OK, now it’s starting to sink in a bit…
Out of all the clubs in the 91 Club, AFCW have had more promotions than just about anyone in the last two decades. For those who can’t be arsed counting, we’ve had six of them now.
Every single one ends up being the same when the initial euphoria dies down, and the cooler reflection kicks in. Relief that we’ve gone up, a mixture of excitement and trepidation for next season, not to mention getting the A to Z out again.
This wasn’t the necessity that winning at Staines was. Nor was it the symbolism of Eastlands. But I think we’ve got more coverage of our win on Monday than any other time.
League Two is unique insofar as the team finishing seventh still gets to extend their season. In any other division anywhere in the country (world?), we would have been well into close season by now.
That does also mean that four go down next season, and we have to be very mindful of that. In many ways, the club may be forced to grow up even more now.
L1 has that air of going from middle school to the big boys place of learning. It’s where adolecents become adults, and anyone who is still immature finds it a rough ride.
We’ve come from a division where the big clubs down there have really fallen from grace (ie Pompey, Plymouth. Luton). The third division on the other hand is a bit different than that.
It’s where you get the fallen giants who are still slightly too big to plummet any further. Man Citeh were famously in it 20 years ago. A decade on, and the current Premier League champions were slumming it here.
Leeds too. And Southampton. Hull, Brighton, Norwich and Swansea have been there in recent years as well. This time round, Bolton and Charlton are the ones who will get compared unfavourably to what we’ve achieved.
OK, there are enough clubs that are a bit more what we’re used to. But there is something of the need to raise the club to the next level in 2016/17.
Thankfully, we’re a bit (OK, lot) less naive than we were when TB got us up in 2011. That was so much of a Learning Curve™ which we had to take on, that the club is almost unrecognisable today.
Whether we’re ready to play in L1 remains to be seen, and I have my doubts, though the culture shock for the club won’t be as much as it was after Eastlands.
We’re more clued up on transfers these days. We’re a bit (and only a bit) less dogmatic about how we fund ourselves, and while too much of this club is stretched we’re generally more professional.
Until Sadiq Khan finally gives us the OK for NPL, League One is going to be our glass ceiling. It’s certainly not a bad place to settle down in, and providing we don’t get stuffed every week it’ll be quite enjoyable.
We all agree that staying up next campaign is our priority. Already we’ve made moves, with Charles joining us full time, and Fuller, Francomb and Bulman staying on.
With luck, it won’t be the season too far for Bulman and Fuller. If we can get one more season out of them, plus Robbo, then great. The less we need to rebuild at the moment, the better.
Charles is of course the signing we all wanted, and one suspects his loan spell was us trying before we bought him. No doubt we’ll start making moves before long, as I think this is the latest we’ve ever ended a season.
(As an aside – is this likely to be the shortest pre-season ever? We’re now in June and with the Euros and everything AFCW related going on, we’ll be playing Franchise before you know it).
Being in L1, we’ll get access to better players. Obviously, budgets will hamper us a bit, but we should still be able to improve the quality of what we’ve got.
As we all know, Akinfenwa, Rigg and Kennedy have departed, and in BMO’s case his likely wages hint we’re not quite such lousy payers.
Plus of course, we’ve got a squad rather than a collection of players. As long as it doesn’t get broken up too much, and we resist the temptation to cash in on Lyle Taylor, that will undoubtedly help us.
Remember, we survived in L2 in the first season because that Conference side was still riding on the crest of the wave. Until October, anyway…
We probably won’t see Roos again. They’d rather sell him than loan him out for his last year, presumably, and a keeper is somebody we’ve never properly nailed down.
We definitely need another striker, maybe two, though again tying down LT will be as good as a new signing. I’m sure you can think of other positions needed (left back, certainly), though we’re not having to replace about 7/8 players.
One thought that has just occured to me – where does this put our yoof teamers? They’ve now got to raise their standard to L1, just as they were getting used to L2, and that might be just about beyond them.
If you’ve come through the ranks at AFCW, you’ve pretty much had the goalposts moved thanks to the club getting promoted so often.
Somebody like Nightingale or Beere would have been regulars in L2, injuries and form notwithstanding, whereas next season? Of course, they may take their opportunities…
All in all, there’s a lot that needs to be done before next season kicks off. Announcing a pre-season friendly or two might be a good start, and we can get to patronise a L2 side.
Perhaps we’ll play Pompey at their place? The irony meter will be bursting just like the giddyometer has recently.
If the above gives you trepidation, and I don’t just mean visiting Fratton Park, that’s understandable. But it’s meant in a good way, because aiming higher is what every club should be doing.
We’ll probably have more lows than highs next season, but if we can adapt and do it quickly then who knows? That’s what AFCW has done for the last fourteen years, and I don’t think it’s in our DNA to do anything differently.
I know we got used to League Two, but I don’t want to return to it now. For a start, I rather like knowing that we can’t get relegated out of the Football League next season…