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That Was The Season That Was

No football at weekends? A sense that you can get your life back again for the next three months?

Ah, close season. How it’s nice to be in your arms again.

It’s downtime here at SW19 Towers even more than usual, so this has come a little bit later than I planned.

But even in the mere couple of weeks since the last ball of the season was kicked, it’s perhaps given us a little time to reflect on the previous nine months or so.

Although it’s more likely you’ve already forgotten 23/24 and started wondering when the cricket is on.

Anyway, TWTSTW is the usual closing of the chapter for the season just gone, and in the previous few years it’s been a bit, well, challenging to write.

Dragging horror shows up from the deep caverns of your mind that you thought you’d forgotten is a therapy session minus the big bill.

This time round, it’s a lot nicer to write about. It’s still a bit to read through, but you can do that while sitting in the garden in the evening now it’s sunny.


This was mostly a decent season.

If, before we headed up to Grimsby the first game of the season, you offered me a comfortable-enough campaign ending in tenth spot, I would have snapped your arm off.

Come to think of it, not just your arm but another body part too.

It’s somewhat of an indictment that since beating Luton at Eastlands, 23/24 was the second highest ever L2 finish in the AFCW era.

There’s a couple of reasons for why we look stronger, which we’ll come onto later, but looking like we have an actual team made the weekends a fair bit more pleasant.

Part of it was the backlash at the end of 22/23 where the club found out the hard way it took the piss out of its fans… sorry, owners once too often.

But there was a nucleus of a team out there for many games. and it showed.

The back line (including Alex Bass) was perhaps the strongest at AFCW for a good while. The amount of clean sheets was no accident.

While I don’t believe we could have kept AAH any longer than we did, our goalscorers did perform sometimes.

There were some good results, not just the obvious one but Coventry in the Carabao (and Chelsea in the next round wasn’t too bad) too.

There was that little run in March that just made you believe, even if the playoffs were only ever a possibility rather than a probability.

Don’t forget – for a time at Swindon on the 13th April, we were seventh with two and a half games to go.

It wasn’t all good, we struggled with the usual post-January upheaval at times, and despite what I said just now, finding the net still seemed like a challenge.

But we looked like we actually belonged in this division. And that’s something I’ve not been able to say in recent years…

Johnnie Jackson isn’t a naughty boy after all.

Granted, he’s not the messiah either, although I would happily support the death penalty for anyone who keeps repeating that overused Monty Python joke.

It was barely a mildly amusing line when it first came out, let alone every wannabe Charlie Chuckles repeating it for the past fourty years.

On a less surreal note, JJ himself started to come into his own this campaign, and is probably the most secure in his role since Ardley.

He doesn’t always get it right, his apparent hatred of making substitutes continued to baffle at various points.

But he can look back at his work and allow himself a sense of satisfaction.

He certainly improved over the last nine months. He seemed to find out how to use players better (the amount of clean sheets isn’t solely down to the keeper and defenders).

He did play a part in Al-Hamadi’s development, and towards the end he also knew how to start getting more out of Lee Brown.

It’s a fair contrast to his first season here, where he had to deal with the cheque Mark Robinson wrote, and where things clearly had to come to a head.

Lest we forget that now-notorious end of season clearing the air meeting the club held, that managed to make things worse.

Some that evening berated his lack of pashun. I’m not sure he could be accused of that now.

Him signing an extension was the right thing to do. We badly need managerial stability for the next couple of years, and he did enough to justify putting pen against paper.

Some still don’t like him or want him in charge, needless to say. Those voices get raised every time we don’t win a match, or occasionally even if we do.

Why, I don’t know. Maybe being proved wrong gnaws at a few egos?

I don’t think he’s as boring as a few make out, and the mental gymnastics to try not to give him any credit when we do have a good win is both funny and cringeworthy.

Hell, when Luke Garrard left Boreham Wood, a couple were saying we should bring him in to replace JJ.

Although I guess that’s down to him being ex-Wimbledon, which is all that matters for some.

JJ isn’t going to be the best manager in the world, and there will be a time – maybe even next season – where he needs to depart.

But we could do a lot, lot worse…

The Craig Cope revolution is starting to get into gear.

If one was to ask who the most valuable individual at AFCW is right now, it would have to be our current Head of Football Operations.

When he and Andy Thorn came in at the middle of the 22/23 campaign, it was basically a last throw of the dice before the really radical stuff had to happen.

Especially as the avant-garde approach of the previous season had damaged the club more than we realised (and maybe still does).

We saw the first proper signs of what he could do last close season, making a number of early signings so that when pre-season training started again we had some players guaranteed to turn up.

Where his approach needed to work was the post-January period, which has killed many an AFCW team previously.

We lost Al-Hamadi but got Ronan Curtis and Josh Kelly. The former is likely to be a short-term signing and the latter is somebody for next season.

At that time, we lost Joe Lewis (who we signed permanently) and Ryan Johnson, so we went for Kofi Balmer immediately. A move that steadied the proverbial ship.

The pattern here is an almost infuriatingly simple one, and one that can be summed up in a single word.


For the first time since we got back into the EFL, we looked like we had an idea of what we wanted to do, and – just as importantly – put the hard yards in to do it.

Cope’s interview in February gives you an idea of what he and Thorn do on behalf of JJ, and the thing is – it’s not even rocket science.

It’s clearly paying off, with a top ten finish in a season where we’re undergoing transitioning (no, not that type), and a sense we can build even more on that.

