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Passing Gas

AFC Wimbledon in the 2011/12 season. The Football League. The emotion. The memories. The symbolism. The righteousness. The commemorative shirts and the nostalgic harping back to times past.

Me, my major abiding memory of the day is how pissed off I feel about Merchant Shipping 2 Pirates 3.

So, welcome back to proper football, AFC Wimbledon. It’s not exactly winning at Southport is it? To be fair, we could have been absolutely sodomised without any KJ jelly whatsoever early on in the game. Remember Wycombe in the FA Cup a few years ago? That had similar vibes – the pre-match hype, the self-congratulation about what we’ve achieved and an extremely painful reality check a mere 30 minutes later.

And yes, Matt bloody Harrold haunted us then as well. According to seasoned L2 observers, he’s shit, so god knows what we’ve done to him in a previous life.

I’m not joking when I thought it could be as much as 0-5 before half time. And just think what that would  have done to us. I don’t know what is wrong with our defence right now, but it seemed over-awed by the occasion. I would say it’s a young defence, but it’s only Seb Brown and Sam Hatton who are still in the proverbial nappies…

But that’s not why I’m pissed off. I’m annoyed because in the second half, we looked more like the AFCW who got promotion in the first place. We came at them, we stopped feeling sorry for ourselves, and we could have actually won that.

OK, Jamie Stuart’s goal helped (and on the replay it was as good a cross as it was a header), and a good time to score it too, but something was different in the second half. But then, hasn’t that been a feature of TB’s management? SW19 waffled on at length in one of the pre-season games a bit about why we only turn up in the second half, so bearing this in mind, we shouldn’t have been surprised…

Which makes the handball for their penalty really stick in the throat. True, they were starting to get back into it, but to gift – gift – something like that? It’s almost like our defence had put a bet on at Bet365 (commerical considerations…) to lose 3-2 and remembered what the time was…

So, what have we learnt from this? Firstly, and looking at it objectively, I don’t think there’s much to fear from this division. Brizzle Rovers are likely to be challenging for promotion, and with a bit less naievity on our part we’ll cause some problems. Of course, we’ve done that already, but that’s for ourselves.

Will we go up? No. Will we reach the playoffs? Unlikely. But I think it’s within us to be mid-table and get a couple of decent scalps this season. BRFC were rattled at times, and with a bit more finesse up front as well, we might have been prematurely planning trips to League One grounds this evening.

Secondly, our defence just cannot ponce about with it these days. Oppo forward lines are stronger, faster, more likely to close you down and certainly not so likely to step back and marvel at the way we want to stroke the ball about. Dare I suggest that simply won’t work these days? Remember how Luton in the playoff final put us under pressure when we started doing that…

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly of all – we now know what’s expected in the Football League and what our players must aspire to. Part of our success in the last 111 months has been our ability to adapt quickly, and that’s exactly what we must do now. I’m quite thankful we’re not playing Palace this week, as we clearly need some more hours on the training ground. I really hope TB has made some copies of today’s game and given them to our defence to watch tonight. It will be more disturbing than watching Human Centipede 2.

With that thought in your head, and for the first time in the Football League since Wolves away in 2002, here’s…

Plus points: We fought back. Charlie A. Most of the second half. Looking like we’re capable of learning.

Minus points: We lost. Threw away a two-goal comeback. CCL-level defending at times. The penalty.

The referee’s a…: It’s reassuring to know that despite going up into the 91 Club, officiating is still shit.

Them: Showed us our arse for a bit of it, didn’t they? Mind you, we made them less like Gasheads and more like Gaspants on occasions too. At times, it was hard to think they were two divisions above us in April, and at others it was hard not to believe there was a gap like that not so long ago. Although they’re tipped by many to be up there come the season’s end, it’s interesting listening to neutrals who watched the game and saying that they won because of our mistakes…

Celebrated a fair bit when they scored their penalty, and again at the end. Mind you, it was their cup final 😉 They did looked pretty relieved at the end, and you get the feeling that they could become unstuck against Swindon. Maybe that’s a back-handed compliment to us, although I would have preferred the point.

