Just in case you’ve forgotten about 2016/17. Or forgiven.
Yep, a week and a day on from our final game of AFCW’s first in L1, and it almost seems a lifetime ago. But there’s plenty to look back on. Starting with…
The season was ultimately a success:
If you had told everyone before Walsall away in August that we would finish fifteenth, never really look like going down, and with a couple of good results to boot, most would have laughed at you.
It’s fair to say that many not only predicted 20th at best, but expected far worse. That we didn’t is down to us finding our feet quickly enough, finding form at the right times, and adopting an effective style of play.
True, there were a few negatives, which we’ll get onto, but in some ways AFCW came of age last season. It’s stabilised when it could have easily gone backwards, we’re a year wiser, and besides – this club is very good at adapting when it has to.
Which is exactly what we did in 2016/17.
We finally beat Oxford, and in fact did the double over them – the game at the Kassam was one of the best performances of the season, at least the first half was. We went to Notlob and drew, at least proving to ourselves we shouldn’t be overawed at those venues.
If nothing else, it made us realise that as a club, we’ll probably be one of those ones that will find itself in L1 or L2 for most of our existence, depending on squad etc. True, I’d like us to be a Championship/L1 side a la Brentford or Millwall, and maybe in time we will be.
But for now? We passed the test, and not for the first time since 2002.
We only played well for a third of the season:
We had a great October, a couple of decent mini-runs, and that was ultimately what we needed.
As well as we did finishing 15th, we had some profound weaknesses. Goalscoring was the main one – didn’t we have the most 0-0 draws or something? Whether that’s the system, or players simply not firing, it’s something we must deal with this close season.
The stats of not scoring any league goals away between Saturday 22nd October 2016, and Saturday February 18th 2017, still annoys me today. But the stat that from 18th March to the end of the season, we only found the net in one game is equally damning.
Taylor and Elliott scored in patches, but even with the likely angst of the latter departing, did either of those two really do enough last season? Poleon found the net a few times, and the less said about our other “striker” the better.
Our defence wasn’t too bad, thankfully. The likes of Robbo and Fuller had an Indian summer, Darius was every inch the rock at the back, and seeing Will Nightingale start more games was very pleasing indeed.
Mind you, we didn’t exactly help ourselves even before we kicked a ball…
Our pre-season transfers were awful:
A goalscorer who couldn’t score, a midfielder who saw more games from the sick bed, and a goalie who couldn’t catch the clap in a Mumbai brothel. Welcome to AFCW’s transfer dealings of 2016/17.
Yes, transfers are never 100% guaranteed to be successful, and we only had a month, but we somehow managed to get a drunk in to do our planning last close season.
You can write your own comments about Barnett and Whelpdale, and as for Ryan Clarke…
What is it about us and goalkeepers? We had Ben “Twatter” Wilson in 2015/16, though thankfully we struck lucky with Roos. Shea came in when Clarke left, did a decent enough job, yet still found himself out on his ear in last week’s cull.
For the first time, serious questions got raised about our goalkeeping coach, and it has to be said, there’s still a bit of disquiet about what happens this close season too.
Darius was the main success, some would argue the only signing we made who made the most difference. Parrett and Poleon had their moments, but not enough of them, and I don’t think Kelly or Robertson will be anywhere other than Scotland again next season.
Oh, and Tom Soares too. Though he needs a proper pre-season before we can fully judge.
Other than that, we relied a lot on the core of the L2 promotion squad, and that was more than sufficient. Additionally, the first signs of the youth products coming through gives us a platform. If they stick around, that is.
We may have over-estimated League One:
So you might have gathered that we couldn’t score for shit, our signings were lousy, and our squad was a collection of cast-offs and people who walked in off the street. So how come we finished comfortably?
While L1 is a bit quicker than L2, and the opposition forwards are a bit sharper, we didn’t look out of place in the third tier at all.
I guess before the season started, we expected most teams to pull our pants down, part our arse cheeks and made sure we walked funny afterwards. Only Sheffield United did that, and there were very other few fixtures where we got stuffed.
