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Through the Mill(er)

Five more games until we can properly sort ourselves out in the transfer window…

As December continues to limp on, we face tomorrow with the usual trepidation. And I don’t just mean the inevitable circus that follows their manager around. Or at least when he faces us, anyway.

Once again, a win becomes a bonus, especially at home. A draw will come as a relief, and we all know what a loss does to our mood. Funnily enough, people seemed quite happy with how we generally did against Barnet (that’s bottom of the entire Football League Barnet, lest we forget), and one needs to grasp whatever straws we can right now.

Should we come away from KM at 5pm tomorrow with something in our pocket, it will keep our head above water. And I suppose that’s all we can hope for in this last month of the calendar year. Providing we leave Torquay on NYD without being in the bottom two, or at the very least within a point or two of survival, that’s really what we’ve got to aim for.

No, it’s not what you want to hear right now, and it’s not what I want to type either. But at the risk of making the old joke from Ireland that I wouldn’t start from here, we are where we are.

Fortunately, January is in sight and the saloon bar talk is of a significant shake-up which has almost been planned already. As I wrote this, Christian Jolley returned to us having blazed through Conference defences at Newport. Typically of AFCW, he’s injured and can’t play tomorrow…

Whether it will force our current squad to up their game just to have one last chance at being League Two footballers we don’t yet know. One suspects decisions have already been made, even if in the link above NA is effectively downplaying expectations. To be blunt, any players who can improve the team for this season will do, even if they happen to be journeymen.

Or even hungry non-league types like Prior or Strutton.

In the meantime, we have to vault over yet another psychological hurdle, this time conceding the first goal. This has been a problem for a good while, indeed something we saw glimpses off in the Conference days. Apparently, the stats this season suggest if we go ahead in a game we never lose them, so hopefully that’s continued to be drummed into the squad on the training ground.

Actually, what if we do win tomorrow? Apart from the histronics their attention-seeking manager will throw? It would make next week easier to get through, at the very least. It should give us a glimmer of hope for Xmas, and it won’t do our league position any harm either.

I guess we’ve just got to keep pushing at the moment and pick up an unexpected win somewhere. And then finally, finally build on it…

Things have been quiet media wise this week, it has to be said. Perhaps the biggest news came around this time last week on the OS, which seemed to slip under so many radars – that our fitness is still bad.

It would be a major source of annoyance if we suffer the ultimate bad fate this season by our players simply not being professional enough in getting fit. It won’t be easy to figure out how many games we’ve lost because we’ve been puffed out, if it’s measurable at all, but I expect it’s one factor in us not being able to get out of the basement.

And to be honest, I just don’t understand the mentality of professional players failing to get fit. It’s their livelyhood at stake, and if they’re getting as much help as they’ve ever got at AFCW nowadays and they still can’t do it….

Presumably we got in somebody like Djilali because he was available, cheap, and an extra body in the squad when we needed him. Unfortunately, people at Barnet were suggesting he looked overweight and far too quick to blame others. So I doubt if we’ll see many with his name on their shirt come February.

I doubt if he’d be alone. When the January transfer window comes, I expect the players we get in will be as much adept at lasting ninety minutes as they are being L2 footballers. After all, the current crop has now had a good couple of months to impress the new boss, and one suspects he’s not very happy.

And an unhappy manager with a bit of a transfer budget and carte blanche isn’t going to be timid…

Still, there are other matters going on as well, and it’s not like AFCW fans are shy from naval gazing 😉 It appears that the idea of the associate director has been, ahem, “held back for further discussion”. Now, this got first mooted back in early May, and you can find it on the old OS here.

By the sound of it, it’s been kicked into the long grass for now while they start figuring out what safeguards are not only a) needed, but b) acceptable to those who will vote on the proposals. Obviously for some DT members, giving any sort of influence/power up is akin to letting Wankie look after their first born, although it did seem clear that it got pulled because there was scant attention given to the security rather than actually letting third party contributors come in.

