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Pre Yuletide thoughts

Ah, Christmas. That strange time of year where you either work more than you do the rest of the year or you find yourself scratching your arse at having a few days (relatively) free to yourselves…

For our players, of course, it’s the former. For your editor too – I’m missing my fifth League game in a row on Boxing Day (and yes, it feels more than that), though I am going to the venue where one can relive one of the more noteworthy games of THAT 2001/02 protest season.

Actually, I originally wrote that it was one of the more happier games of that cataclysmic season, but when I read that back then it could have been the last ever game of WFC, it somehow seems a bit too poignant. Right now, we’re in League Two, we haven’t won in nine games, we need to spruce up the squad and we’re about to go into Xmas facing a botty spanking live on telly against Oxford.

On January 20th, 2002, we would have bitten your arm off for that.

So yes, there will be yet another game without an SW19 report (as written by me, anyway), although I’m sure one of the SW19 press ganged staff will conjure up something before people finally abandon this site.

Fortunately, being on Sky, your editor will finally get to see if we really have gone backwards since October, even if it will be slumped in front of the telly a day later. Last week’s reports from Rotherham suggested we battered them a bit but still lost. That’s either a very good sign or a very bad one – keep it up and we simply have to win a game at some point. But if we don’t…?

I’m not scaremongering with that latter point, by the way. It’s all very well having a good game but not winning, but if you’re struggling for points then you need to make your good performances count. If we do end up in the bottom two come the end of the season, we may well look back on Rotherham and Aldershot and Barnet at KM as games where our inability to win cost us big time.

Fortuantely, it’s still only the half-way point of the season, and the ability to do something about it remains firmly in our own hands. Earlier this week, TB issued the public ultimatum to our players that he perhaps should have made a bit earlier. I’ve no doubt that what’s been said in private has been much harsher and probably more accusatory too, but it’s something that has needed to be said and has been so.

Even if we do pick up maximum points over the Xmas period, I think some still need to be let go anyway. The results and performances this season alone don’t lie, but your editor was reminded a couple of days ago that maybe we should have seen this coming a mile off.

Yes, we got promoted, and our form from that horrible Friday evening in Sussex until after Eastlands was deserved promotion form. But cast your minds back to how this (mostly the )same squad played against Stevenage in the FAC, or both league games against Luton, or Wrexham. Or indeed some other games against ex-League sides back in the Conference.

SW19 wrote this after the Stevenage game, although the rest of the article still resonates even today:

You got the impression on Saturday that some players would do OK the next level up, some could but need a bit more work and some would find themselves back in the lower reaches before long. DK, Sammy Moore and Sam Hatton would easily be the first. Players like Seb Brown and Ed Harris  probably would too as they’re young and still learning their trade.  You could make a case for Luke Moore as well. The rest have a question mark over them.

Christian Jolley, who many would put down as an early Young Player of the Season contender, looked painfully out of his depth against a League Two outfit. He may well get better, and if we do find ourselves in L2 this time next year, he does at least deserve a chance to prove himself. People like Gregory and Yussuf didn’t inspire though, and would find themselves looking for another club before long.

What was clear on Saturday was our need to get in one or two older heads. Another DK level player, or another BJ type, as a minimum. Think of how we relied on Jason Goodliffe and Marcus Gayle in getting to the Conference in the first place – arguably, they did as much to get us up to where we are now as Jon Main did.

Where are our 2010/11 equivalents? Only DK can really fall into that category, and we put too much pressure on him as it is. Right now, we have some promising youngsters who are currently doing OK enough. But that wasn’t enough to – dare I say it – match Crawley’s effort against Swindon on Friday.

OK, I was sort of right about what I said about Steven Gregory 😉 And I would say that I am probably wrong about Luke Moore and Sam Hatton. But that was written on November 29, 2010, and that could have been easily written on November 29, 2011.

What this does highlight is that we’re now justified in doing as much of a rebuilding job next month as possible for this time of year. It’s not like we were tearing up trees against similarly sized clubs last season, and we’ve just suddenly hit a bad patch. We’re now playing the Stevenages and Lutons and Wrexhams week in, week out, now and it’s no surprise we haven’t won since the first week of October.

And I hope TB and the beancounters have those performances from 2010/11 in mind when planning transfer dealings. I think I can safely say that all we want over the Xmas period is not to be humiliated on national TV and have a bit of pride to hold after the Swindon game. Nobody with a brain seriously expects us to be challenging for a playoff position this season, and we’re a couple of seasons away from that anyway…

Could we go out this year in a relative blaze of glory? A last hurrah for some of these squad members who probably won’t be in the Football League for much longer? A final “we still have something to offer you, boss” statement? If we do, it will make Christmas a bit more cheerful than it could otherwise be.

Still, we won’t be the only ones looking around for new talent. Right now there will be plenty of stories from managers saying similar things to TB – only this morning, Neil Warnock was saying that if he could sign players on January 1st, he would. Will that make our life easier? Or harder? We may end up getting in the odd bidding war for a player we really need, which we’d obviously prefer not to do.

But we have got to the stage where if it takes another couple of hundred quid a week to secure a player who will help us, we bite the bullet. I’m sure you can dig out old commentaries by Erik Samuelson about signing players who want to come for us, and how we don’t hold ourselves to ransom. That was back in non-league days, where we still had a lot of legitimate clout and influence over that pool of talent. We’re now a struggling League Two side, and we don’t have that luxury of picking and choosing on our (financial) terms.

When you read rumours like this, you have to wonder. To be honest, I’d rather bring on Brendan Kiernan than this guy, especially one with no obvious Football League experience. AFCB and Swindon could afford to take a risk on him – he’d be cheap, he would play with a squad that is L2/L1 level and if he fails, no great hardship.

We can’t.

Incidentally, how much of the “Wimbledon Way” was myth and reality? From about 96/97, when football started to look like what it is today, WFC’s squad tended to be home grown, from abroad, or from sides in the same division or the one below (to put into today’s context, it’s a bit like us signing a player from Cambridge or Luton). We hardly signed anyone from lower divisions that we couldn’t have brought on ourselves.

To be honest, for anyone thinking that signing Prior would be “the Wimbledon Way” has been listening to OGEM’s “buy at Woolworths and sell at Harrods” comments too much. Like most things that came out of his mouth, it was rarely strictly true and was certainly little to do with him if it was…

Still, if we are trying to wind the clock back, at least WFC started to win games from Boxing Day onwards. Same wouldn’t hurt for AFCW, and it would at least give us something nice to watch in that strange post-Xmas to pre-New Year dead time.

And besides, I want us to look good on telly for once…