All the talk is over. All the dealing have been dealt with. The phony war of pre-season is in the rear view mirror, and we can call it “this” season with a completely new slate.
You’ve probably read all the previews by now, with varying degrees of positivity for us. Now you have the chance to read SW19’s thoughts for the new campaign. Though half way down, you probably wish you hadn’t….
– This is a very important season
The phrase “no brainer” made a few outings this close season just gone, and it certainly applies to the statement made above.
All seasons are important, but this one probably more so than most – especially in the AFCW era. A lot of people have a lot to prove this upcoming nine months, and they have to actually go out and do it.
For NA, it’s down to him now. The progress made in 2013 has to be properly built upon, he can’t say that he’s inherited somebody else’s mess, and if he gets it wrong he has nowhere to hide.
That he didn’t get much of a honeymoon when he joined us showed a) how absolutely lousy a setup he took over, and b) that football isn’t fair. It’s very important for him not to get off to a disastrous start, because we know all too well what happens when we do that.
You get the feeling he hasn’t made a mess of things, but until he demonstrates it in proper games from tomorrow onwards, we’re still holding our collective breath.
It’s also a very important time for the few remaining players that you consider “established”. That is, the likes of Midson, Sammy Moore and Seb Brown to name but three.
It’s not unfair to suggest that at least two of those mentioned underachieved last year, and our manager isn’t one to shy away from moving on the longer serving of players.
Are the three I’ve singled out here fighting for their Football League lives? Maybe, maybe not – definitely not in Midson’s case. But they’re not going to get the free pass the new players will have for a while. Granted, some new signings won’t make the grade, but others will – and they’ll get a chance to prove it.
For somebody like Seb as an example, if he’s got a future with us he’s got to show much more than he’s demonstrated so far as a Football League player. Sammy Moore didn’t get used as much as he could have done last time out, even when he was fit, and his future shouldn’t be guaranteed.
It’s also very important for Strutton, who hasn’t had the best pre-season. He’s not as young as we sometimes think he is (24), and being a impact player is all very well but you have to expect him to make some steps forward now.
Indeed, NA seemed to single him out this week:
Charlie Strutton is still a project, but we knew that when we took him on and he needs to improve in certain areas.
If he doesn’t do that this season, his Football League career will best be remembered for scoring against York and precious little else.
The club itself has its own important factors that it has to deal with, although that will be explored later…
Â – We need to finally stop the revolving door of players.
The last couple of seasons – hell, most of them before that in the AFCW era – have seen so many players come and go that team photos have become almost irrelevant come October.
This has to be the first season that the squad that starts against Torquay remains more or less as it is before we go to Accrington for the last game. Granted, there will be the odd player leaving, and you always have to legislate for injuries/being crap. But whether it’s because of design or just incompetence, the amount of player movements the last couple of seasons have gone beyond taking the piss.
We’ve got ourselves into the vicious circle that we can’t develop a squad because we have to replace too many members of it each January/May. It does absolutely nothing for long-term stability and youth development, not to mention what it does for the budget.
Once again, we’ve done a lot of ins-and-outs this close season, perhaps deeper than we have for a while – a new goalie, all bar two new defenders, a sizeable amount in midfield and only JM and Strutton from last year’s strike force. Not to mention a new physio, GK coach, and what have you.
It now has to be the last close-season period that we do that. At least for a good while. We have to start replacing players individually, not vast swathes at a time. Come January, or even September, we should be looking to replace one or two, and not five or six.
Our new back line should be good enough for a couple of seasons, because none of them are getting any younger. Players like Benno will be looking to call it a day sooner or later, apparently he’s only on a one-year deal, and we now have to gradually replace them with younger and fitter (and better) players.
The striker situation(s) may not be so easy to properly sort out, but it’s not just restricted to AFCW. And anyway, we should be starting to properly develop our own…
– There is genuine optimism about
Things couldn’t have got any worse, of course. And while pre-seasons are exactly that, there was enough to give everyone a bit of comfort to hold on to.
While losing 3-0 to Monza was disappointing, it didn’t raise alarm bells. With the possible exception of the last ten minutes of Dartford, none of the friendlies against lower division opposition made you shit yourself.
Thankfully, nobody sodomised us. There were no Reading 7-0 gubbings, nor moments when Pompey’s ragtag bunch of triallists toyed with us throughout. I’m sure we would have preferred a L1 side rather than FCUM, but we pretty much held our own against a strong Charlton side.
The team’s training camp in Monza went well, by all accounts, and half the battle for sides is to have a team rather than a collection of 11 players.
Of course, things can go wrong, but there’s been no vibes and gut feeling this time round of disaster. Maybe a couple of weak areas that you hope don’t get exploited too much, but then if they did you would suspect they would get looked at quite quickly.
Which leads somewhat conveniently onto…
– We need to regain the confidence in the team again
The last two seasons have been eye-openers, without a doubt. But it’s also taken a major dent in our all-round self-belief too.
That top-of-the-world feeling we had post-Eastlands seems as far away as ever. A mention of the words “defence” and “AFC Wimbledon” sends many a fan into a shivering, shaking wreck.