Most of the other sides weren’t significantly better than us. I was very underwhelmed by Scunthorpe for instance, and we get to play them next season. Indeed, while I didn’t get to as many games as I would have liked, nobody other than t’Blades stood out.
When you start thinking that we would have won games with a better attack, that sums up how good the division really was. Even during our shit spells, we still got points on the board.
True, we struggled against the likes of Coventry and Swindon more than we should have done, although soiling our underpants against relegation-threatened sides isn’t anything new with us.
That’s why I’m taking the proclamations of doom next season with a tad of sodium. We never looked like relegation fodder, if next year’s squad is of a similar quality then we’ll probably stay up comfortably again.
Yes, we’ve signed some players on high wages that have been complete wank, but we’re certainly not the only ones…
We finally played Franchise in the league…
We got over that particular psychological hurdle, and looking back at it it’s helped us to (partly) move on.
It was always the two sets of fixtures that you simply couldn’t avert your eyes from. Going to the Frenzydome is almost routine these days, though it will never be “normal”, but the one on 14th March changed things forever.
I won’t dwell on that day, because there was so much written at the time – click here and search back if you want some summer reading – but this season made us as equals.
Yeah, they eventually finished above us, but that was down to our absolutely woeful scoring record towards the end of the season – remember that we were above them for a great deal of the campaign.
And boy, did people enjoy that.
… but we still haven’t 100% learned how to deal with them.
This month will see the fifteenth year since the WFC era ended, and the AFCW one began. If you were a psychologist, you would still have a field day with many of our supporters over this.
A lot of people saw that night in March as cathartic, and it will make future encounters a bit easier in future. Many were forced out of their comfort zone this season over it, and that’s no bad thing.
But the aftermath of that game – and the first one in particular – proves we still have a way to go on this.
There are some (your editor included) who still won’t go and watch them, even at KM (tellingly, it’s those of a certain generation, and an involvement during the Selhurst days), though that may change for me next season.
It is always a personal choice, but it can no longer be pushed into the back of our minds.
Football related wise, we do appear to struggle after playing them, regardless of result. Losing up there left a serious bad taste in the mouth, which took us until after Christmas (and probably affected us beyond Slutton) to shake off.
Equally, we put in so much effort to beating them at KM, that it practically killed our season stone dead afterwards. We just couldn’t raise our game at all after that, and it really was our cup final after all.
Why? Because even now, it matters a bit too much.
Franchise continues to emotionally cripple many people, and is something that is going to take a few more years to deal with fully. Some of it is denial – this won’t go down with some reading this right now, but they *do* define us and who we are.
After all, without Franchise there would be no AFC Wimbledon to begin with. And that’s something many still find difficult to accept, as though it legitimises them.
The same is in reverse, of course, and deep down it hurts them that we’re in the same division, and proved their very existence wrong. Don’t believe to them it doesn’t matter, because it certainly does.
For the first time in the AFCW era, the club had to deal with them on a professional, pragmatic basis like any other club in the division – it couldn’t hide from dealing with them face to face. I don’t doubt it was awkward at best (and hostile at worse), but we simply had to do it.
In other words, the powers-that-be had to take an emotional step back.
Doing a beamback to Frenzyville was the right thing to do, as were the ticket restrictions. That it cause some real upset amongst a few of our support isn’t entirely surprising, but it did highlight the very real issues this fixture continues to cause.
Some of it was a hardline “never give them a penny” mantra. At the time, some felt it went against the AFCW “ethos”, whatever that is – even though doing so saved the club a lot of grief (and won many admirers for the way it handled 14th March).
We’ll do the same next year, and there will still be some who think it’s equivalent to treason. Why? You’ll have to ask them individually, though a few more seasons of playing them will dilute more of this feeling. Time does heal, or at least lessens things.
