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Staines of delight

Ryman Premier 1 Conference South 2. Sounds good doesn’t it?

I think I owe everyone an apology for not believing in omens. When plenty were pointing out that we won the FAC in 88 on a similar day, I scoffed at them. When others were saying “22 years ago I was standing in the pouring rain getting soaked at Leeds Road” I rolled my eyes and thought, yeah. But as I sit here at SW19 Towers, on this overcast yet warmish Sunday, the type you get in May, it’s only now my mind is coming together a bit more.

Got to be honest here – it hasn’t quite sunk in yet even close to 24 hours later. In the past, when we’ve been pounding ourselves over getting out of this fucking poxy league, there’s always been that anguish that we could be stuck in Turdeyville for eons. We’ve constantly looked forward to the day we finally go up, that we can break free through that bottleneck. In many ways I think it’s crippled our “enjoyment” of the past three years. Now it’s happened, in the most dramatic way possible and it’s almost “meh”…

OK it isn’t. Once everyone starts coming down, when the DVD comes out, and when who we’ll be playing next season finally seeps into the conscience, then we’ll realise just what we’ve done. Yesterday, when the ref blew his final whistle, and we all ran onto the pitch in celebration, there were plenty of us wandering round saying to ourselves “is this real? Has this really happened?”. I don’t think I’ve experienced such emotion as yesterday, to the point I was the most physically drained after a game than I can remember for ages. Even driving home on the M25 afterwards was that tad more difficult.

I’m certainly having more difficulty writing this than you would envisage (and no, I don’t have a hangover). There was just too much to take in yesterday to put into a simple report such as this. So instead, I’m going to quote more or less verbatum from the notes I wrote during the game, in order:

Fuck I’m nervous. My dad said as I’d left “enjoy yourself” – some hope. Real anticipation at ground just like a big event. Slight surrealism about, even 1h30 before kickoff. Saw ST comms director (or whoever she was) trying to let go last spare ticket. Suddenly getting tense a la Chelmsford. Our fans in good voice though. Female fan in front of me had “R Butler 9” on the back of her shirt. Loads of balloons and even a rattle..

Understandably nervy opening. Think we’ll be against the ref this game. Nice bit of pressure. Letting them in a bit at the back, two 1-on-1 saves by Pullen. Game finely poised – actually a bit TOO finely poised. A mistake or sublime bit of skill is going to settle this. FUCK – 0-1 from a corner. Shit marking. That was coming TBH. Self destructing? Really not playing like we can. Can’t see us scoring TBH. Holding on for HT. 0-1 half time and quite shit. Evil AFCW has returned. TBH can’t see anything other than Staines getting a second.

Right, 2nd half to start. Let’s go for it. Still feel nervy. Fergie not using his pace. Where’s the urgency? Saving the worst till last. I spent three hours queuing up on Thursday, put in all that effort etc to get tickets only to get “rewarded” for this shit. Hope we can keep McD. A goal for us WILL change it. Mark DeB back and made a difference. Our free kicks and corners are shit.

Putting more pressure on now – too little too late. Where’s the quality? Where’s the cutting edge? Had CERTAIN penalty turned down – even lino flagged. Staines starting to tire – if we score. Gone off the boil. FUCK YEAH. 1-1 10 minutes before end. Now can we do it?

I stopped making notes by this stage. Can’t think why. Anyway, I’ll now let my memory take over. Once we scored, I think that killed Staines off. They were physically and mentally shot by the look of it. Yes, they were narked at our first goal, but when you consider we had a blatant penalty turned down (so blatant even the lino flagged for it), and their #5 should have been sent off in the first half anyway, maybe we simply got what we deserved after all?

Then, there was the free kick. There are times in football where while you daren’t admit it to yourself, you just know. When Mark DeB (who played like a man possessed) put the ball down and the wall walked back, you just knew. When he stepped back, pounced forward and shot low and hard you just….. well, you get the idea.

