What a lovely day to finish the season. Bright sunshine, a few fluffy clouds, warm enough to not have to worry about what you were wearing – classic end of season weather that makes you think for a moment that perhaps football was meant to be a summer game… until you feel the desire to go home immediately and flagellate yourself for even contemplating such blasphemy.
On arrival at the stadium I could see people had taken heed of the warnings to arrive early, the stadium being half full by the time I entered at 2.30 and found my place in the John Smiths (because I am old, and I do indeed stink of piss…). Awards were being given out like they were going out of fashion; Jon Main the Junior Dons Player Of The Year, Ben Judge the WDON Player Of The Year, and Chris Hussey collecting The WUP Young Player Of The Year. Plus you know its an ‘occasion’ when PISA are the match sponsors, these days Phillo pronounces it as in the city rather than the ‘pisser’ from days of yore, although to be fair a number of them did appear to be leaning…
The team line up was interesting. There was a first appearance for Argentine goalkeeper Nicky Gindre, and to be honest it will probably be his last. This seemed more a selection on compassionate grounds, to say thank you from helping us out and providing cover for Pullen. Although Andy Little will probably be out until Christmas, I can’t see Gindre remaining on a short term contract to provide cover, he’s worthy of someone’s first team. Andy Sambrook also got the start at right back, again I can’t see Sambrook staying with Garrard coming back to fitness, Conroy looked the more impressive of the two, or there’s always a chance we may bring in someone proven at Conference level in the summer. As well as this there were starts for Kennedy Adjei and Jake Leberl, with a highly impressive bench of Hatton, Godfrey, Pullen, Hussey and Judge.
St Albans signalled their intent from the beginning, by giving a team that weren’t yet champions the traditional champions guard of honour. And the celebrations started even earlier than expected, before the game even started with Captain Goodliffe wheeling away with fists clenched after winning the toss in the knowledge they’ll be attacking the Tempest in the second half. Its great to know the players care about that sort of thing but it must be a kick in the teeth for the Kingston Road End regulars, who do make a lot of noise. In fact they out sang the Tempest for a while in the first half, with a cheeky version of ‘Can you hear the Tempest sing?’.
The Dons signalled their intent from the off, with a lightening counter leaving Finn and Kedwell two on two, Finn surged down the left channel but dawdled on it too long and was cleanly tackled in the box. Having too long with the ball and not knowing what to do with it seemed to be an affliction spreading across the front line, as shortly after Jon Main found himself clean through with only the keeper to beat. He let it bounce once, twice, three times steadying himself, then he let it bounce again, then once more for luck, by which time a defender nipped in, not believing his luck.
He may be top scorer in the BSS this season, and the man who scored the goal that won us promotion, but he approached this chance like a toddler attempting to kick the ball for the first time. I am seriously starting to believe someone has leapt into his body, Quantum Leap style, in the last couple of weeks. His actions were not those of a striker you would expect to take the Conference by storm. Perhaps he was trying to take the piss and it backfired? Either way, shocking miss.
It seemed as though Wimbledon were happy to stroll this one, although great work by Kedwell won a corner on the left after 15, which ended up being half cleared for Taylor to control brilliantly into Tom Davis path, but the tanned midfield maestro could only float the ball just wide of the top left corner, with Saints keeper Bastock appearing to have it covered. The Dons created several chances where they didn’t seem to be on the same wavelength as each other, notably when Taylor and the ever-ponderous Main left the ball to each other on the edge of the box when well placed to shoot.
Of course, as far as 4721 people in the stadium were concerned, any goal action was a bonus; they’d only come to see the side crowned champions amid a happy, positive atmosphere. Except Old Grumpy behind me (who actually does stink of piss…), who decided the side just wouldn’t be worthy league winners unless they put St Albans to the sword. He was muted today, partly because with the huge crowd he probably couldn’t see that much (and believe me I took great pleasure in blocking his view as often as possible). The other great moaning ringleader, who I like to call Mr Nooooooooo, didn’t seem to make an appearance today. Probably didn’t get a ticket and is stuck at home right now still going on about it. I wonder what these people find to moan about in the summer?
Moving on… these random forages forward built into what could be described as a spell of pressure around the half hour mark. Finn put Main through to stab wide, but he had moved too soon and the flag went up anyway, then a lovely exchange between Finn and Adjei down the left almost created a chance for Main at the near post, but Bastock did well to smother.
Then, a moment of comedy. A Finn free kick from near the half way line drifted over a number of Dons players, a defender let the ball bounce which almost did for Bastock. The keeper was forced to scurry back to his line and watch as the ball dropped narrowly over. Simmering resentments came to the boil and Bastock rushed out to confront his colleague, bumping him repeatedly so everyone knew who was at fault.
This served to spark his team mates from their slumber as the game was heading into the break, creating a number of chances all spurned by Bradley Gray. Firstly he could only drag his shot wide when well positioned. Then Wimbledon allowed him too much space 25 yards from goal and his fierce drive just flew wide with Gindre scrambling. Finally Gray flashed a header that Gindre earned his start (and clean sheet) by keeping out brilliantly, before the ball was scrambled away. This was too much for captain Goodliffe, advising his team loudly they were ‘Always fucking second, we’re not good enough’.
