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That was the season that was

It’s the close season. It’s that strange first week when you realise that your upcoming Saturday doesn’t involve AFCW, and won’t for a good couple of months.

It’s also time for SW19 to write its thoughts on 2014/15. Come on, it wasn’t that long ago when it finished…

– It’s hard to say whether we achieved or underachieved

On the surface of it, the highest points tally and highest placed finish (albeit by one position) should be cause for saying “job done”.

Likewise, other achievments – of which we’ll come onto later – hasn’t made this a disaster of a campaign, and one that we would have killed for two, three and even four years ago.

Yet there’s an underlying sense of disappointment, a feeling throughout that we could – and should – have done better. It’s an unavoidable stat that we didn’t won since 21st March, against Pompey.

It’s also hard to bury under the carpet the fact that in 2015 we failed to score in 9 out of 23 games. And out of those we did find the net in, we only scored more than two in six of them.

And it’s beyond a joke we didn’t win on the road since Boxing Day 2014.

It was, effectively two seasons in one – or more accurately, before we played Liverpool and then afterwards. We really did feel we were on the cusp of something then, but it all faded quite badly.

Why? Well…

– Losing Tubbs wasn’t the problem. Failing to replace him was.

When doing those (lack of) goalscoring stats in the last section, I deliberately did it from after the Liverpool game when we lost Tubbs and Barrett.

Had we kept him, we might have been within touching distance of the playoffs. As it was, we were practically playing with ten men since January.

It might be unfair to single out Tanner, but he came in as a striker soon after Tubbs departed, and found the net a grand total of zero times.

In other words, he was a complete flop.

Needless to say, him coming out (no, not in that way) and saying he wasn’t a #9 after all does make you question if we properly scouted him – or whether it was a bit of a panic transfer.

Either way, it didn’t do NA any favours, and it did appear from his Cheltenham programme notes (repeated below) that he might have realised his error early on:

But so many things can go wrong before you can get to sign a player on the dotted line. We lost two strikers we tried to sign, one because his club did a U-turn and he has since played in the Championship, and the other because FIFA wouldn’t authorise the loan. Having lost those two, we would have been wasting the club’s hard earned money on players no better than we already had.

We can guess the u-turn was by Palace on Appiah, but who was the one that FIFA blocked? Given our propensity for transfer fuckups, we should have gone the whole hog and get points deducted by football’s governing body to add to our collection.

If we had got a better striker in, then things would probably have been different. Fine margins, and all that.

– We lost practically a whole back line in a matter of weeks.

Newport and Daggers away notwithstanding, our defence wasn’t too bad. I doubt if we’ll see Goodman and Deji again, more’s the pity, and if a new striker is paramount in the next couple of months – so are at least two centre backs.

Frampton was likely to be on his last legs (literally) anyway, so him announcing his retirement wasn’t a surprise. Benno going back to Munster equally wasn’t something that came out of the blue.

Even losing Barrett soon after the Liverpool game wasn’t a shock, but we lost three defenders in quick succession, and no matter who you are – that isn’t going to help you.

We did sign Dave Winfield on loan, but most of us have forgotten him. If not entirely forgiven.

Granted, we’ve had Will Nightingale come up from the youth, but he’s already had to have an operation, and as such we need to treat him with kid gloves a bit more.

I’m certainly not going to complain if we get another promising youngster with an experienced old hand – Goodman and Barrett were one of the best CB pairings I can remember for a long time, so it’s a shame neither of them were ours.

I just hope we check their birth certificates a bit carefully though. Otherwise we’ll have to take something out with BUPA…

– Neal Ardley did all right.

And nothing more than that.

This was a make-or-break season for NA, and he did OK. He certainly looked a bit more of a manager rather than a UEFA Coaching Manual robot, at least.

He did however enter a rather strange purgatory – nearly not bad enough to be sacked, but equally some very big questions remain of him.

It’s fair to say that most fans are content to see him take charge again next season. Equally, if he did move on a lot of people wouldn’t actually miss him that much.

That became apparent when Gillingham were reportedly sniffing around him, earlier this year, where the over-riding emotion seemed to be how much compensation could we get out of the Kent side.

Not a “it will be disasterous if we lost him” reaction. Telling, one could say…

Still, he got some things right. We got a defence worthy of the name, pushed us in the cups further than ever (see later), gave us aa glimpse of what a decent strike partnership can do, and ensure our season ended in January rather than May.

