There’s a new WUP on sale at the Gillingham game tomorrow – sadly devoid of any ramblings from myself this time around, which might actually encourage a few more of you to buy it… Time for an archiving of my ‘effort’ from the first publication prior to our opening game…
A Wimbledon Fans Fear Of Mundanity
When I was a kid, there were three days I looked forward to for months in advance; Christmas Day, my birthday, and the first day of the football season. Now, very much a grown up, I don’t have a lot of time for my birthday… Christmas is nice, I like Christmas, for different reasons than I did when I was a kid, but it’s still in the top two of my List Of Days I Look Forward To Most.
Only now it’s been overtaken… the one day of the year that still provokes the same childish excitement it did when I was a kid is opening day. This season, for reasons we all share, the Bristol Rovers game is going to be like Christmas times a million… Eastlands might have been euphoric, but Bristol Rovers is the tangible reward for a nine-year miracle. Our adventures through the English football pyramid are now a closed book, and the question must be asked… where do we go from here?
The fact is, the story doesn’t end with us reclaiming our place in the Football League and everyone living happily ever after. It won’t end when even the youngest readers are pushing daisies, when we are all long gone… future generations of Dons fans may look back and give thanks that we didn’t lie down and allow our football club to be taken from us, but the legacy we pass onto them depends largely on what direction we take the club next.
Before I write about how we should approach the future, let’s have a look at the sort of impact we have had on the game in general. Recently 442 magazine published an article describing Dons fans as ‘the most influential in Europe’… which was nice, but possibly an exaggeration. The article itself outlined how our story had been used as an example to supporters across Europe that they can take control of their own destiny. Yet we are just the poster boys of a movement that is growing on a yearly basis. We owe a massive debt to Enfield Town, the template for our club and those like us, and should serve as a reminder that once we are safely ensconced back in the League for a few seasons, another club will take over the mantle of the media darlings of trust ownership.
Perhaps the biggest problem those who follow in our footsteps will have is to use our timescale as a guideline for their own plans. Our return to the Football League may have been fast, but it wasn’t easy… it was very, very, very hard, which is why I used the word ‘miracle’ to describe it earlier. Anyone attempting to emulate us may need to swallow some hard lessons along the way – as we ourselves had to on more than one occasion.
But back to this issue of legacy… I suppose the most obvious would be for our triumphant return to a stadium in, or the near vicinity of, the town that bears our name. A respected football commentator (whose name escapes me, although I have a feeling it may have been Simon Inglis of Football Grounds… fame) wrote fifteen years ago that while Wimbledon’s owners aimed for the stars, supporters would have preferred to have simply gone home, and it was that twisted ambition, driven by a desire for individuals to profit, that held us back for so long. Now we are in control of our own destiny, we have never been closer to a move back home, largely because we are actually looking…
Be it five, ten or twenty years, you get the impression as long as there is a will there among all parties, we will eventually find the long-term home many of us have spent decades yearning for. But without wanting to trivialize what will be a huge step in the existence of our club, once we have achieved League Football and a new stadium, where do we go from there? What sort of football club do we want to build?
It might seem pointless discussing the deep future in great detail. In football new owners tend to announce they have a five-year, or ten-year plan, presumably to give supporters the impression they actually have a clue, but as far as most fans are concerned nothing in the game really matters beyond the next twelve months or so. Why should we care what happens to our club in twenty, fifty, a hundred years time?
I’m not advocating we aim for the Premier League, to be the most succesful club in the land, or anything like that… the Premier League didn’t exist twenty years ago, it would be presumptuous to believe it will exist in its current form in a further twenty. As the students of the Old Central school formed a club with the intention of creating an amateur club that future generations could play for, support and use to socialize could never have predicted the rise to professional football, the world of all seater stadiums, etc, all we can do is provide our area, and anyone in the wider community who shares our goals, with a football club that represents them.
So in a sense, we already have in place a number of safety nets in place to ensure our vision of the future is at least offered to future generations of Dons fans, for them to accept if they so wish (and the future can be unpredictable, who would have foreseen an asset stripping chairmen buying out the covenant of Plough Lane back in the seventies?). We have trust ownership, and we have a policy of financial prudence.
Yet we also find ourselves in a huge city, with some of the worlds biggest clubs on our doorstep… and we can’t simply presume it will remain fashionable to support your local club, just how can we compete with the lure of the Premier League? So far, we have done so by, well, being part of it for fifteen years, that helped… and the charm of our rise over the last nine years is also a part of where we find ourselves today.
I think some of us have yearned for stability over the last couple of decades, I’ll include myself in that bracket, but perhaps the biggest challenge we will face will come when we ‘find our level’. Will the crowds still come flocking through the turnstiles in the same sort of numbers when we become ‘just another lower division club’? To make the presumption that we will always appeal to those looking for an alternative to the Premier League because we are unique becomes dangerous when we stop being special…
I get the impression this isn’t something we need worry about in the near future. It will probably take a couple of seasons for the novelty of being back in the League to wear off, by which time we will hopefully be able to challenge for promotion. After that we have the unfinished soap opera of dealing with regular fixtures with Them to deal with, and the aforementioned new stadium will keep us busy after that (fingers crossed)… it may well be we don’t have to invent any new dramas for a good decade.
So enjoy today, fellow Dons fans, for we have earned it. Maybe in years to come we will look back on today with the same fondness we do Sutton or Sandhurst. And remember how lucky we are to have something special. The excitement we feel today is being shared by football fans up and down the country… will this be their year for promotion, or simply avoiding the drop? For the majority, the season will very quickly wear off as the mundanity of a run of the mill season hits home. For us, regardless of performance on the pitch, every visitor or new away ground will be an experience… to paraphrase a sign off I used in a preseason preview, its great to be back.
Further WUP articles can be found in the Features Index