WUP 8.7

This article was originally published in WUP 8.7, March ’11. With the Dons title chances disappearing over the hill fast, we turn our attention to the playoffs…

By the time you read this, there is a very good chance we will no longer be top of the league. Even if the team that have become not-so-affectionately known by Dons fans as the Gatwick Globetrotters (I love that nickname) managed to slip up during the week, they will surely take enough points from their remaining four hundred games in hand to overcome our slim advantage. Of course my presumption is you will be reading this before, after, or quite probably during the Kidderminster game so apologies if this issue was put back a couple of weeks – I wasn’t actually planning on writing anything this month, but I got a text message from everyone’s favourite Polish blogger telling me WUP were a few articles short of a full issue… I took this as meaning WUP were desperate for articles but it could equally be a comment on the WUP team themselves – Maliniok is a relatively recent addition to the fanbase so could it be it just took a little while before the penny dropped?…

Over the course of the last week, as I write, the opinion of the average Dons fan has gone from ‘Crawley have all those games in hand but stranger things have happened, you never know…’ after Altrincham, to ‘Oh well, playoffs it is…’ within the space of seven days. As everyone who has ever watched the Tour de France will testify, once a long time leader is caught and sucked back into the pack the danger is they could end up nowhere, and Wimbledon now desperately need a character-defining finish. And preferably we need second place. On current form a quick glance at the table suggests depending on our position the playoffs will pan out as follows;

2nd – Second leg at home to A.N. Other

3rd – Second leg at home to Wrexham

4th – Second leg away to Wrexham

5th – Second leg away to Luton

Which emphasises the importance of at very least a top three finish. If we are on our game I fancy us to turn over anyone at home so long as we haven’t given ourselves no chance with a heavy first leg defeat. Our away form hasn’t been as great and finishing outside the top three and having to build up a lead at home could be too much pressure on what is, despite recent additions, still a young squad with a good few years learning ahead of them. Yet if we do make it to Manchester, regardless of who we play, all bets are off, it’s a ninety minute cup tie, anything can happen, and other such clichés…

Last season must have come as a bit of a culture shock to some of our younger supporters. There wasn’t a dramatic and/or triumphant finish, for the first time since the ‘glory’ days of the mid-table Premier League finishes of the nineties. You get the impression that defeat in the playoff this time around is going to be a lot harder to take than Fisher or even Bromley were, the flip side of the coin is success will top anything that happened at Staines or Hampton. I’m reminded of the later every day now I actually live in Hampton, just a few minutes walk from the Beaverdome. My journey home from work every day mirrors our walk back to the station on that magnificent afternoon. If I close my eyes I can still see the throng of Dons flooding the streets… every time I pass St Johns convenience store I remember being caught behind someone trying to pay for a couple of bottles of champagne and a fistful of cigars by credit card, causing me to leave a two pound coin on the counter to pay for my celebratory can of lager and I’m half tempted to pop in to see if I could reclaim my change.

Sometimes I allow myself to imagine what could have been if that game hadn’t gone in our favour (and I’m sure we all remember how nerve-racking it actually was). We might have gone on to claim promotion anyway, but then we might not. I believe we would have gone up the next season anyway, but that would have put us a year behind where we are at the moment. You can take those kind of ‘what if…’ questions to the extreme – after all we could have found ourselves in the BSS as early as our third season had we won the CCL first time out, then made it up through the complicated playoff system that was in place in the Ryman League the following year (as Yeading eventually did). On one hand that could have been too much too soon, but on the other we could already be a Football League club had we not had to compete against a ridiculously cash rich short-term vanity project… plus ca change, as I’m sure the more pretentious of us are currently thinking…

Naturally I hope we don’t find ourselves spending the summer wondering what could have been, but if we don’t go up, how will history judge our season? Without a doubt, I would have taken a place in the playoffs back in August, the vast majority of us would. Yet recent results have left me feeling flat, genuinely disappointed. My reaction to the Wrexham defeat, of example, was similar to the sort of behaviour you would see from your average seven-year old at Christmas upon being presented a new bike when he wanted a Playstation… The dog that I don’t have was feeling pretty relieved his non-existence cause him to avoid a kicking that evening…

But we are still in it. Our fate will now be decided by three games in May, possibly even ninety minutes in Manchester. One can only speculate as to how many supporters will make the journey? 8,000? 10,000? How many neutral supporters will turn up, knowing our story and how we were so badly screwed over (and I don’t just mean FCUM…). It’s like Millwall, like Hampton before, and Staines before that. Another step forward for our football club. We can ask for no more than improvement, year on year, yet we still have a chance of taking the giant leap we all want. For the last few months this season, now unrealistic dreams of actually winning the title have died and the pressure is off, let’s see what our team are really capable of.

Further WUP articles can be found in the Features Index

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