Dons Icons #1 – We’ve Got Matt Everard

I’ve made a contemporary choice for my first selection as a Dons Icon, although I’m sure it will be a popular choice (the numbers mean nothing by the way, its number one in a series, not ‘Matt Everard is our number one Dons icon’… although if it ever came to a vote he would definitely be in the top ten).

Our first encounter with the giant (although at 6’2″ he’s only an inch taller than me, although he seemed an absolute goliath on the pitch) came in our first encounter with Ash United, the club Matt made his name with. The Dons led 2-0 in one of our first games on the August Bank Holiday 2002, only for an Everard-inspired comeback saw us lose 3-2. The big man certainly made an impression with the Dons fans, and the following February Wimbledon boss Terry Eames made a seven day approach to poach him to Kingsmeadow.

Reportedly he made first contact with the fans on the Weird and Wonderful World guest book – legendary predecessor of the current WUP version – although I have to say I missed his postings myself, and like our club itself despite only a few years passing it has already fallen into the category of those famous almost mythical stories of the early days (in my head I can barely believe my own memories of events like curry night at Southall, or Walton Casuals beer tent with band playing inside).

Although Matt’s arrival wasn’t enough to secure the title for Wimbledon he did bag ten goals in eighteen appearances, a sign of the goalscoring prowess he was to show next season. He debuted in a 3-0 pasting of Chessington and Hook at a cold, muddy Chalky Lane. Hopes of promotion went in his second game, and his home debut against Withdean 2000, a match Wimbledon lost 0-2 after seeing six men go into the book and Sean Daly sent off. Amazingly this was to be the only game Wimbledon lost during his spell as an active player at the club.

Big Matt wasn’t one to give up that first year, and went on to have a storming end to the season. This included memorable moments such as scoring in the 5-3 win over his old side at Kingsmeadow. The Wimbledon side that was to dominate the Combined Counties League the next season was taking shape, and Matt played a huge part in that in more ways than one.

Matt hit sixteen goals in the league to go with the eight he scored in cup competitions that year, which included a few memorable ones. First he scored the winner at Herne Bay in the FA Vase in injury time to send the Dons into the next round, and Dons fans into ecstasy. Then in November he struck twice in stoppage time to turn a 3-4 deficit into a 5-4 victory against a plucky Walton Casuals side, one that proved vitally important come the end of the season.

It wasn’t just Wimbledon supporters who had noticed Matt’s dominant aerial prowess during the course of his first and only season at Kingsmeadow. As transfer deadline day loomed an offer came in from high flying Aldershot – Matt’s hometown team – managed by a certain Terry Brown, always a good judge of a player (either that or he’s always secretly been a Womble fancier!). As Dons fans held their breath, Everard chose to put loyalty above ambition and stick with the Dons. No Wimbledon fan would have begrudged him the chance to step up to Conference level, but in an amazing show of loyalty he chose to stay put and finish the job in hand.

Of course those two goals I mentioned earlier against Walton Casuals may have seemed minor, but without them we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the spectacle of a Kingfield stadium full of Dons come the end of the season, with Wimbledon winning the Combined Counties Premier Challenge Cup final, and our first Cup victory, after trailing to North Greenford. Matt’s towering header in front of the huge stand behind the goal was one of the memorable moments of that night (well for most people, I was in the gents at that point, emerging just in time to join the celebrations! I have seen it on video many times since though… here for example http://www.donsonline.co.uk/videos/20040430/action12.mpg).

All of which was enough to secure him the Player of the Year award, no mean feat considering Kevin Cooper managed to hit sixty goals that season (although to be fair that was pretty much all he did do…). In the close season caretaker manager Nicky English was replaced by Dave Anderson, who had seen enough of the club to know the rocks it was built around, Matt Everard being one of them. Matt started our first season in Ryman One, featuring strongly despite the arrival of two experienced centre halves in Steve Butler and Anthony Howard (himself destined for legend status…), scoring a couple of important goals in the process.

I seem to have overemphasised Matt’s admittedly impressive goalscoring prowess, but there is a reason he was a centre half. Playing his football in divisions where resources demanded more direct football be played, he snuffed out long balls and gobbled up set pieces, allowing us a base to build from. In the Combined Counties League he was immense, yet he was a standout player in the slightly more sophisticated Ryman One as well. We came across many players whose throwback physique could have caused us more problems than it did, Matt however had a footballers brain to go with it, and could easily have played at a much higher level. He could have had the chance to try with Wimbledon had fate not intervened.

An innocuous looking knock in the away match at Bashley in November 2004 ultimately ended Matt’s Wimbledon career. Upon finding out the severity a month later, severe knee ligament damage, Matt was forced to hang up his boots to the dismay of Wimbledon fans everywhere. It was no coincidence that Wimbledon’s next game away at Cray Wanderers saw a 2-0 defeat, and the loss of an unbeaten league record that stretched back almost two years, to that loss at home to Withdean.

Matt is currently the Assistant Manager to Paul Bonner at Ash United, having played a few reserve games for the club in what could be described as a failed attempt at a comeback, but perhaps was more for a laugh, playing the game for fun as he did for all those years with his mates at Ash.

The legacy Matt leaves us is that Dons fans now expect nothing but the best from a centre half, and its the high standards he set that the fans judged the three previous winners of the WISA player of the year against, all coincidentally central defenders. As a club we have been spoiled with our good fortune to acquire strong, committed defenders like Anthony Howard, Jason Goodliffe and Ben Judge. The later, despite an impeccable campaign last season, still has a way to go to dislodge Matt from my all time AFC Wimbledon XI. 

 

If you have any nominations for a Dons Icon, be it player, manager, supporter, or other, leave a comment. Or if your too shy to leave a comment, see the contacts section – all emails treated in strictest confidence… oh and any emails for Kevin Cooper that turn out to actually have come from Kevin Cooper will result in instant barring of Kevin Cooper from The Dons Icons section (The second Kevin Cooper, obviously the first one is a shoe-in unless he runs away with my wife in the next few weeks… even then I might come round given time)

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