Who knows what this close season will bring, but one thing is clear – our first signing won’t have the aura of panic.

The club itself is changing.

Even if it’s a little slow for the liking of some.

If we’re being honest about AFCW, it’s still got a bit of a non-league mentality and attitude at times.

Its comms still has the air of, why-do-you-want-to-know-that-info-you-pleb on occasions, and things like the ticketing remains Heath Robinson.

Some of that is down to dealing with the various turds that have been left around from previous regimes, and with James Woodroof coming in, one hopes they will continue to get swept up.

It was something that Danny Macklin started, before his, er, issues, and one hopes that this time next year we’ll write what a good job our new MD is doing.

That’s day-to-day stuff, but perhaps because of the need to fully back what JJ, Cope et al are doing, last season has seen a realisation that has been needed for at least a decade.

I don’t find it a coincidence that the talk of selling equity down to 50+1 has coincided with knowing the actual costs of operating our own 9000 capacity stadium, let alone paying the bonds that helped build it to begin with.

I also don’t find it a coincidence that the Dons Trust itself (stop yawning, I won’t spend too long on it) is now effectively there to put its board members on the PLC board.

Last season, the DT in its present form effectively became obsolete. its elections were uncontested, and in an organisation that needs more and more professionalism, it still has the vibe of a cross between a local Green Party chapter and the 7th Morden Scouts.

Adding DT membership to season tickets is a discussion in itself, although not a very exciting one, but it shows the direction of travel AFCW is heading in.

It hasn’t been a massive revolution, more like one that has slowly crept in over the past few seasons.

There are still a few at the club who need to take the hint and move on, but we realised just how little of the old guard is now needed.

But then, like the club the support itself is changing. On my few away trips this season, I noticed that those going on the road are younger, and more willing to go regularly.

With, it has to be said, an impressive range of chants.

Even at home games, the support is getting increasingly younger and it may not be too long before those at KM will be in the minority.

The club needs to reflect those who will be around for the next twenty years as much as those who were here for the previous twenty. Perhaps more so.

Change isn’t always good, but it’s inevitable. And at this club, it should definitely be welcomed.

We beat Franchise – and perhaps finally learned how to deal with them.

As Danny Baker once put it, half of football supporting is about them losing.

When Ronan Curtis became the Franchise Slayer (an event you can happily relive here) it seemed to put to rest the inferiority we’ve long held.

True, it’s always going to be a headfuck for some, and your editor still refuses to attend any game involving them.

But on that day on the 2nd March, we kind-of realised we had to grow up when dealing with them.

Part of that was down to the backlash after yet another disaster at Stadium:MT, although that seemed to be the clusterfuck too far.

I talked about things at the club changing, and our approach to this particular fixture has started to become another example.

Playing them at Plough Lane was much more in-yer-face-you-Franchise-cunts, as though this time we would actually fuck them up good and proper.

Which we did, in the most glorious way possible.

Part of that may be what has been mentioned above, that the AFCW fan base is getting younger and much less bothered about the whole “legitimisation” of them.

If you’re 22 years or younger, you weren’t even alive when 28/5 happened. And why should you care about the complexes of those who were?

And judging by the aforementioned lads who are going to away games at least, they’re of that age at most.

What happens next time we face them remains to be seen, especially at the soul-free construction known as their home ground.

But at the very least – we saw a glimpse of what this rivalry could be…

Plough Lane is starting to be lived in – and that’s a good thing.

Recently, and I’m talking about the last couple of months at most, your editor was reminded of the Selhurst days and how returning home seemed a lifetime away.

I’m not quite sure what triggered that particular memory, though it might be because I’ve recently researched selling a gun in the other side of south London.

Not a WUM either. And not as illegal as I’ve made that sound.

It doesn’t hurt to remind oneself – particularly if you’re of Selhurst attending age – about how special it remains going to watch our home games in our own conurbation again, and we must never take it for granted.

This past nine months though, Plough Lane v2.0 became…. familiar.

Like getting a new car, or buying a new house, it’s “yours” but it still feels alien at times, and PL had that newness that you were almost frightened to break.

This past season, you could go in to the ground, know exactly where things are and who you sit/stand around with.

In the three seasons since returning home, this was the nicest of the lot. OK, the on-field product helped, but it feels like we’ve been here 33 years rather than three.

Somebody I know after we beat Franchise said that doing that on our own turf meant it was better than even Lyle Taylor against them at KM. And I knew what he meant.

That’s helped, but also the teething troubles associated with it are slowly subsiding,

While getting a cup of tea at half time behind the south stand still remains difficult, the queues didn’t seem quite so bad on recent visits.

I haven’t been in the club pub with its unique stairwell since the Coventry game, and I think it’s too small for matchdays, but I haven’t heard so many complaints this season about time taken to get served.

People have simply got used to it now. Where to park if you drive, what bus/train to take if not.

There’s still problems that need to be fixed, as people who have tried getting in the turnstiles for some games will testify to.

Some of the queues pre-game outside were horrific at various points last season, for starters. And getting there early isn’t an option for many people

They’ll eventually get fixed, but it’s a reminder how the PL experience isn’t perfect.

Going back home has forced us to grow up and get real, and I maintain my firm belief that it’s saved AFC Wimbledon.

And who knows – maybe we could finally work out what to do with the third floor on the west stand…

I haven’t needed to play this Country Joe McDonald song at the end of the season for once.

But I will now, for old time’s sake. And you can now call the 2023/24 season closed – I think I might almost miss it…

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