As it’s this time of year, a special treat for you. Earlier this week, I roped in got four of SW19’s match reporters to answer a series of questions about the season so far.
After some mutterings along the lines of “I have a life” and “Is this War and Peace?”, I have gained the thoughts of Greg “Ewell Don” Valentine, James “Jampot” Potter, Richard “911” Brown and Jay “Baskers” Baskers for you.
So, sit back with some sherry and twiglets, and read on…
How have you found the first four months of AFCW in the Conference?
GV: I think we have adapted pretty well, better than I expected anyway. I have particularly enjoyed the away trips I’ve been able to attend. TB has put together a very promising squad and considering the injuries we have had, those coming in have done well. A very enjoyable first half season
JB: The first four months have been great. It’s felt like football again. That may sound weird, but I think since ’02 I’ve gone to every game almost wishing the 90 minutes away for the sake of three points and a rise upwards.
Glory hunter? No. These past four months, I’ve genuinely relished the thought of the Oxfords, Lutons, Cambridges, Ketterings… it’s what we’ve all wanted. No matter how you dress Ash or Frimley up, they’re just a village in Hants (aren’t they?). We’re at a good level now… It feels right. Oh – and we play some decent stuff.
JP: Interesting and captivating. I think we all entered the season with expectations and I dont think generally we have been disappointed. The unknown nature of each match against each different opponent has meant the season has that constant air of unexpectation about it. And of course doing as well as we have so far HAS been a bonus.
RB: Overall not as tough as I expected. Having had back to back promotions I thought we would struggle at first and then find our feet. However, what we have achieved away from home is fantastic and now we need to look at our home form.
It’s been good to go to some proper places ( former football league grounds ) as it puts into perspective where we have come from. Satisfied with our league position, although we have so far not really done it in the cupsÂ – Crawley was a real struggle and Boring Wood could have been a disaster.
Overall I would give it a solid 8/10 so farÂ ( loses marks for home form ). What the first 4 months have proved is that we have now found our level and this season will be the lowest league finish we will achieve since our birth in 2002.
Has this division been as you expected?
GV: I thought it would be tougher TBH. With 8 ex-league teams and many other experienced sides in the conference I expected some difficult games. It definitely seems toÂ be a 3 tier division and I think we are in the 2nd tier at the moment.
JB: So, so. I think we’ve surprised ourselves a little. The thing I’ve most been impressed with is the players (our own and opposition’s) professionalism and continuous desire to play football until the bitter end. Also, the quality of strikers is light-years ahead of BSS.
JP: No, not really. I am suprised that so far no one has really played us off the park. I suppose the difference between winning and losing has been a lot closer than I thought. Sides like Luton, Oxford and Cambridge only got results I felt because of our naivety or lack of conviction that we could beat them.
Having played them now I expect in the next meeting a much more believing side wearing a AFCW shirt. The fact that anyone seems capable of beating anyone on a single day suggest there is not too much between the sides and substantiates the comment about winning/losing being so close at times.
RB: Not as tough as I thoughtÂ – you hear about the Conference being the same as Div 2 but frankly some of the outfits we have come up against would struggle in the BSS so its slightly easier than I thought. The league games we have lost were always by the odd goal ( except Chester which may not count by May) so overall its a league that is there for the taking. Tables don’t normally lie and the Top 8 in the league will battle it out come April.
Thought Luton would initially romp it, however, they seem to be losing their way and Stevenage seem to be the “surprise package ” at the top. We are only 3 players away from a Top 4 slot. Financially a lot of the clubs are in real trouble and that will transform the leagues in the next few years – football can’t go on with the inevitable winding up threats and then miraculously get a stay of execution and reform 5 minutes later!
Player wise, who’s stood out?
