YES, it really has been 14 weeks since our lushly coiffured striker and all-round superhero blew his cheeks hard, paused, focused and then calmly stroked into the bottom left hand corner of the Fleetwood goal the most pressurised kick of a football he is ever likely to take, writes IAIN SANDFORD.
Fourteen weeks since the longest and tensest denouement to a football season any supporter should rightfully have to endure; 14 weeks since the whistle finally blew on the most turbulent and tortuous of seasons; 14 weeks since we all shared that giddy cocktail of relief and euphoria and swore that we must never go through this emotional helter-skelter again.
While we have baked in the hottest of hot summers, collectively whet ourselves with nationalistic fervour over the birth of a baby boy in Paddington and chortled uncontrollably at our friend Mike Ashley’s latest ruse to wilfully upset the ‘best fans in the world’ by welcoming back into the bosom of the Toon our old mucker Joe, those hardy folk at AFC Wimbledon have been rather busy.
Players out, players in, physios in, development coaches in, goalkeeping coaches in, yet more sponsorship deals signed (ethical real estate developers this time – blimey!) Yes, it certainly has been a breathless merry-go-round of activity at Norbiton’s number one pleasure attraction. And all underpinned by a steely determination never to have to go through the emotional helter-skelter of that late April Saturday again.
So no real surprises about the players who were shipped out, though one felt genuinely sorry for Jason Prior whose dreams of a Football League career were effectively curtailed by a knee-capping in Crawley (let’s hope he comes again). Shame about Sully (J) and Meades but hey, money talks!
And as I tend to get out my Bermudas and string vest and zone out from football a little while the pollen count is high, I can’t comment with any great insight about our summer intake, having not actually seen them play. I have however recently re-subscribed to Dons Player (it’s only 10p a day folks) and checked out the interviews with our multitude of new recruits.
What is noticeable, particularly with the more experienced crop (e.g. Fuller, Frampton etc.), is that they seem to be cut from the same Alpha male, chisel-jawed cloth as the likes of Peter Sweeney and Alan Bennett (not the tweed wearing Lancastrian playwright – our Alan Bennett!). Neal Ardley said he wanted characters around the place and now he has them in droves.
Add this to the injection of pace and power we have hopefully acquired with the recruitment of Chris Arthur and George Porter and the guile of Charlie Sheringham and brawn of Michael Smith up front, and it is no wonder that even the most downbeat of the Guestbook Tendency is showing signs of grudging optimism as we approach the new season.
Two years after sleepwalking into the Football League and scratching and chancing our way to survival since then, we are well on the way to developing the infrastructure needed to sustain AFC Wimbledon as a Football League club.
All in sharp contrast to a year ago and the unfortunate fag end of Terry Brown’s otherwise fantastic Wimbledon managerial career. The summer horribilis of a 7-0 tonking, of hopelessly flapping trialist goalkeepers and of Warren Cummings and Louis Harris. Never had expectations been so low, and never, as the season unfolded, had expectations been so cruelly met.
And yet amidst all the rancour and disillusion of last summer, something rather unlikely and incongruous occurred. We won our opening game.
Rumour has it that there are otherwise philosophical folk from the Chesterfield area who are still shaking their heads in denial at the turn of events on that sweltering mid-August afternoon.
Everyone at Fortress Cherry Red , including one suspects Terry Brown himself, knew that they had just witnessed an utter fluke of a result and one which failed to paper over the mightiest of cracks. Interestingly however, after all the comings and goings of the last 12 months, the two Wimbledon players who were instrumental in securing that opening day victory are still with the club.
Jack Midson didn’t do a lot that hot afternoon but he did do what he does best – scored a goal. Notwithstanding the odd dry spell here and there, he continued to score goals regularly throughout the season, including, of course, that one 14 weeks ago.
For me, Midson is still our ‘go to’ man, the guy who delivers on the big occasion. Whether Ardley shares the same effusive view is questionable. One suspects there remains a mutual air of slight mistrust between the two of them which was temporarily put to one side as the collective need to avoid relegation took precedence.
Let’s hope relations between the two are now in perfect harmony because AFC Wimbledon is a better football club with Ardley as its manager and with Jack Midson as its striker.
Seb Brown was absolutely magnificent between the sticks against Chesterfield and delivered a truly match-winning performance. Regrettably, it all went careering downhill from then on of course, culminating in the infamously butter-fingered performance in the FA Cup replay against York.
We never saw Seb again last season, replaced in the first team by a succession of Sullys and on the bench by a Venezuelan. And now Ardley has not only filled the number one spot with the recruitment of Ross Worner but also the goalkeeping bench position with the arrival of coach Ashley Bayes (aka ‘Bayzo’).
I wish Worner well and I hope he soon joins the pantheon of Dons goalkeeping legends. But if the worrying early season reports of wayward kicking and nervous flapping continue into the season proper, I hope that Ardley remembers that there is another talented goalkeeper who, if shown a little trust and belief, could still be a major asset for AFC Wimbledon.
Nevertheless, high hopes for the new season! Bring it on!
*** Iain Sandford will be a contributor to the WDSA web-site during the season