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Almost there

Just think, this will be the last weekend for a while that won’t get ruined by the football…

It’s weird to think that the last game of the season is tomorrow. Even more weird, it’s the last of the dead rubbers that we’ve had since practically early March.

A win tomorrow will send people off on a high, a draw or even worse could put us depressingly back in 16th, which really would sum up a campaign that promised so much but ultimately delivered so little.

It will take the strangeness beyond breaking point against Cheltenham, who now have to face the horrors of playing in something sponsored by Vanarama next season.

At least if they had a chance of staying up tomorrow it would have been something. As it is, they’re going to be putting in some youngsters, as they really don’t have much else to lose now.

It would therefore be typical if they have the game of their lives…

Us? Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, we’re not going to put in loads of youngsters for the sake of it. One does sense that there’s the need to finish on a positive note, if only to keep people happy during the summer.

Including, dare I say, some of the powers-that-be at the club?

I won’t write about how much we achieved (or not) this season until next week. If nothing else, I need something to write about in the close season 😉

But there’s now a very real sense that we must start properly improving, that for once under the Neal Ardley regime – we must kick on and make that next step.

Tomorrow’s opponents should be yet another warning to AFCW that if you don’t kick on, if you don’t progress, and if you do find yourself in a rut – you stagnate.

And stagnation kills football clubs.

Writing that last couple of sentences jogged your editor’s memory about him having to go down to the Torquay v Cheltenham playoff semi final at Plainmoor to do the day job.

That was a mere three years ago, when both sides legitimately looked towards League One football. Both are now out of the Football League, because they failed to build on their successes.

Even if you do escape that rut, long term decline can be fatal – ask Tranmere, or better still ask Brizzle Rovers fans. Both those sides went from League One to non-league, and they weren’t the only ones.

Why? They stagnated and they couldn’t get out of it until it was too late. There have been enough warning signs for the club elsewhere since we returned to the Football League, and we must continue to heed them.

Which is why stories like these are welcome. One reason given for not putting in youngsters in fixtures like tomorrow is that there are contracts still to be played for.

While I doubt that NA hasn’t made his mind up for the traditional End Of Season Cull™ it cannot hurt to keep a few on their toes for one more game.

We can all guess, with some accuracy, where the real priorities in the close season lie. Danny Bulman has spoken out, and while I can’t find any links right now, Akinfenwa has made a couple of hints too.

Our season ended not when Tubbs left, but when we failed to even adequately replace him. I know we have the smallest budget in the entire history of the Football League* but if it’s true we’re going to get two new strikers in – it will be worth the extra money.

* – actually, the fact that the club is talking about increasing it, and the money we allegedly offered Tubbs, it’s obviously dawning on the decision makers that we have to stop playing the poverty card now.

Even with such a restrictive funding model, we shouldn’t be *that* poor – we took in £4k in club shop sales on Good Friday, apparently, and there’s the FA Cup money. Not to mention that we’re in an afffluent part of London with quite a few fans to match…

Remember – Cheltenham and Torquay didn’t properly replace their players, and now they’ll be facing each other in the Conference.

While we await that, it will be goodbye to a few tomorrow. Deji is too good to be at League Two next season, Goodman is likely to be needed by Neil Harris at Millwall, and the less said about Craig Tanner the better.

The others? No idea, and until the end of season dinner is concluded we aren’t going to find out. We can do guesses though, those planning to stay behind tomorrow can report back about which players did the longest clap in the lap of honour afterwards.

Perhaps there will be a smaller cull than usual? Then again, you never quite know with NA, especially as we can replace a few fringe players with yoof teamers next season.

It is of course the time of year to make uneducated guesses about who we’ll play in the pre-season. One of the links above suggests we’ve already planned most of next pre-season’s opponents already.

We can probably guess that Slutton and Woking will be amongst them. It might not be entirely surprising to find out we’re playing a proper Chelski side again.

There isn’t really anyone else “decent” though. Barnet will be in L2 next season, Leyton Orient could be as well after Sunday, we’ve done Millwall and Charlton, and if we got a Palace/Fulham/QPR type game it wouldn’t be their first XI anyway.

Maybe Bournemouth? Or maybe there will be another Monza-type excursion? If so, your editor might be able to get there this time.

UPDATE: And literally two minutes after pressing “Publish” – the club announce it’s off to La Manga. Very nice. Anyway, it seems like we’ll have a game against somebody, so perhaps some Spanish club who will inevitably crock our two new strikers…

We should know by now that pre-seasons are solely for fitness. And yes, my blood still runs cold whenever I type those words out.

I do wonder if we might end up playing somebody like Basingstoke Town? I know we had some sort of tie-up with them for the yoof, and no idea if we still do, but it’s the kind of venue you expect to spend a hot July Saturday watching our new squad labour to a crappy 3-0 defeat.

Oh wait, that was last year against Margate.

While we await the faux-excitement of those fixtures getting announced, the playoffs will be in full swing. Except the Conference ones are half-way through already.

Having watched both of the first legs, it seems Brizzle Rovers have little to worry them thus far. You can reasonably expect it to be a Gas v Fishy final, and of course anything can happen in a single game.

I couldn’t help think that we did the right thing in getting rid of the sacred cow that was Jack Midson, he seemed as ineffective for Eastleigh as he was for us in the end.

At least we can say hello to Barnet again next season. It’s always good to have a local game like this, though hopefully we don’t have the same chill down the spine we had after the last time we met…….