(since I wrote this, the AFCW Ltd accounts have started to appear on doorsteps. And our game at Gateshead has been moved to the Friday, live on Tinpot TV. Will write about this in due course, below has taken up most of the morning as it is)
Right now, who would be an ITV football executive?
They’ve probably got their researchers to dig up every bit of information they can about AFCW and Franchise, booked Dean Holdsworth and Stuart Murdoch as “balanced” talking heads in the studio, and even tried to get Adrian Chiles to make some decent jokes. At this moment, theirÂ lawyers are going through every bit of legal small print to find a get-out clause in case they’re forced to show Ebbsfleet against Stevenage…
The rest of the football world has suddenly lost a lot of interest after Westley and co did us a favour last night. Again, I can’t blame them – if we supported say, Scunthorpe or Wycombe, we would have been wanting this fixture to happen too. It was only us that didn’t – and it wasn’t the total fanbase, in fact a large minority at least (sticking my neck out to say 45% of us, minimum) wanted it to happen as well. If only because it was a monkey on our collective back and we needed to flick the little bugger off.
That issue is now dead for another year. I don’t think there is any AFCW fan right now who is unhappy at missing out on playing them. The whole hype and hysteria would have been too overpowering to put up with, the “what if?” scenarios would have been played out to their absolute maximum and tomorrow evening would have been too much anguish for many.
You could imagine the buildup. What if we score? Would we cheer? What if it’s 1-0 to Ebbsfleet and we score in the 95th minute? It’s the FAC, we should be salivating over such scenarios, but instead we would have been in some sort of bizzare psychological straight jacket. Imagine the emotions if we walked out of there with a win, heard the “Bring on the Franchise” chants and the realisation that we would be playing them was finally about to happen…?
It’s all academic now, and we couldn’t be happier. We can go to Stonebridge Road tomorrow evening and actually enjoy it. Yes, believe it or not, we do have to, you know, beat Ebbsfleet. They must be spunking their money from ESPN on printouts of everything that has been said over the past 10 days and given to their players to read, digest and motivate themselves with.Â Assuming some of them can read unaided.
Still, it’s all panned out in the best way possible, regardless of tomorrow night’s result. The most important thing is that it proves how we can handle any potential fixture against them now. This time round, I don’t think we were quite ready enough to play them, both football-wise and psychologically. But generally, I think we handled the potential matchup very well.
Everyone seemed respectful of other peoples’ views on the matter – in the past, one set of supporters were openly talking about photographing people who went into a game against them and “outing” them. You don’t need me to tell you of the fallout of that, and we would still be feeling the repercussions of that today. Those days of brainless militancy are, hopefully, well beyond us.
The club itself, who must have been in a serious diplomatic quandry, handled it pretty well too. OK, Steve Tongue in Sunday’s Independent called the OS statement as “po-faced”, but the sentiments reflected the general AFCW mood at the time. Unsurprisingly, the article is now no longer top of the OS,Â but it’s still there somewhere, and it’s reproduced below for prosperity:
Most people know the way that Milton Keynes obtained their football club. It was wrong then and it is still wrong now, which makes this fixture very painful for us. However, when we entered the FA Cup we understood that this might happen and we will go about our business professionally and complete the fixture. “But we would have preferred that it hadn’t happened. We have no further comment to make at the moment.
We kept quite a dignified silence over it, bar this statement above, and by the sounds of it the Franchise manager was refusing to answer any questions about it when they went to Griffin Park last weekend. In fact, to give them a very rare bit of credit, they too kept a vow of silence. Only Wankie made any sort of cretinous comment, but then that’s the only thing he knows how to do.
Speaking of the cokehead freak, he was seen celebrating in the dug-out just before Stevenage scored. You could almost feel sorry for him as the much needed money and publicity for him evaporated into the cold night air, revealing yet more bleakness and further evaporation of his dream. I said “almost”.
Anyway, should such a fixture come up again next year, we will be a lot more prepared for it. There won’t be that initial sense of horror and gut-wrenching fear that we all collectively felt when the balls got drawn. Or was it shock?
But we were forced to look at ourselves over this draw, and came up with some conclusions. Deep down, we fear playing Franchise. Or at least, we did. We fear(ed) it in the same way as you would fear meeting somebody who raped and murdered your mother and got a tattoo on their forehead rubbing it in ever since.
That fear comes down to insecurity. As a fanbase, even now, we are still pretty insecure. We have to be different. We need to be different. We need to tell the world how we feel, and how hard done by we were, because there’s a large part of our collective soul that cries out for attention and a major wrong to be righted. Too often, of course, we do come across as a bit whinging, a bit melodramatic, a bit Scouse-like. Even now, we like to play the hard-done-by card, with the victim mentality on full show.
It’s understandable why we would want to play the victim, just look at the shit we got supporting WFC from 1990 to 2002. That’s a long time to being constantly fucked over. But playing Franchise would have been very difficult, not only because it was facing up to them, but also forcing us to look at ourselves deep down.
