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It always seems to happen when I go away, doesn’t it? A (s)crappy win away, first round proper for the first time in the AFCW era, a league club at home and on telly to boot. Perhaps I ought to bugger off more often?

First things first. Thank you AFCW for my birthday present on Saturday. Though by the sounds of it, I had the better deal by going here instead.. I know that sitting in an internet cafe “watching” what was happening isn’t good for your health. Felt like ye olden days of trying to reinact imagined goalmouth action on Teletext. The comments were basically “crap”, “glad to get out of there”, “Ryman revisited” and most importantly of all, “we won”.

After the last couple of games, it seems that we were due to come down to earth. In a way, we did, but conversely this sounded like a better result/performance than even H&W and Bishop’s Stortford. Maidstone had banana skin written all over it, and we came out of it without any ruptured limbs.

But that’s all in the past. We now have Wycombe Wanderers to look forward to. Revenge mission from 2001, anyone? Bet there are some fans out there even now who still have nightmares about “first phase, second phase”, not to mention the penalty shootout at Selhurst. Now, of course, it’s different. We are by far and away the underdogs for this. WW are a decent side, and in all honesty we should get stuffed by them. Though this being the FAC, anything can happen and often does.

As much as I want an away trip to Rochdale, in a way I’m glad it’s at home because it’s more likely we’ll do ourselves justice in front of the Setanta audience – an audience BTW which will have no other games that evening to watch. Not only that, but it’s likely to have a decent worldwide audience as well. Those who have ever been abroad in remotely sized cities will know that in the now ubiqutous British/Irish ex-pat pubs in these places always have live football. So it’s quite possible that Chris Hussey’s crossing will be seen in such places as Frankfurt, Boston and Warsaw. And another reason why I hope we don’t disgrace ourselves.

It’s name recognition as much as anything. If your average punter sees the name “Wimbledon” getting advertised, they may be curious enough to wonder just whatever happened to them. You’d be surprised how many people just simply don’t know about it – it’s not so much being deliberately ignorant as just not knowing full stop. And be honest – why should they know?

Getting known to a wider audience is good. Yes, I know we all have our opinions on the 39th game, about these Prem sides who bugger off to China to sell shirts etc etc, but now we’ve got that opportunity to get our little day in the sun, we’re going to take it aren’t we? The trouble is, since 2002 we’ve been more or less closeted from the increasingly harsh realities of modern football. It’s only the last season or two that we’ve dealt directly with player wages, and getting outspent by other sides. Also, we will now find out first hand what it’s like to be shown in front of live TV cameras…

We’re finding that being successful comes at a price – the days when the bulk of games kicking off at 3pm on a Saturday went years ago. To be honest though, unless you support Man Utd or Chelski, getting your fixtures Skyjacked doesn’t happen often enough to make it genuinely a problem. Even when Setanta do the Conf, a team might get shown a couple of times in a 2/3 week period but they mostly still play at the traditional time. Getting games moved can be inconvenient when it works against you, but it’s a small tradeoff and is ultimately the least of your worries.

Which is why I’m getting pretty pissed off with a few comments (and TBF most people are extremely grateful at how it’s turned out) that this game is on Setanta, that ITV should have covered it, that it will affect attendance, that it’s just us being a slave to money etc etc. Excuse me whilst I yawn. Have we forgotten everything since 2002? How it felt to go from one season with the NOTW previewing your season to the next season with the SLP struggling to name our opponents? This is where we should be. This is what we work for. True, it’ll probably only be one game, but it’s a game on a widely available sports channel (don’t con yourself that it’s a tinpot channel – Setanta has well over 1.4m subscribers and ESPN are looking at buying a stake of it). Nuts TV this ain’t. And neither are we FCUM.

