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And relax…

Don’t worry everyone, you can now officially start doing something else this Saturday. Walk the dog, shag your missus, do some much needed gardening work, watch the World Cup, even watch some cricket if you feel the need to. You have three months off now.

Because let’s face it, if anyone needs the close season, it’s us lot.

In many ways, losing on penalties last night to the Met was the worst game we could have endured, simply because of the sheer predictability of it. When you go 1-0 up, then 3-1 up, then 4-3 up, if you then conspire to lose the game (even if on penalties) then you really have got serious problems. Especially against a team three divisions below you.

In isolation, this loss should come with the usual caveats. Those who have watched any amount of Senior Cup games will know that they’re odd affairs, even (or especially) with first teamers playing – it’s like the WFC days when watching reserves, where decent starting XI players always seemed to look uncomfortable at that level.

Of course, the trouble is that what happened last night was our season in a nutshell : start off well, lose that something in the second half and conspire to cock it up when it was within that grasp.

We can all try and find answers to what this “something” is, but it’s clear that it’s not just affected the starting XI now. Is it fatigue? Are there more egos than characters in the squad? Are we simply coming down from eight years of unprecedented success, and now suddenly finding ourselves a “normal” football club?

If I can sum us up right now in one word, it’s unsettled. As TB hinted yesterday, the cull isn’t over, and don’t be surprised to see more on the “out” list on the OS within the next few days. If it’s a confusing, knickerwetting time for us fans, imagine what it’s like being a player?

Suddenly, Ricky Wellard may start having a question mark over him – granted, I expect him to sign a new deal, but last night and apparently at Gateshead he didn’t live up to the expectation. Some of the young hopes look like they really needed a Jason Goodliffe to help them through some tricky times. Granted, if you’re playing for your place next season, I would expect you’d come out fighting for it (as Matt Harmsworth seemed keen to do). And anyone given that opportunity to shine yet doesn’t take it isn’t going to make it.

So, where do we go from here? Actually, a very easy question to answer – we’re going FT and therefore we need to build a squad up this time, with the right blend of youth and experience. A more important question is, can we get what we need?

We are if anything in a better position today than we were this time last year, because we now have an idea of what to expect and how to go about dealing with it. There’s no guarantee that we’ll fully get what we want in this close season, in fact I don’t expect us to. But I think last season we took a wild stab in the dark and sort of got lucky.

Needless to say, all the while that question doesn’t get answered one way or the other, people are going to be nervous. Got to say though, reading around, there’s one helluva twinge of over-reaction going on in some quarters. Do people feel the need to live their lives having a constant panic attack if things aren’t 100% perfect? Would explain a lot. Christ, the season has barely ended and yet some of our fans are running round like a bunch of drama queens, crying their eyes out because somebody’s misplaced their mascara.

Yes, we have problems. Yes, something isn’t working right now, and hasn’t done all year. And yes, we now have about 10 players. But wind your neck in, everyone – we have three-months-and-a-bit until the first game of next season. Managers everywhere are culling – Cambridge United have released nine players this week too – and don’t think that as soon as we announced we were going FT, TB’s phone wasn’t full of calls from agents suggesting their boy would be an ideal addition next season…

There is a lot of negotiation to do, scouting reports to look through, trials possibly to be arranged, contracts to be agreed and budgets to be tweaked. Not just at AFCW but all over the shop. Only this week, various management staff and scouts were dotted about all over the place looking at talent for next season in various playoffs. They will be tonight, no doubt, and at every single remaining weekend of the season.

Let’s be honest with ourselves here – the next few seasons are going to be transitionary. Footballing puberty, if you like. We’ve just gone through the first stage, where you find a couple of hairs on your bollocks and your first zit. Next couple of years will be the bumfluff and chronic masturbation stage. And it will be a very trying, very difficult time for many people. I will go so far as to say that some people will end up hating it.

Paul Fairclough, the ex-Barnet manager, often said that the Conference was a sophisticated league with sophisticated players. This season just gone proved to us how true that was, and that’s why anyone expressing a wish to see AFCW in 2010 somehow become the WFC of 1986 needs to wise up a little bit. You need brains to progress in this division, the likes of Oxford will simply take alehouse tactics and eventually wear them down. Leaving us in a worse position than we are, and with half-a-dozen players on the suspension list at any one time. Something which no amount of chesthumping and screaming on the touchline will sort out.

The big danger next season isn’t even relegation, though that’s a possibility for any club, but the expectations game amongst our support. Last season (and how strange it is to write that) it was all a novelty going to Luton and Oxford and Wrexham. Next season will be the time when that novelty wears off, and the playoffs become a possibility again, rather than a probability. Going full time will raise that expectation just a little bit more. And if people were happy to have a go at past players who were only training in the evening, they’re not going to shy away from attacking anyone earning their living with us.

Still, we’ve now got until August before it all starts again. The best advice to give right now is to go on a long holiday and come back afresh. The club will still be waiting for you when you get back. And who knows, it might be making a step in the right direction…