What a strange mistress 2019/20 turned out to be…
As I type this, last season has officially been done for over a week, but in truth it’s been over three months ago.
The post-Covid world has changed everything of course, and everyone is in a genuine state of flux right now.
It’s as though life was one of those snow globes you get at Christmas, where somebody not only shook it but threw it against the wall. Then hurled it up in the air for good measure.
But that’s the future. Believe it or not, we had some games to watch within the last twelve months.
I’ll be honest here – partly because of how long ago a ball was kicked, and partly due to lack of enthusiasm over reliving last season, I’ve probably missed a lot out.
Then again, we’re at the time of year where we should be thinking about fixtures for next season. And even a pre-season friendly or two.
The Football Gods smiled on us. Again.
Let’s be honest – as the season finale drew ever closer, it looked like our luck had finally ran out.
If you look at the results before the lockdown, they don’t seem quite as bad. But our performances were, well, laboured.
Too many late goals against us. Too few goals up the other end. A real sense that Tranmere were hitting form at the right time, and our arses were starting to twitch.
I don’t know if the Coronavirus was started by some filthy animal eating a filthy animal, but I’d like to shake their hand if it was.
Metaphorically, of course.
I think it’s the sense that we’ve got away with it in the spawniest way possible that makes me almost feel a bit guilty.
After all, when we were gubbed at Oxford and limped to a 0-0 against the Seasiders, who would have thought we’d be rescued by a pandemic?
It’s almost like these mythical Football Gods looked down upon us from high, and thought we’d suffered a bit too much.
It has become a habit in recent years, needless to say. We all remember last year, but we left it late in the previous campaign too.
Eventually, unless we make ourselves a mid-table L1 side PDQ, our luck will run out and we’ll be back in the fourth tier eventually.
But – again – we managed to survive when it looked like the trap door was starting to open.
I don’t think we were as poor as Bolton and Southend were, and there’s some amnesia on the Wirral about how shite Tranmere were too.
Bury’s demise helped us immensely too – three down instead of four and it’s typical that we finished fourth bottom. In any other year, we’d be down.
To be fair, we had some good results. Beating Pompey and Posh at KM, winning at Priestfield**, winning 4-1 at Roots Hall and drawing very late at Rotherham.
** – and how important did *that* turn out to be?
But there was too much crap. Losing to Tranmere, letting it slip late too often, and the 0-0 at home to Bolton immediately spring to mind.
Yet we’re still in League One. Maybe somebody likes us after all…
Our squad wasn’t really good enough
Yes, it stayed up. And yes, it has now been taken apart, and put away for us never to speak of it again.
But as the SW19 writeup on the departures last week hint, I’m not missing any of them already.
We didn’t get the much hoped-for rebuild last summer, which likely wasn’t down to just one factor, and it showed.
An over-reliance on youth, a failure to properly beef up the forward line, and not being able to move certain players on made it a campaign to endure.
Granted, Forss coming in helped immensely, and to further prove somebody somewhere was on our side – his injury and return to Brentford didn’t sink us.
Ordinarily, we would have taken people like Osew, NGW and Roscrow and put them on loan for a few months.
That we were throwing them into L1 football told its own story though. It might have been a gamble that paid off, but it was a gamble none the less.
Managerial issues didn’t help, of which more of that later. But a lot of the time it felt a mixture of Ardley’s expensive mistakes coupled with some contemporary make-do-and mending.
There was some nervousness even before the season started, with a loss to Plymouth in Spain suddenly putting a lot of people on edge.
Pre-season is solely about fitness, as a former manager once said, but even then the lack of quality throughout the squad got noticed.
When the actual games started, we tried hard. But there was a sense this was a squad that would start to struggle in League Two.
True, it got a bit more cohesive, which coincided with a change at the top. Funny, that. And under Glyn Hodges the results were at least those of a lower-midtable side.
For reasons I guess of finance and VFM, we didn’t do much in January, and as it turned out it didn’t matter after all.
But it wasn’t a vintage squad, unless you call a bottle of soured milk “vintage”.
It didn’t help that the likes of Wordsworth and (rolls eyes) Appiah were on the treatment table more often than not.
