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That was the season that was

As Millicent Martin would have sung – it’s over, let it go…

In the last decade, writing this particular article has always been done with a weary thank-fuck-that-is-over attitude.

Sometimes, it’s easy to write – either because we’ve got promoted, or we’ve saved our skin and we’re still buzzing.

This time though, it’s one of the toughest TWTSTW ever. Not because we’ve gone down and there’s nothing to say.

It’s anything but that.

It’s just that since the final whistle against Accrington blew, and the week following that – I haven’t cared about 2021/22. To me, it’s in the past now where it can happily remain.

This writeup has been a massive chore to write, and actually feels like a contractual obligation to do.

One can very easily go over very well-trodden ground, so I’ve tried to avoid that.

I’ve attempted to put new angles on the shower of shite this campaign was, though I often fail.

But look back on it we must. And when we finish, we can close the door on it and never speak of it again.

So, with a deep breath…

We deserved to go down.

The stats just don’t lie : 27 league games without a win. No victory at all in 2022. Only two L1 wins at home, and just six in total.

Not scoring more than one goal in a match between the 27th February and the 29th April, as well.

That’s why we went down.

Teams who do that deserve to get relegated. As weak as League One was in 21/22, it would have been a mockery if we survived.

The way we set up for games, the way we could play for a certain amount of time then switch off happened far too often for it to be a blip.

Fundamentally, we were poor. Poor and naive to boot.

It was naive to set us up as an under-23 side in men’s professional football. It was naive to sell Ollie Palmer and rely on a failed transfer committee.

And it was exceptionally naive to keep hold of the failing Mark Robinson until it was too late for anyone to properly make any difference.

It was a marked contrast to 2020/21, where we legitimately deserved to stay up. If anything, it was the polar opposite.

Back then, pragmatism ruled, although having two decent strikers helped. This season just gone, it went to our heads and we thought we could change the world.

And as a result, we’re playing Stevenage and Barrow next season.

By the time relegation was confirmed, it was more of a weary resignation than sadness.

The anger was there at various points in the run-in, but once we were down there was a sense we need renewal.

That will make rebuilding AFCW a tad easier, if those in charge are actually aware we’ve gone down.

But football is supposed to be fun…

Mark Robinson proved to be a disaster after all.

One problem I always have with doing TWTSTW is that by the time I come to the next one, the stuff I wrote a year ago can date badly.

Here’s what I wrote this time last year. Although to my credit, I did cover my arse here:

Next season may yet prove to be a disaster under MR after all, but one senses our Head Coach isn’t planning on that…

I’m sure he wasn’t planning on a catastrophe. It still happened though.

You can search for the reminiscing after he left yourself, and I’m not going to repeat that.

We all know he was an Academy coach at heart, who ran the first team like an Academy.

It didn’t help that he appeared to prefer “his” players (ie the ones that came through the AFCW ranks) regardless of form or our need for results.

Giving Will Nightingale an extended deal will probably be like our Kwesi Appiah du nos jour – an expensive burden associated with the whim of a departed manager.

And it took him ages to appreciate that we really were in a relegation battle. Perhaps he still doesn’t think we are?

But looking back – he was more of a gamble than we wanted to admit. Especially when his backroom staff was even less experienced than he was.

Whether it was because of his long association with us, whether his own gift of the gab was very reassuring to untrained ears, or something else I don’t know.

In hindsight, he was the wrong choice and then some.

I’m not going to say he duped people with what he was trying to achieve – he was sincere in his plans, and clearly believed they could have worked.

And it wasn’t all his fault. Even the club itself admitted we left him with an uncompetitive budget.

At AFCW though, you need pragmatism. Yet in an organisation full of idealists, Mark Robinson was the biggest one of the lot.

Mark Bowen came and went.

The news that Mark Bowen isn’t going to be our new manager could end up being mentioned in next year’s TWTSTW.

It left us with a big “what if?”. Namely, what if he kept us up? Or indeed, what if he stayed in 2022/23?

We’ll never know, and his reasons for leaving were partly a better offer elsewhere and also not being able to perform miracles.

His appointment when he came in was a radical departure from the grinding round of interviews that takes half-a-year to do.

It was almost like we finally knew we had to act quickly. Though it’s no surprise we since reverted back to type.

And his appointment was a genuine “wow” moment – somebody with bucketloads of experience, legitimate Championship level managerial credentials, and somebody you’ve heard of.

Poor Darius Charles must have had the shortest interim manager spell anywhere.

Sadly, MB and Eddy Neddy (who’s name we still can’t spell well over thirty years later) couldn’t do much with the squad after all.

He had seven games in charge, couldn’t win any of them, and we ended up looking elsewhere.

Our squad might have been a basket case, but he did manage to stem the hemorrhaging enough to take survival to the final day.

And there were improvements to a freefalling side that fatally lacked in quality.

He couldn’t legislate for brain farts by Cosgrove (at Crewe) and the Bulgarian Kiwi (at Fleetwood).