When you’ve let in 154 goals over the past two campaigns, it’s understandable that there’s been little confidence in us – at the back especially. This season upcoming, we need to have faith in our back line not making the silly mistake that costs us points.
So low did the confidence dip that virtually up to the Fleetwood game, it was a case of when, not if we would fuck up. Mentally, that’s what NA has tried to overcome this close season – our poor defence was almost institutionally bad, and the likes of Frampton, Kennedy and Fuller aren’t shrinking violets.
We need to have the confidence in the players, so we’re not going down to Torquay, or up to Rochdale, or at home to Wycombe, or whoever, without that deep feeling of dread that ruins your weekend before it even starts.
Indeed, if we have a solid start tomorrow, then do well against Millwall and Wycombe, that confidence can build up quite quickly. And when that starts building up again, momentum starts to pick up.
Last season saw us have early pressure, then inevitably go behind and we were always chasing the game. The players themselves need to adapt the mentality that we’re not going to go behind so readily these days. Scoring against us won’t be guaranteed any more…
In other words, we have to be hard to beat.
We’ll lose some games, one or two quite heavily. But the players do seem to sense that vibe of confidence (or lack thereof). All we need is the belief that the players themselves have the belief…
– We also need the “fuck you” attitude back.
This follows on from the point made above. A cursory glance at the bookie odds for L2 this year suggests they think we’ll once again be battling for the drop. And that hurts to read it.
It stings for two reasons. Firstly, you never want us to see us down there amongst the deadwood. We have – or should have – pride in ourselves, and I don’t want us to be that sort of club that’s always going to be in the bottom five each season.
We’re better than that, or at least we should be.
The second reason, and probably the most hurtful, is that we haven’t done much to suggest otherwise. We have stunk the joint out too many times, and you can’t blame any oddsmakers for pricing us so low down.
If you don’t support AFCW, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking how shit we were. We fell away badly in the first FL season, and too much has been written about last time out. We are considered crap because we haven’t been anything else.
I imagine most fans of a certain age were supporters of WFC in the 1990s. And back then, in virtually every Prem season, we were constantly favourites for the drop. But we just laughed at it back then, because we knew we could be mid-table, and we need to be able to sneer back today.
That will only come with having belief in the side, that we know we can go to hostile environments and come away with the glow of victory. The buzz you had after Southend away and York away last season have been rarer than rocking horse shit, and we need to experience that more often.
Hell, if we do that we might even be able to finally beat Oxford or Accrington.
– We need to improve on our home form – but…
There’s been something about KM, and I don’t know what it is. Yet while you can work out the stats yourself, it’s easy to get carried away with it.
Of the nine losses last season, eight were in 2012. Yes, we only lost once in 2013, that utterly demoralising, depressing and fucking cold day at home to Barnet. We weren’t actually too bad at home (and our away form was W8 D3 L12), and there’s enough to build on.
If anything, we drew too many games at KM – especially games where we let it slip due to dozyness in defence. This is where our need to be hard-to-beat will pay off if we can do that.
To get out of losing streaks is pretty difficult, but the margins between being draw specialists and going on winning runs is quite small. And that’s something that we can overcome.
Two more things about our home games next season. Firstly, stunts like WAW against Barnet just don’t work – they’re distracting and they never pull off what was intended.
Secondly, and something we’d like to see a lot more of this season – is it too much to ask for a few more goals up the EcoHouse End…?
– League Two will continue to be much of a muchness
Despite the anguish it gave us, last campaign also showed us that most of this division is quite similar to each other. The amount of points needed to stay up was astounding, not to mention the amount of teams who were within one or two losses of shitting themselves on the final day.
For our own sakes, one hopes that was an abnormality of a season, and there will be two or three ultra-shit teams who spend all their time in the bottom. And who aren’t us.
Your editor has been covering this division (at least on occasions) for a good 5/6 years now, and the biggest change in that time is that the mid-table-mediocrity group has squeezed out the deadwood.
In the two seasons we’ve been back in the FL, we’ve lost Hereford, Macclesfield, Aldershot and Barnet – and in our promotion season Stockport and Lincoln went down. In the past, finishing above all these clubs would have seen us comfortably in the middle.
But they’re all gone, and we have to make that step up this season into the mid-table group.
It might not be bad timing for us to do that. We’ve got that jab up the arse, our management team these days appear to have grasped that very notion, and we’re one of the few teams in this division who appear to be increasing their budget.
While one could argue (with perhaps some justification) that we projected our budget too low for League football, the gaps between us and other teams don’t appear that big. Budgets elsewhere are being cut, and not every team will have done well in their transfer dealings.
There are the usual big spenders – apparently, Chesterfield have gone Â£130k over their planned outlay this season – but League Two still continues to appear the most “equal” of all four divisions. And it’s certainly not like the Conference, where there are real gaps between the moneyed clubs and the rest.
– AFCW has to finally prove that it’s a Football League club
This will be the third season of AFCW as a club in the Football League, and let’s be honest – the jury is still out on us belonging here.
