Remember you’re a womble

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Monday November 12th 2012, KO 19:45 at Kingsmeadow, FA Cup 1st Round Proper Replay. 

AFC Wimbledon (Blue/Blue) 4-3 York City (Red/White), AET.

Attendance 1,954, Admission £19 (North Stand, seated), Programme £2.

Game Eight of my ‘Path to Wembley’ > .

My original plan had been a visit to Braintree Town FC on Sunday November 4th, but an untimely bout of RSI put paid to that, which actually was just as well, because their match v Tranmere was called off  just 45 mins before kick off.

But after hearing of the 1-1 draw between York and Wimbledon, and then that the second round draw had matched up the winners away to MK Dons away in Round Two. Then there was no competition of where to go for a 1st round replay, off to Kingsmeadow it was to be for me.

So, this was my first visit to see an AFC Wimbledon game, since a Combined Counties league fixture v Ash United in their inaugural season, having been formed by fans after the departure to Milton Keynes to form MK Dons, but using ‘their’ league place! I’m not writing a match report on this game, just to say, it was an absolute cracker of a match, so read about it on the BBC!

Personally, I’ve had an up and down fractious relationship with Wimbledon FC over the years.
Although perhaps I was slightly ambivalent to their move to Buckinghamshire (I never wanted anyone at Selhurst apart from Palace). I was and still remain aghast that the Football League sanctioned this move, and I’ve always wondered if brown paper parcels passed under tables, or were exchanged at motorway service stations?

My initial game at Plough Lane was in September 1977, a 4th Division fixture versus Southport, a 2-2 draw I believe.
Other the next five or six years, I was more than an occasional visitor, for a venue as easy to get to as my spiritual football mecca at  Selhurst Park, from my at the time Banstead home. Train from Banstead or Epsom Downs (via Sutton) to Haydons Road, walk around the corner to the ground.

Haydon Womble attacks the FA Cup!

Plough Lane was a fun place to watch lower division football, watched by a hardcore of 2,000, sometimes 3, if a local game, but always a laid back atmosphere with some amusing banter from the terracing. The roof at the home end always created good acoustics and kept the rain off ones bonce!

Then things began to change. They made it to the second division, at what had been up to then just pre-season friendlys v Palace had now became competitive league fixtures.

And Palace were on a slippery down slope. The period of 1982-85 is referred to in Palace folklore as the ‘Dark Ages’. Our great young team of 78-80 had broken up, some stolen for next to nothing by that man, arch-enemy No 1, Terry Venables to take to some place out West called Loftus Road. Also we’d been taken over by a white-haired ex Wimbledon chairman Ron Noades, who’d so mis-understood the Palace fans, that he appointed the much hated ex Brighton, Alan Mullery as manager as well as suggesting a merger between Palace and Wimbledon. And in one foul swoop he’d disengaged another 5,000 Palace fans, who were lost to Sat afternoon supermarket shopping, or g*d forbid watching Wimbledon or worse Chelsea, some perhaps who never returned?

During this period Palace held onto their second tier status by a thread, largely due to the loyalty of a number of a players from that previous era, Jim Cannon and Vince Hilaire in particular. But slap bang in the middle of the dark ages, Wimbledon, an ugly route one outfit, but actually an effective team in terms of results, gave out some horrendous beatings to our Selhurst heroes, in particular a 5-0 mauling one spring at Selhurst, that still makes me shudder to this day. That resulted in demonstrations against the board/Noades outside the main stand.

Going to Plough Lane had lost its appeal, their fans had suddenly invented a rivalry with Palace, that wasn’t reciprocated, as we already had/have Brighton/Charlton and Millwall to glare and snarl at. The Dons became more successful, climbing the football league, and Plough Lane was now getting 7/8,9,000 people through the turnstiles, and the fun had watching lower division football had gone, as the fans expectation had replaced just ‘being’ and existing as a league club.

A club that could have co-existed as my second team, had done the dirty on me, and I didn’t like them anymore. A horrible fractious game at Plough Lane a week before our Wembley Cup final in 1990 (this after they had famously won it in 87), summed them up, as John Fashanu, a man more suited to marshal arts than a football pitch, spent the game seemingly intent on breaking Dave Madden’s leg, or whatever else got on the way.

Then came the groundshare at Selhurst, this suited the club fine (but not the Dons fans), The Surrey Man United and Liverpool fans could descend in droves and fill the ground to its 26K capacity, some 14K above what Plough Lane could hold. Yet their fans resented Palace for this groundshare, even though it’d not been of our doing. I heard many a story of Dons fans staying away from watching them at Palace.

Their crowds at Selhurst in the second tier, just before they departed for MK were pitiful, and well, actually,and, well….. there is no and.
All the time, money and effort should have been spent finding them a home within the borough of Merton.
The rest is history as they say, their true fans formed a new club, started at Level 10 nationally, and made it back to the football league in 2011, after 10 years of hard work.

And so, this was why I was back at Kingsmeadow, to re-tick them as a league club.

And you know what, I bloomin loved it :). The venue is much improved since the days that Kingstonian FC first owned the ground. The seats in the North Stand are an excellent addition, and it felt like being back at Plough Lane in the late 1970s.
A crowd of just below 2,000 gathered tonight (200 or so from York), there was some good banter from the crowd, an excellent game, and some witty songs directed at York player and PFA chairman Clarke Carlisle about an incident of drink/driving, which I’m sure was water off a ducks back to him!

I got chatting to a Dons fans before the game, it turned out out he was also from Banstead. Living in a road I’d done a paper round in as a youth. And his thought was that “We are not where we want to be” (4th bottom of League Three).

With a proposed move back to Plough Lane, to re-build the old greyhound/speedway stadium still in negotiation,one wonders if a new Wimbledon team will perhaps once again climb the league ladder again, and compromise my reborn feelings for this fantastic little club?
Please, no more five nils at Selhurst!

Oh, and there is the little matter of them playing MK Dons, at Stadium MK in Round Two.

If ever a club, should sing that famous terrace mantra, “If you know your history” its the Wombles. Amateur Cup and FA Cup Winners, and all done with a small but dedicated hardcore of fans.

I know who I will be supporting at Stadium MK on December 2nd!


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