GV: Kedwell seems to be relishing life in the BSP and my only concern is a League 1 or 2 club could come sniffing. Seb has done exceptionally well keeping 5 clean sheets to Pullens 4. He is a bit like Gomes(z?) whereby he can make a blinding save one minute and then make like Buster Keaton the next. Johnson is very consistent and has been impressive whoever he has played alongside and Wellard has got better as the seasons progressed. I predict he could turn out be the shrewdest signing TB has made
JB: Kedwell – sheer class act. Took what he was good at last season andmultiplied it by the nth degree. Judge is also brilliantly solid and dependable.
JP: Stephen Gregory without a doubt. Never noticed him at H&Y but what a revelation. Whilst we might be missing some talent in other parts of the team we have a real diamond here.
RB: DeDeDeDe Danny Keds has been the most consistent performer all season and lead the line better than we could have hoped for at the start. Luke Moore has shown real purpose and is a great acquisition. Gregory in the middle has kept us in it on more than one occasion and deserves a mention. Back line have performed well as a unit (which seems to change each week), although BJ should be in the middle where he is best and not out wide.
And the most disappointing?
GV: Derek Duncan and Sam Hatton. DD has had the opportunity to make the LB position his own and he has failed to do this. I think he has the ability (he was outstanding against FCUM in the PSF) but not sure the attitude is right. For long spells last season and this season, I often failed to see why TB consistantly picked Sam week in week out other than being a lucky talisman. His recent bench warming stint is long overdue. Hopefully, it will make him hungrier to get his starting place back? Montague looks a little out of place but maybe he needs a few first team games. Confidence?
JB: Duncan. I should write any more or I could find the police knocking on my door.
JP: Derek Duncan. He’s had a tough time what with injuries but that doesnt excuse a lack of application in being given his second chance to secure a place in the team. I mean he may not be a defender but apparently he has played in the position. But you might be a bit surprised. Also a bit disappointed that Sam Hatton hasnt progress further but in his defence his substitute appearences at right back have proven he has talent. Just wish he would appear to knuckle down and be more committed in his application. The laid back attitude is starting to piss me off.
RB: WellardÂ – saw him pre season, early season and now mid season. Plenty of hype but not a lot (yet) to show for it – yes, IÂ know he scored against Gateshead and set up the winner at Kiddy but he is not commanding enough for someone of his size (and who took about 8 weeks to sign).
Derek Duncan – should be better as he is pacy but ultimately he does not have “it” and is unlikely to cut it at this level unless he gets more consistent and TB gives him game time.
Hatton – talented but frustrating – slightly slow for this league and would struggle for pace in Div 2 but somehow TB sees enough in him to merit a regular start.
Who was the last keeper we had that could kick a ball? Sullivan struggled, Heald was suspect, Segars dodgyÂ – perhaps Beasant?Â Certainly it’s been part of the fun for the last 7 years that we have good shot stoppers but can’t find a kicker (unless there was one we had in that season when there were 9 keepers?).
Apart from the players, what have been the positives you’ve seen so far?
GV: The chips are better than last season
JB: The fact that reality seems to have descended upon Wimbledon… no more “win every game or else” mentality. It’s allowed us to actually think about other things i.e – moving back to PL…
JP: That we have coped pretty well with everything off the pitch and that there have not been any major problems. Away travel figures have been awesome and the night at Millwall – a bonus – will remain with me for a long long time.
RB: We get far more recognition nowÂ – in my office people comment on a Monday about the result on Saturday. We are “earning ” respect on our journey and that’s important as we get bigger and more senior. We are no longer the big bully in the school playground as we find ourselves up against similar sized clubs. Proper planning for the future (ground improvements/going full time etc)
And the negatives?
GV:Â The lack of noise from the TE. I’ve mentioned in previous match reports that there is a definite lack of passion shown by the masses during some games. And where is the imagination in the songs? I fondly recall being entertained by the Burgess Hill posse singing ditties mainly to the tune of Beatles songs and the Lardy Boys with their renditions of lard related chenanigans. We definitely need someone to start coming up with some rousing songs to lift the crowd
JB: The complete lack of a 40,000 seater stand to replace the outdated West Bank.