You can make your own list about what bits of the club still look like it’s just about joining the Conference, but if you were to forget everything else about the 2012/13 campaign, you’ll still remember how we finally realised how much we wanted to be a Football League club.
It’s only now that we collectively seem to be focused on achieving that. The first FL campaign was spent pinching ourselves and living off hitting third place for one little period in October.
We are all guilty of dwelling on 2012/13, this place especially, but we’re now a (semi) established FLÂ club. We are no longer the wide eyed new boys. We want to be a Football League club, but are we willing to make the next step up to be one?
Of course, we tend to say things like “we need to be more professional” or “we need to be less non-league”. It’s one of those things that is often said and everyone knows what it sort-of means, but it never seems to get properly explained.
Here’s an attempt at a definition. On the field, it’s basically what NA is starting to do with us. It means adapting to the division in terms of fitness, tactics, personnel, and the little things in professional football that make the difference.
An attitude to nutrition (we have a chef that looks after the players diet), organisation (taking the players into training later so they don’t get caught in traffic), sports science, youth development and whatever else you can think of is what makes a Football League club exactly that.
Off the field is where the jury is still in its little room and deliberating. As an organisation, we need to adapt to the needs and requirements of the squad and management.
And this is where I suspect things have looked a little bit, ahem, “non league” and what needs to be moved on this season. The club itself has to attune itself to those needs and develop something I’m still not entirely sure it has – an instinct.
The ability of the club to deliver training facilities worthy of the name, to support NA in building up its youth development, and just all round “support” is what will prove the difference between us being a Football League club and one that will eventually find itself out of the 91 Club.
What follows on is one of SW19’s favourite moaning points – funding. That has become more in focus than ever, especially as costs are rising more and more, and will continue to prod away at us next season.
This week, chief Sugar Daddy Mike Richardson was in WDSA again, and hopefully there will be a link to what he said. He made two important points : firstly, if we did have a successful season and somehow ended up in League One, wages would be 50% more than they are down here.
Don’t laugh about the notion of us getting promoted BTW, the likes of Exeter and Daggers and Rochdale have found themselves in the Franchise division in the past couple of years.
The second one was perhaps more telling. I quote:
â€œI know that people with specific sporting marketing expertise who have offered help for a success fee but itâ€™s not been taken up. And I am not taking about me here,â€ he said.
â€œIf we can get more money in but have to pay, say a 5% finders fee, then why not? We have to explore all the options available to us.â€
The jury is still out on the club adapting to the FL because one questions how flexible it remains. We know that KM is limited in its revenue raising, and these sort of things have to be considered if not brought in.
And if they’re not, there has to be a damn good reason why rather than just simple control-freakery. AFCW does not always know best…
– The club will continue to change and evolve. It has no other choice.
Change isn’t always good, but it’s not always bad either. And there will continue to be plenty of it in 2013/14.
One of the big mistakes made last season was thinking we’d “cracked” the culture of the Football League when we hadn’t. And whatever deity you believe in (or not) has a very cruel way of exposing that folly.
Ask our ex-manager. After the first game last season, TB thought that it had all panned out for him after all. The Footballing Gods knew otherwise – they pulled his trousers down, shoved a carrot up his arse and forced him to walk around blowing kisses to everyone.
It was humiliating for him, but he hadn’t learned. And he wasn’t alone…
The point of that rather disturbing image now in your head is that if you don’t change, you have something rammed up you very painfully. And it’s especially eyewatering if you’ve convinced yourself otherwise.
We talk about what we want to achieve this season, but the most important thing will be us actually changing enough to do it. The football industry is pretty ruthless in weeding out the bullshitters.
The club and the people in it have to become more pro-active this season. Take what MikeR mentioned above – rather than shy away from suggestions like that, take them on. If they don’t work, they don’t work.
Who knows, they might even help us.
We are (or should be) a bit more worldly wise, and not quite so apprehensive about stepping on a few toes any more. None the less, there will be new things that will test us in ways we’ve never been tested.
Some are predictable – the trials and tribulations involving getting our new stadium. The possibility of playing Franchise at KM. And to prove that not all such tests are nasty, the possibility of a Premier League club in the COC or FAC.
But some things won’t be. What if NA does well and gets snapped up by a bigger club? We would have to move a bit more quicker to get a new guy in if that happens. What if NA fucks it up and weÂ have another TB scenario? Will the club dawdle and go through deep personal emotional trauma again like it did last year?
What if a major funding issue does come up? Which given what NA is doing on the field and how the infrastructure is growing, isn’t beyond possibility. Will the club finally bite the bullet over some aspects of external funding? Will the somewhat stodgy and conservative DT membership allow it if so?
There will be other scenarios that we haven’t thought about that might crop up. This might be the most important thing for this upcoming season to consider – if/when they do come up, we deal with them properly. Or if we don’t know how to, we accept we don’t know and find assistance from elsewhere.
We all need a good season, and as trauma-free as possible. We’re owed one after all, and there isn’t the stomach for 2013/14 to look like 2012/13…
– It really can’t be as bad as last season