What he can’t seem to do is convince that he can kick on. It happens every season with him – we always fade, sometimes quite badly. And this season was absolutely no different – and perhaps arguably the most inexusable decline of the lot.

Which is why we should take claims about pushing for the playoffs in 2015/16 with a large dose of sodium. Because since he came here in October 2012, he has never made that next step upwards.

Last month, I read a comment that NA’s sides don’t particularly look like a team – at least, one that bands together. Great play was made of the ones that escaped relegation by 18 minutes being a unit and wanting to do it for each other.

I’m not saying our players are at war with each other, far from it, but questions about how well he inspires remain unanswered. He has earned the right to manage us again next season, but like the rest of the side – he needs to prove he can do better.

Some will (over) praise him whatever he does, and he does get a free pass on a few things because he’s ex-WFC. But keeping him on simply to see him lead the team out at NPL is a very dangerous game…

– AFCW got through the season without a major fuckup

Unless you count keeping on NA for something that could still be three years down the line, that is.

This may be a snarky conclusion to make, stating this as a key component of the year just gone. But it’s definitely one grounded in truth.

The accusation that the club doesn’t look like a professional one hasn’t been made so much this season, and that’s probably because it’s finally acting like it’s in the FL.

Not all of it, of course, and there are still areas/individuals that haven’t moved on since 2005, but maybe we’re finally starting to grasp this professional football lark.

There’s been refreshingly few bucket collections, and indeed the whole We Are Wimbledon* thing seems to have taken a back-seat to the Yellow and Blue Club (which is basically the old WFC Vice Presidents club – though I preferred the 1889 Club meself, much more grandeous sounding).

* – I have to be honest and admit that I thought it had died the death, but the end of season raffle proves it’s still around. Mind you, we never did find out how much – or little – that WAW pre-season-match-Mike-Richardson plea for £100k raised…

Constant claims of poverty have also (again, refreshingly) been kept to a minimum, though when you’ve had Akinfenwa and Tubbs together for even just some of it, it’s difficult to use that excuse any more.

Some attempts to increase funds have been more successful than others, for now at least, although the options on that score are starting to get narrower. We are still far too reliant on Mike Richardson, for example, which again is a dangerous game to play.

Still, the club had one of the biggest tests ever in hosting the Liverpool game. And to be fair to the club, it succeeded – we got a lot of praise for it, charging kids £4 went down very well throughout the wider footballing world, and it proves it is capable if it’s forced into doing it properly.

I won’t forget the temporary press box above the Chemflow End bogs though  😉

Obviously, all the while we’re at KM a lot of things won’t get done, but there were improvements in the club’s day-to-day running. Anyone notice how few office staff illnesses there were this season? In 13/14 we practically didn’t get by a fortnight without one.

It’s not perfect, but at least you don’t feel quite so shivery when you see the words “club office closed” so much…

– The youth started to come through.

I’m sure some kind soul will list who made their debuts after coming through the ranks in 14/15. It’s certainly more than I ever remembered in previous seasons.

Even your editor’s sporadic appearances at AFCW this season has seen the likes of Ben Harrison, Tom Beere and Will Nightingale put on the blue-and-yellow Admiral branded shirt, and there may be more to come. Harrison in particular seemed to delight in bollocking Framps and Benno during the game.

While writing this (which has now taken three days – and counting…) the Independent wrote a fairly big article on our youth development, and it does look very impressive stuff.

It’s taken enough time, of course, and it’s only in the last season or two where our yoof system has been remotely fit for purpose, but it’s here now.

And that is the most important thing. It is possible we could have 3/4 regular first team players who we can call our own. Equally, we could have absolutely zero, which is something those who push the “#homegrownandhungry” tag must be made aware of.

That is the very nature of youth development, but at least we’re no longer wasting potential talent like we used to. Some may be infuriated that NA gives handfuls of games rather than a run of them to the kids, but that’s actually par for the course.

Given that there’s likely to be restrictions on loanees in the future, bringing your own through makes sense on so many levels. As long as they are actually good enough, that is…

– We played Franchise. And lost.

The season started pretty shit, with us going up to the FrenzyDome to see us spanked. That particular evening saw over 1000 of us trapse up there, which if nothing else shows what people really think of this fixture.

It was, as mentioned by SW19 some years ago, the all-important second time we played them, and it practically went un-noticed throughout the footballing world. Even (most of) our fans brushed it off and moved on.

