Hard to believe it’s only one year to the day that we went up to Eastlands with more than a little trepidation, isn’t it?
So much has happened in the time since Danny Kedwell showed Drogba how to net the most vital of vital spot kicks that it’s pointless reminding yourself. Instead, as the picture above you will show, your editor will spend today talking about the Conference Playoff Final, 2012.
With enough AFCW related references to ensure you don’t switch off and never come back…
Firstly, and the important stuff out of the way first, it’s back to Bootham Crescent next season.Â I’m sure it will inevitably be postponed, maybe even an hour before kickoff like in our first Conference season, and needless to say, we’re bound to get our usual stuffing up there in the re-arranged fixture. On the flip side, many people like going to York for the weekend, and despite the cost of trains etc, it does seem a bit more tempting than a day in Bedfordshire.
I don’t know if York have an equivalent of SW19, but if it did they may have written something along these lines this morning. And yes, I still have that song in my head whenever I think of that day. Seeing them afterwards walking down Wembley Way had more than a hint of our reaction on this day in 2011, although they may have encountered less Luton fans than we did.
But sitting there in my Â£36+addons seat yesterday, I realised how lucky we were in Manchester. Not lucky as in we fluked it – the club itself may have winged it to the FL, but looking back at the replay it was a more even contest than I believed at the time – but fortunate insofar as we had that small window of opportunity and we grasped it.
Had we not won, we could have spent the next eight years in the Conference, a la the Minstermen, or stalled like Luton have. To paraphrase the title of a certain book about to come out, that was our time…
Those who watched the game would have seen how Luton managed to underperform after they scored, and how York looked a bit like we did. Just as ourselves, they look like a unit as opposed to a squad – we had the perfect equilibrium that campaign and yesterday York did too. Unlike ourselves, no extra time and penalties were needed, although for the sake of various tickers, that is probably just as well.
Does this prove the gap between L2 and the Conference is closing, as so many in the non-league game believe? Personally, I think it’s getting wider. The fact we released 14 players – many if not most of whom were in blue-and-yellow shirts this time last year – in our recent cull suggests that, and yesterday just gave out an impression of, “yeah, but what happens when York get sussed out…?”
As for Luton, they didn’t have the arrogant swagger of last year, when they really did walk around thinking they just had to turn up. Even so, they still had this expectancy level that ultimately did them. Once they went ahead, they froze. And it’s obvious that they’ve going to have to get rid of a load of players themselves (no doubt we’ll sign half of them) and try and win the Conference outright.
Again, that could have easily been us. At least we’re rebuilding in the Football League.
Do I feel sorry for the Hatters? On one level, yes – they got shafted thanks to owners who weren’t even there. But unless you’re Franchise, you have to earn your right to play in the Football League, and they still haven’t quite figured that out.
While researching this piece, your editor found out that our opponents next season were relegated from the FL in 2003/04 – our second season in the CCL. When you look at it in those terms, not only does that make our nine years ever more remarkable, it also shows that just being a “big” name means nothing if you don’t rebuild.
The likes of Cambridge and Mansfield are still in the BSP. Outfits like Stockport, Lincoln and Darlington may continue to struggle. Some like Halifax and Chester have had to restart. Oxford spent four seasons in the fifth tier of the pyramid, and there’s no guarantee of Luton ever seeing League football again. Especially with newly minted sides like Fleetwood and Crawley splashing the cash.
In short, just because they’re Luton Town and they got shafted means nothing.
Some other thoughts. Although it’s a great achievement for the Minstermen, I think our success got much more coverage than theirs will. If you look at 3.07 on this, you’ll see what I mean by that, and it’s a very astute observation. Yesterday ultimately was a non-league playoff final and as such isn’t going to resonate with the wider footballing world.
Luton had 30,000 or so there, but they just seemed comatose a lot of the time. Whether they had the same realisation that your editor did on the hour mark, namely they weren’t going to do it again, or whether they were just a bunch of daytrippers I don’t know. They didn’t appear to get behind their side like York fans did, or even ours a year ago today.
And this is why I think I’m glad our playoff final was at Eastlands. I know why we couldn’t play at Wembley, and I do accept that planning a playoff final isn’t as easy as switching it at a late stage (if it was, it would be done a lot more often). But Eastlands seemed the right venue for that particular achievement, IYSWIM.
Or perhaps you don’t see what I mean? I have to say, it was a sight to see loads more bodies getting off the tubes at Wembley Park and walking down Wembley Way. It could have been us. But I think going to Eastlands took a bit of pressure off us because it was a distraction in organising how to get up there.
Had it been in London/SE, it would have been an easier journey but we would have then become consumed with the actual game and the very real outnumbering by Luton. By playing in Manchester we seemed to neutralise the crowd advantage that Luton would have otherwise had, although as yesterday illustrated, being outnumbered 7k to 30k doesn’t mean a lot.
In other words, I don’t think the club was ready to play at Wembley this time last year.
We would be (slightly) better prepared now, and to be honest I would rather play at Wembley in the JPT final or a League 2 (or even L1) playoff final. By the time that comes around we’ll be much more mature as a club and as a fanbase, and as such we would appreciate it a lot more. Besides, I like going away from Wembley as a winner.
Still, it’s the time of York, and they’ll be salivating over the fixtures being released on the 17th June (according to our OS – which is on a Sunday) as much as we did this time last year. As for Luton, perhaps we could now offer them a PSF? At their place, obviously. It would certainly be good preparation for us, and won’t be too far to travel. Maybe even create a cup for it, and have a penalty shootout? Just like old times.
Oh, and one final thing. While walking to the ground, they still had the nPower playoff final ad boards around, featuring clearly posed “fan” shots representing all of the teams in the playoff semis. That’s right, the likes of Southend, Torquay and Stevenage had models pretending to be supporters, and all wearing scarves and doing “come on” type poses like all supporters obviously do.
Which of course meant they had somebody pretending to be a Franchise fan. Insert snarky comment here. Thing is, in perhaps a bit of sublimial messaging, they used the most “special” looking actor they could find…