While ball wizard and Dons legend Rob Ursell scored some fantastic goals in his time for us, no one really doubts whether Anthony Finn was better than him. For all his seal like tricks and mazy runs, Ursell looked more like a circus ball juggler that had been thrown on a football field, and somehow it nearly, nearly worked out. Finn, on his day, seemed to be the real deal in the Ryman and BSS. He could rip apart defences in the Conference National and beyond if he could be bothered, if only he could be bothered.
Finn was rather generously described as a ‘fan favourite’ by the match programme on a couple of occasions, the description being correct in for every fan that loved him; there was one that loved to hate him. I came out of a game towards the end of the 07/08 season walking behind a guy who was eulogising him to his friend, before he turned off and was replaced by another guy barking into his mobile ‘If he f***s this up for us, I’m gonna find him and I’m gonna f***ing hit him!’. The funny thing was I agreed with both of them.
Tony Finn drove me mad, almost turned me into a full on schizo, because for every mazy dribble he made, for every fantastic chance he carved out for himself, every time he turned a player into the ground and left him lying impotent on the ground, he gave the ball away, or he turned a great chance into nothing by trying to walk it in, or he stood there with hands on hips while team-mates battled for possession.
I presume he drove me crazy for the same reasons he did everybody else. I realised I was never going to play for Wimbledon when I was about eleven, so I stopped working on my game. Because Wimbledon were a Premier League club, and you knew from an early age whether you had the natural talent. I didn’t play football again until I was 18, and turned into your typical park league goalkeeper, deeply unfit, barely motivated, unwilling to learn, unable to concentrate.
Finn on the other hand has talent the likes of which most of his team-mates can be jealous of. He was born with the ability to make the football do anything he wanted in close quarters. So why didn’t he get his head down and work on his crossing, his vision to pick out team-mates, to win challenges and to track back into positions where he could make them in the first place? Why was he so frequently late? Every one of us would have swapped places with him given the chance, which is why every one of us has reason to curse his wasted talent.
Back in October, Finn mentioned in an interview that he would jump at the chance to go full time with Wimbledon, and yet why at that stage did he not sit up and take notice of his own words and do everything in his power to make that happen? He also said he would have to put his family first in any decision he made, which is very selfless, but if he became the player he could have been no manager in the world, never mind Terry Brown, would have no hesitation in offering him whatever he asked for to turn pro in the Conference – yet if that was the case it wouldn’t just be Conference clubs knocking on his door. It still wasn’t too late – but he never seemed willing to try.
So when Terry had a decision to make over whether to offer him a contract over the likes of Elliott Godfrey, who had rivalled him for that free role for much of the season, he was always going to go for the guy who always gives 100%, who really fits into the way we play, a strong, direct forward always looking to bring team-mates into play, a player who might not be able to dance round defenders but can consistently put them out of the game anyway, by seeing the bigger picture and knowing the right thing to do at the moment it needs to be done.
While it was polite of Terry to say Finny and Tom Davis were being released to allow them to stay part time, ultimately that’s all it was. Even the most deluded of supporters could see through that, Christ, even a Hampton fan could work it out. Finny wasn’t kept on because Terry can bring in a better player for the money next season, be it Pattisson or whoever, and the only person Tony Finn can blame is himself.
Tony, I genuinely mean it when I say I hope everything works out for you in future, and thanks for all the times you literally took our breathe away with pieces of skill pulled from the top drawer. But ultimately it wasn’t enough; the days are gone when Wimbledon can rely on flair alone in a player. We need players who are going to be closer to the complete package. The days of players like Tony Finn wearing Yellow and Blue are behind us, that’s ultimately the sign of the progress we have made as a team, and the direction we are heading as a club.