I have no great intention of turning this into an AFC Wimbledon blog, but something has come to my attention which warrants a follow-up to my match report from the other night. As you may recall, I mentioned that AFCW have had a rather splendid run in the FA Trophy, having beaten Nationwide Conference clubs Aldershot Town and Gravesend & Northfleet, both away from home, to take up a place in the latter stages of the competition.
This morning, though an ominous message appeared in the news section of their website. It reads: “We have been asked by the FA for clarification of the status of one of our players in the recent FA Trophy match against Gravesend. We have replied today giving them full answers to their queries and we have offered to give any additional information they may require.”. AFC recently signed the defender Paul Lorraine on loan from Conference South club Fisher Athletic for a month, and it appears that they may have made a mess of the registration. Nothing concrete has been said yet, but there’s a chance that they could now be expelled from the competition.
Under the current rules, if they have broken the rules, they’ll be in trouble. Bury fielded an ineligible player in their FA Cup Second Round match against Chester City, and were expelled from the competition (and denied a money-spinning tie against Ipswich Town), even though they admitted their mistake immediately, as an honest administrative error. St Albans City were expelled from the FA Cup for the same thing two years ago and, in the most famous example, West Ham United were thrown out of the League Cup for playing Manny Omoyinmi for a couple of minutes against Aston Villa, when he’d already played in the competition for Gillingham. Their secretary, the deeply unlovable Graham Mackrell, resigned over that.
However, whilst rules are rules, and clubs are bound to abide by them, I can’t help but think that this is one area in which the FA should show a little leniency. Of course player registration is an important issue, but in cases in which what is clearly a small administrative error has been made, to throw them out of the competition seems to me to be a complete over-reaction. In the case of Paul Lorraine, it is likely that, since he was a loan player, written permission had not been sent from Fisher to the FA to confirm that he could play. It’s difficult to say at this stage. But there is an element of farce about this. All that the FA have to do is allow Lorraine to play for Fisher should he return from his loan spell, and that should be that. A cursory reading of the Gravesend supporters’ messageboard this afternoon seemed to indicate that their fans would not want to be reinstated at the expense of another club. The general opinion on there seemed to be that they had been out-played on the day, and that they deserved everything they got. A quick look at the AFC Wimbledon messageboard confirms that their supporters are fully aware that, if they have transgressed the rules, they will be punished.
I might be reading a bit too much into this, but I can’t but think that there’s something slightly distasteful about it all. The smaller the club, the fewer the staff, and the more put-upon the club secretary is. If, say, Manchester United sign a player, whether he is eligible to play will have been in the press for the last few days. For all I know, they employ someone full-time just to check these things out. It’s just another advantage for the bigger clubs. I almost certainly saying this is vain, but if anybody from the FA does happen to be reading this… cut them a bit if slack, eh? I mean, it’s only a game.