Apparently Jim Smith caused consternation by claiming to be surprised at the quality of the Conference. Some of the Conference fraternity thought this was disrespectful. I don’t understand this; one undeniable truth is that this is the fifth tier of football in this country. A proportion of the league is semi-professional, by definition the quality of the football is not as good as the four higher divisions. Last season’s relegation and promotion issues were defined largely by non-football related issues and Crawley started with a 10 point deduction. This is not a level of football in such rude health that the purity of the game shines through.
This doesn’t invalidate it, of course, football is perfectly scalable. There are valid competitions happening from the Premiership to over-50’s five-a-side leagues. Nor has Smith’s approach been in any way disrespectful. The appointment of fitness coaches, video analysis software and other modern sporting paraphernalia all suggest he doesn’t want to take any chances. He may have expected something different from the Conference, but he knew that the winning margin of champions over the last few years has averaged around 4 points; which is one unlucky defeat and one last minute equaliser between success and failure.
This said, Friday’s game against St Albans is a fixture that sounds like friendly or FA Cup 1st Round game. They’re hardly a classic Conference club like, Dagenham, Kidderminster or Morecambe who are likely to trouble the Us with their Conference savvy as much as anything else. The quality of the Us should sing out on Friday. Anything but a comfortable win would be a huge disappointment.