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Feels really like summer today doesn’t it? Sun is shining, the local wildlife fighting amongst themselves, too many ants about, headlines of “Phew! What a scorcher!” complete with bird with zeppelin-esque wangers on display, that sort of thing.

And the now traditional AFCW cull of players.

Now the euphoria of last Saturday is starting to dampen a little, we’re already starting to turn towards next season. The reality is starting to sink in, both on the field and off it. People are excited, more tolerant of what’s going on, but tinged with a little bit of regret. Confused? Don’t worry, you soon won’t be.

Firstly, it’s obvious why we’re excited. Even little things like getting a BSS logo on the shirts and getting the league positions on the BBC website make that difference. It was always a little-talked about side effect of 28/5/02 that in one stroke we lost little things like checking where we were in the league in the Sun or your preferred newspaper. Or checking on teletext. Or mentions on Sky. You don’t realise how much you appreciate that kind of thing until you suddenly find yourself without it. So when the first league table comes up and you’ll be checking on the BBC website instead of some amateur site (no disrespect, like), the hairs will stand up for that little bit.

And of course, there’s the away trips. Newport County away is the first proper “long” one we’ve had in ages, although plenty will fancy a couple of trips to Bath. And Weston-Super-Mare if they kick Cambridge City out. Plus of course we might even be playing somebody like Boston United (and if the rest of the Ryman called us cheats over Darlogate, god knows what they’d make of them) or Redditch, or Worcester City. Thing is, most AFCW fans (and I expect both the readers of SW19) have watched a club called Wimbledon play in professional league football, with great media exposure, long away trips and all-seater stadia. Now the Wimbledon franchise of 2008 is in a division plenty of “ordinary” fans have heard of, or at least comprehend. Try explaining the concept of the Ryman League to an average Chelski fan. Actually, scrub that : try explaining the concept of writing your own name to an average Chelski supporter…

I think this step up has made people more tolerant of what’s going on at AFCW. By that, I think I mean that people are going to be more willing to give the club some slack when it comes to asking for money. I’ll be honest here – I was getting sick to my back teeth of the way we were seemingly getting pestered for money last season. I think that came in part from frustration about being in the RP, spending fuck knows how much on players who weren’t really performing and a very real subconscious feel of what would happen if we were still in Turdeyville next season. But a definite release has happened, and now even occasional attendees are considering getting STs. As my old man often says, success breeds success. AFCW have gotten promotion and suddenly people feel good.

Admittedly, I won’t be getting an ST for the same reason as I haven’t got one for the last three seasons (something to do with paying £170+ up front when I can’t afford it), but if the last few seasons I’d done it as a matter of duty rather than the pleasure I would have of renewing this time round. I think it’s because we’re in a higher league and one that in theory has far more exposure. And because of this, we accept we’ll need to do things more “properly”. The main stand works this summer suddenly become a lot more necessary (not that they weren’t anyway IYSWIM), and somehow it seems more acceptable to do it when we’ll be welcoming the likes of Newport down to Theme Park KM.

I know plenty of our fans (too many for my liking) let their idealism get in the way at times, but we’re becoming more realistic about AFCW in its growth. Every so often, I used to hear comments about us having to get used to life in the Ryman League, and “I’m not in a rush to get promoted”. The reactions after Saturday demonstrated what a crock of shite that attitude is to take. Ironically, plenty of us would be quite happy to consolidate for a year or three in the CS. We’ve taken on a huge expense now, although in theory it should be easier to “sell” Brand AFCW now we could feasibly be on Setanta next season.

It’s quite strange really – for the first time since 2002 I watched a live game last night (Cambridge United v Burton Albion) and I realised we could feasibly be playing either of them in the Setanta Shield. I shudder to think what I’ll feel when I watch Eastbourne play H&R in the CS Playoff final on Thursday (live on Setanta) – knowing that this has a direct affect on us next season. Suddenly, these games take on extra significance, which if you’ve had that taken away from you in the past become ever-so-slightly poignant when it happens…

In human terms, we’ve gone from a newborn to stroppy 9 year old to somebody who I think is about to discover his first pube. I guess this must be the football equivalent of going into middle school – you’re certainly not a toddler any more, and you’re starting to demonstrate adult traits, but physically you’re still Gary Glitter’s dream. We’re still going to encounter some growing pains in the next weeks, months and years, but right now they seem easier to take.

