Following Jon Main and Marcus Gayle in the ‘Legends of Yore’ series, with his return to Kingsmeadow imminent there can only be one choice… the man whose penalty took us to the Football League, and whose goals and work rate in the preceding forty-eight games got us to Eastlands in the first place.
It’s rare that Wimbledon ever sign a player to the universal approval of Dons fans. Future legends have been written off before they’ve even appeared in a blue shirt by sections of the fanbase of various proportions… we’ve had players come in being too old, too expensive, too injury prone. In Danny Kedwell’s case, his strike rate at his previous club, Grays, was called into question. That would have been understandable had Kedwell been signed as a goalscorer, but at the time his arrival heralded the target man Terry Brown had been looking for, a foil for the prolific Jon Main.
Lets not forget how difficult obtaining a target man actually is… Dons fans had to endure the likes of Tony Battersby and Danny Webb stinking out the place before Ked’s arrival. Yet from his first appearance it was obvious Kedwell was more than just a big guy to lump long balls up to. His appearance as a half time substitute replacing Sam Hatton against a stubborn Maidenhead side changed the game, contributing an assist to tee up the home side’s game clinching second goal.
By the time Kedwell notched his first goal, capping off a comfortable FA Cup replay against Bedford in his first home start, he was already well on his way to securing crowd favourite status. While Main set about breaking scoring records, Kedwell concentrated on teeing them up for him, doing all the leg work, defending from the front… yet grabbing his share of goals, eventually weighing in with fourteen in the league in his first season.
Would we have even gained promotion that season had Kedwell not joined? Despite our brilliant start, the arrival of Danny added an extra dimension even Jon Main couldn’t provide on his own. We stuttered a couple of times, even with Kedwell in the squad, ending up just falling over the line. I’m not convinced, with all respect for the rest of the squad, that we would have gone on to be anything other than playoff fodder… Danny gave us just that little extra we needed.
Kedwell still wouldn’t have been everyone’s first choice for a favourite player – he would have been up there, but these were the days when strike partner Main was still the , erm, main man. That all changed at the start of our first season in the Conference. Main’s goals started to dry up, but Danny was there to make up the shortfall, and then some. Despite an inconsistent season in terms of results, Kedwell performed beyond all expectations, slamming in twenty-six in all competitions. Of course, that form brought with it unwanted attentions…
At the time it wasn’t clear whether Crawley’s move to bring Kedwell was serious, or simply mind games. Yet for all his efforts to present himself otherwise, Steve Evans isn’t an idiot. Kedwell had proved himself the most feared hitman in the Conference, for us holding on to him was an achievement worthy of more than just a t-shirt… yet at the time I wondered whether he could come close to his goal tally from the year before in a young, rebuilt Dons side.
Young it may have been, but it was built around Kedwell. For all the talent in the side, Kedwell’s sheer work rate alone meant the team were heavily dependant on him on a regular basis. And the goals kept on coming… finishing the season matching that twenty-six goal tally from the year before. He hit the net twice more at Eastlands, two strikes that sum the man up…
Firstly, a chink in the armour… and there weren’t many during his days in the Conference. When I was asked back in the summer for some of Danny’s weaknesses this was the only one I could come up with. His disallowed goal was a perfect example of his annoying habit of creeping beyond the last man, even when he is standing on the flank and can see every defensive player on the pitch. He must have been in the top five players caught offside in the Conference last year, infuriating because most of the time he’d bought himself so much space he didn’t need to steal any more.
And there we go – his only weakness as a Conference striker. Some questioned his fitness, but if you saw him blowing during the last ten minutes it was more down to the effort he put in during the previous eighty… and he covered some ground, that boy, probably more than most midfielders. Some questioned his temper, he did look as though he had a spark in him waiting to be lit, but was seldom carded, never sent off. He was always able to channel his energies productively.
About that second strike… I remember the nerves I felt knowing it was score-to-win, forgetting who was still to come, then when I saw Danny striding forward deep down I knew it was going to be ok. Some have questioned Kedwell, the rumours he had spoken to Gillingham as far back as the turn of the year, but look at his face when he buries the penalty that took us to the Football League (6.46 onwards by the way…). Is that the face of someone who didn’t care about the club? Is that the face of a mercenary looking for his next pay day?
And yet when someone who means so much to so many decides to move on, invariably a small minority of the many are going to take it badly, and there’s no disguising some Dons fans certainly saw his departure as some kind of betrayal. A few will boo him on his return, but rest assured that will reflect more on those doing the booing than Kedwell’s Dons legacy.
The rest of us will celebrate his time at the club, applaud politely and sing his name… right up until 3PM, when his history with us is forgotten, and he becomes just another opposition player…