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Six years on

Time flies, doesn’t it?

There I was, the very morning I wrote this article, flipping around various places to find out about whether we’d be getting any new signings from Dagenham and Redbridge, whether Robin Shroot will actually sign a new contract and when the BSS fixtures are going to come out. Then suddenly, it hit me……

If truth be told though, I’m not too sure what’s more surreal. Either the realisation that seventy two months ago, we suffered the most nastiest, vindictive shafting in the entire history of the English game, or the realisation that I didn’t even think about it until this morning when somebody reminded me.

OK, while some will put the 30th as the rebirth of a club called Wimbledon, for me 28/5 will always be the date. It was the date that you realise just what life is like without a football club. Correction – what life is like without your football club. Sure, there were justifications attempting to be made, like WFC was still at Shitehurst, and we could still trudge up 70 miles northwards to see “our” team. But when the news filtered through, the club didn’t exist any more. In its place was this shell of a club, whose link to the old WFC was tenuous at best (only the company registration name was the “link”, and it was only logistics that prevented the Franchise name and colours from being used immediately).

In short, the club that took WFC’s league place on 28/5/02 was as much “our” club as Chelski or Arsenal or Wycombe Wanderers was. As in, not at all.

Fast forward to 2008. Six years on, there’s precious little commemorating, and in fact it may almost have passed you by. Back in 2003, or 2004, or even 2005, we built up to the 28th May like a macabre anniversary. Now? You’ll probably be spending today cursing out everyone for a little bit when you realise the significance, but then when news filters through of an AFCW player leaving, or even a new player coming in, your attention will be distracted. In fact, when I was writing this AFCW had signed Ben Judge and Michael Peacock, and thoughts now turn to how much more solid our defence will be…

Have we mellowed then? Have we “moved on”? Actually, we haven’t, at least not in the conventional sense. Firstly, no AFCW fan alive who lived through 28/5/02 could ever forget, and will certainly never forgive. When you cast your mind back to the shit before the 3-man commission copout, and your emotions directly after you heard the decision, you can’t forgive. That scar is permanent, and even if you wanted to forget it you couldn’t. Come to think of it, I just said we can’t forgive – in fact, I will state that we won’t forgive. Why should we?

Franchise fans are many things, none of them even remotely good, but when they say “move on”, it just goes to show how fucking clueless they really are. Even now, opposition fans (not just fellow non-league sides) are amazed and a little bit disturbed at the depth of feeling we have against them. And the thing is, none of us are ashamed of that, in fact we see it as a badge of honour. And if you understand why I said that, you’ll know why the hatred will never die.

So why has this almost passed us by? Well, if we have “moved on”, it’s us getting away from the almost 24/7 obsession with them. Back in 2003/04/05, everything they did was scrutinised by us. It was almost pathological looking back. But in 2008, we’ve had the growth and normality of watching AFCW to distract us from the worst excesses. Remember, back in the early days AFCW was still vulnerable, and could have gone belly up once the novelty wore off.

The wounds are still there, but we’ve just learnt to channel the anger better. Part of that was forced upon us – once the trophies returned to Merton, and once the half-built identikit Wankiedome was finally (half) completed, that particular chapter was closed. Namely, the deed had finally been done and we accepted how it was going to be from now on.

But time did play a part as well. There’s no way we could have kept up how we felt in 2003-05 in 2008, not without a stroke anyway. Ironically, it was Darlogate that made that big step – suddenly, the focus switched to AFCW getting shafted. Not our fans, but this club we rebuilt was getting attacked. We suddenly discovered new enemies, new injustices. Suddenly, Franchise weren’t just the only enemy…….

Granted, it’s a shame that we have such a pugalistic approach when we get done over, but if you know anything about the history of the AFCW fanbase, you shouldn’t be surprised. I think we’ll always be fighting against something, because that’s just how we are. Certainly the depth of feeling is such that it drives on the development of AFCW. But six years on, things have changed.

During the buildup to us getting promotion, we just didn’t think about Franchise at all did we? We were more concerned about referees doing us over, the team performing like it should, whether our bottle would hold out etc etc. And when it was all over, and we realised we were in the BSS, they weren’t the first things on our mind. OK, we did on moments of reflection feel good that their promotion was cancelled out by ours, but even so them going up didn’t have the same effect as it would have in years past.

There wasn’t that sickness of them doing well, or even of them winning the paintpot tin. Yes, it was annoying as fuck (especially as we weren’t doing so well ourselves then), but there was as much shrugging of shoulders as much as anything.

Perhaps it’s because deep down, we fucked them up. They lost that impetus early on and may never recover from it. Six years on, they’re still getting grief everywhere they go – even Paul Ince was amazed at it. Six years on, and this I’m led to believe, they have to lean very heavily on journos to get favourable press even now. Six years on, every recent article about them also has something about us. We will forever be linked, which they absolutely hate. Perhaps that’s why we’re not at their throats 24/7 any more – it’s because we know we’ve won the argument.

OK, we can still fight the good fight when needed, that will always be in us. But now we’re getting young kids at our games that weren’t even born on that fateful day 72 months ago. Their outlook towards Franchise may be different to ours. They may feel a thawing of relations may be a good idea, though hopefully they’ll just blank them totally. Or maybe there was a Franchise cunt born on 28/5/02 who will be smacked in the mouth by an AFCW fan born on 28/5/02. The future isn’t ours to see, but with luck it’ll still be miserable for them.

AFCW has come a long way in six years, from literally nothing to Conference South football. It’s almost incomprehensible when you analyse it. The next six years will be as different as the first six years were. But one thing is certain – when this day comes around in the future, and if somebody reminds you of the significance, you’ll be saying the words “fucking cunts”…….