I was never too sure when – or indeed if – I would ever write that we would definitely be playing Franchise in a first team game. It might have been a matter of years, or even five years, or even longer.
But on the first weekend of December, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first : I don’t want to play them and I hoped we never had to play them. Ever. And I’m sure you all do – or did – too. As the guy at my agency who I deal with (who is a Bolton fan) said in an email yesterday, he’s never seen a situation where fans don’t want to play a game in this manner.
This really is going to be a bizarre couple of weeks, simply because I don’t think any set of football fans has ever had to face this particular scenario.
And for the avoidance of doubt – I’m not going. That’s not because of “principles” (although too many of our fans confuse that word for dogmatism) or the fact that I suddenly don’t want to support the current incarnation of the team that I will have supported for 30 years next season.
I’m not going because I simply can’t stomach the thought of seeing them.
I refuse to read their websites, their local press, their messageboards, even people on Twatter who decide to retweet what their paws have somehow typed out. I certainly don’t allow any comments from their customers on here. Ten years on, they still repulse me to that extent.
That is not to say that I’d never go there, just not yet. Maybe if it becomes a regular league fixture, and a lot of the venom/baggage from it is gone (which in time it will do, whether you want to admit that or not), then my curiosity will finally get the better of me and I will close that little chapter. Although in truth, it will be a while before that happens.
Chances are if it’s on telly, I won’t even watch it on the box. Depending on when it’s scheduled, I’ll either be working at a game, or deciding to take the Friday evening to go shopping or the Sunday afternoon to enjoy the idyllic countryside of South East England. Carefully timed so that I get back just as the transmission of the game goes off…
Cowardice? Of course, but your mileage will vary. No doubt some of you will be already chomping at the bit to get your ticket, book your train, and just be there and flick the most pointed of middle finger you can. Others might be preparing to spend the afternoon/morning at the KM bars, putting money directly into our coffers.
And no doubt some will be doing what your editor is doing.
But that’s a good thing – we’re collectively more mature these days. The era when people were openly talking about identifying those who were going to go into the Frenzydome and making their life hell are thankfully gone forever. As said after the first York FAC game when we found out about it, the fans will split but we’ll pretty much come back together once it’s over.
There are the odd zealots who still think that anyone who goes in is a traitor to the cause, but they’re a small minority – and one that is shrinking. What has been apparent is how respectful people have been of each others’ views on this. It’s a headfuck and a half, and the game will be the strangest one you’ll ever watch, but the bulk of fans realise that one man’s support is easily another man’s taboo.
Which is why the club should NOT tell people what to do over this. By all means tell people what the options are, but quite simply some of our fans should man up and grow a pair of hairy balls. The men, too. If you need AFCW to tell you what to do over this, then I hope it advises you go up there, buy a Franchise shirt, spent all your weeks wages on merchandise then offer your arse to Wankie afterwards…
Plenty of people don’t want to go. But plenty do. If the club advises one way or t’other then it will just simply piss off a sizable percentage of our support. And while we can pat ourselves on the back for how we’re still pretty much united over our differences, it can easily take a misjudged bit of lecturing to split people.
What the club decides over this is up to them. Personally, I think they should act on police advice and insist on an early kick-off on Sunday and take about 1000 tickets. Even at that time we would have enough who want to go to fill it. I don’t really believe these scare stories that we’re only going to take 200 if some people stay away, though equally I think we’d be pushed to take 2000+ even if everyone was encouraged to go.
This all said, this is actually quite a good opportunity for the club and supporters. Obviously, it’s the first time since 28/5 where we can finally – finally – make our point directly. I’ve no doubt there’ll be something planned, whatever that is, though I would suggest to make it in such a way that it doesn’t backfire on us.
Naturally enough, Franchise will try every trick in the book to legitimise their naked theft, and we should be ready to match that. Some, if not most of what they will come out with will be deliberately provocative and antagonistic, because they know it will guarantee a reaction. But one suspects deep down that they fear it backfiring on them – or at least us coming out well from it.
This is as much a PR fixture as an FA Cup tie, and while I’d prefer a dignified silence from both sides, it ain’t gonna happen. If we use it to further the club, then it will be worth putting up with something that at worst will be over by the 12th December (yes, imagine a replay at KM).
That’s probably why, as much as I hate the fact we have to play them, I’m glad we are doing so after all. The albatross around our neck will be lifted by the end of the year, and I think we really need to finally move on with it.
It’s not like we’ll be on hugely unequal terms here – it’s a L1 side against a L2 side after all, and it is the FA Cup. While we’ll need to play a LOT better against them than we did for the first half on Monday, we do have a better chance of progressing than poor Cambridge City did last night.
And a thought has just occured to me – how much can we get out of the fact that in 10 years, Franchise have taken the league place they stole, got relegated, got relegated again, and have ended up one division below where Wimbledon FC was pre-theft?
And how much can we get out of the fact that, since 28/5/02, we’ve gone from the CCL to League Two and earned the right – I’ll repeat, earned the right – to play Franchise almost as equals? Think about how big a statement that is, and how we can exploit that.
See, if we really have to put a message over beyond it being an FA Cup game, it’s that. Wankie’s spin will say how it proves his club (sic) is a “can do” club. There’s only one “can do” club playing that fixture, and it’s not his.
A can-do club can start from literally nothing and get established quickly.
A can-do club can get promoted five divisions in ten years.
A can-do club can boast a consistent level of support throughout all those divisions.
A can-do club can sufficently change itself to adapt to different footballing cultures and still be successful enough.
A can-do club can turn full time without too much hassle.
A can-do club can get into the Football League from the hell-hole that is the Conference within two seasons.
And a can-do club does all this without the authorities bending over backwards at every given opportunity to bail them out.
AFC Wimbledon is a can-do club. Franchise can’t even complete their stadium they got given.
It’s a powerful message to convey, and people in this country do respect genuine achievement. That we’re even having this fixture is a sign of massive achievement, and if we even won the damn game…
I think it shows how far we’ve come when I state the other reason why I really don’t want this game to go ahead. It will distract us from the genuinely important stuff in the next two weeks, like getting points against Aldershot, Southend and Morecambe. In case you’ve forgotten, we’re still at the wrong end of the table and we need to start pulling away.
NA has a horrible task now in keeping the squad focused on the bread-and-butter (I got the impression on Monday when he was constantly being asked about playing Franchise he would have liked to have told the interviewer to fuck off). I’m sure he’ll do his best, but we could really do without this two week circus around us.
And perhaps this is the most telling emotion of all – I don’t want to play it because it will distract us from our Football League campaign. The money will be great (the inevitable policing bill notwithstanding) but the hassle won’t be.
The symbolism of such a fixture doesn’t seem to matter so much behind the fact that I will be utterly pissed off if it makes us drop valuable points. I’m not too sure what it says, but maybe we have moved on over this more than we think…..