Stevenage, Westley, What Wimbledon Were And Could Have Been…

The thing about football is it’s quite hard to give credit where its due. This is down to many of the factors that make football the game it is; passion, loyalty, even negative emotions such as hatred can be constructive under select circumstances… hell, mixed with two parts love we built a football club off the back of it. One of the hardest things I find, writing as a blogger dedicated to my club, is accepting that what happened when things haven’t quite gone as planned was anything other than a failure on my teams part, either that or the opposition profited from extreme fortune or morally dubious tactics.

Reading back some older match reports earlier today, I was struck by how, even when I was convinced on publishing I had been completely magnanimous, my text was still littered with backhanded compliments and snide remarks that regular readers might not have noticed, but neutrals and passing opposition supporters definitely did. In that respect I have to initially wonder whether I’d be writing this had I not been personally floating on cloud nine after the Dons promotion – the answer is, without an immediate League Two connection, ‘probably not’. Particularly as the Stevenage FA Cup defeat was incredibly tough to take, I left the ground fuming, the Dons had no luck, the ref was bent, the Stevenage players throwing themselves on the floor to win free kicks… yet when I got home and watched it back on TV I saw none of that, just a well contested cup tie where the better side won it on the day. If I remember rightly, I bit my tongue and got down to writing an accurate account of the day, yet still mocked their otherwise muted supporters consistent use of a drum, and suggested the young Dons side lost as they had frozen on the big day…

Stevenage, a small club whose achievement go way beyond expectations, deserve an enormous amount of credit for the season they had, what they have done is magnificent, and should be an example of what Wimbledon can achieve next season. Lets not forget. St. Evenage (as they were dubbed at the time) spared us our worst nightmare… a game against Them. Who knows how our season would have shaken down had we had to face them? Yet Stevenage aren’t well liked, particularly by Wimbledon supporters (despite the massive favour they granted us)… I’m sitting here writing this thinking in the back of my mind ‘hell, I don’t even like them’…

Check out this little article from Paul Fletcher on the BBC website – ignore the tabloidesque quote-driven writing-by-numbers style of the piece itself, skip down to the comments section. There’s a hell of a lot of vitriol coming from supporters of clubs in that division, some of it down to jealousy, but Stevenage have created a rod for their own back by the style of their success. And as Dons fans, watching our young side claim promotion playing an attractive, high tempo possession based game, its easy to sit back and criticise Stevenage’s style of football. Easy, that is, if you have the memory of a goldfish, and have no idea who we are or where we’ve come from…

Lets not forget these are similar comments to those aimed at a small South West London club who gate crashed the top flight back in the eighties. The thing is, the Stevenage aren’t even playing the sort of up-and-at-em long ball game we saw for eight years or so under Bassett and Gould. They’re more like the well organised, do the simple things right and counter with pace sort of game we played under Joe Kinnear, direct, but incorrectly labelled as long ball by a lazy media eager for a tag to make their job a little easier. Plus the criticism their players spend most of the game rolling on the floor falls down slightly when you consider the amount of fouls Dons players ‘earned’ last term. The Crazy Gang never behaved like that, but it wasn’t part of the game back then, it is now (unfortunately)… and if your side has ever benefited even once, you can’t moan just because someone else does it better than your boys do…

Even the criticism we suffered in the Bassett and Gould days was largely unwarranted, and due to those in the media still active in the game attempting to protect their own interests. And the quote that our success in the 1988, that it set English football back ten years (who was that again?), lets not forget the success of the long ball game was all about exploiting the fact that defences found it difficult to cope with a simple high ball knocked over the top… a fundamental problem in English football most cruelly exposed by the national teams elimination in not just the 1992 European Championship, but the Qualifying competition for the 1994 World Cup by nations adopting this tactic.

Even to this day the stigma exists. Among all the plaudits, more than one here and there from those who have no idea how this current Wimbledon team goes about playing their football decrying the fact another ‘long ball’ team is back in the League. So what if we were? The fact is, we easily could have been. When Dave Anderson left the club in 2007, some of the biggest names in non-league management threw their hat in the ring, and while we’ll never know who actually applied, was interviewed, and how close they came, the fact that Westley was out of work and sniffing about the club at the time (spotted in the stands a couple of times, a few nice quotes seemingly designed to communicate the fact he ‘gets’ us) suggests, under different circumstances, there was a chance Westley could have got the Dons job.

Now Terry Brown ultimately did get the job, and has gone on to show what a great selection that was. And I’ve never been a fan of Graham Westley since the day he pitched up at Kingstonian in the nineties, he looks and sounds like the sort of person who twenty years ago would have turned up on your doorstep selling encyclopedias. I’ve never really had a huge appreciation of Alternate History novels, Nazis goosestepping down The Mall and all that guff… but I get the impression we might well find ourselves exactly where we are right now had Westley been offered the job back in ’07. There’s more than one route to the Football League, after all… and Westley really is that good.

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