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Here we go…

We’ve been waiting close to three months for this, although if truth be told it’s nearer six years……

It’s funny that the proper season starts tomorrow. It’s been a long, long time since our last competitive fixture, and yet in a way it’s crept up on us without warning. Guess we’re still convinced we aren’t actually promoted, and we’re playing Ks tomorrow in our last PSF instead.

One thing is guaranteed though, never has the phrase “looking forward” applied so much in the AFCW era. For the first time since 2002, there’s a buzz. In fact, I’ll go one step further – we never had this buzz even back then. We’re geared up for tomorrow and beyond in a way I never even thought possible, at least not as soon as 2008. Tomorrow is about football – we’re excited for footballing reasons. When we got excited about games in the past, I couldn’t help thinking we were putting up a front of sorts. Did we get excited about games against AFC Wallingford because they were genuine big games? Or was it because we refused to admit that we’d fallen so low in the pyramid that we would take anything – anything – that made us feel good? In hindsight, it was a tad humiliating for us to be like that…..

Tomorrow, we make a giant step towards normality again. Sure, winning the playoffs was great but as a growing amount of people are now prepared to admit in public, we shouldn’t have been down there in the first place. Was it any coincidence that before Staines, the biggest glows from an AFCW victory were the FAT wins over Aldershot and G&N? Hopefully this will be the last time I ever have to write this, but more so than ever now, we really didn’t belong in the RP or lower….

All this excitement has been helped by our opponents tomorrow. OK, we would have been excited about playing Welling at KM, but facing Newport County has that little bit extra IYSWIM. I think the best comment I read all week came on the Newport messageboard, where one of the Taffs reckoned we’re excited because we’re playing a proper club in the league. Which isn’t that far off the mark in truth…..

Up until now, we haven’t really been able to relate to the vast majority of clubs we’ve faced. True, playing Slutton means a bit more to people than facing up against, say, ETU, although I put that down to local factors. And there’s been attempts in the past to take a club or two and convince themselves that they really are like us and we can work on building them up as our rivals.

But we “get” Newport in a way that we can’t with any other club outside the Conference. Maybe FCUM but their agenda is different. We can fully understand how County dropped down the divisions and getting done out of their ground. We can fully understand the feelings their own support have when they talk about playing Carl Zeiss Jena in the ECWC. There will be people under 40 years old there tomorrow who will remember WFC 6 Newport 2 all too vividly. In other words, Newport County will be the first side we’ve played in the league who we recognise and more importantly relate to.

And yes, before you say “Maidstone”, I will point out that they were never on our radar until last season.

All this BBB posteuring does hide the fact that we are stepping into the great footballing unknown tomorrow. It’s quite possible that we’ll lose, that we’ll find the step up a bit higher than we first thought. We may even find at some point this season we’ll go on a run of 4-5 games without a win. We may play quite poorly and at times we may even be outclassed. You know, football as it really is.

We’ll find out soon enough whether our choice of PSFs really did screw us up, although we looked more of the unit against Tonbridge last week that we need to be. We won’t be the top dogs this season, especially if predictions are anything to go by. Most are suggesting H&W and Chelmsford as favourites (presumably because of the money). Some reckon we’ll be playoffs but only along with the likes of H&R and Eastleigh.

Which could, believe it or not, work in our favour. Only the most braindead could have failed to twig the strain we put ourselves under last season. Yet if we were to do this season what we were supposed to do 12 months ago, it would be an irony almost too huge. If the PSFs have suggested something though, it’s that the whole AFCW organisation is a lot more relaxed, a lot less stressed out and a good deal more willing to be patient. We can certainly do without the shit-stirring elements that were clearly operating last season.

And it’s rubbing off. Tomorrow, we only have Jon Main up front, yet nobody is getting stressed out. Could you imagine last season if that was the case? The Samaritans would be taking calls off our fans before the game starts. Now, it’s an inconvenience. We know that we’ll get somebody in eventually, preferably sooner rather than later. But we’d rather wait and get it right rather than a Webb-esque panic buy now. Dean Mason’s signing yesterday has as much importance as us signing Guiliano Grazioli a year or so ago. With luck, Mason will be a bit better….

So really, there’s not much else to say. The time for talking is as good as over. I can’t be arsed to go through Dean Holdsworth’s comments, I’m sure he means well but joining Franchise and praising them in the beginning will always work against you. That said, he wouldn’t be the only one, and plenty of us thought that AFCW wouldn’t come on in the way it has. All hail Kevin Cooper (mark one) though. And the South London Press seems worth getting this weekend. But as we’ve waited a helluva long time for something like this to happen, and with possibly over 1000 of us turning up in South Wales tomorrow, you can’t really say that AFCW is stagnant.

Though what we’ll be saying when we get stuffed 3-0 tomorrow………