It’s all ifs and buts, but if either of those two had been fighting fit we might have found last season just a little less wearysome…
Glyn Hodges is currently the right man for the job
And yes, I hold myself as a hostage to fortune, especially when you consider what I wrote last year.
Hence the “currently” 😉
It could have gone quite badly wrong for Streatham’s finest Welshman, when he took over in, ahem, less than idea circumstances.
A change in ethos, and a run of games where we won three on the trot undoubtedly helped his cause, and him taking over felt “right”.
You know how some individuals seem to fit in a role straight away? Hodger looks the part of being a manager.
He does have decent back-up staff – Nick Daws is the guy who started up the proper player database.
While Vaughan Ryan’s arrival raised more than a few eyebrows, he doesn’t seem out of place now.
And yes, while his personality can be a bit overwhelming at times, Ashley Bayes has definitely been the mainstay from the NA era.
But Hodger’s style and demeanour seems a bit, well, reassuring. Abrasive he isn’t, nor is he awkwardly stat-obsessed.
After Walter left, he was the calming influence the club needed, and he’s been rewarded with another shot at L1 football in 20/21.
He’ll be judged properly next season, once he gets the chance to rebuild the squad, but one thing is clear – you can’t imagine him getting caught on his William Hill app.
Which leads us to…
There was something inevitable about Wally Downes’ demise
And a very good reason why you should never employ your heroes after all.
Rewind a year back, and WJ Downes was on top of the AFCW world. He helped us mastermind the Great Escape (TM) against all odds.
He cocked a snoot to those who didn’t want him to begin with, and as SW19 wrote a mere twelve months ago – he made us “us” again.
Which is why his fall from grace was so shocking.
But then, something was wrong even as far back as pre-season. I mentioned the Plymouth game earlier, but even going to Met Police and the Beavers gave that little bit of doubt that all wasn’t well.
We all know about his betting habits, that ultimately cost him his job. But we tried hard in the beginning, fell short at the end too often, and it never got better under him.
At one of those late heartbreak games, Coventry at St Andrews, he went to the crowd instead of going to the players and consoling them, then left through an exit near the away section.
I was going to write whether the players stopped responding to him, and if so – why? Although thinking back to that evening in Brum, and how he ignored them at their lowest ebb, perhaps that’s the answer.
Especially poignant, considering some of those were the same players who performed the heroics under the same manager just months before.
Although it’s no secret Walter hasn’t had a good reputation for man-management, it has to be said, and his style of personality isn’t very effective for long.
Especially these days, where the more successful managers aren’t 1980s throwbacks any longer.
And that’s probably the main reason why the highest high became the lowest low so suddenly.
Walter was of that era that also produced the likes of Sam Allardyce and Neil Warnock, two individuals who themselves are now enjoying the retirement circuit.
I don’t know what our former manager has been doing, but I suspect it used to involve the pub.
Shitting the bed against Franchise (twice in the space of a month) seemed to do a lot of damage – after all, this was the last thing that was supposed to happen under him.
As many asked after that day at the Frenzydome – whatever happened to the old Crazy Gang mentality?
And yes, following that, a fair number of people were openly suggesting whether he was the right man for the job after all.
The brutal truth is that it took an old CG icon to realise that era is now over. It was over 35 years ago, and times are very different.
I don’t think Walter was up to no good when he placed his ultimately fatal bets, but only an unreconstructed dinosaur would have done that to begin with, and think he would get away with it.
If we were doing better, would he have been sacked after his suspension? Probably not, but it’s an my-auntie-has-balls scenario.
The results on the field would have done for him anyway, especially as there was no real sign of improvement likely to come under him.
His departure was sad, because of his Wimbledon connections, and it has to be said a few supporters had difficulty accepting it.
Believing that he was going to come back refreshed, or that Hodger was keeping the seat warm for Walter’s return never tied up with the reality of the situation.
Once he was suspended by AFCW, he was gone.
The club was right to give him his marching orders, if only for the on-field crap alone, and it was a harsh lesson that club heroes are not immune from getting turfed out.
Just like we are not AFC Neal Ardley, or AFC Terry Brown, we are not AFC Wally Downes. And we are much better for that.
Remembering some of the reactions from back then, some of our fans were a bit too nostalgic for an era that had long passed.