Of course, I mentioned regret earlier. And yes, there is some of that, and it’s all down to this on the OS:

“Terry Brown and Stuart Cash have today had discussions to clarify each player’s situation following the end of the season. When all the players have been contacted a statement will be made – this will be in the next two or three days.”

Sounds like the cull has just started. In fact, the South London Press starts naming names.

“ROB Quinn and Steve Ferguson are the surprise casualties of Terry Brown’s end-of-season cull.

“The AFC Wimbledon boss has released the pair, along with play-off hero Mark De Bolla, strikers Daniel Webb and Richard Jolly, and out-of-favour midfielders Karl Beckford and Mark Beard. Defender Will Salmon, who has spent the second half of the season on loan at Fleet, has also been axed. Marcus Gayle has left the club after confirming his retirement.

“Every other member of the first-team squad has signed a new deal for next season, except Robin Shroot, who is in ongoing discussions with Brown. That means regulars Jason Goodliffe, Jake Leberl, Luke Garrard, Mickey Haswell, Chris Hussey, Anthony Finn, Sam Hatton and Jon Main are all now contracted for next season.

“There had been some doubt over the future of keeper Andy Little, but he has also agreed to stay at Kingsmeadow for another year. “

TBH none of that is really surprising. Fergie was just too inconsistent to make that step up, and DeB’s card was always marked when he walked out on us at half time. No real surprises over the rest of them either. The Shroot one is interesting, and maybe we’re trying to sort something out just in case a league side snap him up so we don’t lose out.

Those who are staying now are probably the ones who most of us would keep anyway. Hope that Judge and McD are on that list, I know Pullen is. I would also hope we could get Rose or the Cue on a season-long loan (more likely the Cue as RR came on for QPR at the weekend and apparently looked quite good). But for the most part, it’s a freshening up that we need but keeping those who have that consistency.

The reaction to Fergie going, though not quite the blubfest that greeted Kevin Cooper and Rob Ursell’s departure, is one that has tainted this week for many. Especially as Finn is staying. What I would hope is that people are sad at Fergie going because of what he did on the field, not because everyone had a good laugh with him at KM after Saturday’s game. My abiding memory of him will be how crap he was on Saturday. Yes, his pace scared defenders, but he didn’t use it often enough AFAIAC.

Football is a brutal game. Yes, Fergie tried 100%, and I won’t deny that. But we’re in a higher league now. We should be able to get better players in now, and most probably will. Lest we forget that last season we were painfully inconsistent. If you were to name the most consistent players from last time out, the ones named will probably be the ones kept on today.

In the cold light of day, we were lucky to go up this season. Yes, it was great, and yes – as a club – it was when, not if we’d make that next step upwards. But christ, we’d get found out big time next season if we reproduced some of the shit we produced this season. Remember when we played Thurrock a few years ago (or even St Albans) and they had that bit of cunning we didn’t have? We’ll be playing them next season, and they’ll be far more likely to punish us. I’m not suggesting we’ll suddenly get relegated, but I think this squad needed to get broken up. No matter how much it hurts some.

One thing that I believe TB pointed out last season was how difficult it was to get players to come to AFCW – not because it was us, but because we were in the RP. If we fans weren’t enamoured much by it christ knows what a decent CS or Conf player would have thought. While I seriously doubt we’d get a Leo Fortune-West type player even next season, the likes of Rob Gier suddenly become much more obtainable. The truth is, most of us don’t know who’s available, who’s likely to come and most importantly if they’ll do a job for us. TB and SC certainly do though, at least a helluva lot more than any of us put together anyway.

If people do want to start suggesting signing players who we played against next season, then fine. But if you’re looking at signing RP players, we’ll find ourselves back in Turdeyville. We have to move upwards, we have no other option. I certainly would suggest a lot more stability next season, and I would almost put that ahead of promotion. I said “almost”.

Like last year, this will be a fun pre-season and for once we can relax a bit. No doubt we’ll firstly be looking forward to who comes in to us, then the release of the DVD of the playoffs, then who next season’s victims opponents will be, followed up by the announcing of the fixtures, then a nice chance to grill TB and SC with Meet The Manager (and I hope we have one of those), finally culminating with our first excitedly anticipated pre-season friendly………

Funny how some things take care of themselves, isn’t it?