The hatred will never die, and quite a few felt sick this past weekend, but unlike the first time – it didn’t come close to defining our season.

– Then we played Franchise again. And won. And revealed something I didn’t expect to see.

When I found out it was Dons v Dons III : This Time We Might Actually Win It, I was at the Tebay Services, en-route to Carlisle. I rolled my eyes, and have to admit that I laughed to myself about it.

Obviously, others didn’t, but once again it didn’t exactly put people in a good mood. And there was the usual denial about it (there was an u21 game at the same time, which a few people tried to pass off as the “real” game that was taking place that evening).

Funnily enough, when we won, it mattered. How bizarre.

If playing them twice was cathartic, beating them was a release for most of us. Yeah, it was “only” the JPT, but that didn’t matter as soon as the result came in.

It made the whole 13 years since 28/5 all the more worthwhile, that we faced them and finally metaphorically smacked them in the mouth. It was all very well to stand on the moral high ground after losing to them, but you can never replicate the feeling you have when you succeed.

As somebody wiser than me said, winning is everything and losing is bollocks.

You will notice I put a caveat there, and it’s this : there were a few – not many, but enough to take notice – who just didn’t celebrate us beating them.

They just didn’t want to “legitimise” them by going apeshit over it, and more than a couple of them were deeply unhappy that it was “becoming a rivalry”.

Their words, not mine.

Most if not all of us have a hardline attitude to some degree about them – wanting them to go bankrupt and disappear without a trace, let alone them fucking up promotion (which they finally failed to do – thirteen years after they stole a Championship place, needless to say) remains the over-riding emotion.

To not even enjoy beating them is pretty much the hardline-of-the-hardline attitude. It’s denialist, for sure, primarily because it’s continuing to fight a battle that got lost years ago.

I hate to go over very well-trodden ground, but it’s important to remind ourselves – Franchise do exist. It is a rivalry. And they aren’t going to go away any time soon.

And for collective sanity, it’s best to accept the whole thing for what it is, not what some think it should be.

One other thing about it – why was there never a club DVD released of this game? It would have sold bucketloads, although perhaps it’s not just some supporters in denial…

Apparently, there was a DVD of the game released, though it wasn’t very well advertised…

– Cup runs are great.

For once, we had not one but two of them. The FAC was the obvious one, and 6m watching Akinfenwa equalise on the BBC against the Scousers did more to the AFCW “cause” than a million-and-one protests against Franchise.

But we have had been sorely lacking in this department for a while, and it was only the singlular FA Trophy run that got the cockles warmed.

And even that was curtailed thanks to fucking Darlogate mark 1.

OK, we lost to Brizzle City in the JPT as well, but it gave us something to aim for, and I think we don’t do that enough at AFCW. The buzz about beating Wycombe in the second round was enough in itself, even before the third round draw.

Players themselves feed off that as well – when we won at Adams Park, we then went on to lose just one game in December. Co-incidence? Perhaps not, but it’s hard to motivate when your ambition is merely to survive each season.

It’s probably also no little co-incidence that after the Liverpool game our season effectively ground to a halt. That really was our cup final, and I don’t think we properly got going after it.

You won’t get them every year, but we’re owed a couple more decent ones. And perhaps the Capital One Cup next season may finally give us an away tie at a Premiership side?

Of course, you’ll know we’ll draw Millwall again. Or Franchise…

– The big moment is yet to come.

OK, it’s ironic that I’m typing this out on Election Day, as I’m still very wary of local councillors about NPL. Though Brentford had more open opposition to Lionel Road than we have seen (so far) with ours, and they got theirs through.

In a sniffier area of West London as well.

It’s apparently going to be approved (or not) at the end of this month or the beginning of June, so if nothing else I hope every “t” has been dotted and every “i” has been crossed, or something.

Get that right, and it becomes very difficult to get it rejected.

My long held gut feeling is that we’ll get it – eventually. If LBM refuse it, I believe we can appeal it anyway, and if you make something bulletproof (even a big project like this) and workable it won’t stay rejected for long.

Remember – LBM needs housing. Urgently. And 90% plus support for it is very difficult to ignore.

We have some more hoops to go through – whether the Mayor of London calls it in, whether the Secretary of State does as well, and anyone vindictive enough to force a judicial review (which will take a year, but would cost a lot for those who bring one up).

So I’m not expecting anything final and decisive until the new season starts. It will seem a long, torturous couple on months ahead on it, but we’ve only waited 24 years to get this far…