Free at last

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SldtQaUT6nQ

I always seem to post this video after a season ends. I’ll get charged broadcasting fees eventually.

Actually, I’m convinced Country Joe McDonald could have been an AFCW fan with this song, not to mention the whole “Gimme An F” schtick at Woodstock in 1969.

One, two, three, what are we fighting for, indeed.

Anyway, are you enjoying your Bank Holiday weekend? Bit chilly, admittedly, but somehow it feels so nice right now.

Be honest – it’s still sinking in.

Inevitable, mind you. It was a season that started nine months ago, felt more like 99 years at times, but has finally (and gloriously) come to an end.

And yes kids, we’re still in League One.

No pain of relegation after all. None of that sinking feeling I would have got looking at the wall planner next to me, with the fixtures of this season** looking majestic against the ones in the months ahead.

** – another question I always end up asking at this time of year – when does “this” season become “last” season? Now? When the new fixtures are announced? Whenever it is, I can’t wait to finally start calling it that.

In 2019/20, we’ll be going to Ipswich rather than St Evenage. Coventry rather than Crewe. Bolton rather than Morecambe. And two of Pompey, Charlton or Sunderland instead of Fran….

Oh.

Actually, us playing them again next season seems to bother me very little. It’s an annoyance, and some of our very obsessed fans will have their next twelve months ruined, but I don’t think I care any more about them going up now than Bury.

No disrespect to the Shakers, a proper football club with a proper history, but with the exception of Lincoln there’s no new grounds to travel to next year.

Not that there’s some interesting teams we could face, though. FGR seems a popular choice amongst some, while others prefer a weekend in Scouseland if Tranmere go up.

So it will be either one of Newport or Mansfield promoted, then.

Whoever goes up, the playoffs start this week. And rather them than me – I’ve had enough excitement for one season…

Back to Saturday. It’s somewhat fitting that Bradford was horrifically tense, almost illegally so. And it’s also fitting that we didn’t know we were safe until the last kick of the game.

Imagine them scoring in the 94th minute? Don’t worry, in case you’ve had some sort of weird dream this past couple of days – they didn’t.

Us going down would have been a massive kick in not only the teeth, but the bollocks too. Especially after the way we clawed back to finally get out of the bottom four.

Think of Sunday morning if we had. Looking at the potential fixtures next season, and realising just what we threw away. And Franchise going up at our expense too…

But we’re safe. And  I have to admit, there were times – OK, most of the season from September onwards – where I thought I would never write that.

I’d be a liar if I said that I knew we would stay up after Luton away, because I didn’t. I only started properly believing it when we beat Wycombe.

Which was fatal, because that’s when the paranoia set in.

Sure, we kept giving ourselves chances, but we kept throwing them away.

Think t’Stanley. Think Brizzle Rovers. Think Gillingham at KM (to an extent). Hell, think Fleetwood at home, or the Burton game at KM too.

After all those games, one could have been forgiven for thinking we’d blown it.

That we finished ahead of Plymouth by three goals – goals – just tells you how close it was. The only way that would have been tighter is if Plymouth had netted twice more against Scunny.

Of course, just two more wins and we would have been something like 13th…

It’s best to glow in the Bradford result for just a little while longer, because the time for recriminations will come soon enough.

Although I don’t think “recriminations” is the right term, because there’s a lot of questions to be asked of a lot of people. All of whom need to give answers, and more importantly act so this clusterfuck never happens again.

A number of our decision makers got things wrong this season. Badly wrong.

As a perhaps related aside, your editor is planning on an end-of-season review, so look out for that in the next week or so (spoiler: on sober reflection, the period from 21st August to December 22nd was even worse than you think it was).

That time will come. Right now – and again, something else I didn’t expect to write at many points this season – all praise to the players for digging that out.

The youngsters became men. The zeroes became heroes. They had basically been asked to climb up Everest in record time, then been made to perform a 90 minute jig once they reached the summit.

And with weary legs and feet, they tap-danced their way to safety.

The reactions from them (especially the likes of Ramsdale) told their own story, which is a marked difference to the post-Doncaster reaction when the crowd finally turned.

They had the chance to write their name in the history books, and that’s what they did.

What changed it? Walter and Glyn believing in them, primarily. A change of manager had been needed for a while, and you’d have to have an agenda to believe that W&G weren’t the difference.

Of course, we can gush about how they (players and management) turned things around, but let us not pretend otherwise about our squad – this lot kept us safe, but collectively they’re not good enough.

