Back To Where It All Began

If someone had suggested to me back on that glorious night, 10th July 2002 at Gander Green Lane, as our new Dons played out a 0-4 defeat to Sutton United that we would go on and gain promotion to the Football League within nine years… well if asked two days before or a couple of weeks later I might have suggested this sort of timescale as overambitious, but on that glorious night anything seemed possible for AFC Wimbledon. In fact I might have been a bit disappointed we couldn’t do it in seven. Or even five…

Maybe your memories have faded nine years on, but AFC Wimbledon kicking a ball in anger for the first time was perhaps the most euphoric occasion I’ve ever experienced as a football supporter. Eastlands might just have trumped it, but for entirely different reasons… simply watching our new side take the field seemed pretty miraculous at the time, like having taken this one leap of faith everything else would fall into place without too much effort.

We quickly found out how hard it would be, the sheer effort required to propel us up the pyramid, but that night will live long in the memory of all of us there that night (and hundreds more around the world who weren’t…), and it seems apt we revisit Sutton in preparation for our first season back in the League. I can’t imagine what they must have been expecting on the night, by all accounts they needed a little convincing until agreeing to host the fixture, and thankful they did… the occasion wouldn’t have been quite the same had it been hosted by Leatherhead or Windsor, no disrespect intended.

I think back then the presumption was we would face Sutton some point down the line in a competitive League fixture, but like Kingstonian and Woking we somehow avoided each other as our promotions coincided with relegation for the U’s. Of course, we did defeat them in a memorable Surrey Senior Cup semi-final, a competition that for one season only was elevated well beyond its natural level of interest by success hungry Dons fans. Sutton have become something of a Home For Unwanted Dons of late, with the likes of Goodliffe, Davis, Adjei and Jay Conroy finding themselves in a Sutton shirt.

From a Dons perspective, each game this pre-season has felt a lot more valuable as there aren’t as many of them as usual… I know I can’t attend the two midweek games this week, but those two fixtures alone account for almost a third of our schedule. In case you had forgotten, the season kicks off just two weeks today – last night saw the annual Meet The Manager night, which I missed, but fortunately you can read an extensive write-up elsewhere

One of the reasons this preview was published tonight and not last night (as was my aim) is because I was waiting for some news to come out of the camp, as yet none is forthcoming with the exception of what was reported earlier in the local Guardian, that Mikhael Jaimez-Ruiz looks like he might have done enough to earn a deal, providing Jack Turner can find a club (the Herald hinted yesterday that Hayes were showing interest, and if he could pull that off a season in the BSN would do him the world of good, particularly as the likelihood is he’ll be worked a little harder than he has been on his two Dons Conference appearances…

At the other end of the field, any lingering hopes Dons fans might have had that Alan Connell could be tempted to the club were extinguished when Swindon signed him for a reported six figure fee. When you consider that this means, making a few presumptions on a couple of the fees, the best part of a quarter of a million pounds has been splashed on three non-league strikers by teams in our division (Kedwell, Birchall, Connell), it really shows what we are up against financially.

Moving full circle, another side entering the Combined Counties League with ambitions to move up the pyramid take on Marcus Gayle’s development squad tomorrow at their Footes Lane stadium, and there seems to be some real excitement building over the islands debut in the pyramid. Good luck to them, and as Channel Online TV seem to be all over the story, there is a fair chance we might see some goal action of this game come Sunday morning…

LATE UPDATE

The O/S update came in half an hour after mine, obviously been watching Tour de France coverage, like any good sprinter locking on to a wheel before springing out last-minute and grabbing the glory…

Anyway, Szymon Sidorowicz and Baz Savage have moved on after failing to earn contracts, the most interesting news being TB has earmarked a couple of strikers ‘for the future’. So it looks as though we will start the season with what we have, and in terms of bringing in a Kedwell replacement its a case of playing the waiting game…

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