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Nokk on wood

In a move that surely has to break into the wall-to-wall World Cup coverage, AFCW last night shocked the footballing world by making a close season signing from a higher division.

Yes, right now, various reporters are hastily arranging flights back from South Africa and taxi cabs to KM for a news conference. Even news of Wayne Rooney having a shit is for once considered too trivial. TB has been advised by local police to remain on holiday, such is the surge of interest…

I do feel sorry for our new signing, one Mark Nwokeji, being the source of such attention. And of your editor’s sarcasm over our transfer policy this close season thus far. True, he’s somebody we’ve come across in the Ryman days, and has been somebody we’re tried to get for ages (haven’t all our signings?), but the guy is obviously good enough to play L2 football.

So, what do we know about the guy already getting the dodgy nickname of Nokkers? Well, he’s a striker, and it’s a position that I think has become a bit like the drummer in Spinal Tap for us. We’ve never had much joy with the third forward – Elder fizzled out, poor Monty never got going, Luis Cumbers proved that you should never go back, and the rest were such nonentities that it’s a job to even remember their names.

Nokkers is also small and quick, apparently. Though he went on loan to Luton last season and according to some Hatters he wasn’t used that much. So I think this is one of those signings that we go by from his past games against us and the undoubted recommendation by the likes of John Still.

Oh, and in true AFCW fashion, he’s got a history of injury. From the OS last night:

Terry Brown tried to sign him at the time but the lure of league football led him to Dagenham and Redbridge where a promising start was interrupted by a posterior ligament injury. Terry tried again to sign Mark on loan last season but just missed out as he had committed himself to a loan to Luton where he continued his rehabilitation from injury.


“With our recent injury record regarding cruciate ligaments we have taken extra precautions in checking Mark’s recovery from injury. Mike Rayner saw him tonight and he has spoken to the Dagenham medical staff who have been very helpful. As an extra precaution, Mark is having a scan tomorrow and if, as we confidently expect, that is clear, the formal paperwork will be completed soon afterwards.”

Odds on him slipping on the floor and doing his ACL this evening?

None the less, these are the sorts of signings we should be making now. I can understand why we’ve signed the likes of Jolley and Blackman (though I still remain underwhelmed about Menshull) but I have to confess I feel much more comfortable with these sort of signings. If last season taught us anything, the players are a lot fitter and a lot mentally sharper too. In other words, more “professional”.

Remember when we played Torquay as a Ryman Prem side? Yes, that does seem like ancient history, though it was only two and a half years ago. Anyway, they were fitter, sharper, knew how to play the ref etc.  You need a decent percentage of players who know what it’s like to play in the Conf and higher. Nokkers does, Blackman does (off-field issues notwithstanding). Jolley and Menshull don’t, and until now there was a real danger that our new intake would be full of those learning the Conference ropes.

From my time doing L2 games, while it may be changing (especially as the Conf to the League is far less of a step up these days) it’s still quite rare for a player in those divisions to come from a Slutton United. I’m not saying there aren’t gems in these lower reaches – christ, look at Nokkers’ previous clubs – but it’s not as common as non-league aficionados like to think. Even today, L2 clubs are predominantly full of those who have come through the ranks of pro sides, more often than not their own, and a player like DJ Campbell remains the exception to the rule.

People will now point to the WFC era as proof that buying from Woolworths and selling at Harrods (one of OGEM’s better quotes) works. Trouble is, people seem to have a romantic, dewey-eyed view of that era, and it’s something that would be very unlikely to happen now. Firstly, the professional game in this country has changed beyond recognition – by the late 90s it was becoming a lot harder to take a REMBE from Port Vale or a Warren Barton from Maidstone, because other sides were starting to discover the EU. We were signing people like Carl Leaburn and expecting yet another miracle, a certain club up the District Line who we could match previously were signing Zola and LeBoeuf.

By the time we’d twigged that we would need players of a better calibre, and started swooping for the likes of Shipperley and Connelly, it was too late…

Secondly, and this is something we painfully don’t have yet at AFCW – we had a damn good youth policy. I would go so far as to say it was one of the best in the country. Until AFCW starts producing the Chris Husseys on a regular basis, we’re always going to need to study this a fair bit and hope somebody finds some change down the back of the sofa.

AFCW today is facing what WFC started to face around 1998, namely a division that has improved in standard and our own need to upgrade what we do. We failed to do that back then, but the signing of the likes of Nokkers is a step in the right direction. I will be interested to see our remaining signings – if they’re young kids who have gone through professional academies and just been released from pro clubs, we’ll be getting in lads who obviously know the professional game. If we’re getting them in from Margate praying they’ll be good…

On a possibly related note, it appears that Ricky Holmes won’t be coming to us. As you’ve just read, Holmes and his advisor “stalled” over a contract, which is a polite term suggesting he was holding out for too much money. To be honest, I’m glad to hear this news because as this place has bored everyone senseless with suggested previously, he didn’t exactly impress at the Conf South playoffs. Certainly wasn’t worth us trying to do tricky negotiations with him, that ultimately would have cost us more money.

Indeed, as I wrote at the time of the BSS playoff semi:

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.

Think we avoided dropping a bollock there, methinks.

Anyway, a quick list off the top of my head, of who will be playing for us next season : Nowkeji, Menshull, Jolley, Blackman, Seb Brown, Jack Turner, DK, JM, Brett Johnson, Luke Moore, Ryan Jackson, Steven Gregory, Ricky Wellard, and presumably Sam Hatton after he’s been down Jessops to get his latest photos of TB printed.

Four players short, depending on who I’ve missed out. Four vital signings needed…

UPDATE: Nothing to do with AFCW, but somebody is posting on here pretending to be me. Anyone curious, it’s not.

Why anyone would want to pretend they’re your editor I don’t know, but it may be worth phoning up Springfield University Hospital to see if they’ve let out any patients..