That we stayed up by only losing twice in twelve games or so is beyond commendable. Those “shit results” at Shrewsbury and Oxford don’t look nearly so shit now.

But in the last six games, we only won once.

Bradford might have been our post-December season in a nutshell : lots of very hard endeavour, but the lack of quality is still far too obvious to ignore.

Sure, let all the players have their moment of fun this Bank Holiday weekend. They deserve it, because they’ve bonded together in a way that seemed impossible around November.

But let them just be that group here for a specific moment in the club’s history.

By all means keep the youngsters like Nightingale, or Kalambayi, or Sibbick. They will continue to develop, especially with better senior players around them. But we will hardly miss anyone else.

It’s only Ramsdale who we’ll be gutted to lose – he will move upwards, as he deserves to. I don’t know about Seddon, although if we find some money down the back of the sofa then who knows?

The rest? Only those under contract should be considered, and even then at a push.

Piggy can stay, Wordsworth will be useful next season, ditto Rod McDonald.. McLoughlin and Connolly came in difficult circumstances, and they deserve a full pre-season.

I’m sure there’s a handful of others, but only a handful.

Apart from those, I will not be upset if any of them get named in the upcoming cull, which may well start this week.

And it’s likely to be a big one, probably more deeper and wide-ranging than recent close-seasons.

The following truth gives you an idea of not only the scale of our achievement, but what our problems have been since at least August – we stayed up with much of the senior squad in Wally’s woodshed.

There’s some big names on presumably decent wedges. Deji started the season as club captain, and coveted by Ipswich. By the end of it he’s a footnote. That’s his own fault, if the Chinese whispers are anything to go by.

I’m not sure if the continued problems with Appiah are 100% down to him seemingly constantly being injured, and one suspects if there’s any way he’ll depart he will do.

Soares made a cameo towards the end, which at least proved he was still alive. That’s more than you can say for Jake Jervis…

If you include Trotter in that, it’s five players who were considered so unreliable that most didn’t even feature when we needed them the most.

Or to put it another way – we got survival with half the outfield starting XI banished.

But when you start adding people like Barcham to the outlist (somebody whose time here has passed, and nothing more dramatic), you realise just how big a rebuilding job we now need.

By the time the first pre-season friendly comes around, our squad will look markedly different. It needs to.

Something for Walter to think about, after his hangover finally subsides this week. I don’t doubt he’s already got a list he’s about to go through, and he’s probably been looking forward to getting the metaphoric axe out since about December.

When he travels back to London after spending the evening(s) in Kevin Gage’s boozer, he must have a wry smile to himself for so many reasons.

Not least because his gamble in January worked.

By that, I mean he decided not to splash the cash, but only did the necessary and keep the FAC money in his pocket for the close season.

He probably thought this lot were down anyway, so he started building for next season in L2. That enough of the players bought into what he was trying to do, and the momentum that came with it, was a very happy bonus.

It really couldn’t have gone better for him. He got us safe, he doesn’t have relegation on his CV, he’s now the most important (and influential) individual at the club, and he didn’t need to waste money in doing so.

The post-match comments might explain his character, and why it seems to have worked so well. He had a confidence in the side that perhaps nobody in the stands did.

Not asking to find out the score until about 10 minutes before the end might have tested the heart-rate, but Walter doesn’t seem (openly) to worry about that.

But then, he seems to take a lot in his stride. Even down to him knowing that some of the club’s decision makers really didn’t want him in charge.

He’s managed to make a lot of them look like chumps this weekend, and I bet he and a few others had more than a couple of laughs at their expense…

I’ll happily put my hands up and admit I was unsure when his name got touted after Ardley left. After all, he was just another ex-WFC player.

Though when Nolan got offered the job (and how history may have changed if he’d accepted it), he suddenly became the right man after all.

His appointment felt right, and it’s been finally proven correct in the best way possible.

He’s got a busy time ahead this summer, but one presumably he’s looking forward to…

Anyway, that’s it now. Three months of not having your weekend ruined by some shitshow performances. There’ll be plenty to write about, and even more to read, but we can enjoy the summer.

It will take that close season to get over the last nine months, and optimism will abound by about June (and get crushed once September comes).

We’re going in the right direction again, and that’s all that matters.

Oh, and if you see an Accrington Stanley fan on your travels this summer – buy them a drink. After all, if they hadn’t gubbed Plymouth 5-1…