When it went in, there was just that one-second delay. The ability of the human mind to process vast amounts of information and emotion in such a short space of time (literally less than a second in some cases) is an impressive feat, and when that ball went in, you just couldn’t believe it. It was really a case of, “it’s gone in the back of the net and we’re leading and we’ve only got 5 minutes left”.

Needless to say, everyone was calm, thoughtful and collected in their thoughts. For about a second anyway. Then, the absolute mass release of tension, emotion, jubilation was something akin to a nuclear explosion. Seriously, all the pre-match tension (and if truth be told, the same PMT we’ve been suffering from since post-Coldseal) just released itself in that split second. Could you control what you were doing in the aftermath of that goal? I couldn’t. It felt like a big mosh pit, with grown hetrosexual men embracing each other like it was a gay porn movie. People running around screaming like savage animals (in a good way), jumping like loons and probably at least one person is now pregnant.

From then on, you just know you’re going to win. And I mean that. It wasn’t like the last 20 minutes of Coldseal where you really did feel that they could come back and snatch it away from us. Even when their goalie ran up the other end when they got a free kick, I just felt they wouldn’t get anything. If we saw a seismic shift in the nation’s political landscape on Thursday, we certainly saw the football equivalent on Saturday.

The funny thing is, the final whistle going didn’t register with me. After the second goal went in, I don’t think I had much mental capacity to think beyond the basic functions of life. Just imagine walking round in life in a permanent daze, doing things without even thinking or comprehending your actions and just existing. For a little while, I felt like somebody from Kent. I went on the pitch and like everyone else headed to the players tunnel. Plenty of women were crying, and if truth be told a few blokes were as well. Mind you, that could have just been the aftermath of the second goal celebrations – I’m told it hurts a bit more when you don’t use vaseline.

But there was a massive bit of symbolism there at that final whistle which I don’t think anyone picked up on. There were close to 1k Wombles on the pitch all chanting “We are going up”. Nothing so unusual. But think about it – it was a mass of people directly looking at the Ryman League officials. Yes, the likes of Turdey, Alan Boon and company. It was the ultimate “fuck you” moment, a middle finger if you like. It said that no matter what you think of us, how you sneered at us both last season and at other times, how we’re classless bandwagon jumpers, how we should “know our place” and the sheer narky little attitudes we came across, we took one last opportunity to wave goodbye and we took it. The faces of the Ryman officials were a little, let’s just say, restrained…

See, I think when it all sinks in, and we remember the Jermaine Darlington affair as well as other things with regards the Ryman drinking club, then we’ll start going mental. Getting promoted is always enjoyable, but there’s something about this particular one that makes it all the more sweet. The CCL was a nice league, and many still have a lot of time for people there, but it was ultimately two steps up from a pub league. There was something unpleasant about the Ryman though. Maybe it is the “drinking club” mentality that is quite well known in non-league circles. I’m led to believe that the Conference South is a far more professional outfit to be in, and I bet that when we play our first game of next season we’ll feel a bit more at home….

For now anyway.

Anyway, the other good thing about promotion is that we now get to see who to take on next season. While we still have a couple of issues from the Conference National sides all being from up North, there’s some potential gooduns next season. Obviously we get to do over Chelmsford next season, and get revenge for Fi$her and H&R if they don’t go up. Oh, and Bromley as well. But for once we get some decent long away trips. And might even stop the Northern/Western based Wombles complaining they don’t have any local games ……;)

How fucking cool will it be to do a long away trip to Newport County? Or both the Bath sides? Or even short trips to Basingstoke? Feels a lot better planning those sort of away days than the seemingly fortnightly trips to Kent and Essex. Christ, I think they started to know me by first name at Clackett Lane services. OK, we’ll still make the occasional trip to Essex (Chelmsford, Braintree) and one to Kent (Welling) but it’ll be nice now to go along the M4, or out of Paddington, instead of constantly seeing signs for Stansted or Canterbury on our travels.

