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Pre-Dagenham thoughts

It’s just as well your editor is at Griffin Park tomorrow, because I’m not sure if I’d want to be at KM after Tuesday…

Wasn’t a nice feeling, was it? I don’t like having the rest of the week ruined due to such a performance and result. As somebody said on Wednesday, this has been a very tough and unpleasant aftermath, and one they wouldn’t want to repeat in a hurry.

This sort of thing wasn’t supposed to happen these days.

In a period of uncertainty, one thing is guaranteed : we have now entered something commonly known as the business end of the season. Starting tomorrow, we have twelve games left to prove we belong in the Football League – on and off the pitch.

Make no mistake – lose tomorrow and Terry Brown is finished as AFCW manager. He would have taken the side to three defeats in a week against the sides below us in the table, and would have extended the stats to three wins in 23 games. To keep him on after such a result would be blind loyalty taken to its almost delusive extreme.

Lose and it would have proven once and for all that he cannot do anything more with the team. He went nuclear this week, force-feeding them the Plymouth and Hereford games on their day off, and if that doesn’t get a reaction then nothing he can do after that will. He would be a lame duck, and would just be trashing his legacy with us after that.

Should he go over the weekend, we would still have enough games left to replace him and give the players and club a chance to rally behind the new management team (which unless somebody came in on Sunday afternoon and was prepared to start work on Monday morning is likely to be at least SC/SB and probably Marcus Gayle too. And they didn’t do too badly when TB was on compassionate leave). And if we’re looking at yet another defeat come 5pm tomorrow the tipping point would have been reached with the majority of supporters by then, so there’s unlikely to be much resistance.

I’ve no idea if our top brass have been discussing this at length this week, or whether they’ve locked themselves in a bunker since Tuesday and put TB’s post-Eastlands celebrations on permanent loop, while pretending the last five months hasn’t happened. Not that I would ever suggest they are that joined to the hip to our manager 😉 But tomorrow it is mandatory that we get three points.

Not hoping we get three points.

Not even expecting we get three points.

But mandatory.

Playing Dagenham is either the best thing we can do tomorrow or the worst. We all know the worst, but what about the best? By their own fans admission, they make us look a competent side, and should prove to AFCW what happens when you keep a manager on through sentiment. A win won’t suddenly make everyone world beaters, but at this stage of the season the three points would be gold dust.

One feature of the FL (and is something we’ve never been able to overcome this season) as opposed to the Conference and below is that there are no whipping boys in this division. Except when you’re playing AFC Wimbledon at the moment, of course. There are no Histons or Altys to win 3-0 against without breaking much of a sweat.

D&R might be one of those rare teams that are. No disrespect to them at all, and I like them as a club, but they are a classic example of a “traditional” non-league side that has had a decent run in the Football League. We are not them, and they would agree with us. They’ll be motivated as hell, of course, but excuses would be running very thin if we’re not discussing the win tomorrow evening.

Victory would give us just that tiny bit of confidence that was kicked out of us against Hereford and Plymouth. Cheltenham and Crewe were just a mere couple of weeks ago, but they may as well have been last season. And this has been one of the big problems this campaign – any promising run of a couple of games never lasts too long, often because the team gets changed for no apparent reason, which is why the confidence gets drained. This is why I don’t expect a decent run until the end of the season – nothing we’ve done since October has proven we’ll do it…

Obviously, if we win tomorrow we’d then have to repeat it against Bradford. And again, it would be mandatory for TB’s position not to lose that game. A win would be far more preferable, but we could just – just – get away with a draw on Tuesday.

Four points minimum would likely keep TB in charge (just) until the end of the season, as by then it would start becoming very difficult to replace the boss much beyond that time. Perhaps Bristol Rovers away is the absolute latest you could do it, but after that it would be genuinely disruptive.

Whatever happens, one thing has become clear – Tuesday was the day the line got crossed. As somebody on the comments section of the last SW19 update, it struck a very raw nerve throughout the fanbase. Suddenly, we realised what we were doing, and what we’ve been complacently throwing away.

I don’t think I’ve seen so much debate and discussion about the managerial role, and indeed where the club goes from here, certainly for a long time. And it’s been good, honest, healthy debate too – people seem to be much more open and less deferential than they have been for a while during the AFCW era. Perhaps ever.

Why? Because it means so much, that’s why. I don’t need to tell you that the playoff final at Eastlands will be unwatchable if we go down. It would be so heartbreaking to have should that happen that you might as well throw away the DVD of it. And given that the Football League was our reward for putting up with going to shitholes like Ramsgutter and Bromley over the last nine years, seeing us shit all over those achievements down to our incompetence was very hard to swallow.

On Tuesday, we finally took our collective heads out of the sand and realised there was a big dingo ready to eat us.

For the first time, people do seem to be thinking of how we go up to the next level – if we did go down we’d still have to do it, because this club cannot go back to how it was. OK, there are still some fans who think that even remotely criticising how AFCW does things is like shitting over Allan Batsford’s grave wearing a Franchise shirt, but then they’re deeply insecure 😉

As regards this season, is it too little too late? No on both counts. We could still secure our League Two status by the end of this month, although we should have secured it by this weekend. That we’re fighting for confidence and openly questioning the manager shows how much we’ve fucked it up. It’s still perfectly salvagable, and if any good came out of Tuesday the penny did at least drop with twelve games to go rather than three.

In fact, I’ll go a step further than that. Tuesday needed to happen. Whatever the fate of the club this season, we had that moment of reality that we’ve never really had since, well, 2002. We’ve had little moments in the past, but I’m struggling to recall a time in the AFCW era where we’ve had such a jolt to the system.

Maybe Darlogate? If that sorry episode made us realise how lax we were in our day-to-day admin, then Tuesday may have finally highlighted to the masses just how amateurish and negligent we are/were on the playing side of things. When it even forced TB to admit that he fucked up getting a defender in January, that’s how much it made everyone wake up.

Could we be seeing maybe one or two new faces before long? Since I wrote this, we’ve got Pim Balkenstein on a months loan from our parent club. He’s a CB, 6 ft 3, “good in the air” and hopefully can at least look something remotely like a FL player. Although it is a bit worrying when we find out that TB has had him watched…

It might keep TB in this position from now until the end of the season if so, although the point about losing tomorrow still stands. It would be desperation, of course, but we are in desperate times. And if ever a plight of a side counts under “emergency”, then our back line certainly does.

Tomorrow, we start getting serious. Shit has got real, after all. If tomorrow ends up costing TB his position, so be it. If we do go and win 3-0 tomorrow in the performance of the season, so be it again. We are still in Operation Survival mode, and the rebuilding/bloodletting can start once it’s completed. We then repeat it for Bradford on Tuesday. Then the next game, and the next game…

There’s no point in lying to ourselves – we are in trouble, and we are only out of the serious shit because we were still living off the momentum of Eastlands until about October. I know I said earlier that we aren’t capable of putting together a decent run of form, but we are capable of the odd 2-to-3 game run. Which right now may well be enough.

From now until the end of the season, everyone knows what they have to do. Talk is cheap, they now have to do it…