Incidentally, ITV went for H&W because of their exploits at Anfield last season. The angle is that they’re the plucky underdogs who most remember as being 2-1 up against the Scousers last season and people remember that. While it would have been nice for us to be on ITV, you don’t really expect H&W to get many more opportunities like this (especially if they play against Brentford like they played against us). In a way, I expect that we’re seen as a side who will be featured on more regular Setanta broadcasts in the coming years – as in, we’re a club that’s moving up. Us v Wycombe is obviously a big draw, but it’s like we’re seen as on a par with Lids v Northampton. If that’s the case, then it’s a big compliment to us.

Anyway, amongst all that excitement, it’s easy to forget we’ve got Chelmsford away on Saturday. Funny how the second biggest regular season game seems like a sideshow right now, although if there’s a good a place as any to get back to winning away, deepest Essex ain’t a bad place to start. Can’t see so many of our fans travelling this time though : the view we’ll get again is pretty shitty for the amount of people we would take, and there is no way that they’d ever be allowed to regularly host decent away turnouts with it. As for the game, I’m expecting it to be different this year, though I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it’s because we’re a lot more settled, a lot more confident in ourselves this time. We’ll find out one way or t’other by 4.50pm on Saturday, but it does seem that Chelmsford aren’t finding it so easy this season. And for those who played last time at MP, there is a small matter of revenge…

One other thing that passed me by this last few days – the perimeter lease. As Wycombe will show, we will need to do some serious work on KM, and we’ve now jumped that step forward. OK, returning to Merton must always be our ultimate aim, and it’s quite possible that KM will simply be too small/inflexible for us in time. But for now, needs must, and we must certainly look into rebanking the WB and the John Smiths as a priority, not to mention little things like turnstiles. Some may quibble over the instistance that we sort out our ground and pile on more debt in the process. In truth, we need to do it, both in terms of capacity but just as importantly comfort and safety. I’ll be honest – I don’t look forward to games at KM which are likely to be over 4k. The sightlines are crap in the JS/WB and there’s always a feel that it’s just too small for the size of crowds we can realistically get in the future

I believe that Ks had plans to redo the Kingston Road end, which their decline obviously shelved. Last week against H&W, I was speaking to a guy who was pointing out that the JS would be next to be redone. So there’s bound to be upheaval at KM for a little while to come, but as the Strank Stand extention shows – once you do it, it does look enticing. Remember that you only have to build a stand once. And if we’re planning to keep some of the waverers popping along to the Wycombe game, they’re much more likely to come back if they’ve got a nice venue to watch it in.

Right, got that far? Thanks for your patience, the Maidstone report is below. The SW19 Bureau didn’t sound impressed by it though…

Well, having just convinced myself this report was ok and about to send it in, I go back on the WUP Guestbook to find out it’s a done deal, – we’re on Setanta, Monday 10th Nov at 1945h

Now TV coverage has been one of those ‘we want back’ perks of being a league club, but like all things you desire in life, it comes with a downside. And that downside was that the game, if televised, would NOT take place on a Saturday. And that was/is going to hurt some of our fans as not everyone can make a day other than Saturday. Our young support, with school the next day might also succumb though it will undoubtedly be a very special night with a cracking atmosphere. In its way is a tad unfair to those who come week in week out, to miss out on probably the biggest game in our history, in the flesh.

We could not I expect, because it would be in the terms and conditions of entry, decline a televised tie, and with the financial advantages of it I am sure that will more than offset any loss in revenue through the turnstiles. Initially I thought sell out; now if the TV cameras are there I am not so sure. Perhaps with it being Setanta then the full up signs might return as their reach to audiences in limited. But the adage does go ‘Any PR is good PR’ and though some of our fan base might miss out now, the longer-term picture could be significantly enhanced for the club.

Of course, we were being BBB expecting, no almost demanding, us to be one of the TV games. The BBC highlighting our draw on their website only served to massage our ego and increase our own perceived self importance. But I presume as ITV had first choice – and they chose Havant & Waterlooville v Brentford – not everyone buys into the hype.

Perhaps the football gods had it right at first, didn’t like what they read on the guest book so we didn’t get the favoured ties: Leeds away, or Leicester. But at least we hadn’t pissed them off enough to warrant them giving us Franchise.

