Opening Day – A Short (Recent) History

This article is playing a little with fate, as I’m choosing to focus mainly on the recent history of our opening league fixture… in other words those since 17th August 1996. This was a date known to the rest of the footballing world as the date David Beckham announced his arrival on the scene with a last-minute drive over Neil Sullivan struck inches from the halfway line, as Manchester United eased to a convincing 3-0 victory at Selhurst Park.

For us Dons fans, this game signifies the last time we witnessed our team beaten on the first day of the league season, a run stretching back fifteen years. That we have gone so long without tasting defeat on one of the most important weekends in the football calendar is a record we should be proud of, particularly as I don’t remember the Dons having a fantastic record on the first day of the season prior to that… I still remember the shock of finding out we had beaten West Ham 2-0 whilst on holiday with family in Suffolk back in 1993, and looking back I’m not surprised… this was the first time we had won the first game in our top flight history.

After defeat at Manchester City in our first ever First Division game we took a couple of beatings at home to Arsenal, before failing to find our way past Chelsea. Our first game in the newly formed Premier League saw defeat at Leeds, before eventual victory at West Ham saw a reversal of fortunes, the Manchester United being something of a blip on an upward trend.

1) 9th August 1997 Wimbledon 1 Liverpool 1

A brilliant Marcus Gayle free kick saw the Dons take the lead, before Liverpool equalised through a Micheal Owen penalty. Owen was poised to become a worldwide star at the World Cup twelve months later, and naturally that nights Match of the Day obliged by replaying his penalty several times over, with Gayle’s free kick, lofted over the wall and striking both posts before entering the goal, brushed over.

2) 15th August 1998 Wimbledon 3 Tottenham 1

One of the few occasions the Dons ended the day on top of English football, not too much to get excited about as not even a full schedule of Premier League games were played out. The Dons took the points thanks to goals from Robbie Earle, and two Efan Ekoku efforts that sandwiched a Ruel Fox response for Spurs.

3) 7th August 1999 Watford 2 Wimbledon 3

The Dons survived a Watford side battling from behind twice in their first season back in the top flight. Carl Cort’s early strike seemed to have given the Dons a perfect start, but thanks to a harsh red card handed to Dean Blackwell, and subsequent penalty that levelled the scores, Wimbledon seemed set for a tough afternoon. Another Marcus Gayle free kick gave the Dons the lead. Watford would have earned a point with an equalizer twenty minutes from time had it not been for a comical own goal and winner minutes later, which unfortunately I can’t find video of to confirm my fading memory of it being blasted in from close range by a defender…

4) 12th August 2000 Wimbledon 0 Tranmere Rovers 0

Perhaps the worst opening day game I can remember… from memory Patrick Agyemang put himself about but missed a couple of chances standing in for injured and suspended first choice forwards, as the Dons coped with a return to second tier football.

5) 11th August 2001 Wimbledon 3 Birmingham City 1

The Dons won 3-1 thanks to goals from Shipperley and a David Connolly brace, an afternoon that we should be looking back on with happy memories was soured thanks to ongoing protests against the Milton Keynes move. Supporters launched a black balloon protest prior to the game, minds distracted by off field events as would be the case all year. One of these sides started the following season in the Premier League, while the other…

6) 17th August 2002 Sandhurst Town 1 AFC Wimbledon 2

…Began a whole new era at Bottom Meadow, Sandhurst, in front of 2449 supporters. The day has been well documented elsewhere, suffice to say a couple of early goals from Kevin Cooper and Keith Ward were enough to see our first Combined Counties League points return to Kingsmeadow…

7) 16th August 2003 Feltham 0 AFC Wimbledon 2

Perhaps the strangest venue for an opening day, the Feltham Arena’s huge roofless, seatless stand overlooked a barely first generation synthetic pitch… effectively fabric glued to concrete, holes ripped in it in places. At least the back of the stand provided an elevated view of events, as Lee Sidwell and Matt Everard earned Wimbledon the first of many wins in an unbeaten championship season.

8 ) 14th August 2004 AFC Wimbledon 5 Ashford Town 1

Another year, another championship season as the Dons stormed Ryman One. However, the Kent version of Ashford had the nerve to take the lead, holding it for two minutes before the Dons took control… Richard Butler and Jamie Taylor each grabbed a brace, with Steve Butler nothing the other.

