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Walking the walk

So, it’s come down to this……..?

After about nine months of probably the worst season I can remember in 30 years, that didn’t involve club stealing, we are 24-and-a-few-more hours away from the end game for this season.

It’s been a long while coming, but after a campaign that promised an improvement and delivered anything but, it’s kind of strange that we’re just a day away from not only this shit ending but a likely fundamental change in the way AFCW has to do things.

The premise is well known and extremely simple – just win. Nothing else will do, and in many ways it’s a situation that we either could have avoided or not avoided if that makes sense.

It was interesting that this week Benno said that he would have accepted needing a win on the last day to guarantee survival. He was thinking that as far back as February, which either suggests how much he thinks things have improved since he joined, or whether he secretly thinks we’re shit.

But what’s been done in the past, all the mistakes made and all the blown opportunities are as irrelevant as they could be. We’ve been dealt a hand that is immensely achievable, and one you could argue we haven’t deserved to have.

We are at home. We are playing a side with absolutely zero to play for. They have lost their last three games, although NA has already warned us they won’t be pushovers. We are scoring goals again. We have the genuine ability to come back into games if we’re losing.

It’s almost as though some mythical footballing deity has sat us down, and told us “here, it’s all on a plate for you. Take your fucking opportunity this time”. And it is Last Chance Saloon for us.

Draw or lose tomorrow, and we kiss goodbye to the 91 Club. And it will be our own fault if we go down, simply for all the stupid errors (on the pitch and in the boardroom) we’ve made.

That’s why the scenario tomorrow is somehow quite fitting. Win, and it will be typical that we’ve saved the one performance we needed until the last minute (hopefully not literally). Everything we’ve done this season has been putting out the little fires, plugging the little leaks, coming across yet another booby trap.

In other words, everything has almost literally been, just in time.

Lose or draw, and it will be the final blown opportunity. We’ve done far too many of those and if we do find ourselves in the Conference again tomorrow evening you can’t say we didn’t deserve it.

How the club will cope with relegation may yet never be known, and hopefully it never will. But apart from how slow this week has been (and seriously – I cannot remember a seven day gap taking this long, not for a long while), there seems a rather widespread acceptance that if we go down, we go down.

I don’t know whether this season has been too mentally draining or not, but we seem collectively steeled for the worst to happen. And that’s probably understandable. The amount of errors on the pitch that have costs us valuable points have been so frequent that it’s a case of WHEN we make a mistake tomorrow – not if.

Your heart and your stomach will sink quicker than Luis Suarez’s plans for this season if Chris Hussey switches off in the 93rd minute to let in a last gasp equaliser. But you really wouldn’t be surprised to see something like that happens.

And if it does, it would be the most fitting way of losing our Football League place you could think of.

But none of us want that. No AFCW fan reading this wants Conference football next season. And for all the questioning of their ability and mental capacity, I honestly believe the players don’t either.

I’m not even going to say that I hope that the players know that tomorrow could be their swansong in the FL, because I expect them to know that. I expect them to come out with all guns blazing (literally, if need be). I expect them to go for however long it takes to get the winning goal. In fact, I will go so far as to say I expect them to win tomorrow.

Yes, really.

I say that, because I genuinely believe they know that. They have to know that, because if they didn’t, why are they professional footballers? It’s a bit like the old saying whenever a team reaches a cup final – if you can’t get up for that, why are you playing football for a living? The same applies tomorrow, albeit under far more stressful circumstances.

These players have to know that for many if not most of them, they are fighting for their Football League careers tomorrow. If they find themselves in the Conference, the bulk of them will never play in the Football League again. Benno could, JM will, ditto GA, Pim certainly could, and Sully jnr would be a good goalie in L2 for somebody.

The rest? One or two of the younger ones might, but many of them are only in the FL because they’re with us. And they’re 90 minutes away from losing that.

Which is why I expect us to go all-in tomorrow. And if the vibes from north of Blackpool are anything to go by, any sort of good performance will give us a very good chance of victory.

They don’t seem bitter about us gubbing them 6-1, if anything it seems to suggest that they considered it part of their own Learning Curveâ„¢. I wouldn’t question their professionalism against us, but as been said so many times this week elsewhere – if you can’t at least try and beat them why are we wasting our time playing football?

By now, you’ve done the little passages of play in your mind over and over again. I bet you’ve already planned your reaction to us going 3-0 up after 10 minutes, or us scoring the winner in the 98th minute from Gary Alexander.

Or if you’re of a slightly more pessimistic nature, you’ve mentally envisioned the look on everyone’s faces when the usual error gifts Fleetwood a goal after 22 minutes. And of course, you’ve most definitely casted your mind back to the error we made for the Barnet goal at KM earlier this month.

There are so many things that can go wrong – or right – by 5pm tomorrow that it would drive your head mad if you let it. The general vibe at the moment is a strange one, because I’m not quite sure what it is.

We’re undeniably nervous, but nobody thinks it’s a lost cause at all. It’s certainly not been a buildup like Eastlands was, but it’s also not the buildup that Bromley and Fi$her was too. It’s closest to the Staines one, but even so people were distracted by getting tickets for that one.

While I’ve stated earlier that I expect us to win, in truth nobody knows what’s going to happen. That’s what this season has been like. When we’ve been rock bottom we’ve managed to hang in there and be within touch of the other strugglers.

When we’ve had good runs of form, everyone else has kept in touch with us. And as we so painfully know by now, every single chance we’ve had to pull away from safety has been thrown away…

Perhaps everything was destined to go down to (almost literally) the last kick of the game tomorrow?

Only the 11 players on the field tomorrow can directly affect things, but for those who don’t kick a ball for a living, what can we do? We can help ourselves by leaving all the un-necessary distractions at home tomorrow.

Do people need NA to be paraded around the carvery tomorrow? If those who do insist on it, tell them to fuck off. Do we need the crossbar challenge tomorrow? With the “cheerleading” that passed its sell-by-date a while ago?

And anything that is mandatory should be done as quickly as possible. Tell the mascots that for today, it’s a couple of seconds and that’s it. Keep all POTY stuff until after the game – and if it becomes a damp squib because we’ve gone down, then that’s nobody else’s fault but the players.

I’m not going to go into the notion that people shouldn’t check their phones for other scores tomorrow, because I don’t think it would work. And I expect there’ll be very little of that anyway.

The news that all 40 tickets on sale this morning in the Noodle Stand were snapped up within four minutes tells you just what this means to people. When the chips are down, people really do pull out the stops and push us through that finishing line, and we need it more than ever tomorrow.

But as said just now, we don’t quite know what’s going to happen. If we go 3-0 up after half hour and we kill the game off there and then, then great. If it’s a nervy 2-0 or even single goal victory, so be it. If Sully jnr does his Jimmy Glass impression in the 98th minute – we’ll take the risk of cardiac arrest. And if we draw or lose, all I want to know is that we tried our absolute best to stay up.

Only one thing will be clear tomorrow, apart from knowing that only victory will do. The players have run out of time, and they’ve run out of excuses. They have to answer the question of whether they want to be Football League players next season – they have no choice.

Tomorrow, we will finally see whether they are genuine characters, or whether they’ve strung us along for this whole season. They have the choice of being heroes or will forever have “Relegated AFC Wimbledon 2012/13” on their footballing CV.

The choice is theirs. They have to finally make it.

Can we win tomorrow? Yes. Will we win tomorrow? We’ll see. But one thing is certain – when the full time whistle goes, AFCW will never be the same again….

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