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And then there were five

It’s typical of AFCW this week that as soon as you have to deal with more pressing matters elsewhere, you end up missing yet another signing…

Anyway, last night we got another youngster on loan, this time somebody called Billy Knott. As you know by now, he’s ex-Chelski and he’s on loan to us from Mackemville. He’s also a left winger or left back, has had a cruciate injury (therefore an ideal TB signing) and he had some problems with discipline.

And his surname is the basic for 1001 crap puns.

OK, it’s the usual on-loan-for-a-month deal, and like Euell you hope there’s some flexibility with his deal. His age suggests we might get him for the whole season, but Sunderland fans rate him and if Martin O’Neill feels the same as Chris Powell then we might have the worst case scenario on our hands come this time next month.

Still, if we even get a few decent games out of him, that’s going to help us in Operation Survival. Since SW19 last updated, we also added Byron Harrison permanently for a record fee. One presumes that’s the AFCW record fee (around £25k for Jon Main, and looking back wasn’t that an absolutely crazy price to pay for a RP/CS level player who couldn’t do it in the Conference?) and not the £7.5m tax fiddle that WFC paid for John Hartson…

One thing is certainly clear though – either the club itself or a benefactor (or both) have come up with the money just when we needed it. It has fulfilled its side of Operation Survival with allocating funds that presumably are typical of a mid-table L2 level side. While a ball hasn’t been kicked yet, already the mood is a thousand times more positive than it was after Swindon. Hell, it’s a lot better than it was on Monday afternoon.

And I think that whatever happens from now until the end of the season, AFCW has learnt something this past fortnight : you just can’t run a Football League club on the cheap. Certainly not when things go wrong and you don’t have the backup of a decent youth system. I don’t think I want to know how much we’ll be paying Euell per week, and I doubt if Knott will be playing for £10 expenses, a stale cheese roll and subsidised Dons Trust membership somehow.

Even paying a record fee for a player is a break from our approach to transfers in the last couple of years. Whatever happened to to the Live With Mum way of doing things? If it ever really existed, of course. That said, I expect that we do tend to buy more locally based players, or at least those within commutable distance in the South East. Which is sensible, and it’s not like there isn’t enough talent around here for the right price.

But this week, we finally joined the real world of the Football League. The days of offering 1 year plus one year extensions (on the club’s terms) are going if not gone altogether. C-Mac and Byron are both on 2.5 year deals, standard at this level but something AFCW has never had to – or wanted to – deal with before. This may explain why we’ve gone for more loan signings than permanent ones too…

One thing becomes clear. Assuming Operation Survival is successful, the club will have an interesting rebuilding job in the summer. And a pretty large one too. Even with these five new players in, three of them won’t be here and assuming they’re any good we will need to replace them effectively like-for-like.

That doesn’t include replacing most of the remaining Eastlands squad – can you really see Jamie Stuart and Chris Bush in an AFCW shirt next season? In fact, assuming they’re not sold I can see only Seb Brown, Christian Jolley, Sammy Moore and one of Wellard/Toks still remaining from that era.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the club is already planning with half an eye on the summer, especially now it knows what it has to do to prevent a repeat of the current slump. At least we won’t be as woefully naive and underprepared as we were last close season…

Still, that’s for the future. What of January 12 2012? Timing wise, we have at least done what we urgently needed to do with a good couple more weeks to play with. I doubt if our collective patience would have stood for a couple more weeks of inactivity (and likely losses) before TB went into the last week panic buying.

We have seven games with Euell alone, and if we can pick up a couple of wins and a couple of draws that will make looking at the League table a lot more pleasant than it is right now.

It’s still an “if” though, and amongst the collective boner stroking this week, we are still in a pretty poor run of form. Our League form guide right now is LLLLLLDDDLLLW, in case you’ve forgotten, and there’s no guarantee that we will gain points. It’s possible that TB may have actually bought badly, and until we play games and start getting points, our signings are just new faces.

If anything, TB’s position has become more insecure right now, because there’s no hiding place for him any more. He can’t say the club hasn’t backed him, he has made judgements on who to bring in, and it’s up to him to make sure they perform. If we keep losing, then there’s only going to be one outcome, and as this past fortnight shows, the club acts swiftly and decisively when it has to.

Will it come to that though? We’ll see, but in many ways it feels that the season is starting again. Oxford, Southend and Swindon were less than three weeks ago but with the new signings and current optimism they may well have been three seasons ago.

If all (or even most) of the new signings start at Vale Park, along with C-Mac, that’s effectively half a new team. There may or may not be any more coming in, and perhaps we could be waiting for a few other established players to fail before we bring in a couple of others “to give some competition in the squad”. One senses this may not be the end of the spending.

There was a comment on the Comment section of SW19’s last update (what? You never read them? For shame) wondering about what this would do with the relationship between these newbies and the “cheaper” members of the squad. To which my answer is – bollocks to them. As said earlier, there’s about 3/4 of the playoff squad who I would happily keep, and I’m fine with Midson sticking around too.

We would still be able to loan in (and out) players after January, so if there’s any further bolstering to be made we still have time. Of those the club would wish to keep, it wouldn’t be unlikely that those on 1+1 deals will have their contracts re-negotiated to the full 2/3 years (a la C-Mac and Byron), and with a bit more money to boot.

The rest? Don’t feel too sorry for those who get released, or pro footballers in general. They have a good life, even at our level, and the likes of AFC Coldseal and Chelmsford in the past prove that even being outside the top four (or five) divisions isn’t always a bad thing for the wallet. The vast majority of those who will leave or have already left have had six more months of Football League action that they wouldn’t have got with any other club.

Remember – while it may be run like a non-league division, the Conference has a large minority of full time clubs. Perhaps even a majority these days. And most of our “old” squad should get a club down there…

Still, it’s Saturday where it matters. And no, I have to earn money that day, so I get to miss the inevitable fuckup followed by the comedown of all comedowns revolution. Don’t worry about a match report, that’s sorted.

Optimism is back, and the coach became full the morning after Euell signed, so we’re bound to have a decent turnout. I just hope the debutants don’t score though, we all remember what happened to Nathan Elder and Drewe Broughton…