Once they sort out who’s going where, we’ll be able to plan and get excited. Only real bummer for next season is who will we play on Boxing Day/Easter Monday? Especially if H&R go up. Both Hayes & Yeading and Fi$her will be quite tricky to get to on a public holiday if we’re away. Perhaps we ought to lobby the CS to re-instate Slutton and relegate St Albans instead? That’ll give them something to moan about other than our attendances.

I’ll be updating SW19 over the coming days/weeks with more thoughts on what’s going on, and everything else, so this won’t now be it for the next three months. Yes, it’s exhausting. But then, getting to where you want to be never is easy………

Plus points: Promotion – all else is irrelevant. Not needing to use this for the next SW19 front page.

Minus points: Quite shit for the first 80 minutes. Nothing.

The referee’s a…..: Somehow, the forces of Turdey didn’t stop us this time. How the fuck he just did not send off their #5 or give the penalty when his own bloody linesman was flagging? Actually, we probably do know, and that’s another reason to smile at our promotion. Yes, he maybe could have given a foul on their keeper for our first goal (which watching the Youtube clip suggests he just dropped it) but I think even he knew he wouldn’t have been able to get away with it. Though I bet he thought about it…..

Them: You’ve got to feel sorry for them I suppose. Pretty much the better side for 80 minutes, deserved their lead and maybe should have been 3-0 up at half time. But then, I think it was our turn to have the playoff luck. They’ll be strong enough next season and it wouldn’t surprise me to be playing them in 2009/10 in the CS. I think had they not knackered themselves out due to their run-in we’d been looking forward to Margate again. I’m afraid that RB is back to being much-maligned due to his inability to stay on his feet. And yes, I know we loved it when he did it for us. You really think football fans are even handed?

Point to ponder (1): Is the big game choking disease now over? That’s twice in one week that hoodoo has been smashed. Perhaps this one was the best one simply because we didn’t play well. All successful teams learn how to win when they play badly (just cast a glance to Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge), and it’s a trait we’d do well to learn. Especially for next season.

Three’s a crowd: 2460 and even then I didn’t think it was as full as it could have been. I always think that Staines is a nice ground, but like many of these venues, they’re not really built to cope with 2400 in them. Mind you, I have my doubts about KM being comfortable at over 3000…

Point to ponder (2): Am I the only one who thinks it won’t be a bad idea to consolidate next season or two? From what I’ve seen of CS sides, there’s not much to suggest we’ll be struggling too much next season (famous last words…….). OK, we’ll need to adapt, but TB’s now got what he needs to move this club forward – time. We’re in the CS which is a good league to consolidate in, it’s not a Ryman backwater, but it’s one step away from a division with full time sides in. As a team and as a club, we need to start getting a settled, successful youth and reserve policy going. It’s what will keep the club going in the long term, and we don’t have a better time to slow down a little. We’ve raced through the CCL, the Ryman One and now the Ryman Premier in less than six years all without much of a strength in depth in the side. We’ve earnt that right to relax a little….

Truth is stranger than fiction: (1) Apparently some racist abuse was shouted at their #10 before their goal, which might explain the celebrations afterwards. No idea whether they were AFCW or not, but I’m not naive enough to believe none of our fans are ever like that. Seriously, if you’re the sort to do that I hope your mum is caught posing on “White Chicks, Black Dicks”. (2) Sounds like plenty had a good time at KM last night. For those who went and still are feeling the ill effects, I’ve just had fried eggs, sausages and black pudding, washed down with a cup of Co-Op 99. Just thought I’d mention it to you…. (3) Did yesterday really happen?

Anything else? Apparently we’ll be allowed in the Setanta Shield next season. And yes, that does mean we could get on telly. Hopefully we’ll get a bit more regular exposure, and therefore a bit more money from sponsorship, therefore meaning less need for the club to keep dipping into fans’ pockets. Dare I suggest that Mark DeB’s free kick has secured AFCW’s mid-term future….?

So, was it worth it? Might be.

In a nutshell: Now, how the fuck do I get to Welling…..?