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Wandering around

Ouch.

What to make of Boys 1 Men 4? Just hope we sounded good on telly and the great viewing public treated it as their first taste of the “new” Wimbledon. And ignore the result and the performance.

I’m writing this in a weird sense of euphoria and despair. More the latter than the former after I walked out of the ground. Did we let ourselves down? If we’re talking about the team, yes. This was always going to be a tough one, but as usual we happily gifted the ball away and you can guess the rest. I think the expression is “clinical”. There’s no use pretending otherwise – we have real problems keeping clean sheets and we have done since day one this season. Only now, it’s gotten chronic. This could have been at least 1-6, which in truth would have seriously knocked the stuffing out for the rest of our season. At times in the first half, we really did get the piss taken out of us.

Not for the first time, Micky Haswell proved to be a weak link. His confidence has really slumped since he failed his trial with Brighton. I don’t know why TB puts him out as the secret weapon against the bigger sides. He did it for Chelmsford last season and we all know what happened. Hussey hasn’t done much wrong and yet gets to sit out the biggest game of the season? Go figure. I do believe TB doesn’t help himself going for the “shock” selection – it always backfires and does reflect badly on him as a manager.

Kennedy? Earlier this week he was making noises about AFCW being a stepping stone towards the Premiership. Hmm. Reserves beckon, methinks.I could mention how poor Main was, or how annoying it was that Finn was late so we couldn’t start him etc etc. But we learnt a harsh and painful lesson here – we are playing Conference South because that’s how good we are. We often wonder to ourselves how our players aren’t getting picked up by bigger sides. We know why now.

Yet again, we just make it so fucking easy for teams don’t we? Right now, our defence and midfield spits in our face every time we go 2-0 or (more usually) 3-0 in quick succession. We might have had a chance against Wycombe if we kept it to 0-0 at half time, or even just 0-1 down, but when it’s 0-2, you ain’t really got much hope. As usual, we rely far, far too much on JM and DK to dig us out of our own hole that we love digging for ourselves. Do we need a radical overhaul? Do we drop the undroppable? I can fully understand TB not going down the route he did last year, when he employed half of non-league football, but amongst all the glee (off field) that last night gave us, he must be wondering where to go from here…

I wrote all that last night, yet this morning I saw this gem in the Telegraph

“So much has been achieved so quickly at AFC Wimbledon that you almost expect them to compete on equal terms with a League 2 powerhouse like Wycombe. It was a fanciful notion – Peter Taylor’s team putting the minnows firmly in their place. “

OK, I don’t feel the need to take everything I crossed out above back – I certainly think Haswell is more of a liabilty than Hussey. But somehow, those bon mots make a world of sense right now. And in a way, suggests a victory far bigger than the one Wycombe should have had last night.

Think about it – we started from literally nothing six years ago. We were placed in the lowest league we could justifiably get put in, and now six years later we’re moaning because we’re not top in the Conference South and a professional outfit that hasn’t lost in the league all season gave us a footballing lesson? Setanta called us “naive”, apparently, and couple with that opening salvo above does give a realistic if somewhat cool-headed description of last night.

Maybe the players froze? Wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened though. Those with long memories may remember the first time Liverpool came to Plough Lane, which was remarkably similar to last night. In fact, there was a TV clip at the time of Harry giving a team talk before the game, saying something like “don’t stand about and watch the game, you can watch yourselves on telly this evening”. Plus ca change, as they say in Germany.

This is all big learning curve stuff, and we learnt many valuable lessons last night. This is what it’s like to play league football – how much time did we have on the ball compared to the vast, vast majority of CS games? As it stands, we might be ready to move up to Conference level (though with our defending….) but it just confirms everything SW19 has been saying since 2002 : we are going to need a lot more investment if we want to make that next step up. Those league players won’t come cheap.

