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Champions (officially)

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OK, now I can officially say it…

AFC WIMBLEDON
CONFERENCE SOUTH CHAMPIONS 2008/09

Suck on that, doubters.

It’s quite a nice warm glow, isn’t it? OK, we all knew that Championes 3 Champignones 0 was going to be a foregone conclusion even if we’d lost, but it does have to be said that a win like that, in a game that had a slight touch of pre-season friendly to it (right down to the weather), was a rather fine way of ending this season.

The pre match talk by the more paranoid of us that we’d lose 12-0 was of course the kind of black humour that football fans have in such situations. We were never really going to lose today, even if we did rest about five regular starters. And even when we fell asleep towards the end of the first half, complete with Gindre’s save – although it should be ¡Gindre! – it was never really in doubt…

I’ll try and mention a little bit about the game itself, as very few people will, so here goes – it was a bit strange if truth be told. We clearly weren’t going to bust a bollock to get the victory, and I don’t think we were ever in danger of losing 12-0. Honest. Because of that though, at times I wonder if we were in two minds on what to do. Thankfully, St Albans were pretty shite, and after a quick prod up the arse at the break, we looked like champions.

Actually, we looked more like the passing side we were at the beginning of the season. Distinct lack of pressure obviously helped. I wonder though if the starting XI was picked for a reason? Maybe a final swan song for a couple of them? Jason Goodliffe’s goal right at the end was certainly a fitting one, and I expect to see him on the sidelines next season in some sort of coaching role. I don’t expect Sambrook or Haswell to be here next season. I would like ¡Gindre! to stay but I think jarpie land may be too tempting.

As for Tony Finn, I wonder if he was given his last chance today? To be fair, he took it well, and if he is on the retained list next season perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. One does wonder though if he might become full time so he can be really properly worked on…

All that will be sorted out in the weeks and months to come. Funny how this season has gone so quickly hasn’t it? It’s not an anti-climax, far from it, but what has jumped out at me right now is how undramatic it all turned out to be.

It’s going to be strange a bit right now listening to talk of playoffs, wondering why we’re not in it and then suddenly go “oh yeah…”. I think we were the best team of the season, and we deserved to go up as champions. Some of the football we played at times was pretty breathtaking. Of course, some of it was nervy and didn’t do our collective arseholes much good. And let’s be honest, we did serve up some right crap at times….

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Right now though, none of that matters. We’re up. Correction, we’re up. It’s happened. Big games. Coverage on Setanta. Having the NLP dedicate 500 words to our games, plus quotes from both managers, instead of the usual 300. Mentions on Ceefax. And Teletext. Games against teams the average punter has heard of. Ticket allocations. Segregation. Arsehole stewards. Long away trips. Barrow away in mid-December. Not being the biggest side for once. Good eh?

And you do have to step back every so often and realise just how far we’ve come in seven short years. No doubt the phrase “Common to the Conference” will be used liberally over this pre-season and beyond. Probably will become the title of a DVD or book detailing our rise to the top. And that’s what it effectively is. Here’s a snippet from our first ever competitive fixture in the AFCW era, at Sandhurst way back in 2002:

All right, I wasn’t taking THAT many notes about the game, you shouldn’t be that surprised. I’ve never concentrated on writing what actually happens on the pitch before and I ain’t going to start that boring shit now. But today, that didn’t matter.

Some of what I saw today was very non-league. Very non-league. I should expect that having spent most of my football watching in the professional game.

However, I witnessed something that I haven’t experienced for years, and a little thing that we’d all forgotten to an extent. We had fun. It was enjoyable. There was, how shall we say, less pressure. The players when they walked off loved it, in fact as I type this they’re at a pub in deepest SW19 consuming vast quantities of ale.

And I really think it shows. That “Blaydon Races” song, about all the lads and lasses with smiles upon wor faces could easily apply to us ATM. Seeing people I haven’t met in ages, that kind of thing. Still having doubts about AFCW…………………..?

Back then, it was all about just having a club. TB mentions about that in his interview which will be up later on. Fast forward to today, and while there’s a little bit of that same enjoyability factor we had in them days, today was better than that. We formally, officially, made our step back to where we once were.

Some may lament the fact we’re inching daily towards professionalism. That is, in the full time sense. But professionalism also means doing things properly. We are celebrating promotion to the top non-league division probably anywhere in the world today because we not only worked hard, we worked smart.

We decided early on in the AFCW era that we wanted to be back in the league, and everything we did was geared towards that. Sure, we had some setbacks on the way, but we have mostly learnt from them. And will continue to do so.

Way back at that Sandhurst game, if you said that in just under seven years we’d be preparing for life in the Conference, you would have gone one helluva laugh. But also, you would have had some raised eyebrows, because many felt at the time it would mean losing something from AFCW. Whether it was control, freedom, just that little bit of innocence. It was unthinkable back then, and if I’m being honest, some didn’t want it at all.

Fast forward to today and nobody’s moaning. Not even myself for once. Generally, people are well chuffed. So much for all the people going to walk away because we “sold out”. Though one wonders if they ever really meant it, and said it just to make them feel/sound good and righteous. True, a couple have walked away, but the crowd today shows we have no difficulty in replacing them.

