While this probably won’t be the only time I update this week, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted Saturday to come and go as quickly as I do right now.
To be on the cusp of the Football League, and just one good 90 minutes away from making that step upwards, does play havoc with the mind beforehand. Not to mention the stomach, the legs and the bowel movements. Anyone getting treatment for hypertension should avoid their medical clinic this next few days.
I bet I’m not the only one who has lived out potential scenarios in their mind for Saturday during quiet moments. A penalty here, a mazy run there, a hitting the post and the crossbar complete with exhasperated gasp. And that’s just Luton attacking in the first five minutes. Not to mention the thoughts you have of extra time and then five spot kicks…
Being the natural optimist, your editor has thought of the more likely scenarios. Like how one is likely to feel at the end of the game when Luton are running around celebrating and TB walks around forlorn, with another playoff final failure under his belt. That journey home afterwards. The inevitable slip-up during the game, or the tosspot refereeing decision that has put a season of work into the rubbish bin.
Occasionally, you may get the thought that we might actually win the game. But that would just be stupid.
When you try and analyse Saturday with a degree of sober rationality, it becomes even more of a headfuck. Has TB learnt from not only his final exploits with Aldershot but the 3-0 drubbing and flukey draw we got against our opponents this season? Back in Bedfordshire, we had Andre Blackman and Ed Harris starting, and were on a bit of a strange run – the following game was the World Cup final against Crawley.
At KM, we were going through a stage where we were drawing everything, and we had Kirk Hudson playing. This time round, we’ve got a full, presumably fully fit squad, and one that is actually winning games and on a bit of form. I’m not talking about league form, I’m talking about the playoff form.
Watching Reading gub Cardiff last night, and they had that confidence we have right now. Looking at Luton’s games against Wrexham, and they were superb up the Racecourse but were one shit penalty from possibly not even being at Eastlands in the return. So you can’t really predict this one.
There’s been the odd question of whether we need to win on Saturday. I’m not talking about not taking the opportunity, I’m talking about the prospect of spending another year in the Conference. If the worst was to happen over the weekend, it wouldn’t be the end of the world – it would hurt like absolute fuck, but this wouldn’t be the very real threat that another season in the Ryman Prem was.
While Luton is the biggest game since 2002, it’s not the most important one. Looking back, we still can’t fully comprehend just how vital it was to win at Staines. Our record since that sunny day in Middlesex has been pretty damn good, which suggests the club and the team was ready to take that next step up – it’s a bit of a shame that we had to soil our pants in the meantime.
Your editor has been a firm believer in the theory that if a club and a team is ready to go up to the next level, it will do. Occasionally you do get exceptions to that rule – Crawley, for example – but if you go back to the teams who have gone up to L2, they generally tend to stay there.
Are we ready? That’s the $100m question. We are capable of great results and some utter howlers, but then so are Luton. And the RP promotion season had far more go wrong than this one has. There’s a school of thought that if we can keep this team together after failing on Saturday, we will be as good as favourites for 2011/12, but that’s a big “if”. It may be a case of now-or-never for this particular bunch of players.
And possibly for TB too. Your editor bumped into our manager at KM yesterday, and while he was his normal approachable self, he seemed a bit more agitated than usual. As one may well expect. I’m definitely not saying that defeat to Luton should see him sacked, in fact that would be an act of stupidity, but one cannot help but think that time is ticking on him to be a manager in the Football League.
He would need to get promotion either this season or next, because after that it would become very difficult to see him taking us to that next stage. One suspects he knows this himself – at times, he must look at contemporaries like Graham Westley, Steve Evans, John Still and Chris Wilder managing League sides and wondering why he isn’t up there with them.
He must also see people like Dean Holdsworth becoming a League manager in under five years, so you can’t blame TB for having sleepless nights right now. What is in his favour is that he has proven he’s learnt from mistakes with Aldershot and not repeated them too often at AFCW (think of how we went full time). And it seems like the side he’s taking into the final is the most on-form one he’s ever managed.
Is he ready to be a Football League manager? Yes. Does he deserve to be one? Certainly. Do you always get what you deserve? Well….
As for whether the club itself is ready, I think it’s fair to say that everyone involved with the admin side of AFCW this week has been working triple overtime. If it’s learnt one thing over the course of the past ten days, it needs to expand its operations. When the same small (4 or 5) people are having to sort out travel AND arrange the team’s preparation AND deal with phone calls with the Conference and Luton AND sort out the merchandise cockups AND now sell match tickets from the club office AND deal with media enquiries AND having to update the OS to let people know what’s going on AND…. you get the idea.
Don’t get me wrong, when the club does something well, it does it very well indeed – selling match tickets and the Â£5 discount on merchandise are good little incentives to get people more involved and to get them spending money. But it really does feel like it’s bursting at the seams this past week – like 3/4 people are doing the work of 7 or 8.
(as an aside, is it true the club is really selling 5 year old merchandise for Â£20? Maybe it’s hoping that nobody will buy it for 10 years until it comes back in fashion again, then it can be flogged as “retro” for Â£50. Whatever the motive is, don’t be surprised to see it still clog up the place next season)
The flag problem is unfortunate, although the Dons 2 Div 2 t-shirt is unforgivably amateurish. And has probably cost the club a fair amount of money. It may simply demonstrate exactly what happens when you push a small organisation to its absolute limit. No, we won’t be selling a playoff final every week, but things like our communications, our marketing and merchandise, our ability to get people (not just AFCW fans) involved has never appeared to be properly exploited.
Perhaps we need to go up after all? We’ve needed to look at how we do things at AFCW for a while, with a fresh eye, and let’s be honest – in some areas, we need that kick up the arse…
Finally, and speaking of commiting an act of violence on people, it wouldn’t be a final involving Wimbledon without a ticket fiasco. We all remember Staines cutting our allocation in half after they went on sale, and I’m sure somebody could write a whole book on 1988. This time around, we have Seetickets.
Â£36 + all the add-ons is bad enough as it is, but even delivering out tickets a mere three days before the “event” really is taking the piss. I know that we’ll struggle to get 7k at Eastlands, which is another issue in itself (although Luton won’t take much more than 14k, if they reach that), and there’s been so much wrong with the whole organisation it’s unreal.
But then, it’s not surprising is it? While I don’t think the Conference is as bad as the Isthmian League, Turdey might have been able to sell playoff final tickets (providing he wasn’t trying to find ways of failing Eastlands over ground regulations).
In the Conference though, we have an organisation who demonstrate the worst of both worlds. The “we know best” attitude with some monumentally shocking decisions. This after all is the body that signed up Premier Sports. Reportedly our rep on the Conf board has had serious problems even trying to get them to speak about the ticket pricing…
Reading elsewhere, it seems there’s a bit of a blame game between SeeTickets, the Conference and Citeh, which roughly translates as nobody having any intention of taking any sort of responsibility whatsoever. Whoever’s fault it is, you just know that some Wombles will be going up to Manchester ticketless. Of course, you won’t be able to pay (again) on the day if they fail to keep your tickets back, so let’s just hope a couple of touts get turned over.
Apart from that, there’s not much more that needs to be said. It’s the playoff final. As said earlier, there will probably be another update before Saturday, my nerves won’t hold out that long otherwise. If there isn’t, the next time I update we could be a Football League club again. It’s quite frightening to think that, really.
But then, isn’t that why AFC Wimbledon was formed in the first place?