Late sunny Bank Holiday spring days in the West Country sun. Lambs gambling, meadows coated in green and yellow, gentle breezes, locals pottering around in their unique yokelish manners, and an all round feeling of calm and tranqulity. It almost felt like pre-season again.
And after watching Quorn 0 Red Meat 0, that’s exactly what it was.
If the term “job done” could apply to any game, it would have been yesterday’s borefest. When you don’t start with half your first XI, and even those who do are avoiding injury and suspension, coupled with an opposition who are showing why they’re down the bottom, and we really are in the end of times.
But hey, we got the one point we needed, with no fallout afterwards, and that’s as good as a 5-0 thumping. Which is all we need now. The sense of relief – no, achievement – when plenty of Wombles afterwards were looking at SSN on the telly at the Conf table said it all. We’re this season’s runners up, to a team that is committing its own suicide without them knowing it and who we’ll probably be above in a few years time anyway.
Not bad considering pre-season predictions were predicting us scraping into the playoffs at best. Sure you can search back predictions that our team of infants would find this transitional period too difficult and would finish a respectable seventh – that we changed emphasis on who we got in during the season helped of course, but even so there’s a sense of self-congratulation about where we’ve ended up. Perhaps justifiably so…
Still, the hard work starts now, whoever we play. And more on that later. Only one thing grabbed me from the game yesterday, and that’s what the score would have been if we’d put on our top guns. When DK and Mo came on (and while Kiernan looks a prospect Nokkers looks to be following Main out of the door…) we looked more of the side that has finished second.
For the Grimsby game, I’m not sure if I would start DK and Mo. We don’t need to, and losing either of them at this stage would be a disaster. Fuck it, I’d put in Jack Turner in goal, Reece Jones (if he’s back from international duty) too, and give them one more outing for this season. I know TB wants to use Grimsby as the unoffical playoff game, but you just know DK will end up getting crocked or sent off…
Plus points: We didn’t lose. No injuries to report. Clean sheet. Job well and truly done. Kiernan looking a decent prospect. Not really having too much to do.
Minus points: We didn’t win. Shit game. Realising how much we still rely on DK and Mo.
The referee’s a…: In a period of quietness (OK, that could apply to the whole ninety minutes), the official was overheard referring to an FGR player or two by his nickname. No idea whether the ref was local, but one got the suspicion he was the father of at least three of their players…
Them: Crap to the point that if they couldn’t beat an AFCW second string not even in first gear, they deserve to be in the Conference South next season. Their fans seemed a little bit simple, usual pro-Franchise chants from them of course. Though chances are in that part of the world they’ve only just heard of the Three Man Commission.
It would be cruel for me to suggest that their flag with “Left side” on it was a set of instructions on where to stand. It would also be cruel of me to suggest their PA guy sounded like he was on the mic for a local village fete – you half expected him to read out the raffle numbers for half a joint of locally slaughtered gammon.
Point to ponder: Is there any point to playing on Saturday? There’s absolutely nothing riding on it, all we’ll get is a few knocks and it will be shit as a spectacle. Seriously, 1715 for a kickoff time is really stupid, and it’s not as though we’ll even be shown on the Premier Sports Cine 8 cameras.
One other thing that has just occured – how quickly has this season gone? It only feels a few short months ago that we were coming back from Southport thinking what a good win that was. To me, this season has never really settled into a routine – losing much of November and December didn’t help, and playing a quarter of the season’s games in January really took it out of us.
There hasn’t really been a defining moment of the season – OK, beating Crawley at KM was good, and one could argue drawing Franchise was the big moment, but there hasn’t been something that sums up this campaign. There’s noÂ Nathan-Elder-against-Grays moment. There’s no beating Chelmsford 3-1 and taking top spot in the CS memory. And thankfully, no Darlogate.
Of course, that will probably mean that our defining moment is yet to come. And we’re about to remember why playoffs are great when you win and shit when you lose…
Truth is stranger than fiction: (1) Passing the Badminton Horse Trials. Thanks to history lessons, one cannot think of that phrase any more without thinking of the Nuremberg Trials. Presumably somebody got executed yesterday for gassing 2000 Shetland ponies. (2) Jamie Stuart playing. Or rather, Reece Jones. Our signing from R&D had to change his shirt, and ended up wearing our#21. Cue 30 point deduction for deliberately confusing the ref.
Anything else? Yes. We’re now going to play Fleetwood in the playoffs. Except we might not. Yes, despite the Conference announcing the dates, we still don’t know if Wrexham are going to be in them. As the world and his wife knows by now, they owe Â£200k to the tax man, and if it’s not paid by this week they won’t be allowed in the playoffs.
Here’s where it gets confusing. Apparently, on yesterday’s Non League Show, a Conf spokesman said that if Wrexham don’t cough up it will “likely” be the sixth place team taking the vacant spot. So already it’s all a bit up in the air, and is making planning hard as it is.
You then start hearing that if Wrexham don’t get in, they’ll appeal so they can play after all. Which means that we could face a club in the final (if we got there ourselves) who could feasibly lose that appeal. After all, they went down because of going into admin, there seems to be an issue at the Racecourse seemingly every other week, and you can bet there’s more hidden timebombs there. They seem to be this season’s Chester City.
There’s yet another twist in this tale. Apparently again, and this comes from our CEO and Conference board member, the team in sixth place won’t be allowed to get promoted under Football League rules. If this is the case, then there is absolutely nothing the Conference can do – OK, it can give the final playoff spot to Kiddie or York (two more clubs who don’t exactly appear stable), and they could win at Eastlands, but the FL would more than likely tell them to fuck off.
And then what?
In truth, this will largely be academic as it’s more than likely somebody will pay Wrexham’s bill. Somebody always does in these situations. If it doesn’t, and the rumours that AFCW will get a bye to Eastlands are true, it may upset some. “It’s not fair” they may claim.
Fuck fairness. If there was such a thing, 28/5/02 would never haveÂ happened. If we end up just needing one game to return to the Football League, so be it. We’re owed something. If it means just playing a couple of friendlies to keep the fitness levels up, I’ll be there. Us getting a bye to Eastlands is nothing to do with us, because it’s the system that is fundamentally flawed.
If a club faces being barred from the playoffs at this late stage, it’s the league’s fault for letting it get that far – tell clubs toÂ be ready by the last date in March or you don’t get in. If something crops up after that, you get denied a playoff spot, no questions and no appeals. Simple. Though sadly, that may be a bit too simple for some.
The Ryman was a snarling old boys network rife with petty vindictiveness. The Conference appears to be run by chancers, wideboys and people who love being in charge but don’t have the talent or nous to carry it out properly. Anyone else thinking that the CCL was the best run league in the AFCW era…?
So, was it worth it? It was a nice day out in the country.
In a nutshell: Roll on the playoffs.