Skip to content

Stanley Knife

Your editor braved four whole days in t’North without too much incident. In fact, despite internet and electricity and sanitation being at an experimental stage up there, I actually had quite a nice time. Well, except for 90 minutes football…

– So, what shall I say about this latest defeat? It sort of summed up our season, really – the air of inventiveness until it actually matters (ie in the final third), and the usual exploitation of our brittle, non-league defence by a more-limited but smarter side who knows how to actually play this division.

The stats will say we had the bulk of possession, but there was never that vibe one gets from watching games regularly that it was inevitable we were going to take the lead. We may have had a couple of good chances, but we’ve all seen so many times what happens when you don’t put them away.

Granted, we’ve looked more confident in these sort of games than we have at various times of the season, and no small thanks to Pim and his ability to kick the ball away from safety when needed, but there was that oddly familiar feel to it.

Those who went to Don Valley say that it was a lot like the Rotherham game earlier in the season. And the trouble with those sort of games is that when you still need to get points (we’re not safe yet, lest we forget), they can often be the difference between you struggling and you not. Losing games and playing badly is one thing, but the strugglers never seen to get the point(s) when they do play well…

– I don’t know if they’ve put the goals up yet, but Seb was seriously at fault for their first. And Stanley knew this, which is why they tried it on with him a couple more times. And he didn’t hold any of them, either.

If this game summed up our season, then Seb seems to be the player that is a microcosm of this past eight months. Promising, possibly being able to move up to the next level, but has found the step up this season a bit bigger than expected. Suffers from a Conference South level of coaching (Paul Priddy comes in just one day a week with him, apparently) and in truth still living off what he did at Eastlands.

Before the game, Seb accepted on the OS that he could be on the bench for a couple of games this season. Perhaps we ought to start that with Rotherham on Good Friday? Let’s face it, from the very little we’ve seen of him play, Jack “Twitter” Turner wouldn’t do any worse at this time.

– Actually, reading both TB’s post-match comments and Luke Moore’s, this run-in could get mighty interesting. We’ve read our manager making similar threats so many times this season that you just end up glazing over what he says. Perhaps the players are feeling the same way? Especially if they know that whatever happens, they’ll be gone in the summer.

We’re probably safe, but not definitely secure for next season. While the teams below us are running out of games, we’re still capable of yet another bad run. Especially if Pim goes back to Griffin Park (and can somebody tell our new Dutch hero that if he thought Saturday was the worst of his career he should have been here earlier in the season…)

Would it be in our long-term interest to have another poor run before the season ends? With us being safe, of course. At least we would then have that in the back of our minds when we get into the real rebuilding stuff needed during the summer – think of the first Conference season when it was obvious our players had to go full time, and how it forced us to get it right.

It worked out well enough, and one could argue we’re in the Football League because of it.

– Back to Saturday, and I have to admit, I kind of like t’Stanley. They have a ground that wouldn’t look out of place in the Conference North, and I’m sure they themselves would admit we’re twice as big as they are. But despite their players not being as good as ours, they have that know-how of staying in this division that we haven’t got.

They are the archetypal Northern side that League Two (or Div 4, or Div 2 if you’re AFCW’s commercial and merchandise department) used to be full of before it became 2-up 2-down to the Conference. It’s not the sort of place you’d want to be at on a cold Tuesday in January.

It’s a small Lancastrian town, with Blackburn and Burnley not too far away, so they’ll never tear up trees. A crowd of 1600 or so was one of their lower ones, and had it not been for our 300 would have been probably their lowest. But barring financial or management suicide, they’ll be unlikely to go down to the Conference.

AFCW, take note.

Still, there were some “quirks”. That seriously dodgy cheerleading group at half time, where the oldest one looked about 11. The grassy bank on the side where at least one local decided to get a quick look at the game for nowt. The ads for “Accrington Academy Sixth Form”, which I suppose is on a par with “Further Education in Luton”. The sprinklers coming on just before half time.

Not to mention that seriously steep ramp to/from the train station. Accrington’s population seemed older than most places, and perhaps that’s why? It’s not that they don’t want to go elsewhere, it just takes them half an hour and extra oxygen to get to the platform.