If either of those two just engaged their brain for a split second, this writeup may have been vastly different.

It was not to be, and neither was MB’s tenure with us in the end. He will be known as the first AFCW manager to see us relegated – though he picked up the cheque written by the guy he replaced.

And he did give us a bit of an insight into what being a “proper” manager feels like. We’ll miss that…

Being a professional football club remains difficult for AFC Wimbledon.

If one was to take an honesty pill – the only thing about AFCW that genuinely marks us out as an EFL club is Plough Lane.

The rest of it still had – and has – a Heath Robinson aura around it.

I was tempted to single out Joe Palmer as a main catalyst for our woes this campaign, but that would get so many others off the hook.

The man derisively called Silent Joe was, to be blunt, a bit of a disaster in the end for us.

He was less a CEO and more of a salesman. An estate agent, if you prefer, convincing you the derelict old barn is a desirable residence.

This was from April 2021, admittedly, but this was his marketing spiel at its worst. And it didn’t get much better in the following thirteen months.

I know some closely involved at the club in recent years will look at that comment, and yell at me about how JP helped saved PL for us.

And that may be true. But as Janet Jackson once sung, what have you done for me lately?

Silent Joe and other high profile decision makers moved on in the end, and the club is better for that.

AFCW effectively went backwards though, as though it found the whole moving back home thing too big for it to deal with.

There was that all-round sense of incompetence, from getting hold of people in the office not called Mandy, to even little things like rewritten OS updates for clarity.

Ticketgate was the most notable off-field failure, and it manages to get even worse with each reading of the report.

It summed up the club’s amateurism that it has never shaken off.

There were too many poor decisions made by too many poor decision makers. Selling Ollie Palmer was the ultimate proof of that.

I can only guess we were trying to be too clever, or we badly overestimated the transfer committee’s quality.

Even announcing the fee seemed like a mistake – there’s a reason why clubs often ask for them to be undisclosed, yet we were almost too keen to trumpet how cheap we let him go for.

We needed competence, and we still do, but we offered bluster instead.

There is no substitute for experience and ability to run things properly though, as we found out.

We often use Accrington as a club we should emulate, but Morecambe showed us our arse too.

They stayed up because they replaced their manager in late February, and were wise enough to keep Cole Stockton with his 23 goals.

Us? We couldn’t wait to keep Mark Robinson and couldn’t wait to get rid of Ollie Palmer.

None of this is new, we’ve not been well run for a number of years, but we finally paid the price for it.

In the past four years alone, there were countless times we needed to make the next step forward, and we didn’t take any of them.

Most of the time, we didn’t know how to. On other occasions, we didn’t appear to know we even needed to.

It didn’t help that the Dons Trust Board went between acting like it’s a government department and a student union in a former Polytechnic.

It may not like accusations that it’s distracted from the most important thing that matters, but it’s never convincingly rebuffed that.

And while it says it plays little part in the football side of things, we all know if we were doing well DTB members would be the first to claim credit.

Some while ago, SW19 did publicly wonder if AFCW was ready to return back to Plough Lane. Or whether the whole thing would expose some very deep faultlines.

I think I got my answer…

Plough Lane is great – and it has saved the club.

Believe it or not, there is actually a bright spot in among the post-relegation gloom – that small matter of returning home after thirty years.

Granted, the fans were ready to go back to Plough Lane, even if the club itself wasn’t.

And on-field shite regardless, it’s something that people are legitimately proud of.

Even just winning two League games there last season doesn’t quite dampen things, because football itself is peaks and troughs.

Teams change all the time, whereas stadia doesn’t.

So why have I said that PL has saved AFCW, when it’s left us with debt and we’ve gone down in our first season?

It’s fundamentally because in SW17, we now have conference and other hospitality facilities to begin with.

Get that right, and it will start generating funds in a way we haven’t been able to do since 2002.

If they’re not being properly utilised, that’s down to bad decision making at the club and nothing else.

Being able to fit in up to 4000 more than we could at Kingsmeadow also helps with our mid-to-long term survival.

If you get it right on the pitch, people become interested again, and now we can fit them in.

Just think if we had a 9k capacity when we were in the Conference? Or promotion to L1?

Relegation will be a setback, and games against the likes of Harrogate and Barrow next season will be tests.

But think of how crippled we would have been if we were still back in KT1 today?

Barely any hospitality to speak of, a ground with crap views virtually everywhere, and without the civic pride Plough Lane has.

The club itself may be mentally stuck at KM, but the fans want PL to work.

Having bigger stadia with better facilities doesn’t equal on-field success, of course, but the infrastructure to move upwards is now there.

And if and when we next get it right – we should be better prepared to deal with it…

We don’t have to go through that again.

For now, anyway.

Yes, it can always get worse, and AFCW is a lot closer to that than it wants to publicly admit.

But 2021/22 is over, and we can now finally flush it to meet its watery grave. It deserves nothing less…

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