We had to ask ourselves what we really want from AFC Wimbledon. Do we merely exist as an anti-franchising pressure group? Or are we an actual football club? One that also happens to be top of its league and could quite possibly be in League football (again) this time next year. When people go on about how we’re a Fans Club, how we’re run by volunteers, how we’re simply different, we’re showing how insecure we are.
Collectively, we were pretty shocked that people like Sanch thought we would be pleased to play Franchise. People took offence at it, because it wasn’t how we felt, or at least how we wanted the world to view us. Of course, papers started mentioning that we weren’t so keen, although that’s more down to the fact that from a journo point of view, it’s an interesting angle to write about and fills more of those pesky column inches.
Ironically, those who suggested we wanted to play them were being proved right all along – before the game last night, more and more people were saying that we did want to play Franchise if it came to it. We’d all rather Stevenage won, but if we overcame Ebbsfleet then playing them wouldn’t be such an issue. Granted, it was more along the lines of get-it-out-of-the-way-and-let-us-move-on, but the sentiments were there. Perhaps those people knew more about us than we did?
This last couple of weeks, for probably the first time in the AFCW era, we’ve had a mirror shown up to us, and it’s revealed exactly who we are – whether we like to admit it to ourselves or not. We’ve proven that we’re a lot more mature these days, that we know when to keep quiet (as the club’s OS statement proved). We’ve proven that as a football club, we can handle things more sensibly without going into brainfart mode.
We’ve proven that our fanbase can accomodate different opinions about how to approach such a contest, which is certainly something you couldn’t have said a few years ago too easily. What has been pleasing is how precious few sniping and questioning of loyalty people have got when they say they would have gone in the ground – we all know somebody who would, just as we all know somebody who wouldn’t.
Above all else, we’ve proven that AFCW is a pretty strong, capable, upwardly mobile football club. Since 2002, we have built up a club that can stand on its own two feet, and can make some pretty challenging decisions with sensibility and normality (see the reaction, or lack thereof, to going full time). Deep down, I don’t think anyone wanted to risk those achievements just to prove a point that would be missed by most outsiders anyway. And besides, being AFCW and top of the Conference and full timeÂ is the biggest proved point of the lot…
OK, we also revealed ourselves to be a bit paranoid and a tad overwrought at times. But hey, you can’t have everything.
Of course, we assume that at some point we will play them again. Some years ago, probably in the RP days, your editor made a throwaway yet bold statement on a guestbook – rather than us being destined to play Franchise, we are destined never to play them. Now, that theory has been pretty much tested to the limit this past 10 days, and then some, but think about it – is that such a bold statement to make?
All the while we’re in the BSP, we can only get one chance to play them (OK, two times you pedantic twats), and they’re pretty long odds. Should we go up, we could play them as a League side, but they’ve settled in as a mid-table L1 outfit while we’d need a lot more growth to get up to that stage. A stage, coincidentally, that SW19 believes is what AFCW will be within 10-15 years…
Yes, there’s the FAC, and there would also be the JPT. Which may slash the odds of it happening but is still a lottery of it happening. The Carling Cup is rigged so it’s a lower league side against a top tier one. And that doesn’t include Franchise’s own financial position – last night won’t have been good for them, and if they start collapsing they could find themselves out of the League within 3 seasons. Ask Luton fans how quickly that can happen.
They had just shy of 4000 there last night, the kind of figures we got slaughtered for at Selhurst. And there were about 800 away fans too. Best to move them to Weston-Super-Mare, because it’s obvious the population of Milton Keynes can’t support a football club…
Which is something that may have a lot of truth – a little birdie last week suggested that many genuine football fans in Frenzyville can’t stand them, because they’re constantly reminded they’re handling stolen goods. For their long term, they will need to start winning more trophies and/or get higher up. Neither of which is likely to happen soon, and with half your town not keen on you either. Which proves that population sizes don’t matter so much after all, something Chelmsford fans never quite seemed to grasp..
This is another major reason – possibly the biggest one of the lot – why we have handled this potential matchup better than we would previously. Franchise have effectively failed. They had about 4 years to get into the slipstream of the Championship and eventually the Prem, and they failed to take it. It’s hard to imagine them now ever getting up that high – they appear pretty stagnant, and despite having everything put on a plate for them, they have progressed no further than WFC at Selhurst Park would have been in 2010.
If they were a top Championship/Prem side, it would have stuck in our throat and made watching higher league football painful. And would have made the whole AFCW thing harder to carry off, because no matter what we do they did it better. But they’re nothing, and we’re something.
We may never admit it in public, but we’ve sort of accepted that they’re “legitimate”, and that they won’t be going bust any time soon. We have dealt with what the reality actually is with them, and not what we want it to be. We want them to fail, in fact we will always want them to die (literally in Wankie’s case), but these days that can wait while we get AFCW back into the League.
Last night, Stevenage did us a big favour, probably one they will never realise how big it was. There is now no excuse whatsoever for us not to go down to Stonebridge Road tomorrow and put on the kind of performance we know we can do. Let’s bring as many as possible, four figures and half the ground would be good, and get back to normality.
And if history does repeat itself from last time, us beating Ebbsfleet and going on to face a Graham Westley side, let’s not go the whole hog and get chucked out of the competition this time…