Nice pub, and we even treated them to a rendition of “your ground’s too big for you”…

– One thing your editor noticed this past weekend was how many fans we seem to have in the North West. There’s at least two in Manchester (hello Simon of Everstrong and his brother Piers), at least three in Stockport, one fan of ours got off at Rochdale on the way back, not to mention those we know about who live in Fylde and Warton and Chester.

This does explain why we can still muster up over 100 for the real long away games oop Norf in the evening, and why certain people were pretty happy with Rochdale and Fleetwood’s current predicament 😉

– Can somebody please explain to me why one of our fan had a “Free Tibet” scarf? And more to the point, why it was in Palace’s colours?

– Couple of things I missed last week. C-Mac finally earned his spurs as an AFCW player by getting an ACL.  That’s going to be a serious pisser for him as it is, although the way he got signed by us then immediately dropped is one of those situations from this season I won’t quite understand. Sadly, you get the feeling it may be used as a way of getting shot of him…

The season ticket prices have been announced, and as expected they’ve gone up. You can work out the percentages yourself, but it’s clear that like so many things involving AFCW next season, things are going to start getting real.

And while we’ve done well – OK, been bloody lucky – to have kept it at the rates we have, I imagine we’re still going to be a bit cheap for a little while. Without looking at other teams and their prices, we won’t be able to charge much more for the “joys” of KM, and I suspect there’s a price level that our fans simply won’t tolerate.

What this does also mean is added pressure when it comes to transfers – the very blurb itself says that it’s to make the team as competitive as possible. Raising prices at the best of times is always politically sensitive, more so during the current economic climate. And especially as we’ve been used to it being relatively inexpensive.

The club is now getting into the realms of raising the expectations of its match-going audience where it hurts. They’re being asked to dig deeper, and as a result everyone on the club/team side is going to have to up their game from now on.

For the first time since the Ryman Premier days, the need to go up a gear has become a top priority. There was always going to be increased pressure next season anyway because the novelty of the first season back would wear off. Raising prices just notches that up a tad. There are plenty of people within the club who have a lot to prove next season, not only on the field but off it too. Perhaps even in the boardroom itself?

I suggested earlier that things might get interesting in the run-in. That may just be the start of it…

– Finally, does the picture above bring back memories for you?

I’ve got to say, walking from Piccadilly to Eastlands (I refuse to call it the Ethiad) could have made the trip on its own. The weather on the afternoon I was there was similar to that fateful day eleven months ago, and I put myself back in the position we were before that game. Even down to the nervous-but-excited feeling I got in my stomach that day.

It was only the second time ever I’ve been there, but it felt surprisingly familiar. Even standing outside what was the Luton end that day brought back some memories I will never forget. The way they strolled about beforehand all cocky. And they had good reason to, after all they had battered us at KM, which when you think about it was a bit of a glimpse of what we could have expected in L2…

It was strange to stand in the very spot where I saw the Luton team bus only getting there 90 minutes beforehand. Mind you, it’s ironic that on this very weekend just gone, Brabin has finally been elbowed by the Hatters. Perhaps we ought to phone him up and congratulate him on making us a Football League club? Without him, we probably would be at Alfreton this weekend.

Christ, even the Maine Road chippy looked as, er, appetising as ever.

Funnily enough, the most poignant bit was standing outside the away exit. I don’t know whether it was the mass male bonding session afterwards, or the sheer realisation that, to quote Rob Connell on WDON that day – “we’re in League Two”. But god help any passing Citeh fan walking past me and wondering what I was doing. I think if I told them, they might have understood…

And after walking the circuit around what is a pretty ropey bit of Manchester, it reminded me of how important it will always be to remain in the Football League.

Even if you just stroll around once more there, you’ll quickly realise what it meant and why it means as much to start building up this club properly. The achievement we did that day was too big, too important and too rare for us to neglect the club’s progression from now on.

I say “rare” because we may never get another game or chance like that again. Like the FAC in 1988, we will need those memories at times, and there were times before (and soon after) Plymouth where it seemed that it didn’t really matter what we did that day.

You may moan about the season ticket prices rising, but if it’s a literal price to pay for us being a Football League club, then it’s one literally worth paying. If it means the difference between signing a Pim-esque centre back and not, then you’re not going to complain….