9) 20th August 2005 AFC Wimbledon 4 Folkestone Invicta 1

Almost a repeat of the previous season as the Dons made an immediate impact on a higher division. While we wouldn’t go on to gain promotion this time, a double from Shane Smeltz, Richard Butler and Matt York won the game in front of a three-sided Kingsmeadow.

10) 19th August 2006 Carshalton Athletic 1 AFC Wimbledon 2

The Dons made it ten years without losing our first league fixture with a derby victory over Carshalton. Richard Butler (a contender for top scorer on opening day, not that I can be bothered going back to work it out!) and Roscoe Dsane won it for the Dons before the hosts replied late on.

11) 18th August 2007 AFC Wimbledon 2 Ramsgate 0

The Dons defeated our Kent opponents thanks to two Sam Hatton goals on his debut, and Terry Brown’s first competitive game in charge. Although I was on holiday at the time. In Manchester, of all places…

12) 9th August 2008 Newport County 1 AFC Wimbledon 4

I remember the nerves I felt while travelling across to Wales, wondering how the Dons would cope with a higher level… after all it had taken three years to get out of the division below… As it was a Jon Main hat trick and Tony Finn effort gave us a 4-1 victory in the standout opening day performance…

13) 8th August 2009 AFC Wimbledon 1 Luton 1

…And a year later the Dons found themselves in the Conference Premier, facing a Luton side just relegated thanks to a huge points deduction the season before. Craddock gave Luton an early lead from the spot as the Dons found it difficult to adapt initially, but the second half introduction of Jon Main changed the game, his rampaging run earning a penalty he dispatched himself. This game marked the first time in the AFC era the Dons had failed to collect all three points first time out, yet at the time many of us presumed Luton would only spend a season at that level, the surprise being two years later they find themselves still stuck down there while we moved on to better things…

14) 14th August 2010 Southport 0 AFC Wimbledon 1

Wimbledon picked up a vital early three points after a long trip to the North-West. After being the hero the previous two seasons, Jon Main fluffed his lines by missing a first half penalty. Replaced by Christian Jolley, the young forward repaid his managers faith by notching the winner and sending the large travelling support home happy.

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I wrote at the beginning of this article how I thought I might be messing with fate a little, but to be honest the Dons are long overdue a first day defeat… Can we extend the record by twelve months, or will we end our first game back in the Football League pointless?

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9 thoughts on “Opening Day – A Short (Recent) History

  1. […] Andrews is on hand as well. “I give you Wimbledon,” he says. “Since losing 3-0 to Manchester United on the opening day of the 1996-97 […]

  2. Jacob Stamer says:

    Great blog.

    I live in Denmark.. I feel like I can’t wait ’till the Bistol opening game, to see the improved ‘Fans Stadium – Kingsmeadow.

    Somebody got a link with some photos of the football league ground grading improvements?

    Thanks, in advance.

    Btw.. are there some kind of pay per view offering of the match, on the internet?

  3. Ferret says:

    in this month’s WSC there is a photo of that black balloon demonstration from 11th August 2001 :-/

    Looking forward to Saturday, win lose or draw the club is ours 🙂

  4. dons4div4 says:

    I don’t like this feeling of foreboding I’m getting, but I felt the 1977 Halifax game was a bit of an anti-climax.

    And we were all over Rovers in the Cup in 1968 and still lost 4-0 (they still go on about Bannister and “Smash and Grab” in the West Country even now – it’s that exciting down here).

    Great shot by Ian Cooke against the bar at the Wandle end mind you.

  5. Martin says:

    Great article Neil. It certainly whets the appetite for Saturday’s game and I also hope our excellent first game record doesn’t put the mockers on it. It makes me all the more disappointed to miss our first few League fixtures (on holiday) but it’s enough just to be back for me.

    That Watford game was our only away win of that depressing relegation season (and Watford finished adrift at the bottom) although we did come close at Old Trafford where Olsen’s formation and tactics and Walid Badir’s excellent early goal almost out-foxed Ferguson’s men even with the overwhelming playing resources at his disposal.

    Just one correction though 😉 We beat the awful Ramsgate 2-0 through an outstanding Hatton display IIRC.

  6. Ed says:

    I’ll happily take a 0-0 draw against Bristol Rovers.

  7. You’ve voiced what so many of us have thought – I reckon. I’ll be happy with a draw.

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