Half time saw the announcement that Ben Judge had also received WISA Player Of The Year, celebrity Don Alun Armstrong on hand to dish out the awards. Plus another amazing effort in the Square Up competition (I wasn’t concentrating enough to realise who it was – sorry mate) where one of the finalists managed a plus 30 score – something I would have a bit difficulty with using a round ball.
Wimbledon seemed to have taken heed of their captains’ words before half time. Not only were they first to the ball they started playing some excellent football, worthy of champions. They were in control of the ball, keeping it moving then attacking with pacy passing play. It lead to a goal, Davis found himself facing a packed defence, and fed the ball to Finn 30 yards from goal and central. Finn found Adjei on the edge of the box, and some wonderful footwork saw him beat a man before firing low into the bottom left corner. Kennedy Adjei was majestic today. The slightly slower pace of the game suited him, and like Finn he seemed to have the ball fixed to his boot at times. Perhaps if these two players stay on we may see more of them over the winter periods next term, especially when playing on better quality pitches away from home. Shortly after Finn skipped past a defender before floating his shot just wide.
Sam Hatton replaced Lewis Taylor, and Jon Main ended the season with 34 goals, replaced by Elliott Godfrey, as the Dons dominance continued. St Albans were tame, their only real effort on goal at the start of the half being a poor effort blasted wide from 30 yards by Hector Mackie when well placed. The Saints were also fortunate that Wimbledon were knocked out of their stride briefly following a number of baffling decisions by referee Ganfield, repeatedly blowing up against Kedwell for what looked like perfectly legal challenges.
Hatton was to grab his twelfth goal of the season midway through the half. He almost met a Kedwell cross which was recovered by Finn, who rounded two St Albans men with ease before delivering the perfect centre for Hatton, still lurking in the six yard box, to power his header past Bastock and into the net. The Dons had the scent of more goals; good set up play by Godfrey saw Davis fire straight at Bastock, his last input for the season before being replaced by Hussey.
Hussey made his mark on the game immediately. His ball across fell to Godfrey, who saw his low shot well pushed round the post by Bastock low to his right. The fans who came out in strength for a celebration, were also fortunate enough to be seeing a vintage Dons performance, albeit one against a side who already had their holidays in mind. The Saints did fashion one last chance ten minutes from time, when a corner found Adam Everitt free at the far post, only for him to steer it well over the bar. I think St Albans had read the script beforehand and didn’t seem to want to waste too much energy trying to spoil the party, and the Dons were the only team who looked like scoring. Haswell, Godfrey and Finn combined brilliantly to create a chance for Kedwell at the near post, his effort was blocked by the keeper as Kedwell seemed to be brought down, of course Ganfield was always going to say no but in truth there wasn’t much there.
As thoughts turned to the trophy, and the fans seemed content for time to tick down, there was one last twist. It was apt that when a cross from the by-line was blocked, it was our captain on hand to grab his first of the season in front of the Tempest. Ok it was from two yards, but lets take nothing away from our inspirational leader, a man who will quite happily run through walls if his manager instructed him to, and an experienced old head that has been a fantastic example to the younger players. As Goodliffe sees another season pass him by, I hope despite his age there is still a place for him at the club next year, even if he doesn’t start as many games, he will still useful as a substitute against less pacy teams, and I can’t think of anyone else who deserves to be our club captain more than him.
While Goodliffe deserved to bookend the season, I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded if Anthony Finns late curling effort from the left corner of the box had dropped under the bar instead of bouncing off it. This wonderful right foot effort would have been a contender for goal of the season had it found the net. I had Johan Cruyffs comment to the Barcelona press running through my head that ‘When you are 4-0 ahead with 10 minutes to go, it’s better to hit the post a couple of times so the crowd can go ‘oooh!’ and ‘aaaah!’ Then you get angry as if you hadn’t meant to. I just always loved that sound when the ball hits the post hard…’. Not that I’m comparing Finn with Cruyff… There was still time for Kennedy to make a run unchallenged from his own half into the St Albans box, he could have picked out a team mate but hesitated and Bastock smothered.
Then, the final whistle. Another season over, another successful season at that. The player filed off and the supporters waited patiently for their return, in their ‘back2back promotion’ t-shirts, singing along to ‘We Are The Champions’ very badly. The sponsors erected a makeshift podium, leaving the trophy tantalisingly on display. Finally the players emerged once more from the tunnel, one by one (as you can see from the video on yesterdays post), until finally it was time for Goodliffe to stride on and a Dons captain lifted silverware once more. The crowd soaked up one last lap of honour before the players left for the final time.
I would imagine it got a bit messy in the bars that evening. I didn’t stay. I did linger at the gates as I left, looking at the ground one last time before heading home, despite the overpowering feeling of victory, it quickly dissipates in the knowledge there are new challenges round the corner. I made a vow some time ago that I would join the volunteers at the annual ground cleaning weekend, and Ill stick to my word, partly because I admitted this to a regular volunteer last week and now I don’t want to be seen going back on my word! But it’s going to be a long summer.
One last time, to all the players, staff, volunteers and fans who made this season so special – Thank You. Like a river flows surely to the sea, darling so it goes, some things are meant to be.