Looks like our plan of just sticking with 18 players has finally gone out of the window.
It’s no surprise that Reece Jones put pen to paper, as like the other triallists he’d been with us so long that we had to sign him, if that makes sense. He’s Welsh (which will doubtlessly upset some), and more importantly he’s a good player. Indeed, this is what Fulham’s Steve Head said about him:
A Welsh schoolboy international who represented his country in the recent Victory Shield tournament, Reece has been the captain of Fulhamâ€™s Under-16 side this season. Having signed in the Spring of 2003, Reece has developed into a strong and determined midfield player. A strong tackle and never-say-die attitude has made him an ideal skipper. His presence in the team brings out the best in others because of his attitude and application.
Not only that, but he also represented Wales u17 in the Euro Championships (although if anyone can find out who he played and how he played), so basically, the guy has got to be good. Though one wonders why Fulham got rid of him if he was so promising.
But then, isn’t that true of many 18-21 year olds currently without a club? Obviously the obsessive mania that Prem clubs have about importing players (often no better than home developed talent) stifles the likes of Jones, although that will ultimately benefit clubs like ourselves. Mind you, if Wimbledon were in the Premiership today, would we have seen the new Chris Perry come up through the ranks? Or would we too have gone for the cheap(er) African or Eastern European import?
Back to the AFCW era. It’s another player going over the budget, although as stated in the last report we can afford it. Here’s a thought for you thought – rather than going over budget, perhaps the money allocated was too small to begin with? Having just 18 players was a risky strategy to begin with, and the fact that four players couldn’t play over the weekend just compounded the folly of this approach.
We now have a healthier 21-man squad, although I’d be surprised if we added any more for now. Regardless, it looks more or less like a mid-table L2 side does – namely a few senior players and a lot of talented 19 year olds. Seriously, just look up a typical side a division above us and you’ll see it’s not that much different to us now.
Our 21-man squad now actually looks decent and professional. Not just as in full time, but mentality too. Previously, you got the impression our youngsters blew hot and cold a bit too much for our liking. Sure we can all name examples of those who couldn’t – or wouldn’t – adapt to being at AFCW. But if you’ve come through the youth setups at a Fulham, or a QPR, or a Brentford, they teach you not only to play football but to become a footballer too.
It’s gobsmacking what is out there. I know for a fact that during close season, we were going to take a lad on trial who had been through the Middlesbrough academy, found himself at Carlisle and then for whatever reason ended up in the Northern League div 2. The fact that he got cold feet and didn’t go doesn’t matter so much (though one wonders if the club would have wanted to put him up when most other players of his standing lived in London with their parents), but it proves what exactly is out there.
OK, they are all kids, and they’re not going to be perfect. But Derek Duncan Syndromeâ„¢ notwithstanding, they’ve all looked pretty competent in pre-season and certainly no worse than what we had last season. Indeed, all of them should be told about Chris Hussey and what can happen if you take your chances.
One other thought – wonder if the idea of the original 18 man squad relied on getting more expensive players in? We dipped out on some decent talent from people like R&D and Kettering because they got more money elsewhere. We might have ultimately come out of this better than we’d hoped in May…
I note that not a lot has been said about the Exeter game, presumably because we lost. By the scant info available, they were fitter than us and two divisions sharper. Though apparently the gap between us and them wasn’t so big as the FAC meet, although the Grecians will probably be the hardest team we will play from now until May.
Actually, Exeter are a benchmark team for us. We’ve had plenty of those in the AFCW era – in the CCL, we wanted to be Dulwich Hamlet’s level. Then when we got up to the R1, we wanted to take on Ks and Slutton. We managed to bypass them, where we wanted to take on Newport County. Did that, and will do again later this month for the right reasons. But back then we wanted to be where Woking were. Not any more, we now want to be on a par with Luton and Oxford…
Yes, I know we played them both last season, and Luton fans get another chance this year to knock off Haydon’s head. But what’s become clear in this one season in the Conf is that the gap between us and the top clubs isn’t insurmountable. It will mean THE big step forward off the field, but we knew that already.
Long term, if we can get up to Luton’s level we could (and probably will) be on a par with Exeter, both on the field and off it. I say that, because it appears that our season ticket sales are on more or less a par with last season – over 2000, which is more than most in the division. And more than the averages a few in L2 get. This despite higher prices, the shit run-in to last season and the all-round novelty factor wearing off.
I think only now that we’re starting to realise the potential of AFCW. A year or so ago, many of us (me included) felt that this division would be a massive step and one that was a bit too far. We coped, and in August 2010 we wonder what the fuss was about. The CCL mentality that some still carried up to the Conf South is all but gone – christ, for the Millwall game I saw somebody who hadn’t gone to AFCW games since the Anderson days.
Size wise, we will always be the fourth smallest in South London. We always were. But when playing Millwall, Charlton and Exeter in PSFs becomes matter-of-fact rather than pant wetting, you can’t help wondering if we’re starting to get itchy feet again…