JP: Only one and that is though we expect larger crowds and have expected some sell outs this hasnt been managed perfectly. I also think we are missing a trick when we realise that the game will not be sold out. Our short term marketing – either in the local rag, RadJack or even a few sudden posters outside Wimbledon Railway station needs honing.
RB: Not many really. Quality of food at most away grounds is no better than Turdyland clubs.
Best team we’ve played so far?
GV: I thought Kettering were very well organised. We had to really battle to get the points at their place and they deserved their win at ours. York have what it takes to push Oxford all the way.
JB: Probably York… The really did the number on us.
JP: At our level, Kidderminster. Professional and did the job asked with minimum of effort. For finishing, hey Millwall!
RB: Hmmm…………..York comes to mind as we could have been done 3 or 4 that day and we did not look interested. A typical northern gritty outfit who did a proper job on us. Rushden were also fairly good and could have easily done us had they not missed open goals and a penalty and gifted us a winner !
GV: Salisbury and Eastbourne; how we lost that one I will never know but they looked very poor
JB: Salisbury at home…
JP: Very difficult as no one has stood out as really bad. I suppose once we scored against Histon there was no doubt. For all their hype, York I thought were particularly poor inasmuch if we had had a tad more nous we could have murdered them. Very little to their game
RB: Got to be GraysÂ – we could have scored 7 that day – Main missed several sitters. Histon did not look like they will hang around long and gifted us the points.
Who are the best fans we’ve encountered so far?
GV: I thought the Gateshead fans were a jovial bunch. And they brought more than Hampton did last year
JB: Our own
JP: I try not to encounter fans 😉 I rarely notice them during a game. The Gateshead lot deserve respect just for doing the journey.
RB: Had a chat to the Gateshead fans (the ones who actually travelled not the London lot) and they were decent chaps who were up for a laugh and wanted to enjoy the day out. In terms of noise and singing the Eastbourne lot made a good rumpus all evening, although the York lot were fairly decent as well
And the worst?
GV: No surprises when I say Millwall. In the league? Luton just for their ‘Mightier than thou’ attitude
JB: Our own
JP: Luton. Ok one idiot spoilt it for the rest with the assualt on Haydon but they could have given him up for a talking to…
RB: Luton scumbags. Thought they would run the league and so far they have not shown enough to get them up. Noisy bunch of twats and Oxford fans will have “sorted them”. We have been warned – next season (as we will both be in the BSP) we need better marshalling and stewarding and more plod for Luton. When we used to play them I never noticed they were such a bunch of muppets
How do you think we handled the Chris Hussey transfer?
GV: Ok I think. Not sure why the club couldn’t openly say what the fee and sell on percentage was. Hoped to get a PSF away next year!
JB: In my opinion, we handled it well. Communication was clear and timely. Would have been nice to have a bit more information about bonus clauses etc… Then again, you can’t have everything.
JP: Quite well considering that we are still learning. There was no long drawn out proceedure. It came about quite quicly and was concluded quite quickly. Quite professional I thought.
RB: Plenty of spin from both sides about the transfer with everyone saying how gentlemanly both sides were about it all. Lets face it Â£150,000 ( as has been strongly suggested) and a sell on clause is a lot for our club and annoying as it is from a playing perspective it’s still good business. Most clubs in this league will struggle this year without Setanta so this money keeps us on a sound footing which in the long run (say 5 years ) is what we need to do.
Taking all the backslapping away from the deal – its just a transfer and Hussey is replaceable. (Happy to take him back on loan). There will be others who move on but I suspect only a few will move up a league as the youngsters still have a lot to prove. DK and LM are the 2 players who may attract interest in the short term and if Terry thinks the deal is right for the club then we should stand by that decision and let him pick the team – as fans we all have an opinion but frankly its down to the manager to get the squad right not the fans.
What do we need to do in the January transfer window (if anything)?
GV: A proper left back and another striker. With Moore out long term and Montague out of sorts we may need some more fire power to push on.