One thing is certain though. There’s now a match going demographic that was either too young to remember 28/5, or weren’t even out of their dad’s bollocks that day. Playing Franchise doesn’t seem to bother them…
It was a very weird FA Cup run:
Ah, the Sutton replay. One of the strangest games I’ve experienced in a while, and not in a good way. Especially after being 1-0 up, and we should have managed to cope with ten men.
Still, they got their FA Cup run that they’ll live off for the next twenty years, and at least we didn’t lose at GGL unlike Leeds. But the defeat we suffered had a very peculiar affect on us, and not just on the bank balance.
It was almost like we couldn’t comprehend what happened. Whether it was the Football Gods punishing us for planning ticket arrangements** for Leeds, I don’t know, but it summed up our time in that tournament.
** – and yes, the ticketing for GGL still leaves a bad taste in the mouth even now, which is something those in charge are well aware of…
Not that it started off well, being 2-0 down to Bury, getting back to 2-2 then gubbing them 5-0 in the replay. And almost repeating the same trick on them five days later in the League. They must hate us.
Which leads me to without doubt, the strangest game of last season. Which happened to be both my favourite tie involving a legitimate football club, and equally the worst as well.
You can re-watch Curzon to remind yourself here, and it doesn’t get any less surreal even five months later. Hell, I can even feel the chill of that Sunday lunchtime right this minute.
Yes, I still feel a bit guilty leaving there with the win, but I make no apologies for enjoying the goonage on 94 minutes 🙂
I expect Sutton was payback for denying Curzon at least a replay, and no – we should never have been 3-0 down at all to a Conference North side. To our credit, we did what a League One side should have done, although it took 80 odd minutes for us to realise that.
One thing that has struck me while writing this – we can guess that when making his decisions on who to release, NA will look at games through the whole of the season. And perhaps he looked at this game recently, and had the same expression on his face as he did at the final whistle…
NPL continues to grind along slowly.
Be honest, you thought it would all be signed off by now.
The whole thing is a bit like flying from London to Los Angeles. Those who have ever done this route will know what I mean when I say we’ve reached the tip of Canada. You know you’re “there”, but there’s still four hours to go.
Last season, we had the Mayoral decision, the SoS, and trying to get the S106s signed off. Not to mention the ludicrous attempt to list that shit-tip, which even if they have a brain fart – LBM have the final decision on it.
Unfortunately, the wheels of government rotate all too slowly, especially during an election, and it really is a case of sitting tight once again for yet a few more months.
It’s undeniably frustrating and annoying, and last season we discovered what it was like for Brighton fans with the Amex. When the book on all this is written, I’ll be interested in the chapter about how we managed to keep our patience as we have done so far.
One can’t help but think the club (and supporters) were guilty of naivety when in December it was making specific targets publicly. Your editor has (admittedly limited) ideas of construction and engineering projects of this scale, and it’s always a case of pick a date, then add three months to it.
When the club said in April that the Development Agreement is 60 pages long, it’s pretty obvious that the S106s won’t be signed until at least June. Indeed, I’ll go a step further and suggest that I’ll be surprised if they’re signed just before the new season starts.
No, this will not mean the project will go tits up**, though it might mean we have to start looking at things like a Community Share issue, or other sources of funding. Costs will increase, but deep down I think we knew they would regardless.
** – one thing that has become clear over the past year or two – certain people on social media handle delays very badly. They might have achieved the impossible – they make some of the Franchise reactions look quite rational.
This is one seriously complex project, even land ownership transfer doesn’t happen quickly, and that’s before the lawyers start fine-combing everything. Nothing seems to have happened last season, but I bet we’ve done 25% of the whole project in the last twelve months.
The good thing is that once it’s all signed, and the DCMS get their fucking arses in gear and condemn the current site to rubble, things will start moving very quickly. And don’t forget, we’re dealing in timescales of months and not years.
Even a 2020 opening – the worst case scenario bar some major unforeseen issues – isn’t that far away. And just like the transatlantic flight analogy above, the last four hours always go much slower than the first six.
Besides, you’ve only waited 26 years to get to this point. Another few months won’t hurt you…