In the position we’re in, we really don’t have much choice – we either get more significant funding in to not only get better players but improve the training facilities, or we don’t invest in that, and we go down.

And nothing would damage the “fans club” ideology more than us going down, because it would merely prove this particular ownership model is incompatible with the Football League.

To be honest, safeguards notwithstanding, I genuinely can’t see the problem with the associate director proposal. It’s not that much different to how we’ve been operating since Mike Richardson stumped up to pay however much it was for Jon Main.

As somebody older and wiser than me put it, if you don’t want people to have influence don’t accept large donations from them. And let’s face it, there’s been precious little complaint when Mike R and co do put money in…

But the days of the blank cheque approach are drawing to a close. We’ll never know how much re-evaluating went on during the utter balls up that was this pre-season and early campaign, but I wouldn’t blame any current benefactor in wanting a bit more say after that episode.

Think about if you had the bank balance of Mike R or Iain McNay or Paul Strank or AN Other. You make your money in the first place by knowing what’s what, when to invest and when to realise you’re just shovelling money into a black hole.

All our current benefactors are probably having to put in more money than ever before, and their own business brains must be thinking for what purpose. If I had £250,000 I wouldn’t want to put it into AFCW, because as soon as I handed over that money I wouldn’t have much if any say in how it was spent.

Think about that along those lines, and that will explain a) why we don’t get more benefactors involved at the moment, and b) why the DTB is proposing such a setup in the first place.

See, being a League Two side isn’t cheap. It’s not the Division Four people remember from 1983 : the tactics are more sophisticated, the grounds are better, the players are fitter and better educated these days (in a footballing sense, anyway). If the Conference can be called League 2.5 then League Two could easily be the Division Three that Oxford, Sheffield United and ourselves got promoted from in 1984.

With all the best will in the world, we cannot fund a League Two side with things like Silent Auctions, Community Shares and any other sort of fundraising from the hoi polloi. Even at the best of times, and especially not if the shortfall with us now really is £400k.

Even if the shortfall is half that at £200k, it’s still beyond the realistic fundraising capabilities of the average supporter base. And that’s £200k to £400k per year, by the way, not a once off.

We might get away with holding off on this question this season, as we got around £150k from the FA Cup. But we won’t play Franchise every year, and that’s £150k we’re not going to get most seasons unless we rethink and most importantly act.

Imagine if we went out to York at Bootham Crescent and had gone out. No £150k, and yet another PBS-style pledge to our benefactors. And that just becomes unsustainable, especially as they had to bail us out this time last year too.

There’s the question of influencing Football Club Board, although at this moment in time would allowing third parties to have that be a bad thing? Usual safeguards, obviously, but right now it doesn’t seem anyone bar Erik can change the make-up of the FCB.

At least an associate director would offer something tangible like money and perhaps expertise, and would have conditions on him/her being in the boardroom to begin with. We don’t have that right now, and if the FCB is minded to drags its heels on something (think of the month after THAT statement this season) there’s not a lot anyone can do.

Or to put it another way, would the managerial fiasco we had to endure this season have happened if the people who put in the bulk of the money had influence? It may go against any “ideology” of AFCW, but I bet we’d be comfortably midtable right now if it was in place back then.
There’s a good argument that it will keep the club “fresh” anyway. I think I’m right in saying that the FCB has had more or less the same people on it since 2002, bar Dave Charles. That is a long time to have those same people on it at the best of times, let alone those who have had to deal with AFCW as a CCL side and as a League Two outfit in under a decade.

Whether you think having a third party who isn’t necessarily an AFCW sympathiser is good or not – and personally, I think it’s a good idea – this is a club that is having to think about where it goes from here. One suspects that the associate director plan will be implemented within the year, even if it’s diluted somewhat, simply to get the mechanism in place to evolve the club.

Of course, we could ignore all that and simply put up the price of joining the Dons Trust to £2500…