JB: I still think we’re lacking an attacking left back and right back. Other than that we look strong. A nice tidy striker would be a plus, but as we all know, they cost. A lot.
JP: Replacement left back is required. We arent going to find anothe CH but a good steady LB might give the back 4 back their stability they exhibited earlier in the season. If that occurs anything could happen. A tough experienced central midfielder MIGHT be an option if we decide the next question is true
RB: We are doing ok at present, although the left side does look suspect without Hussey and Moore playing together. RealisticallyÂ we need short term cover in a few places but the budget should be kept for the summer.
If we are to progress up the league pyramid we need to plan long term, not short term, so spending a load on a couple of players this Jan is probably not the best plan at present .Â We should use this season to develop the youngsters and really establish who is good enough from the current squad to get us up.
We have several players in the team who are good, but are they good enough to get us up? I would suggest a left back is a current requirement but other places don’t need to be filled and TB should continue with the players at present. Some may say that we should go for it this season and spend now to prepare ourselves for next year but that would be a financial mistake.
Keep what we have achieved and grow within our means is how we will ultimately get back to where we belong. Sounds boring but its the best policy.
Is promotion a realistic aim this season?
GV: Yes it is but personally I don’t think it will benefit the club long term by going up. I would love to see a 2-3 year period in this league to establish ourselves as a well equipped non league side. A Wembley final appearance should be the main aim and our infrastructure established further to ensure we cope with promotion to the Football League. Oh, and our own ground in Wimbledon/Merton.
JB: It’s achievable, but it’ll take a mammoth effot, not simply five wins on the spin. We’re playing well, at a great position but we need to keep the injuries down a bit.
JP: If we are either in the playoff places or next to them by the end of the Christmas/New Year period then they could BECOME one. Our aim was the playoffs. That’s a target still to be achieved. Once there then promotion MUST become the aim.
RB: Dreamworld – get real . We are good for a Top 10 finish this year and currently sitting in 6th place probably inflates us slightly. If we were to sneak into the playoffs and if we were to go up then what? We would be ill prepared for the task ahead and would struggle, which would affect attendances. Yes more money from the telly people but is going to Accrington or Dagenham actually better than Oxford, Cambridge, York and Luton – not convinced.
We have come a long way in 8 (almost) years, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Get the club on the right platform and we will get promoted and have the ability to stay up. The realistic aim for this season is 7th – 9th in the league, a good Trophy run and TB working out who is good enough and who is not. This is when TB works out whether the likes of Lewis Taylor actually have it or are just a “head down tip and run” type player that Fergie was 2 years ago.
He needs to solve the right back issue – does Conroy show enough? Does Garrard concentrate enough? In the middle – will Kennedy always be injured or is he good for 35 games a year? That’s the real aim for this season – just work out what we have got and what we need and unfortunately for some of the players what we don’t need.
PS like the way you did the promotion question at number 13 – spooky ?
Rate Terry Brown’s performance this season so far.
GV: 8.25 out of 10
JB: 11/10 – you can’t fault the guy. Great character and he’s doing the job. Ask me the same this time in May as we’re staring relegation in the eyes.
JP: Pretty good though he has lapsed into periods of being a bit cautious when he should not have been. He perhaps should have realised that the Lutons and Oxfords weren’t quite a good as he thoughtt and convince his players otherwise in those games sooner. But it has been a while since he did manage in this league and he is learning again too.
RB: Done good enough, although the home form is the real surpriseÂ – I thought we would be tough to beat at home but most teams (including Salisbury who were eventually dispatched) now turn up thinking 3 points are there for the taking. Is there a plan B? When we needed it at places like Ebbsfleet and Barrow he did something that got us back in it.
A well respected non league Chairman told me last summer that Terry has the best contacts book in non league football and that’s why he is so respected. Those contacts got us out of the Ryman (Luis Cumbers )Â and the BSS the likes of Dwane Lee who was the forgotten man of Spring 2009 but who really helped. I suspect his contacts may yield a couple of “loan ” players in January and they will help in the Summer when we need to “upgrade” the squad.
