AKA your editor is back in SM4…
The last time I did anything 28th May related was back in 2013, when we announced the signings of Chris Arthur and Barry Fuller.
Needless to say, one had a slightly better tenure at AFCW than the other, but back then was NA’s first proper pre-season. He needed to rebuild the squad, and did at least make us a side unlikely to go down after that.
That was three years ago, and up until today the anniversary didn’t really register much inbetween then. We’d played Franchise, and proved our point, and it just seemed self-flagellating to keep bringing it up much longer.
So, why mention this all again, two days before we go to Wembley? Or Wombley, to give it its much snappier title? Because it’s apt again.
On one level, Monday is “just” a playoff final. If we win? Great. If we lose, it’s going to hurt but it was still in many ways an unexpected bonus.
It’s not like Eastlands, where the prize was the Football League. It’s certainly not as vital as any of the Turdeyland playoffs, where we simply had to win it.
There will be some pressure on us, and I’m in no doubt we’ll be as motivated as anyone. For Akinfenwa in particular, who I think has played at Wembley twice, and lost both times.
Ditto the likes of Robbo and the aforementioned B Fuller, and others who I’ve temporarily forgotten, aren’t going to allow themselves to let this slip by without putting up a performance.
I’ve heard over the years, from fans of other clubs, that the worst thing you can do at Wombley isn’t losing – though that stings like fuck – but freeze.
Somebody will know how many of our players have performed in the national stadium before, and even if it’s just BMO and Fuller that’s two vital bits of experience.
Obviously, we all want the win, even if it comes down to an Eastlands-esque shootout. But if we do lose, then giving it everything will at least make you feel slightly better…
Your editor has unsurprisingly been out of the loop in this buildup, but it seems that squad wise, we’ve been getting on with business.
There’s been the media days, and the long interviews on the OS, and the pre-game trips to Wembley. But you would expect that we’ve put all the work on the training ground and then some.
For NA too, this is a big chance. I hope he resists the temptation to be too clever for this, and stick with what has got us this far – because like freezing under the arch, getting it wrong tactically just magnifies the pain of losing.
He can justifably say he’s got us to Wembley. And like Terry Brown before him, winning a playoff final can make him. In TB’s case it was the ultimate achievement after so many years as the non-league journeyman.
When it comes to our current manager’s case, he’s still relatively young as a supremo and it’s going to look good on his CV. Now obviously isn’t the time to make idle speculation about what happens if he becomes sought after, but from his point of view he must feel vindicated a bit this week.
Although it might spur him on even more, especially if he has a long memory and
reads this place remembers the grief he was getting before Xmas.
And what better way to draw a line under that by winning a playoff final?
It might be a bit hyperbolic to suggest that Monday is a redemption for NA, but it’s certainly rebooted him as a manager. Come to think of it, it’s a shot in the arm AFCW itself has needed too…
When we played Liverpool in the FAC in 14/15, one thing that was apparent after the game was how well we handled such a big occasion.
Since then, things had got a bit, well, stale. Both on the field, and off it. True, the whole NPL saga has continued to distract things, but suddenly there’s a buzz about that I think we haven’t had since Eastlands.
I have to be honest, when we started selling tickets for Monday I thought we’d sell about 12k at most. Maybe 15k – although we’ve got good support, we’re never going to have the biggest turnouts.
That we sold 10k in under 48 hours, and at the time of writing has doubled that is genuinely great to hear. OK, Plymouth will have 35k, but they are a club who perhaps should be in the Championship anyway.
And yes, they can wait another season to start moving up the leagues again.
But it’s off the field where it’s most notable. The pictures of the pop-up shop in Centre Court tell their own story, and apparently sales are so brisk they’re having a job to keep up.
I’d be interested to know how many tickets they end up selling from there, because I bet that it will attract a few waverers who otherwise would have gone to IKEA on Monday.
And this will only help the whole NPL thing – true, when Khan finally hears it there isn’t much reason to reject it anyway. But it’s yet another thing we can put forward.
See, we can get the local SW19 population interested. Imagine being back in SW19 and having the playoff semi there – it would have been a legit 10k sellout against t’Stanley, let alone if it had been against Brizzle Rovers or Oxford.
We’ve got supportive signs up from LBM, South Worst Trains, and various other local companies – including a gas fitter near SW19 Towers who has a mannequin with an Elonex shirt on outside.
Dare I suggest that if anything the timing for NPL’s success has arrived perfectly? When it got called in, it was an undeniable hammer blow, but it will now get reviewed with the club coming off the back of legitimate success, and tangible proof that it’s making a positive difference in the community.
Not that it should have even had to come to this to begin with, of course, but sometimes you need that extra bit of PR good fortune…
Should we leave Wembley on Monday victorious, there’s the little issue of playing Franchise in a league fixture. That will obviously get the interest of the wider footballing world, but for us?
Naturally, we’d prefer it not to play them, but should we do then it probably won’t be as big a deal as many will think. Granted, the game at KM could be, ahem, interesting but we had contingency plans when we could have faced them back in TB’s time.
But playing them isn’t my motivation for wanting to get promoted on Monday. I want to be facing Charlton, and Bolton, and Coventry, and Sheffield United.
I want to be able to point out that AFCW isn’t a club that should be bouncing around L2 and the Conference – we’re not a Conference level club, or at least we shouldn’t be.
FCUM of the south we are certainly not. And for that I am eternally grateful.
I want to be able to say that if we go up, and I attend my first game next season, I will have seen WFC and AFCW in every single senior league in this country. And I’m not even 41 years old yet.
And I bet that’s the case for many if not most of us. Yes, the Franchise thing will undeniably play a factor, but winning on Monday is much more than that.
Us versus those cunts will never be “normal”, but it will become more and more normalised in time. And the thing is, even if Plymouth do win on Monday you sense we’ll face Franchise in the league at some point anyway.
Anyway, Wombley awaits and I have my ticket. I nearly ended up shredding it by mistake when I got back, and given my track record I bet most of you wish I had…