Instead we have a proper team from Buckinghamshire: a team that has a pedigree of rising up through the leagues the correct way; a team we share history with having actually played them and lost a monumental penalty-shoot out in the FAC back in 2001; and a team we share a hero with, in Lawrie Sanchez. That loss surprisingly remains raw for some of our support. But that’s the testament to the fact that was a real cup-tie – and this will be a repetition (lets hope though not the same result) for the fans that will be here and were there, in 2001. That sort of history cannot be ‘adopted’ by another fan base.

And talking of fan base, was I not the only one slightly disappointed with the turnout at Trading Estate 0 ‘The Business!’ Park 1?

So we helped Maidstone set a new crowd record since their reformation (that phrase, with religious connotations makes me smile – football is our religion of course), but after the hype of the importance of this game to both clubs, where did the other 1300 go? Perhaps they knew something we didn’t, inasmuch as they managed – probably rightly – to hold on to their money because as a game this was a big disappointment. So much so I have struggled for two days to put it into prose. Thank god then for REPD’s note format then …

Plus points: We won. Professional performance. Defence dominant. Sam Hatton’s goal. Inns cameo in midfield.

Minus points: Taking an hour to get out of the car park. A change in wind direction that helped contribute to a poor game – it was also bloody cold!!

The referee’s a……: When he told Ben Judge off for encroaching on to the part of the pitch where the officials were warming up, I thought ‘Oh no….’ But turned out pretty good. One or two strange decisions during the game but was at least decisive in what he did; the booking for the early foul on Jon Main and the ‘simulation’ by the Maidstone player trying to get the penalty for example. Also knew when to talk to the captains about a player.

Them: I really don’t mind, but very disappointing. If I were a Stone’s fan I’d feel slightly cheated – it was an opportunity not taken. They never really got at us and you felt after the first 15 mins our lot thought: “Is that it? Ok, lets go and score and that’ll be that!” And in truth it was. Their manager claimed on the radio they kept our attack quiet throughout the game. But in truth most of the second half we played with a full back four, just in case we need to protect the lead. Every time we did have Hussey or Garrard go forward we looked likely to score. And talking of their manager, up to his old tricks, berating one and all, bending the ear of the ref. Mind you his goalkeeper made a pretty good shout at trying to outdo the boss!

Point to ponder: Why, given that impressive stadium that is the dog track in Sittingbourne is any of the teams playing on that pitch? As I understand it a perfectly serviceable football pitch could be put into the middle of the stadium. If both Sittingbourne and Maidstone (until their new stadium comes to fruition) played there surely it must help all those involved, particularly with a credit crunch coming. But apparently the GRA who owns the stadium is not interested. But we will see …

Truth is stranger than fiction: (1) A bloke I walked by before the game started suggesting trouble in the bar. Sure enough a little fracas – local Chelsea chavs not getting noticed until they lobbed a glass as a missile, got a slap and then lead away by police. Apparently Maidstone has suffered these incursions before. (2) A record crowd of 1719 but it looked very Staines-like around the ground, but they didn’t have that big stand (apparently its temporary and has been moved 5 times). The Staines-like feel made me a tad more confident. But I think we won as Paul Willats (the photographer) was right in front of us just like at Staines! (3) Over an hour to get out the ground??!! I’ll never complain about KM car park again. Apparently a similar situation occurred last January. You’d think they’d have learnt…. It seemed only to get moving when our resident car-parking attendant went and investigated. … And I was taking someone home who only lived 15 mins away (4) The warm up routine by the officials – a combination of cheerleading movements coupled with an opportunity to have a personal bet with your mates, guessing which way they might break into a sprint. Kept us amused for 10 mins and credit to them they saw the fun in it too.

Anything else? Well apart from Maidstone really needing to get away from here to a ground in their own town, not a lot. You have to wonder how they sell the club to potential players when they come down and see that ground.

So, was it worth it? Are you kidding?

In a nutshell: Mission accomplished. Mission impossible to come?