It all begins again tomorrow

Wave goodbye to the half-arsed games where the results don’t matter.

The last time we kicked a ball in competitive anger was almost three months to the day against Bury. The next time we do so, in sunny Lancashire tomorrow, we’ll have gone through quite a few changes.

Perhaps not fundamental, root-and-branch ones, but certainly more than tinkering around the edges.

Those who expected a busy buildup this week haven’t been left disappointed, but even they must have difficulty keeping up at the moment.

Two more of last year’s squad are out, in two very different circumstances. The announcement that Cody McDonald left the club yesterday was as short as it was odd.

He was nowhere to be seen at any of the friendlies, nor at last week’s open training session or the bonding session in Wales. Nor did we even get any sort of updates on him beyond “he’s ill” in the first PSF.

This was before rumours that he returned a married man and over-weight started to surface. Not a good thing for a professional footballer anyway (the weight thing, not getting hitched), but it must have been a lot of timber he allegedly put on.

Unless there’s more to it. And no, you’ll never properly find out, football clubs (not just ours) are good at keeping player issues under wraps  – IIRC one of the Secret Footballer books has an enlightening chapter on this.

Cody was part of one of the most ineffective strike forces of the AFCW era, although he suffered more than most from the lack of a target man. That said, I’d rather he was fit and with us on the coach to Fleetwood today than having to look for another forward.

One thing is clear though – he’s bound to be linked to Gillingham again before the month is out.

This whole episode is one helluva contrast to the retirement of Jon Meades this week. This was a genuine moment of gobsmackness (?). There had been some comments that he was looking uncomfortable in the PSFs, but I doubt if he took that decision without some major gut-wrenching.

Especially as he’s only 26.

One or two may moan about the timing of this, but the human body doesn’t always play ball. Meades must have had that moment – or a series of them – over the summer when he realised even a rest wouldn’t help him now.

And if he was suffering the same pain that he had been for the last few years, then there’s only going to be one option.

By all accounts he’s not stupid, and I don’t doubt we’ll be helping him out. There will be a lot of unhappy people if we aren’t. Plus the PFA will (or should) be helping him out with future prospects too.

Anyway, we’ll still need to keep the cheque book open and the fax machine full of ink. They’ve been battered the last couple of days, and we’ll need them next week too.

It’s a bit like the Back to School promotions you get in Tesco right now – we’ve entered into the day before your kids return and you’ve realised you still don’t have a geometry set for them.

As soon as the Meades news came out, we got in Ben Purrington from t’Millers. Then, Tyler Garratt did enough at Boreham Wood to justify us taking him yesterday.

We added to those two with Rodney “Don’t call me Ronald or Dave” McDonald for an undisclosed fee (this by the way is a very good explanation on why you often don’t find out about transfer fees).

An experienced centre back, although never played in L1. Although that’s maybe not a bad thing, considering how some other “experienced” players from higher up haven’t set the world alight either.

We still need a forward, probably two now Cody is gone, and we have a week to find one if we want an outright purchase. Should we go for a loanee, we still have until the end of the month.

Some may argue we now have too many loans, but unless it’s directly affecting our ability to put a team out (as in, the restriction on the number you can field at any one time) I don’t think it really matters.

They might be gone at the end of the season, but it’s not like we keep contracted players on for anything longer than two years.

Anyway, we stand on the cusp of 2018/19, and all that will happen between now and the next nine months or so. Many are predicting that we’ll go down this campaign, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that.

The truth is, all guesses right now are academic. We just don’t know what is going to happen.

While we shouldn’t over-dwell on the last campaign, it’s still going to cast a shadow for a little while over us. Any decent performance is going to be greeted with “we wouldn’t have done that last season”, while a shit performance becomes 17/18 redux.

It’s why we’re starting off with a cleanish slate rather than a totally blank one. Memories remain long.

There’s already more questions than answers. Have we taken the lessons and properly dealt with them? The indications from pre-season are that we’ll be sticking to a more pragmatic style, which is a step in the right direction.

We definitely need a reasonably good start this month, because the confidence is still fragile and it won’t take long for the doubts to resurface. Nothing is guaranteed – we could have got things badly wrong again after all.

The likes of Hanson will need to be scoring from quite early on, because in his specific case he’s gone a lot of games without finding the net. Thirty two, isn’t it? You can’t rely on Appiah, ditto Nightingale for long, and getting more than ten games each from both is a bonus.

NA himself can’t afford the next twelve months to be like the previous ones too. He got a lot of grief as everyone knows, and he couldn’t complain about most of it. And I think he knows that at many if not most other L1 sides, he wouldn’t be in his job today.

He spoke to the ESS earlier this week, and leaving aside the “little old Wimbledon” bollocks – we are a bigger club than Fleetwood, who wouldn’t be in the EFL if they weren’t bankrolled – he does at least seem aware of that.

While his general demeanour last campaign didn’t help one bit, he’s got a point to prove as much as anyone else – if only for his future employment prospects**.

** – let’s face it, if he gets offered somewhere like Brentford, or even Pompey/Luton/a more stable Charlton, he’ll be off. That’s always been the case since he got here – he’s ambitious, and I don’t doubt his reputation dent last season has stung him.

Other areas of the field remain to be seen, but on the plus side, there seems to be a better vibe about. The team bonding in Wales reportedly exceeded expectations, and I think there’s a desire to put previous events behind us.

This season has to be more enjoyable, because as the way we’re still trying to sell STs proves, it can affect much more than just results on the field.

AFCW went through a Kevin The Teenager stage last season, getting some things wrong and sulking when being pulled up on it. Maybe understandable, as in human terms it is still a 16-year old.

But sixteen year olds can get married, ride a moped, join the military, work full time and, er, have intercourse with a partner of their choice. Yet they could not drink in pubs…

Actually, if you really want to push this metaphor – we are planning to be in our own place by the time we’re eighteen, and that’s when we have to start acting like an adult.

We’re serving our apprenticeship with Chelski, who are teaching us already that we need to be a bigger operation than we currently are. That will be an adjustment, and quite a big one in parts.

And like sixteen year olds, sometimes they have to make adult decisions when they’re not yet mature enough to do so. This will be the first and last time that SW19 references a Britney Spears song, but AFCW is not a girl, not yet a woman.

We won’t get everything right this upcoming season, in fact I expect we’ll still make some big mistakes on the field and off it, but anything that shows we’ve learned lessons will be a step forward.

As NPL will literally rise from the dirt of the dog track, and the reality that we simply have to grow up becomes apparent, we could be in for one of the most intriguing campaigns for some time.

Hell, I’m almost looking forward to it. I said “almost”…