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Stationery Vehicle

I suppose that I’ve been beaten in writing this article by Old Isthmian. Still, my version probably has more swear words and no mention of the words “Finance Working Group”.

A lot has been said about the International Clearance saga. Some reasoned, some less so and the occasional vent of spleen guaranteed to cause cognitive difficulties in later life (Wimbledon Bookies is already taking bets as to when your editor will end up in a mental ward). Research has been done, representations have been made and no doubt a couple of voodoo dolls as well.

Yet inbetween the trials and tribulations, something slipped under the radar. A small, yet highly significant development by the club. While (at the time of writing) the focus is on the recapture of the stolen 18 points, this article could have far reaching consequences even beyond the CAS.

It’s taken four years, but in 2007 AFC Wimbledon finally lost its remaining innocence. After years of picnics with the nice girls from the road next door, it went up town and met this filthy looking minx with big knockers. It did the nasty, forgot to buy a packet of Durex, the female returned to the local Spearmint Rhino and the club is now seeking medical treatment for a rather painful itch.

In short, the club has changed. It’s become grown up. The AFC Wimbledon that started life at Sandhurst seemed so innocent and pure. Now, it’s been subjected to things from the harsh outside world and real life finally entered into the AFC Wimbledon bubble.

Not all of this has been bad news of course. There is an unexpected knock-on effect : the club has not been so united and focused since those heady days of the Sandhurst adventure. Back then, we wanted to show the world what we could do. We were young, we were vibrant, and we all turned up because deep down we were scared to fail.

After the initial outpouring of relief, things seemed to start drifting. Certainly in the early part of this season, things had almost crawled to a halt. Fundraising was plodding along, people were getting fed up with the lack of success on the field, and there were a few murmurings off it as well. Even the Dons Trust elections failed to create a spark much beyond the 500 die-hards. There was a very real sense of where do we go from here?

That question was answered for us by one single non-delivered document. It was as though the lightswitch had been flicked back to “on”. Only a mere matter of months ago, it would have taken two weeks to raise £2k for anything. That figure was cleared in a good four hours after we got kicked out of the FAT.

So with the buoyancy back (albeit in the most difficult of circumstances), the link above seems more pertinent than ever. While the punishment was unfairly harsh, it was ultimately our responsibility. Now, mistakes are made, and I’m not suggesting incompetence on behalf of anyone at AFCW. But we now know the hard way that even the minutest of paperwork should be accounted for. All the while the football authorities treat paperwork as their children, we have to be triple careful.

Before I go on, I will point out that I will be making references to the secretary and CEO amongst others. I’m referring to the positions and not the individuals in question. Something any review will need to separate if it’s to be successful. Also, I am a total layman when it comes to the workings of AFCW admin. I may be repeating stuff that is already in place. It’s not my intention to rub anyone up the wrong way (for once) but just as an ordinary fan who doesn’t want any of this to happen again.

Everyone at AFCW seems to work hard. It does seem our recent difficulties are as a result of people working too hard though. What is going to be more effective is not the ability to work hard, but to work smart. Now, I may start to sound like an American management consultant here. And you’ll be right. So, let’s touch base. Let me take you in a plane and fly over the problem, so you can look at it from a new perspective. Even better, let me stir fry my ideas into your think-wok……

What surprised me in all of this is how all the onus seems to fall onto the secretary. OK, as a paid employee (a very important distinction) s/he should expect a great deal of responsibility. But shouldn’t player registration be double-checked for this sort of thing as a matter of procedure? And not by the same person either – one person can miss out for whatever reason, for two people to miss something is less unlikely (unless they are really shit at their jobs).

Player registrations are very stringently enforced these days, especially given the amount of players that go in and out at this level. It’s almost become too important a position to have all the pressure on one individual. Does the secretary have an assistant? If there’s no need for one, what role does the CEO have in double-checking all this?

Now, that can be sorted out in a review, but to me there’s one over-riding factor. And that’s workload. By the sound of it, our secretary officially works 10-4, but actually works a helluva lot longer. That alone is more likely to cause mistakes. But this isn’t just secretarial stuff, just take a look at the OS : Secretary, Matchday Secretary AND Press/Publicity?

What happened to the dedicated Press/PR officer? Did it go because of cutbacks in administration? By asking one man to do not only his own job but another discipline as well is suicidal. Even if having to write notes on Kingsmeadow Live wasn’t the cause of JD’s oversight, the added workload won’t prevent the same error happening again. And let’s face it, if we make the International Clearance error a second time, the whole admin staff will be hanging from lamp posts.

AFCW really needs to sort out its media division again. I know a couple of people who would like to get involved, and not too bad at their jobs either. I know AFCW got unlucky with the quality of proof reading previously (lack thereof) but a look at the OS match reports even now tells the story. The quality is variable – sometimes you get reports, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you get a list of bookings, sometimes you don’t. It looks terrible, and I find myself relying less and less on the OS.

I don’t quite know why the PR side of AFCW has become the sole responsibility of the Secretary. I guess it will need about 2 or 3 people to do the match report (one main reporter, one backup), probably the same people to supply various other bits of the matchday programme etc. And a main contact for any and all press requests. I do know that in the past people have offered their services but nothing seemed to happen after that. If so, why? And more importantly, how do you convince them it’s worth getting involved again?

(For the record, before anyone asks if I would like to get involved in a new AFCW media division. Simply put, I literally can’t afford to do it for nothing. I would have to ask for money, which the club understandably would prefer not to)

Now, stop right there. I mentioned that dirty word – money. The word that even now makes some of our fans come out in a cold sweat and shakingly slur the word “volunteer”. Well, as recent events show, the time has come to rethink our strategy over that. I think we’ve gone beyond the stage of getting volunteers in just for the sake of volunteers in. We now need to be more professional in our outlook. This last year, we have paid an individual to be in commercial (no idea what his title is, it’s not on the OS. Again, another OS failing) and I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with him thus far. In fact, our profile with various companies has shot up since he took charge. Money definitely well spent.

Obviously, when reviewing this bit, the club would want to spend as little money as possible. But perhaps we can’t afford not to now, in both senses of the word. If we have to pay more people from today, so be it. Long term, it’s better for the club to have one paid person who knows what they’re doing than two volunteers who don’t. Remember that this whole international clearance incident will roughly set us back around £20k. And I’d rather pay £20k to somebody who quadruple-checks everything rather than pay £20k to the FA.

So, there’s two main sections for AFCW to chew on. There’s bound to be more, and I don’t just mean constitutional stuff. The AFCW of 2007 faces different challenges and different attitudes from the quiet days when we first entered the Ryman Premier. It’s a world away from the idealistic days of 2002. Goat molesters as they are, the FA and Ryman League may have done us a back-handed favour.

Recent events have hurt, but at least the club is prepared to review itself. It mustn’t rush but it mustn’t dawdle either. It must get it right. After all, it won’t have a better time……