap, the luck would run out and we’d get caught at the last. If you think I was being way OTT with my predictions of doom, just look at what happened to Chelmsford this season. That could have very easily been us, although I think it’s now getting proven that things weren’t right there for a while. Apparently, Jeff King wasn’t at their loss at Barf yesterday, he was instead in a box at Wembley. I don’t think any more needs to be said…

TBH, I’m glad I was proved wrong. I offer no apologies for thinking what I did though, because I’ve seen teams blow up in the past who were doing as well as we did. Ask Burton fans. If anything, I’m probably more amazed – and certainly gladdened – that our mental fortitude was as good as it was. This season, there’s been a determination there that I haven’t seen in a Wimbledon side since the WFC era. Unlike last year, when you got the distinct impression there were a couple of troublemakers in the camp, doing some shit-stirring for reasons best known to themselves.

Still, we can now go into St Albans without having to shit ourselves over needing a result. Though I would like the 3 points and a nice 5-0er to round off the season…

Plus points: As good as champions. We didn’t lose. Defence was solid for 99.99% of the time. JM’s goal. Danny Kedwell. Jay Conroy. LT.

Minus points: We didn’t win. Their goal. We’ve still never beaten H&R. No away win since February.

The referee’s a….: Very, very good. Probably the best ref I’ve seen this season, and not just because he didn’t blow up for our goal. Didn’t seem fazed at all by H&R’s methods, and indeed gave two of their players a booking in the first half for exactly that. Dunno who he was, but I heard he was somebody coming up from the Ryman league for this. Good job this wasn’t common knowledge before the game…

Them: I can’t pretend that I like H&R, but I respect them. They didn’t try so much of the funny stuff yesterday (probably having a strong ref helped), but their tactic (singular) of free kicks and throw-ins really would have caused us grief. If they did go up, I wouldn’t begrudge them it – they did fall at the final hurdle last season, and they were within two minutes of being level on points with us. They probably deserve to go up, and if I’m being honest I’d rather see them promoted if the other option is Eastleigh.

That said, there is no way their ground is good enough for Conference football. Apparently, their temporary stand that is the subject of so much discussion had really crap views. When our goal went in, the fence behind the goal collapsed. Thankfully, nobody was seriously injured, but if it’s true that the Conf were using yesterday as a litmus test to see if the Beaverdome could handle it, they may be having second thoughts this morning. I won’t even begin to describe the view, especially on the dugout side. Though their prick of a PA guy was really starting to wind everyone up when he kept saying (or was it a touch of gloating?) that there was PLENTY OF ROOM down the side. Trust me – there wasn’t.

Also, the slope behind the concreted bit goes downwards. A couple of times, I had to watch myself that I didn’t fall over backwards and end up headbutting the fence/tree behind me. And yes, there was a tree right behind me – imagine not only having to rebank it but to overcome the NIMBYS in removing the local plantation. I know they know they won’t stay around long enough in the Conf for them to need to do refurbishment, but when you consider we had to spend close to £800k on seating this season alone to comply, you do wonder if there’s any points in ground regulations.

Their stewards were, according to many people, “bouncers”. They were certainly keen on getting the big AFCW flag down, before some coppers told them to stop being jobsworth pricks. When I entered the ground, I saw some of our fans having a row with them because they were allowed to stand in one place then 45 minutes later (when it was fuller) they got told to move. Hmm. A conversation with one of them was overheard by an SW19 source. Basically, one steward wasn’t keen on the football at all, but he said that he does it because he gets £80 per game. Make of that what you will.

As for their fans complaining how threatening we were after the game, they’ve obviously never met Luton or Oxford fans. Their naievity could get them into all sorts of trouble next season. As a fanbase, we’re clued up about the League mentality that we’ll see a lot more of next season. The Axewounds have basically been of the Ryman mindset since their inception. I genuinely don’t think they quite know what’s up there in the next division. Yesterday proved to me that I don’t quite think they’re really capable of handling life in the Conference….

Point to ponder: How vital was A Divot’s last gasp winner at Furruk?

hamp_afc

Truth is stranger than fiction: (1) The sign on a pet shop en route to the ground that said it was going to close early because of the football. I really am not making this up – look above (thanx Nicole for the pic). All together now – “We are Wombles we are here. Shag your budgie, drink your, er, Iams…”. (2) The minute silence beforehand. Which everyone seemed to get wrong – I can’t remember a coin toss getting done in total silence before. Well, apart from every game at the Wankiedome. (3) Ks getting promoted as well. Just as well the KM bars were already booked out, it could have got quite messy. (4) The portable pissoirs in the away end. Seriously, it had all the hallmarks of a Ryman League club getting a decent FAC tie and putting out all the stops. And they were nicked from Westminster Council. Really, how can the Beaverdome host top flight non-league football on a regular basis?

Anything else? There probably is. There’s a lot of things that will be written about, or spoken, in the upcoming weeks and months. But right now, I can’t think of them. Instead, I can talk about the playoffs knowing damn well we don’t have to suffer them this year. How nice that is to write that. As for who you want to go up or not, most people will say they want CCFC to go up and H&R and Eastleigh to suffer a great injustice in them. Especially Eastleigh. TBH I’m not going to care massively about who goes up or doesn’t. I want Eastleigh to stay down, because of their cheating and their cuntstain of a chairman accusing us of being bad losers. No doubt he’ll fuck Eastleigh off and join up with Bromley.

H&R as said above. I think I’d get more joy out of them falling flat on their arses again though. If they don’t go up this year they never will. As for the other two, I don’t mind CCFC but I don’t join in with the love-in that other fans of ours have with them. I think I remember their big mouths a bit too much when they were nine points clear of us earlier this season. I certainly remember the mouthing off they made about our attendances and their firm belief that they would overtake us in the crowd stakes because they’re the biggest town in Essex and we have Chelski on our doorstep…

Which leaves H&Y. OK, their fans can be nobs at times, but there’s no real reason to wish them ill. They’re a tough side, a bit like the Axewounds without the attitude problem. They’ve got a good old ground (though will be gone by about this time next year) which probably could handle a big game, and will at least sort out the Xmas period games. I suppose really I’m going to be supporting them in the playoffs. So, expect a H&R vs Eastleigh final – I bet Setanta will love that

So, was it worth it? Maybe.

In a nutshell: Now watch us lose 15-0 on Saturday…