Enjoy what remains of tonight. I expect some will do a bit too much (plenty of hangovers, fifteen full buckets of vomit, three sexual harrasment cases and at least one pregnancy is my prediction for the KM piss up). The hard work will start after heads clear. But like all good things, it all seems worth it…

Plus points: Just look at the top of the table.

Minus points: Shit first half.

The referee’s a…..: It was Ron Ganfield. And for once he didn’t ruin our season. OK, he gave them a few free kicks in the second half, but he wasn’t looking to sending any of our lot off. It wasn’t that sort of day. Or, rather, TB doesn’t feel the need to antagonise him before the game…

Them: They weren’t that special TBH. They had an opportunity to take the lead just before the break, but really with us going up another gear this would have been a bloodbath. Shame we missed out on Jonathan Hunt playing for them (yes, that one). I still remember his goal vs Boro at Shitehurst, which was the only thing he ever did for us. Deserve kudos for doing the guard of honour even though we hadn’t officially won the title by then.

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Three’s a crowd: The picture above was taken about 1 hour before kickoff. It was similar in size one hour afterwards, too. The attendance was officially given as 4722, which I think has to be an AFCW league record, and certainly the biggest since Ks had terracing where the lower seating of the Main Paul Strank Stand was.

I don’t think I need to say that KM isn’t suitable for crowds over 3500. The view today in the corner between the JS and the KRE was pretty shit, and I don’t envy the poor steward trying to keep the area around the emergency exit clear. The West Bank rebanking can’t come quickly enough.

The crowd does suggest there may have been the one-game-a-season brigade, or those who have found a bandwagon and are now sitting upon it. Shouldn’t mock of course, and they’ll be the sort of people to get us in the league and beyond. Bet some of them were a bit clueless though. I have no doubt they came up with the following : “So, which colour do Wimbledon play in?”. “Which one is Justin Fashanu?”. And I expect one of them came up with… “So they play here then? I thought they’d all gone up to Milton Keynes………………”

Point to ponder: Does our way of playing today signify how relaxed we were? Before the game, the players rather seemed to be enjoying themselves anyway. One or two smiles as well. Obviously, there was a touch of last-day-of-term, but doesn’t it just prove how games are won and lost on the mental side? Thinking about it further, it might mean some good performances next season, because we aren’t expecting to win every game. You can imagine the buzz of going up to Chester City next season and coming away with a last minute Kedwell special.

Meet the manager: After finally getting to the press area (trust me, from a journo point of view championship games are an absolute pain in the arse. So much waiting about and so much hassle. Though of course you’ll have a bloody good laugh at the press getting a hard time…), I got TB’s thoughts.

Click here to listen

I did have to cut out one bit in it, hence the brief silence (nothing that gobsmackingly new or nothing you wouldn’t have said yourself, but he asked for it to be off the record). What also wasn’t on the tape was his comments afterwards, which were “I bet we bloody play Luton first game of the season”….

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Truth is stranger than fiction: (1) The sight you see above after the game, above the poshe bastards bit. Now, I know that PISA were the sponsors of the game, but even that shouldn’t explain why said scarf got up there. Guess it was one of those sort of days….. (2) Seeing the following indivduals : a woman in a Woking top. Obviously in denial at her teams’ plight. A guy in a Pompey shirt. The top brass of the Conference (Brian Lee and the other bloke). The Mayor of Merton – and there isn’t even an election on. Hmm. (3) Golden Goal tickets sold out at 1.59pm. (4) Good to see Luke Garrard running around the pitch just before the game. As Lewis Taylor shows, having that kind of injury can if anything make you stronger. (5) Ben Judge getting both WDON and the full POTY award. Guess he’s safe from the cull. I would have gone for Danny Kedwell, because we effectively won this division with goals scored, and his signing certainly made us do that. Although in fairness, you do have to stop them at the other end. (6) The realisation that there will now be no football until early-to-mid July. Unless you could the remaining reserve games or you’re going to take yourself off to a playoff.

Anything else? I was tempted to rail against H&R getting the go-ahead to play in the playoffs, but it’s not that sort of day. On that score, all I’d like to say is that ex-FA chief executive and Scouse cunt Brian Barwick is a regular down the Beaveree. Draw your own conclusions.

I was also tempted to comment that KM isn’t suitable for big crowds. Today was a killer. But that’s not exactly a trade secret, hell I mentioned that earlier, and AFCW would rectify that tomorrow if they could. We should get a rebanked KRE end by the start of next season anyway.

In fact, at the moment I just cannot think of anything to write. I think it’s one of those sort of days that as a football fan you live for. Winning a division has traditionally been the top prize because you have to be pretty good to do it. Cups are great, but they can and do involve flukeyness. This season just finished has felt both incredibly short and incredibly long. Short, because the game at Newport County only seemed like last week. Long because this very day in February and March just couldn’t come quick enough…

Now, we may never win a title ever again. Or at least for a good many years. We could now be in a period of consolidation, or even of relative failure. But then, we’re kind of looking forward to that aren’t we? I have an article which will be put up this week about this very thing. One thing is for sure, this promotion feels better than any other we’ve had since about 1986.

So, was it worth it? Yes. No sarcasm or attempt to be clever needed.

In a nutshell: Chester, Wrexham, Luton, Mansfield……

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