In fact, how many of our players would get into a league side? I don’t just mean on last night’s performance, I meant in general. Our players are in the CS because that’s about their level. If you’ve ever wondered why JM and others have never been snapped up as pros, we found out why last night. There’s no shame in that gulf in class, but I’m just pissed off that we made a hard task impossible.

It’s a shame that our usual ineptness overshadowed what was a damn good performance off the field. Maybe that’s a good sign after all? This should be our cup final, but it felt more like another stepping stone back to where we want to be. Did it really feel like we’d be lucky to ever get this sort of occasion again? Don’t get me wrong, it was a big deal – in fact, a massive deal – but this was more of a taster of things hopefully to come.

Last night we felt far, far more comfortable watching what we were watching, even when we went 0-2. This is how the majority of our fans started watching football – against a league side. I know plenty of us tried to kid ourselves that playing at Hastings, or Farnham, or W&H was somehow “real”. But last night, this was “us”. Ignore the shitness of play – I got home last night and read our report on Ceefax. This morning, a few of the dailies have our game up. At some point, I’ll watch the DVD recording just to see how bad we were at the back. And you know what? I don’t consider that a big deal. Usually if you support our level of club, you would collect everything in sight and the club would probably make a DVD of the performance. Ourselves on the other hand are talking about the best way to bridge that gap, and how to plan for the next big game at KM.

The singing rocked, the flags looked good on the glimpse I saw on the big screen, we looked like a surrogate league club (off the field) rather than a non-league side. One hopes it impressed Setanta enough to come down to KM again for a Conf South match (though in current form, is that such a good idea?). See, we’ve waited a good six years for this. Or to be more accurate, seven (if like me you don’t remember the 2001/02 season on-field stuff at all). Last night, we wanted to prove to everyone that we’re not a flash in the pan, that this is a club with vibrancy.

Put the Wycombe team in AFCW shirts and you’ll have a side that matches the club. At time of writing I haven’t heard of many problems with regards organisation. This in a crowd of 4500+ (with segregation, lest we forget) in a ground that isn’t really suitable for crowds of that size. To me, it seemed very well handled and certainly not as unpleasant to be in as Torquay was. The more we handle these big games the better we’ll get at them

And this is my suggestion for what to do with the money we got out of this – renovate the ground.

Why? As I suggested above, we’ll need to have a serious review of the way the club funds itself when we have to start getting better players in. That will take a lot of planning, even if we remain part time (a la Burton Albion). But as the old adage goes, you can’t go wrong with bricks and mortar. Playing staff come and go, but being held back in a (let’s be honest) inadequate stadium forever remains unless you do something about it.

Bitter experience should tell us what happens when your ground doesn’t progress as quickly as the club/team. Two sides of the ground are done already, so it’s not like a total revamp of the stadium. We might not get a better chance to do it anyway. As this game proved, give people a reason to be interested and they’ll turn up. I don’t just mean the regulars, I mean the casuals. The ones who went to watch WFC yet just can’t bring themselves to watch even CS level football week in, week out. Get in the Conf (yes, I know…) and play the ex-league sides and watch the interest go up. By that stage, we’ll need all the capacity we can get.

We’ve come a helluva long way in six years, so who knows what the next 72 months will bring? That’s all in the future now, and it’s back to reality on Saturday. Our away form is shit right now, and we need to at least draw that game. Though a 4-0 stuffing will do us more good. All this talk of playing the likes of Wycombe or any other league/Conf side will mean jack shit if we can’t start putting the likes of Welling to their death beds. The hard stuff starts now……

Plus points: The club turned up

Minus points: The team didn’t.

The referee’s a….: He wasn’t going to give us much, was he? If he’d seen that foul in the buildup for the third goal, then things might have been different etc etc. Think we found similar with Torquay last season, where the ref there was laughing and smiling (knowingly?) with the higher division side….