Would give him a solid 8/10 – loses points for home form. Needs a good cup run as this will be our lowest ever finish in a league.
Transfer dealings aside, how well do you think AFCW has coped off the field in the BSP?
GV: It’s good to see us promoting the club in the boroughs of Kingston and Merton. There are many ordinary fans doing extraordinary things for this club and I think we should be grateful for that. I do get the impression that the club try to ‘Do the Right Thing’ and that is important. We are a very unique club and it is vital that we prove to all football fans up and down the country that a we have a right to exist and thrive and succeed
JB: Our young and hungry approach has done us well, thus far. I’m happy not spending mega bucks and think we need to get used to it.
JP: See above. Pretty much on the money for ‘amateurs’
RB: We are one of the Top 5 supported clubs so we will attract attention from other clubs and the media. Most clubs seem to treat us fine (York presentation on pitch at half time) while others just want our money (Crawley).
The Millwall match will give us valuable experience going forward about what to expect at bigger venues. Club merchandise has improved (like the new scarves etc), so overall I believe we are doing fine, although still reliant on up to 100 volunteers each week.
Club web site is fine (guestbook whingers are at every club). Frankly from where we were on May 28th 2002 we have done an amazing job. A solid 8.5/10 overall.
If you could pick one incident that has summed up the season so far, what would it be?
GV: Outsinging the Millwall fans for 90 minutes (even after they scored the 4th!). I never felt prouder
JB: Judge coming on for 60 seconds (at Altrincham) and being immediately removed with a broken collar bone. Typical.
JP: Millwall away. The support was fantastic. The game was good. The result was pants for what was put in by the players that night. But that afterwards no one bemoaned the fact we lost or any of the players and how they played. Think we have grown up a little.
RB: Overall has to be the determination of Danny Kedwell – you just know he will give 110% (football clichÃ©). In terms of an actual incidents the comedy with Danny Webb in goal for Salisbury. Saddest incident was the decapitation of Haydon at the hands of the Luton scum (and hearing that the fan was allowed back in – someone learn from that).
Best overall moment perhaps the players coming out against Luton when it dawned on us that we had really made to the conference. Electric boards for subs/ injury time all that stuff that looked so grown up compared to Sandhurst in August 2002. Best goal conceded was the belter that Eastbourne got and best scored was probably Gregory’s effort against Gateshead – the impact looks so much better when it bounces in off the cross bar – great theatre.
Sorry lots of incidents there that probably don’t “sum up ” the season. Favourite quote is always the OS who “caught up with Terry ” in order to provide us with his thoughts – we must have a slow reporter if he has to chase Terry down every Thursday or Friday!
Finally, what do you think will happen between now and May?
GV: We will finish 9th but we won’t care due to our successful FA Trophy run!
JB: We’ll play about 23 more games. We’ll win, draw and lose some. If we’re lucky, we’ll get an extra three games. Fingers crossed.
JP: All depends on what TB does in the transfer window and whether our luck with injuries changes. If we get a clean bill of health then I seriously think we WILL make the playoffs. The only side I fear is Stevanage who we havent played yet and seem to be almost as invincible as Oxford (though they I think have had a tad more luck) Mansfield and Wrexham who we also have not played seem to inconsistent. We might not win the playoffs this year (but I will take it if we do) but it’ll be invaluable exeperience for furture season.
RB: Trophy quarter final, league finish 8th and several players released in May that many fans will be saddened by (don’t want to mention actual names at this stage although many guestbookers will know my thoughts on some of the current squad). Consistency will be key next season so we need to establish between now and May who is good enough and who(sadly) is not going to take us up.
Would like to see Little back at some stage in the Spring. Between now and May there could well be a couple of clubs in real financial meltdown. Looks like the 2 coming down from Div 2 will be “northern based ” so further travel next season. Looking for a good finish to the season and a renewed contract for TB to give us all the comfort we need that we are still on course for a return to the leagues.