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Close Season’s Greetings

The lack of a football campaign is lovely, isn’t it?

This time of year is always a bit of an odd one, because some leagues are finished, some aren’t, and there’s the playoffs too.

I have to say though, it’s nice to sit back and watch others go through the emotional wringer.

For most supporters, it’s a quiet time. For AFCW, and most other clubs, it’s anything but.

Budgets need to be calculated, contract issues have to be decided, and the red pen of doom gets taken out of storage.

And it’s normally around this period where we announce our “out” list, which is something that takes a whole SW19 article.

This time round, and perhaps something we’ll get used to under the Mark Robinson regime, there’s no need for it.

Why? Because at the time I write this, we’ve released just three players.

Plenty of gratitude to Callum Reilly, Luke O’Neill and Shane McLoughlin is due, and Robbo’s comments on them were clearly heartfelt.

Sadly, at least two of them tended to suffer too much from injuries, and it’s probably no surprise they won’t be here next season.

There was a big update on the rest of the squad on Saturday, where we found out all those on loan have gone back.

I can’t say we’ll miss Sam Walker to be honest, and one wonders if his injury was as much a euphemistic one.

Johnson and Oksanen did jobs for us, and Longman had his moments with us too.

Plenty would like to see us re-sign George Dobson, though regular SW19 readers know how much your editor hates bringing back former players.

It might be a goer, if Sunderland are happy to release him from his contract, and we’ve got the funds and desire to take him on.

I note that in the local paper before he came to us, Dobson turned down other loan deals…

What jumps out with that squad update isn’t how many we’ve released, but how many we’ve kept on.

Granted, contracts mean a lot more these days, and shifting players you don’t want is trickier than it used to be.

SW19 often drones on about scouting and recruitment, but that’s another reason why we have to get it right – a poor signing can almost literally drain your wages.

See Appiah, Kwesi.

With the exception of Pigott and Thomas, all the ones you hope would stay are here next season.

Including Assal, who committed his future to us with much fanfare.

Piggy may yet be an AFCW player in 21/22, judging by Robbo’s comments on him, although a player with 20 goals in a season will be highly sought after.

Shayon Harrison may also be wearing blue-with-yellow-trim too, although equally he may be filed under the “what if?” category.

Other than that, and with us waiting for new signings, it’s pretty much as you were with this team.

Once it had its head put the right way round, it proved it was more than capable of staying in League One.

We’ll need to strengthen, obviously, and with just a bit more experience too.

One wonders if we’ll be front-loading the wage bill, paying a bit more for the “better” experienced pros while allowing the likes of Tzanev, Assal and Rudoni to develop alongside them.

It’s interesting Robbo is already making presentations to Premier League clubs for loans, and that’s something we’ve been poor at in recent years.

It’s almost like we think we shouldn’t have to do it, even though that’s how the whole system works.

Who knows who we’ll get, if anyone. But it’s clear our Head Coach wants a young and hungry squad, all on the same page.

It takes time to develop that, which explains why we’re now offering 2+1 deals, to give a chance to develop players instead of tossing them onto the scrapheap.

If Robbo had hair, he would have torn it out at the way some of our yoof was disposed of in the past.

What must make it doubly galling is how they were then replaced with more senior (and costlier) players who weren’t much better.

Our Head Coach clearly has faith in our youngsters. I’m not sure that’s been the case with previous managers.

Whatever the close season brings us, there’s interesting times ahead. And perhaps exciting ones too.

What we can definitely look forward to is the London Senior Cup final, assuming the scientists and politicians don’t shut everything down again because somebody’s got Bavarian Flu.

It’s a shame that Saturday’s game at PL was behind closed doors, because it would have been a good afternoon out.

The LSC is something we’re starting to take seriously again, as we should do – it breeds a winning mentality in our youngsters for a start.

By the look of it, we’ve got to wait for T&M to play Erith Town this upcoming weekend, then whoever wins that plays Haringey Boro.

Which leaves the final for the Bank Holiday weekend.

I hope that they’re sensible with the venue for this, because a fair number will want to go to the game.

Usually it’s at Imber Court, but if they can find a bigger and more Rona-friendly ground, even better.

I don’t know if they could arrange a second test event at Plough Lane at relatively short notice, though I expect they can’t.

Mind you, if we’re against Tooting perhaps it’s best not to let them see inside our new place…

All of this leads us onto tomorrow evening. The semi-homecoming.

Your editor will be at Oxford v Blackpool tomorrow, so sadly I won’t be able to see our team against Liverpool’s thumb suckers.

I fully intend to be there for the first competitive fixture for the first time since 1991, rest assured on that.

I’d like to be in attendance, but if truth be told I’m not quite as bothered as I might have been.

I had my inaugural visit when I covered the Sunderland game, and as such I’ve had my “moment” so to speak.

About 2000 will have their moment of being back home, and regardless of the circumstances – they’ll always remember it.

Here’s a taster of what to expect when you go through the turnstiles tomorrow. I expect it will be a bit more completed now.

Greyhound Parade is now open and ready for pedestrians, so you can gawp at your leisure.

Tomorrow is only a friendly, and a test event, at that so isn’t going to be a remotely “normal” game.

But when those there sit inside and watch the first ball get kicked, that won’t matter…

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