Fair few of them, legitimate tickets or not, even if a couple of them did decide to jump on the pitch when they scored. Hopefully the CCTV works. Got to say, it was another one of those fuck-me-we’re-in-the-Football-League moments when you saw them walk past, look at their shirts and actually recognise the team and the logo. For some reason, even when playing Luton or Wrexham, you never got that feeling in the Conference…

Point to ponder: Am I the only one glad this game is now over? Don’t get me wrong, it was great for the ego to see our name mentioned everywhere, being on Sky, and you can’t ignore the importance of today, but from now on we can finally start playing football.

One wonders if the whole occasion got to everyone – vibe wise, the only other time I’ve felt that before a game was the ill-fated Wycombe one. It was almost like the result didn’t matter – this was Wimbledon back in the League and that’s all that mattered.

Until we get a new ground and/or play a Prem side in the FAC and/or win in the playoffs again and/or play Franchise and/or get promoted, there won’t be so much scrutiny of what we do from now on. Sure, we’ll get more media coverage each week than we’ve had in 90% of the AFCW era put together, but there won’t be the whole living-up-to-expectation-of-the-Crazy-Gang-back-in-the-League thing so much. You can’t do that every week, as the general public will get bored at the very least of listening to us.

D&R next week is an important game, but it’s simply because we need to get into the habit of winning games and playing well, lest we get stuck in a rut and forget how to do so. That we’ll have a good 1000+ following behind us – or at least, we should have – isn’t so much of an issue considering our away turnouts these days are pretty decent.

I got the sense that the club itself is glad today has gone off without major incident. Once things are allowed to settle down a bit and the whole media circus goes back to the Premiership, we can start taking a deep breath and look at whether to allow people into the bars at half time (which unless it’s a major safety issue they should). Or sort out ticket stubs so they’re less likely to be forged. Or do something with the larger-than-usual crowd of people at half time around the TE/Main Stand concourse.

Because today could have very badly gone wrong. Things like seeing the BRFC coaches pull up outside the bars, despite no away fans being allowed in them, could have been a potential flashpoint. That everyone seemed in decent spirits and there was no real vibe of trouble is besides the point, it seemed like with all the preparation that has had to be done little things got unsurprisingly over-looked.

By the time Hereford comes round on the 20th August, things will have calmed down and we’ll be back to “normal”. And you can’t really say you’re not looking forward to that…

Truth is stranger than fiction: (1) Kingsmeadow hosting a Football League game. You can read that any way you want. (2) Don’t think I’ve seen a queue for the club shop before (and after) the game that has been so long. Did they find t-shirts that said Dons 2 League 2? 😉 (3) The realisation that the new season has started. We’ve had a break, apparently, but Danny Kedwell’s penalty still feels like last week. (4) Losing on the opening day for the first time in….. well, whenever. Christ, we really are back in the WFC era.

Anything else? Back to important matters, and the rumour mill suggests that Marcus Bent has had a medical and could well be joining us next week. Now, until he’s pictured on the OS with a cheesy smile and an ill-fitting home shirt, I refuse to accept that we’ll get him in.

But what if he comes? It would certainly give everyone a lift – apart from the aforementioned vibes today, there was a sense that something was missing from the team. The loss of Kedwell still hurts people, although selling him isn’t such a big deal on the actual footballing front (IMO we got the best out of him, and we might have had a Jon Main mark II situation with him this season – haven’t found out much on Gillingham’s forum about how well DK played today but he hasn’t been mentioned yet).

Part of the reason why this has felt a strange buildup is because of the seemingly near-incessant transfer speculation. Which got so maddening that your editor felt the need to do a Downfall spoof earlier this week. It’s a couple of days old and now out of date, but it still deserves one more outing:

Yes, we need another striker, and if Bent comes in to give Midson and Charlie A the catalyst then so much the better. He may seem keener to come than Euell does, certainly, and it’s a signing that would at least make people sit up and take notice. Even if it’s a “blimey, you’ve signed Marcus Bent?” type exhasperation.

Though with the way we played, we might need him more as a centre back…

So, was it worth it? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…

In a nutshell: Welcome back to the Football League, Wimbledon.