On April 27th, a 72nd minute penalty from Jack Midson saved AFC Wimbledon from a return to the desolate wastelands of the newly-named ‘Skrill Conference Premier’. Needless to say, there has since been a major overhaul at Kingsmeadow, with Neal Ardley releasing 14 players, promoting 4 from the youth squad, and 9 new signings (and counting). Having arrived part-way through last season, Neal was forced to do the best job he could with a below-par squad, and has been able to further boost it after a couple of changes in January.
The major transfer coup was the signing of George Francomb, newly released by Norwich City, who was very successful on loan with us last season. Having already missed out on ex-loanees John Sullivan and Jon Meades to promises of higher wages at Portsmouth and Oxford United respectively, this big-name signing was needed by the Wimbledon fans. Neal has stuck to type by signing players from two categories: the experienced pro and ‘rough diamond’. Barry Fuller, Andy Frampton and Ashley Bayes fall into the ‘experienced’ group, and Chris Arthur, Charlie Sheringham, Callum Kennedy, Ross Worner and Francomb in the latter group. The youth academy also deserves credit, with 4 youngsters making the transition to first team football – Youssouf Bamba in particular looks like one to watch, and he may well be seen terrorising right-backs in League 2 for the coming season. This new-look side, combined with Neal’s desired 4-2-3-1 formation, should leave us with a side capable of the consistency needed for comfortable survival, but also the flair to give us a chance to possibly push up higher.
The problem encountered last season was our faulty defence: we have since signed 4 defenders with over 1500 games combined Football League experience, complemented by an extremely promising youngster in Jim Fenlon. There is also a high standard in midfield; Harry Pell, signed in January from Hereford, was vital to our survival, and we have two players who can control a match in Sammy Moore and Peter Sweeney. In George Francomb, George Porter (on loan from Burnley), Kevin Sainte-Luce and Chris Arthur we have a selection of wingers that can do some serious damage, all supporting prolific striker Jack Midson up top. The big weakness appears to be the lack of a ‘number 10′, an attacking midfielder to play behind the striker. We have no-one naturally accustomed to that position, with strikers and wingers having to fill in. Our efforts to introduce a more fluent style of play is likely to need a talented player in that position, and we may be found lacking. However, with a solid-looking defence and the widely-coveted Jack Midson up front, we have, in theory, a side capable of beating almost any team in League 2 on our day.
Another big job going on at the club has been sorting out sponsorship – with our limited ground size, we need to make the most of any possible source of revenue – we now have stands sponsored by ‘EcoHouse’ and ‘Nongshim’ (Korea’s number 1 noodle), and the rather unfortunate back-of-shirt sponsor, ‘Chemflow’. Still, money is money, and while fan ownership provides you with a certain level of stability, it doesn’t provide the huge funds a sugar daddy owner can. Efforts to move to a new site back on Plough Lane are underway, but still a long way from any sort of completion, so we remain in Kingston for a few seasons longer.
We’re long overdue a boring season – we’ve been involved at one end of the table or the other every year for the last 10, and a season of mid-table mediocrity would be more than welcome at Kingsmeadow, a bit of a transition season may be in store. It would be nice to avoid the media circus of another cup tie against Franchise, but the draw methods for the League Cup and JPT means we may well have to deal with that particular nuisance again. Whatever happens, I am positive we will have a much better season than last – we have a manager bedded into the role, a talented squad and aims of a better style of football – let’s just hope all our optimism and the success of pre-season is able to find its way onto the pitch come Saturday 3rd.
Written by Charlie Worthington, We Are Going Up’s AFC Wimbledon Blogger
Charlie tweets at @AFCW_Blog