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(Almost) Goodbye to 2016

OK, it’s not quite 2017 yet, and we’ve got Brizzle Rovers tomorrow. But who’s counting…?

So, 2016. A year that gave “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here” a totally new meaning, and a lot of other things besides.

For AFCW, of course, it was a good twelve months. Actually, it was a very good 365 days, in so many ways that were often unexpected.

It’s hard to think that this time last year, we were on the cusp of an absolutely sensational run that even now still manages to defy belief.

We’ve gone over why it suddenly clicked in the best way possible so many times, but it was only March 2016 where it looked like it was going to scupper us.

Back then we stumbled at tomorrow’s opponents, put in two shitty performances at Morecambe and Hartlepool, and we mentally prepared ourselves for another season against Mansfield.

But the rest is history. And rather glorious one at that.

I think AFCW “found” itself in 2016. Certainly on the pitch, anyway. It’s easy to forget today that even in the early part of last season we were still bumbling along, and still struggling to find a team identity.

Character was in short supply, which makes this calendar year’s transformation even more amazing to look back upon. As said so many times this season alone, we have a backbone.

Of course, the highlight of the ball-kicking side of things was a day in late May. Looking back at Wombley, I think that day couldn’t have got more perfect in the end.

We turned up, for a start. And I’m still amazed at how Plymouth didn’t – a couple of weeks ago before Xmas, I finally put the fixture onto DVD and we just grew into that game.

Maybe it really was cometh the hour, and all that? We saw signs of that at Accrington in the semi finals, and the post-game celebrations still give off a warm glow.

Whatever it was, it does appear that it’s (eventually) helped us settle into League One life. And boy, that was a difficult introduction.

If on 30/12/15 you would have said to me we’d be eleventh in the division above a year later, I would have not only snapped your hand off, but put all my savings into paying for a surgeon to put it back on again.

I expect most of us would have predicted we’d be one or two places away from the drop zone at best this campaign. While that’s still possible, especially given our current decline in form, you would expect us to finish this season comfortably.

Granted, it was a shaky start, caused by a horrible beginning of fixtures and a lack of match sharpness. And the whole Ryan Clarke thing ended in a fitting manner.

But we end this year not feeling out of place in the third tier of English football.

Like the first full season of NA’s tenure, we’ll need to start rebuilding in 2017, but at least we can do that with some solidity behind us.

Whether we go for a bit of that next month, or whether we keep our power dry until the summer is for another day. What is important is that we’re here and it doesn’t feel like we’ve got away with it.

Speaking of our manager, it went right for him this year. He now has a playoff final victory on his CV, which most coaches don’t have, and you can’t begrudge him it.

I think he finally learned how to be a manager, rather than a UEFA coaching licence clone. Part of that was helped by a sports shrink, who told him to stop doing so much.

Personally, I don’t find it coincidence that Alan Reeves joining the first team setup at least part-time has also helped things. And if we did ever need to replace NA at short notice then Mr Own Goal would be obvious.

But whether Ardley simply had to prove himself with actual results, we’ll never know. All we can say is, whatever the magic formula was – I’m glad we found it.

Mind you, this year did see other things finally start to justify their investment. Our yoof policy, for example, which even until 2014 did seem something we had for the sake of it.

The FAYC run last season gave most of us immense joy, and Newcastle turned out to be one of the more fun away fixtures of last season.

3000+ against Chelski told its own story, and to lose to the eventual winners is certainly nothing to be ashamed of, especially considering the gulf in resources.

We get to repeat history again against Hull on the 10th January, by the way. At KM, kick off 7pm. Be there.

Did AFCW itself come of age in 2016? Kind of – organisation wise, it does seem to realise that there’s much to be done, though for obvious reasons much if not most of it is on hold.

There are many who are compiling one central CRM database type thingy, and have been for much of this year. True, it’s odd that we didn’t nail this down in 2002, but then there’s been a lot of things (some not obvious) that to be blunt have been poorly managed.

We’ve finally tried to get to grips with that in 2016, and the more “professional” the club becomes the better. The issue with Sutton, where regular match-goers** have been left to fend for themselves, highlights how some things still aren’t right.

** – and a couple of people showed themselves up with their very bad attitude towards those who make the effort most weekends, especially to some shitholes up North. Sooner we drive that out of the club the better.

Mind you, we have a good reason to start working on the club’s infrastructure off the field. After all, this year did see the minor issue of NPL…

That particular topic has been a rollercoaster this year, and then some. The post-LBM glow that gave way to Boris the Retard and the outright sinking feeling you had when he called it in.

You don’t need me to remind you of the reaction that evening. Though some people did over-react a bit too much afterwards, it has to be said.

You also don’t need me to point out what happened when Sadiq Khan realised what BtR had left him could have allowed us to put in our own judicial review.

We would have won that, by the way. Not that we wouldn’t have got it through a public hearing which he clearly didn’t want to go through.

And as for the relief when the SoS signed it off? That managed to be the best bit of news of the lot, and suddenly it all started to look real again.

We were a political football, nothing more, and one suspects those who opposed us weren’t really doing it because they hated AFCW, or they lamented the loss of the dog track.

This is politics after all. A dodgy industry at the best of times, one that attracts some very sinister characters. And one that cost us time and money.

We’ll make both back, not to mention a good chance to prove that football fans have very long memories. Sadly, we didn’t get to sign off the S106s this year, but that’s more symbolic than actually problematic.

It would have been nice to do so before Xmas, but any window for a judicial review would have probably been extended, so it really didn’t make much odds either way.

That’s something to look forward to for 2017 anyway, and barring an unforeseen calamity with regards to the JR, the next twelve months will see actual concrete demolition and site clearances, and with actual concrete to boot.

And then it really will be a major step forward.

Anyway, that’s my last update for this year, unless something extraordinarily amazing happens. And I don’t just mean us winning at Brizzle Rovers tomorrow.

Let’s just not look back at losing to Franchise…