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Melbourne Storm

The problem with this stage of the year is that if you’ve managed to become champions, or indeed if you’ve descended into mid-table mediocrity, you end up with the Saturday I’ve just had.

Namely, I decided to remind myself of AFCW past and go to Chelmsford against Barf City in the BSS playoff.

I’ve got to be honest here. I enjoyed the Saturday afternoon out in the country, but it had a weird feeling as well. Not weird as in, seeing the Ks fans celebrating as though they’d got promotion on Tuesday (don’t ask them about Boreham Wood today…), but a different kind of oddness.

No, it wasn’t being down the end of the Barf City fans each half. Despite the smell of stale cider, they were well up for it, and they had at least three coachloads (nearer 400 odd of them turned up, perhaps more). They deserved their win, and hopefully they do it against Woking for the final.

But something was different about this, and I’m trying to think why. Here’s some initial thoughts : the BSS isn’t nearly as good a league as when we were in it. Back in our time, we had about 3/4 decent teams, plus the Axewounds, all of whom could have caused trouble with each other. The fact we overcame all that is a testament to how good we actually were that season.

What I saw today was Ryman level a lot of the time. If Woking are at that level, either they or the yokels will need to do some significant rebuilding in the summer upon promotion. Nobody stood out as anything above a squad player at a struggling BSP side, especially Ricky Holmes. His crossing was so poor we might as well bring back Steve Ferguson instead. I’ve no doubt we’ll end up signing him now I’ve said that, but one cannot help but think we could do better.

In a nutshell, you can see how Newport ran away with the BSS this year.

But if the standard of play could be termed as declining, what word could I use to describe Chelmsford? We metaphorically left them behind when we beat them at KM in that game in 2008/09. I didn’t realise until today just how far they have fallen – they really did look a shadow of their former Jeff King-inspired selves.

OK, they forced a couple of good saves from the Barf keeper in the first half, and the referee was on their side a bit, but I don’t think we would have problems against them next time we face them. They looked quite a scrappy outfit, and appeared like they lost a lot of heart in the second half. There was none of that sense of anticipation that they could make that next stage up, unlike when we duelled with them.

I would hope if we were ever 2-0 down after a first leg of a semi – and boy, am I glad we never had to go through two-legged semis thus far – we’d be a lot more up for it than the CCFC fans seemed to show. If it was us, you’d know our support would be bouncing around in the bars, walking round with that psychotic vibe that we’d go down shedding blood. This on the other hand was just meh

Melbourne Park really doesn’t help them though. Those who have been to games there will know they stick us on the side, which makes the JS look like the Stade de France. I got to walk round to other parts of the stadium, and now I know why they call it the Gulag. Those ROROs behind their goal aren’t too bad, they’re quite intimate. But anywhere else in the ground is bad to the point of being a waste of time. How the fuck they put up with that weekly I don’t know (actually, I do, and we’d be the same if it was us in the same position), but it really is not suitable for Conference football. KM just about copes with that, Melbourne Park wouldn’t.

I didn’t see any other Wombles there, nor did I see anyone who was (obviously) scouting for us. Maybe they were at Dover v Woking? Though if the standard there was anything like what I saw in Essex, they might as well have gone to Aldershot.

Anyway, whoever goes up will undoubtedly end up beating us as usual, though it does look like we almost have a starting XI. As you should know by now, JM, DK, BJ, Luke Moore, Steven Gregory, Ricky Wellard and Jack Turner are now all full time employees at AFC Wimbledon. Presumably Hatton, Kennedy and Seb Brown will be signing too.

I find this bit by TB on the OS intriguing:

“I am not in a massive hurry to fill all the available slots as previous experience has shown me that sometimes exceptional players become unexpectedly available later in the close season.”

Didn’t we have problems last season doing exactly that? Just think, we could have had a front line of Callum Willock and Ross Montague instead. That said, there’s a very interest comment by Ben Judge in the printed edition of the SLP. Basically, he’s saying that more and more Conference teams are going down the route we’re planning, namely full time with plenty of ex-League youngsters in there. In the same paper, it’s been hinted that we’re looking at youngsters who have just been released from West Ham and Spurz…

From what I saw today, the gap between the Conference and the rest of the non-league pyramid may soon be unbreachable. Look at how we’ve found it, and we are one of a handful of clubs who can legitimately bridge that gap. While a Chelmsford can still go up, they would now find it very difficult to build a team and club capable of doing the necessary things to stay there.

And that’s Chelmsford. Look at who has gone down in the last couple of years – Woking, Ebbsfleet, FGR. All three were Conference stalwarts. They’ve been replaced by the likes of us, Newport and Southport. You would expect Newport to have the size to become a top BSP side in the future.

If Conference sides keep bringing in League youngsters, and developing their own, the likelyhood of another Ricky Wellard coming through from a RP side becomes much more difficult. It’s not impossible, and teams in the BSS and below will continued to be scouted, but the future for those level clubs looks a bit bleak right now. One has to look at the composition of the RP these days to see how “lowly” it is. Remember when AFCW and Chelmsford could draw 3k+ crowds in the RP?

It was often said that no team could ever go from 4th to 1st and stay there like WFC did these days. It may be easier for an outfit to do what AFCW did from 2002 to the present day, at least that’s what Halifax and Chester will be hoping. But this game in deepest Essex demonstrated that what AFCW has achieved since 2002 may be almost impossible for anyone else to do these days.

Bear that in mind the next time you play the Staines playoff or JM’s last gasp header at the Beaverdome. And see how close we came to being Chelmsford today…