Them: OK, maybe I’m being too harsh on ourselves – don’t be surprised if they’re playing Franchise in a league game next season. Only unbeaten side in the entire pro-leagues, and it showed. It’s no exaggeration to say they’re the best ever side played against in the AFCW era. They were clinical finishers, and they knew exactly how to close us down and make us look, well, amateur. Saw them getting off the coach and they looked massive. Men against boys, indeed. Their fans are league fans (and I mean that in a good way), they certainly don’t have the chip on their shoulder or Big Day Out mentality that we see most weeks. Mind you, they did look pretty apprehensive walking around beforehand…

Point to ponder: I was covering the Harlow v Macclesfield game on Saturday, and the same thought I had then re-occured to me last night. Has the gap between our level (and below) and League Two got bigger? On Saturday, I saw a Macc side that was about 20th in the old fourth division rather easily over-powering their lower league opponents. Wycombe clearly put us in our place. There have been very few shocks in the first round this season, and remember how many BSS sides went out at the first hurdle. I think by and large that due to the trickle-down effect of the Prem (ie the better English players are having to play at lower levels) is causing a real gap. And does prove that to cause an upset, you really need to be on top of your game that day and the league side to underestimate you…

Three’s a crowd: 4528. Not to be sniffed at, is it? That’s more than the opening game of 2002 (vs Chipstead, with 4142) and only just shy of the RPV record (4560) where there was literally no segregation. Good job we extended the Strank Stand, eh? Got to say, it was pretty good standing in the TE last night. And this from a self-confessed hater of crowded spaces.

Truth is stranger than fiction: (1) That car on fire in the car park before the game. Hope it wasn’t one of our players. Would explain a lot if so. (2) Setanta had about 60 odd people doing the game. I know there are cameramen, producers, presenters, riggers, technicians etc, but what do the rest do? Look after that blonde touchline reporter? (3) The way we quickly adapted back to a “normal” league setup ground wise (ie separate entrances for stands, no changing ends at HT, bars shut at HT etc). Further proof that we just can’t ever be non-league fans. Culturally this is a lifetime away from what Welling will be on Saturday.

Anything else? Yeah. Credit where it’s due, WUP was quite good. I think it’s because it was more focused (ie concentrating on that FAC tie in 2001) and it was far stronger a publication as a result. In the past, I’ve felt it’s pointless them publishing at times because they really had much to say and was just a load of half-baked filler. Publishing for the sake of publishing is a killer. As I know myself all too well, it can be very difficult at times to write about leagues/teams that you don’t really know much about and in truth wouldn’t care about if we weren’t directly involved with them. Even writing about Chelmsford’s funding/obsession with our crowds, or Bromley’s chavviness, or H&R’s voodoo over us or whoever becomes quite dull after a while.

Yet WUP produced a fair amount of material because it had something to work with. As their editorial said, we hate non-league as an AFCW fan, but writing a zillion pages saying so must drive the reader to move to Bridgend and find a rope. It can mention the Wycombe game because it’s something we remember. It means something to us, probably even more than most of our achievements in six years. No, I’m not saying that what AFCW has done since 2002 has been shit, far from it. But subconsciously, we can motivate ourselves against people like Wycombe because we can identify with them. If that makes sense. People say to us to enjoy non-league while we’re in it. I honestly don’t believe we can, not fully anyway, and since last night that’s become even harder…

WFC used to have about six fanzines at one time, because we were the victims of some serious shit in the press and elsewhere, so we needed an outlet to strike back. Now, there’s only WUP printed (plus the guestbook), but only this place and Big Tissue that does anything more beyond the stats/player of the weekend type stuff. And I have to say, it’s difficult to churn out stuff weekly when you’re repeating exactly the same stuff, and dealing with oppositions that you don’t culturally have much in common with. Maybe if we start playing the likes of Oxford, Torquay, Wrexham regularly, that old league mentality will kick in again and motivate people to start doing more fanzines/websites? Last night could have an effect on us far beyond a TV screening and some dough in the bank….

Was it worth it? Yes. Lessons are always worth it in the end.

In a nutshell: In the wider interests of football.

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