It’s the final game of the season tomorrow, and there’s nothing riding on it. I couldn’t be more excited.
The reason for my enthusiasm is that each passing day takes us closer to next season.
This season hasn’t been fun. If we don’t improve our league position tomorrow, we’ll end up in the second lowest final position in our history. Defeat would leave us with our lowest points total since 2008, when we were relegated to this level, and we’ll finish with the second lowest number of goals we’ve scored in the Conference. Only a clean sheet will avoid us having our worst defensive record since relegation.
Yet I feel positive. Very positive.
We’ve all gone through a lot of emotions this season. Actually, perhaps that’s not totally accurate. We’ve experienced a couple of emotions, which happen to be at the extreme ends of the spectrum.
The opening of the campaign brought despair. A long season stretched out ahead of us, and poor recruitment in the Summer left us knowing there was no hope of success.
As time passed, that depression developed into something even more negative. There was a dawning realisation that an absence of hope might be the least of our worries.
Take a look at the bottom of the table and you’ll see that being an ex-Football League club is no guarantee of safety from relegation to the sixth level of the league pyramid. Tearing a squad apart in the Summer and rebuilding it badly can have terrible repercussions, and there was a brief danger we could get pulled down to an unimaginable level.
What happened next is the reason for my excitement about next season. Dean Keates brought professionalism, thoroughness and positivity to a squad screaming out for those qualities.
He has major decisions to make over the coming weeks, but his sure-footed approach to the job so far makes me feel confident about how the squad will be rebuilt this time, while his long term contract suggests that even if he can’t do the trick first time, next Summer we’ll be building on foundations he believes in rather than maintaining a cycle of failure, ripping it up and starting again every year.
The success of the Build The Budget campaign just adds to my positive view of things. Might Gary Mills have succeeded in keeping the likes of Connor Jennings or Jamal Fyfield if he had offered them two season contracts? The extra £40,000 in Keates’ back pocket gives him the flexibility to make such offers to players who he feels are worth the extra effort. I’m confident he’ll identify those players correctly, and that we’ll not be going through such a range of emotions next season.
This is my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.