18 November ~ Tonight all eyes would have turned to Stonebridge Road, Northfleet, where AFC Wimbledon had a chance to set up a much anticipated FA Cup second round clash with MK Dons – a meeting that won't take place thanks to Stevenage's penalty shoot-out win in their first round replay at Franchise FC on Tuesday. But Ebbsfleet Utd, the home side in tonight's fixture, deserve some attention too as they rebuild once again following a relegation last season which can be seen as the culmination of the My Football Club (MYFC) experiment.
When I wrote on this matter in WSC 275 my conclusions were, to say the very least, bleak. Relegation looked inevitable, the break-up of the squad and a return to part-time status probable, and the departure of both manager Liam Daish and My Football Club just a matter of time. Where the club would wind up from there was anybody's guess. On the first three points sadly my predictions came to pass. But on the pitch, there has been some renewed reasons for optimism.
Liam Daish is still there and he's built another new squad from scratch. This squad has gelled a lot quicker than last season's and despite the new part-time status some core players such as Ricky Shakes and Dean Pooley have been retained. There have also been some additions with some genuine non-League class. Paul Lorraine, a seasoned centre-back, was signed from Wimbledon and Calum Willock, a big, strong striker, was picked up from Cambridge. Goalkeeper Preston Edwards arrived from Grays to replace the long-serving Lance Cronin, who made the long-overdue step up to League football with Gillingham.
However, the fact that all the talk of this game around Ebbsfleet has been about the financial rewards of playing live on television speaks volumes about the perilous situation the club still finds itself in. Times are still tough and an open letter recently sent by former chairman Brian Kilcullen emphasises that the state of finances could well be at breaking point again. Kilcullen claims the season's allowance has been used up already and that the MYFC budget was dangerously optimistic from day one. He cites the recent appeal for an extra £25,000 from members and fans as evidence, and dismisses the club's claim that this is due to a lack of recent home games leading to reduced revenue.
Most MYFC memberships come up for renewal in February and, once again, rates are expected to drop. If this pattern continues, it is just to be hoped that they will leave a club behind to be dusted down and started again when they do eventually depart. An FA Cup run could be essential to the club's survival. Promotion still looks possible and that would obviously boost the coffers too. But, ultimately, what most fans want is a viable and sustainable club. Under MYFC's guidance this looks all but impossible and only once they have gone will the club be able to move forward with any renewed certainty.
Many neutrals watching the game tonight will be cheering for AFC Wimbledon as a real fan's football club. Ebbsfleet Utd may not embody that to the same extent, but they are an old-fashioned community club with a great spirit being slowly pulled apart by outside influences, just as Wimbledon once were. AFC Wimbledon will continue to rise, but for Ebbsfleet this game could prove crucial. David Spencer