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Fixtures and fittings

Summer is almost over. It’s currently raining (or at least trying to) outside SW19 Towers, and the moment of the whole close season that makes it all worthwhile : the fixtures are out. Read them here.

Done that? Good. Let’s see what I wrote yesterday:

” I’m going for Braintree away first game of the season, with Basingstoke away the following midweek contest. First game at KM will be Hayes and Yeading, followed by Bishop’s Storford. We’ll play Team Bath away in September and Bath City in March. Newport will be in November and WSM in April. Webb will score his hat-trick against us in late October, while we’ll get to go Beaver stuffing on Boxing Day and NYD. Followed by the glorious end of season anti-climax celebrations at home to Maidenhead United.”

And the grand total of predictions I got correct were…………………… 0. At least nobody can burn me at the stake now, although some may try for the Webb comment.

In case you don’t know already, our first game of the season is away to Newport County. Yes, one of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures (if not the one we were all looking forward to) is our very first 90 minutes in the CS. Talk about a baptism of fire.

In fact, once you get “ooh, a trip to Wales” out of the way, it could have been an easier opening couldn’t it? We were due to play away anyway, but it’s one of the toughies with us having a largely new squad as it is. We don’t know how we will perform for long away trips, we’ll be facing a pretty hostile crowd with us in the minority. And if Chelmsford was anything to go by last season, we’ve got to learn how to deal with that PDQ.

Our pre-season becomes even more vital now. We need to click, not only to get a fast start but also to keep that initial momentum and good vibe up. I suppose though nobody is going to object (too) much to us coming away from southern Cymru with nothing. It’ll be part of this season’s learning curve, and by the time we finish against St Albans the last day of the season (in front of a 10,000 crowd of course) we will probably have learnt a lot more about ourselves than from 2002 to today combined.

For the first time since maybe our first CCL days, I’m looking down the list and I just can’t predict how we’re going to do against people like Newport, H&Y, Bath City etc. It was quite easy before – we could look at teams and predict that we should beat them (and sometimes we did). Now, I honestly don’t know whether we’ll have 9 points from the first three games or none. We do have some inklings though – teams that come up from the RP have more or less been playoffs to about 10th place, so none too shabby. The AFCW that lost to St Albans and Thurrock back in the day is a lot stronger and has a bit more nous these days. And lest we forget Maidenhead last season….

But the truth is though, you ain’t thinking about that. You’re thinking “fuck, yeah”. People are up for this, I can tell. Suddenly, things feel normal again, if that makes sense. Whether it’s because we’ve actually heard of people like Newport County or Bath City I don’t know. Maybe it’s coming across something like this which does it? And be honest, who here has inadvertantly checked out whether Setanta will be showing any CS games this season?

The big problem for any AFCW fan who watched WFC is that since 2002, we’ve been in the twilight zone up until now media-wise. You really didn’t realise how much you missed getting reports in the Sunday papers, occasional live Sky game, Ceefax etc until one day that really all went. No, the Conf South ain’t the Premiership, but I think non-AFCW fans really can’t comprehend what finding out our fixtures on the BBC website does to us.

Even checking train times now becomes that much more exciting. Funnily enough, the tickets on went pretty quickly, although there are other places to get them, apparently (I think I’m going to have to drive this anyway now though). Even so, if it’s us lot buying up the cheapies, that’s a very promising sign. No, I doubt if we’ll get 1000 there (though it would be kewl if we did), but it would be good to say to the doubters that we can travel beyond the South East in numbers. Including one or two of our own fans…..

And judging by this sort of thing, they’re quite happy about us in the valleys as well. There’s something different about sides like Newport, H&W, CCFC, Bath City etc. They seem clubs that are more self-assured than what we’ve been used to. They’ll see us as rivals, of course, but without acting like they’re opposing us for the sake of the whole culture of non-league football. If we were to play Newport in the playoff final, would they start mouthing off about us being classless bandwagon jumpers? Doubt it. Of course, there’ll be the usual England v Wales barbs and one or two more club specific things, but that’s “normal”. This is more like how football watching really is – most football watchers watch from the Prem to the Conf and some of our games next season will be as close as ever to those sort of ties. I don’t like this rather smug “real football” tag that non-league watchers give themselves. Just look at the clubs in financial shit…

Oh, and I forgot about mentioning sheep, holiday home burning, a language that makes Polish look decypherable and the Manic Street Preachers. Ah, the old days when SW19 used to abuse different parts of the country. Bashing Essex/Kent got boring after a while, certainly. Not to mention Deano of the Franchise himself, a certain Mr D Holdsworth as Newport’s manager. Rest assured, I shall be looking at plenty of Linsey Dawn McKenzie photos for a suitable front page nearer the time………

With all this excitement going on, it’s easy to forget we have another 40 or so other matches to look forward to. Got to admit surprise that we’re at home the following Tuesday, to Furrock. Mind you, as said earlier, last time we played them at KM they showed us pretty much the difference between Conf South and R1. It will certainly demonstrate how far we’ve come in about 3 short seasons.

Our Xmas fixtures surprise me as well. Hands up who thought it’ll be H&R? Mind you, I always like going down to Fi$her, although I really miss their old Surrey Docks stadium. Those wanting a trip to Bath get a nice trip to Twerton Park in late August (Bath City). Isn’t that Bank Holiday weekend? Mind you, Bognor Regis away in early January will sort out the men from the boys. That said, you can look at them yourself but there aren’t too many standout fixtures that rivals going to Newcastle in January in the snow.

Other standouts? Danny Webb will certainly be looking forward to November 1st, anyway. Don’t think it’ll be the pressure cooker last season at MP was, and I hope we do ourselves more justice in this particular fixture this time. My hope is certainly that we’ll be settled, a lot fitter and dare I say even having a better idea of how we play? In fact, we get to play H&W 10 days earlier, so we might be settled enough by then to give them a decent game as well. And won’t the run-in be fun with Bromley and H&R in the last two trips on the road of the season?

The most important fixture will of course be Dorchester away. Shame I’ll probably be out of the country………

Anyway, I guess the anticipation will die down until the first PSF on Saturday week. Before I go, while we’re looking forward all excitedly, spare a thought for the diseased vermin up the M1. Their second phase of the Wankiedome is in deep shit after M&S pulled out, and with at least four important backroom staff going this week, their glorious return to League One doesn’t look so glorious after all.

But hey, they’re about to get yet another big name. Yes, Roberto Di Matteo – a man who probably didn’t even know League One existed, and with as much managerial experience as myself. I swear that Wankie is starstruck by having these “names” managing his lifelong club (sic), but then that just sums up their real lack of security. Mind you, Di Matteo allegedly wrote “Fuck off” on a kids cap in his Chelski days, so he does at least has the class and conduct to manage the Frenzies………..