I still remember the whole “we looked after our own” stuff from a few, which was always bollocks even back then.
The Wimbledon FC some think it was, wasn’t.
Hodger being in charge helped soothe some of those wounds, and once NPL is open for business it would be nice if Walter could return as some sort of “club legend” compere that other clubs use.
Because one thing is true – we wouldn’t have started League One last season without him…
The funding chickens finally came home to roost.
Or to put it another way – the way the club did things was blown wide open.
Just as the pre-season friendlies should have had a red warning light, so should the Seedrs campaign that was launched around about that time.
It was a strange fundraiser to do, so late in the day, and it wasn’t really a surprise that it struggled with getting more than £2.3m or whatever it ended up raising. Even with quite a high profile advertising campaign.
After the club announced there was an £11m shortfall for NPL, and that los tres amigos were waiting in the wings, things changed forever.
True, tres became uno, £5m was raised through the Plough Lane Bond**, and we’re on our way home again.
** – the PLB’s success was as much to do with the real fear of seeing NPL fall at the final hurdle more than anything else.
But why did it ever get to that stage? Well, I’ve never remembered any proper discussion of financing (especially a new stadium) before.
Because of that, the series of events that led up to that infamous mass email were never dealt with properly.
Would the “Back In Two Ticks” campaign had succeeded if money issues were known about at the time?
Actually, without reading the blurb from back then, it probably would have done – the subconscious desire to return home always trumped everything else.
And then the hard thinking would have started at a more appropriate moment.
I’m not going to get into the increasingly political side of the whole DT stuff, whether all/some/one or two DTB members should be
doused in petrol and set alight turfed out.
The more “political” it gets the more ordinary fans turn away, especially if the DT succumbs to groupthink.
We’re a L1 football club first and foremost. I think some people forget that.
But the secretive culture of the club was exposed once and for all. Especially one that likes to sell the whole “fans club” ideal for £25 a time.
AFCW wasn’t wrong in proposing the three amigos to buy into the club. It was just a) too early for a still-paranoid DT membership, and b) done with too much gun-to-head.
It led to Nick Robertson putting £2.5m into the club anyway, which is not insignificant – financially or otherwise.
The club was wrong trying to manage a highly complex project practically in its spare time though.
A professional football club is exactly that, and too much of it is still directed by those who have done a full day’s work beforehand.
That said, as NPL is just months away, the club itself does seem to be on more of an even keel right now.
It’s not ideal, far from it, although some clearly have an axe to grind against individuals/the organisation.
I won’t mention Seatgate, although the club’s plan for the bricks at KM suggest they’ve learned that lesson…
We’re going home
We’ve had yet more hurdles to vault over, and even now we still don’t know when we’ll all be able to set foot inside NPL.
But after it’s completed, that will only be a case of when, not if we can watch football in Wimbledon again.
Around November, when the £11m piece of turd hit the fan, it almost seemed like the cruelest blow was about to come.
Nobody wanted a one-sided ground, nor did they want the real thought of the club slumping back into non-league.
Some of the suggestions made to remedy this made were “interesting” though : halting construction would have added much more to the cost, and likely would have killed the project stone dead.
A few were even suggesting we gave NPL over to Chelski Ladies, and stay at KM to keep the ownership model alive.
At least that would have proved Franchise fans right when they call us AFC Kingston.
I’ll be charitable and suggest that emotions got the better of some people, even if they made the DTB look like John Harvey-Jones.
We can be thankful it got sorted out, even if I thought such issues would crop up after we’d kicked the first ball.
But we are where we are now, and we’ve learned a helluva lot in twelve months.
We slunk away from KM effectively without properly saying farewell, though perhaps not properly until NPL is complete and we figure out what next season entails.
Though I won’t be surprised at a Fulham or Chelski share for a couple of games, especially if crowds are allowed back in but with limited capacities.
Drive past our home in KT1 today, and apart from one sign you wouldn’t think we spent eighteen years there.
As it stands today, we’re just about ready as a club to return home, something I’ve never entirely felt for the previous few seasons.
We clearly know we need to change the structure, and while CV19 put things on the back burner we finally seem to grasp that.
Or in other words – in 2019/20, AFC Wimbledon finally grew up…