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Dons 4 Div 3 – the proper report


Be honest – it hasn’t quite sunk in, has it?

It’s been a good morning, despite the fact it’s currently pissing down outside SW19 Towers. We’ve now got just over two months without competitive AFCW football, and we’re going to need it.

Just to get over yesterday, if nothing else.

If you’re still pinching yourself over playing Millwall/Charlton/Bolton/Sheffield Utd/Coventry etc, you can certainly be forgiven. Christ, it was only five years ago that playing Morecambe seemed the holy grail.

There are going to be issues being in League One, and I don’t mean the media frenzy one. Unlike L2 budgets aren’t so much of a red herring.

We’ll have to deal with some ageing players like Fuller and Robbo, not to mention replacing the likes of Akinfenwa and Kennedy.

But that can wait. Fuck it, the players are off to Las Vegas with Mike Richardson (how predictable…) this very morning, and they’re going to enjoy themselves.

So we should too.

And to be fair, that’s what we’ll be doing anyway. While I don’t think this win was bigger than Eastlands or especially Staines, it means as much to us as any of the others.

You think about it logically – six promotions in fourteen seasons will probably never be surpassed by anyone, ever again. I know that in 2002/03 we were playing at places like Chessington and Hook.

But even in 2006/07, we played Ramsgutter, and Folkestone Invicta, and Leyton (not Orient). That’s a decade, and while a lot has happened since then, it’s still not that long ago…

To the game, and if we’re being honest, it was a case of the result being much more important. I can’t remember such an error-strewn first half, it was as though both sides shat themselves.

I don’t think it was as nervy as Eastlands, but any neutral sitting down to watch it at home would have switched over long before the first half ended.

Too many aimless long balls, too little quality, too much of a feeling that it would go to extra time and penalties. And that was just the first half hour.

Which made our marked improvement in the second half even more, er, marked.

I haven’t watched the game back yet, but I wonder if viewing it more dispassionately (?) will prove that we were never in danger of losing it?

We were certainly on top in the second half, at least we had the chances, but I think we needed that goal sooner rather than later. Which LT duly provided…

If you watch that back on the replay, it was actually a better touch than first thought. Not only turning it into the net, but managing to avoid doing the same to the defender’s head.

I don’t think anyone could honestly say that was indeed that afterwards, but it was good that we were trying for the second goal afterwards.

Which, after a couple of close calls, we finally got. And probably the only (semi) sour note of the day – when you realise Kennedy was getting released too, it did seem that Akinfenwa’s ego took over a bit too much.

As somebody put it yesterday, would that have happened if we were 1-0 down rather than 1-0 up?

Still, he scored it, he got to have all the attention on him and flog a few more t-shirts in the process. All ends well, I guess.

To be honest, I like interviewing him, as he’s good copy, and yes – without him these past couple of weeks, it would have been Accrington at Wembley yesterday.

But it’s the right time for us and him to part company. It’s been mutually beneficial, he can get a L2 or perhaps Conference side next season (be funny if he ended up at Pompey) and he can wring two more years out of his footballing career…

Enough churlishness on an occasion that doesn’t need it. You can’t put a price on the sheer elation that promotion gives you. Your editor has covered games at Wembley, and I have to admit I’d liked to have seen us experience the feeling of seeing our players walking up those (badly designed) steps.

At 1715 or so on 30/5/16, I got to see us do exactly that.

One of the strange quirks of the playoffs, especially the L2 one, is that the team finishing seventh can still get to lift a trophy and get medals, while the ones who finish 2nd/3rd don’t.

To see Fuller (who’s done it twice before) lift it up is something you’ll never forget. Thankfully there’s the big screen so unlike 1988 we got to see it up close this time.

As for NA’s reaction, well…..

Actually, the post-game yesterday felt like 28 years ago at the same venue. A mixture of jubiliation and more than a sense of fuck-me-did-we-just-do-that mixed in.

Plenty of physical bonding going on, occasionally with members of the opposite sex too, and people just generally hanging round taking it all in.

In those sort of moments, time really doesn’t matter. God help anyone yesterday who needed to get a flight/coach back within about two hours of the final whistle.

Even just walking to the nearby Sainsbury’s Local (where they helpfully tell you that you can only buy four cans of beer – I’m surprised they even allow you to buy one) to  felt like a weird dream.

And no, I don’t mean them selling a bottle of water for 85p in the shadow of one of the most expensive stadia in the world either.

Those who went for piss-ups afterwards must have had a good time, even if getting up for work today was somehow much more difficult 😉

As far as I know, no stories of alcohol-induced frivolity happened, at least those involving certain shaped objects, although there were rumours that Darius Charles is with us next season.

It won’t be too long before the very real task of (re)building us for League One starts, and all that entails. That won’t be easy, so definitely enjoy this as long as possible.

