So the mystery Premiership club has been named, and it turns out to be Arsenal. Which is probably the ideal outcome for us, considering (i) even their under-12’s play the sort of football that would drag any neutral out of their seat, and (ii) maybe Dons fans might turn out for a PSF in some numbers. Oh, and (iii) as their first team is over in Warsaw, a fair few Arsenal fans might prefer to see some stars of the future rather than watching that game on the internet. All of which adds up to… Ker-ching!
Naturally, we’ll be pretty bored of watching what are essentially training games by that stage, and the final Saturday before the season begins have seen some terrible spectacles played out in front of nobody (well… almost nobody. But the crowd at our Trevor Jones Memorial Trophy game against K’s on 11th August 2007 was so low we have been forced to withhold the actual attendance to this day on the O/S out of embarrassment…). It’ll make a change seeing some people there, having a good time, spending some money, and watching two sides who at least share the same philosophy of trying to play decent football (‘trying’ being the key word for us…). In fact, didn’t someone describe us as ‘The Arsenal of the Conference’ last season – obviously before our late season collapse?
But Arsenal’s second string is only the cherry on the icing of a particularly appealing cake. Our entire pre-season line-up is so decent looking that if you had asked me to pick a dream schedule I probably couldn’t have come up with better. Well, maybe I would have added a tour to somewhere warm and a home game against continental opposition (or just a rematch with the Isle of Man…). But the point is, it finally looks like it hasn’t been put together by someone who opened ‘The Big Book Of Non-League Clubs’, turned to the South-East section and started blindly pointing a needle about (so blindly that one year we found ourselves in Newport…).
Of course, it shouldn’t be ignored that pre-season is primarily aimed at getting the lads fit before the big kick-off. So, good luck to them with that…
I don’t mean to be flippant, but for a change I don’t think I’m going to suffer from pre-season syndrome this time around. Except, maybe… I feel sorry for the Non-League club we are visiting on 24th July, who were probably rubbing their hands in anticipation for the visit of the mighty Womble hoards and their bottomless wallets, only to find most of us will give it a miss in order to win brownie points off the missus save a little money for more important fixtures to come… And of course for Kingstonian, who in return for selling us a promising young player, get a pre-season game where we keep the gate receipts up to an agreed level, when they get paid a share of the money. To be honest, the agreed figure may as well be half a dozen for all the good it will do them – I can’t see there being a huge amount of interest from either fanbase.
The reason being, we host not only Arsenal Reserves/Youth, but also have strong League One sides coming from Millwall and Charlton (in reverse of that order… and as I write there is still a possibility that Millwall could be a Championship side by then). We also have an ultra-rare trip to another League One side in Exeter City. I know we had a trip to Brentford a few years back, but how many other non-league sides have been invited onto League grounds? Especially one that involves a round trip of some 360 miles… I know Yeading went up to Newcastle a while back, but that was exceptional…
I think I take more delight in the smaller steps we take than the bigger ones right now. Yes, we have now turned professional. But now League clubs want to play us, not for benevolent reasons but because it will play an important part in their own preparations. Our Under 13’s are champions of England. People in the game working higher up the divisions are looking at what’s going on at our club and liking what they see. This should be regarded as a huge complement to our management team, in fact to all of us. Because to progress higher than we are at the moment, we are going to need all the help we can get.