The 2017-18 season was actually quite good in places. Just not many of them.
It was always going to be a difficult year off the pitch anyway, we had left the Kingsmeadow and moved to Fetcham Grove for a season, it would take time to settle in and get used to the idea. It’s fair to say that most of us didn’t get used to the idea, though I was reasonably happy to be in familiar surroundings as I was the microphone man and programme editor for a couple of seasons in 1999-2001. There’s still some of the same faces there and they made me feel very welcome, so once again I am in their debt. There were one or two minor annoyances but they were very minor and were completely overshadowed by the lack of product that we showed a lot of time on the pitch. Dan and Hayley went out of their way to make things as comfortable for us as possible, put up with all my whinging and did a marvellous job all season, and I am eternally grateful to them.
On the pitch we had a lot of hope that we would have an excellent season – Craig Edwards had taken hold of a talented but grossly underachieving squad after Tommy Williams’ departure, and Craig turned it around, got the guys playing as a team and in the end we easily avoided what seemed to be an inevitable and thoroughly deserved relegation. Pre-season was unusual, to say the least. There was so much effort in getting a game in Gibraltar sorted out, and by the way I still can’t believe how some of our supporters managed to go there at a ridiculously short notice, that it felt that not a lot of time was being spent in preparing the squad for the new season.
Some of the pre-season trips were quite nice – the set-up at Lancing is very good indeed, Hastings United is always a good place to visit (then the football got in the way…), and you could see even from a friendly match that AFC Hornchurch would be promotion candidates, no surprise to me that they won their division. Everything would be ok when the season starts, I thought, get this Billericay game out of the way and then we can concentrate on the normal stuff of the campaign.
Inexplicably, we won at Billericay. Even now, I’m not sure how, our defence on the day and, as usual, Rob Tolfrey, were electrifying, we had a shed load of fortune and somehow sneaked out of there with a win. Billericay Town would not be held scoreless for the rest of the season, I believe (I stand to be corrected on that one). Under Craig, though, that was as good as it got, save for a hugely unexpected six goal clomping at the Grove of Harlow Town. To cut a long story short, and to keep the lawyers at bay, I was relieved when Edwards resigned. I was copied in on his resignation letter, most of which went public soon after. Again to save the lawyers from some work, a large percentage of what was said was, in my opinion, not correct and extremely unfair. One of the more spectacular of burned bridges that I’ve encountered, a parting of the ways seemed inevitable as the on-field product was not good and getting worse, it was a surprise that there was a jump before a push.
After Kim Harris came in for a couple of games and really calmed the place down (I can’t thank him enough for what he did), Leigh Dynan came in as manager. I am not the most learned of people when it comes to personalities outside of my bubble, so it’s safe to say that I didn’t know the name. I know that Whyteleafe had a decent team, and they looked to be a good team when we went there in pre-season, so basically we were getting a decent guy, and I know Whyteleafe were disappointed to lose him.
A long-by-our-standards FA Trophy run complicated the squad immensely – Leigh brought in a lot of players who were cup tied, so we needed two squads, one for the League and one for the FA Trophy. The performance at Hendon in November was outrageously good, even a three hour journey home that day as we made the mistake of trusting the sat nav couldn’t ruin that day. For most of the visit to Imber Court, we were outstanding against Metropolitan Police but collapsed at the end to an anguish-inducing defeat. Then it began to unravel a bit – Heybridge Swifts destroyed us in the FA Trophy, Tooting and Mitcham United deservedly beat us at Imperial Fields, and we started to struggle mightily to score goals. Confidence went down, apart from a good win at home to Enfield Town we just couldn’t get going for any significant amount of time, we had little in the way of luck but we did little to deserve that luck as well. The player merry-go-round became a subject of gallows humour, we made it to seventy in the end. It became a case of as long as we didn’t finish bottom (only one getting relegated this season), then we can draw a line under it all, Leigh can work during the summer to get the squad he wants and we can get on with it next season at Corinthian-Casuals. I was not the only one eagerly looking forward to about 5pm on 28th April, which is when the season would end.
The player merry-go-round never did stop, but it did slow and suddenly we looked like we had a good team again. It became as close to being settled as we had been for a long time. We even managed to win some home games and April was actually fun. We won at Wingate and Finchley, we won at Margate, we won a bonkers game with floodlight troubles at home to Merstham, nobody really minded that we lost at Thurrock’s last ever home match, then we beat Staines Town very handily, lost as expected to Dulwich Hamlet (they had a much changed team, but they looked g-o-o-d) and we did a number on Needham Market. Normally, finishing 13th is a sign of a ho-hum, underachieving season. 13th this time was nose-bleed stuff, the K’s version of the Yorkshiremen sketch line of “we could only dream of living in a corridor.” Optimistic stuff.
And the optimism is still there. For the first time in years, I am looking forward to pre-season. It has felt like a drag for a while now, but this time I am anxious to see all these new signings play in the hoops. We’ve created a lot of waves with these signings, so we will be under pressure to back them up on the pitch. I am eager to see if we can thrive on that pressure or not, obviously being as biased as I am, I think we can, either way it will be fun viewing to find out.