After all, this is AFC Wimbledon, and we’re always up to something.

Shall we…?

Plus points: Promoted. No further comment necessary.

Minus points: N/A.

The referee’s a…: As you would hope for a big occasion, refereed it well without anyone wanting to kill him afterwards. Though awarding 7 minutes of injury time (which later became eleven) may have caused some premature deaths if Plymouth had something about them.

Speaking of which…

Them: I wrote last night in my knackered state that if I was one of their fans I would be seriously pissed off at their “performance” yesteday.

After sleeping on it, I know we weren’t brilliant (we just needed to be better on the day, which we were) but I’m still surprised at how poor they were.

Even when we went 1-0 up, I expected them to really get at us, force a number of corners and generally make us shit our pants. It didn’t happen.

Whether having about 35k there froze them (and wasn’t it a shit weekend for the playoff teams with the bigger turnouts?) doesn’t matter now, but think about if we’d slipped from automatic promotion to waving the white flag in the final…

Still, I like Plymouth. Despite the rubbish drive down there, it’s one of the better places to watch games and it would be nice if this time next year they’ll be in L1 with us.

They’re a bit like Brizzle City or Sheffield United, insofar as they have never really put their potential as a club into practice. That they can get 1k to games in London sums up what they could, and perhaps should, be.

With the apparent isolated exception of a few over-cidered idiots on Wembley Way afterwards, it seems they handled their defeat pretty well. Loads of our fans commented on that yesterday, certainly.

But just think, kids – in 2009/10, Plymouth were in the Championship and we were playing FGR and Kidderminster in the Conference. Next season, we’ll be a division above them in the Football League…

Point to ponder: Whither Neal Ardley? I have to admit, I never thought he would actually ever get us into the playoffs, let alone win the final.

But he has, and that just leaves Terry Eames as the only AFCW manager never to take us up to a higher division.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile as much as he was after the game, and him holding the scarf up while WMS was playing was a goosebump moment and a half.

The inevitable comparison between yesterday, and the forlorn figure trudging to the dugout at half time at Newport, will come up, and we’ve mentioned so many times what has changed since then.

But perhaps this might see NA realise his potential as a manager? It’s been said by quite a few that he’s more suited to L1 than the almost war-like nature of L2, and now he’ll get a chance to prove it.

If he can stabilise us in the third tier, continue to earn his spurs as a manager, and manage to bring through the yoof, then great. Like TB before him, he deserves his chance higher up. Unlike TB, I don’t think promotion will be a step too far for him.

I’m under no illusion that if Cardiff came calling in a season or two, he’d go there. I get the impression he thinks there’s unfinished business in South Wales, and yesterday won’t have done his CV much harm at all.

Back to the present. He did little wrong yesterday, and in the planning and buildup to the game, although I don’t think he did much different to THAT Fleetwood game.

I think he’s most effective when he doesn’t try to over-think, and to be too clever. The squad that won yesterday was his team, and he knew he had to get something tangible out of it.

And winning promotion at Wembley is a pretty good return…

Truth is stranger than fiction: 1) What is it about big games and penalties? 1988, Eastlands, Fleetwood and now Wombley. And like Lurch all those years ago, you’ll remember the spot kick for a long time. 2) About 22k supporting us yesterday. No wonder I didn’t recognise most of our fans yesterday. 3) Opera singers are shit. 4) Mikey T announcing the teams on the big screen beforehand – surprised he didn’t go the whole hog and give it the “awooo” treatment, or whatever he says on WDON.

Anything else? I wonder if like Eastlands, this was the best/only chance we had of getting promotion for a good while? Since January, and minus the March madness, the stars have aligned for us in a way not seen since the last Conference season.

When something clicks like it has done in 2016, or back in 2011, or even in the Conference South season, you have to take that proverbial bull by its metaphoric horns.

Had we lost yesterday, it might have been as good as it got. When you’re on the cusp of something big and it ultimately fails, it can knock you back a lot (and something I think t’Stanley may find that out the hard way next season).

We face different challenges, and some I’m not sure how we’ll overcome, but they’re the issues you want to face. But there’ll be momentum at the start of next season, and as Burton proved – going from L2 to L1 isn’t the surefire way of returning to L2…

A lot will say we’ll go straight back down, and unless we do some proper strengthening they’ll be right. But Bury, Rochdale, Southend and Swindon to name but four have all won promotion in the last couple of seasons and they’re still there.

To establish ourselves as a L1 club, we have to get there in the first place, and we’ve now done that. I’d like to think the club itself has learned from the mistakes it made in the first couple of seasons in the FL, and next season won’t be such a big a culture shock.

When you think about it, it was fate that we went up at Staines and at Eastlands, and quite possibly yesterday too….

So, was it worth it? Promotion into League One. Meh.

In a nutshell: Off to Oldham next season…