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Playing with the stiffs

Yesterday, in an act of avoiding going shopping/spending even longer in front of the telly or this thing than I do already, I decided to pop down to Walton Casuals to watch our reserves play.

In case you don’t know already, we beat Bedford Green 9-0. We scored after about a minute, they had a man sent off towards the end, we looked sharper and more likely to score than they did. And Jamie Pullen played the entire 90 minutes, though he could have had a comfy sofa, a cup of tea and a telly showing Jeff Stelling, for the amount he needed to do.

None the less, it was an interesting exercise. A few observations…

Firstly, only about 20-30 people turned up, which did surprise me a bit. I know people have other commitments, and going to these sorts of games is a bit hardcore anyway, but I guess the cold put more off. Either that or the fact that Walton’s ground is basically in the middle of nowhere. Which is a shame, as it’s not too bad a setup down there and if nothing else we can relive the days of latrines.

Secondly, we had three triallists (I think) with us. One was a left back called Louis Lavers, another was a winger called Lino Goncalves (oh, the fun we could have with his first name), and the third was a big lump of a striker who none the less scored a hat-trick against a keeper and defence that your editor could easily become a lynchpin of.

How did they do? Well, assuming I’ve got their identities right, the left back will be back on Monday to do more training with us (as I believe what happens with triallists now, they all have some training sessions with us to see whether they’re worth putting into a game), possibly the winger too. I know this because I was standing next to TB and SC during the game and eavesdropping trying to find out what was going on.

As regular readers may know, me and tactics go together like a Franchise fan and loyalty. But it’s interesting to hear what TB/SC look for, and the thing that strikes you most is how obvious they make it sound. Football Manager this ain’t.

Basically, they look for players who can play in the Conf (or, tellingly, League Two) within a year or two. Seems quite simple really, but I suppose it explains why our reserve setup seems to be a glorified youth team. Our remit appears to be a League Two side within five years, less if possible, and that shows on the field too.

Those expecting a settled second XI setup may be waiting a while. The impression I get is that TB/SC feel we’ve hoarded triallists and young players, and maybe a bit of culling is coming. While it’s always good that we’re constantly looking for that next hidden gem, our setup still isn’t developed enough to handle it in the way we got used to in the WFC days.

Pullen aside, would any of yesterday’s players make it into the first team this season? The answer, quite bluntly, is no. One or two with a year’s development might do, especially the LB we had on trial, but expect our chequebook to still be the main source of player development for a while yet.

Like so many things with AFCW, there’s a lot of potential there. But it’s managing that development with the bread-and-butter issue, namely getting back our stolen League place. It could be that our aim simply has to be promotion in the next 2-3 years (though I would add a year or two onto that), and then we can start making our reserve side a force to be reckoned with, too.

It does sound like we need to be a League club to do what we want to do anyway. Not just in the propaganda wars, but as a proper football club. I think it was last year, certainly the year before that, but there was a snippet on SSN about how teams in the Conference aren’t guaranteed money for their youth products but League clubs are.

You don’t need me to tell you what effect that has on us. And maybe is a factor when TB and SC look at a player and wonder if he’s ready for Conference/L2 football.

The other thing that struck me about the TB/SC partnership is how much of a team they appear. SC in particular seems responsible for deciding what forwards he wants at the club. Which caused a bit of a headache when one of the triallists got a hat-trick. Again though, I wouldn’t be surprised if he (the triallist, not SC) goes elsewhere. He won’t play against Bedfont Green’s reserves every week.

Still, I enjoyed it, especially after the Handy debacle. Thinking about it, perhaps we should have played the stiffs on Friday…