Category Archives: Opinion

Creepy Crawley And The Nature Of Rivalry

One of the side effects of writing a blog that’s read by slightly more people than my wife and mum (my dad reads too…) is that every so often someone gets in touch and asks for a contribution to their own site. Often the questions asked come from a different angle and make me consider the club in a manner I wouldn’t normally, and one of those came last month in a piece I did for a website called Best of the Bets.

The question referred to our return to the Football League, and whether we’d be looking forward to renewing any old rivalries. Of course, no one really leapt out as a rival on promotion to League Two, I wrote a few lines about looking forward to finally facing Aldershot, some short-term excitement at reprising a couple of Premier League fixtures at Bradford and Swindon, two new London derbies (albeit ones that don’t exactly get the heart pumping).

Yet no one that really makes you sit up and relish facing off against hated local scum. Maybe one day that void will be filled by Aldershot once we’ve got a few years of mutual back slapping out of the way they’ll tire of being reminded certain clubs only took nine years to navigate their way through the non-league pyramid. Perhaps a club currently higher in the pecking order will drop down (or we’ll move up?) and fill that void… a Brentford, maybe even a Millwall (and I’m convinced when Fulham’s bubble eventually bursts they’ll end up making Bradford look a financial success story…).

The problem being that our rise, fall, and second coming has seen us never end up in the same division long enough to develop significant rivalries with clubs of equivalent size… Which has led to a series of almost manufactured rivalries developed almost to fill a void. The first was the almost comical Merton derbies with Raynes Park Vale, laughable in that as far as I can make Dons fans seem to make up the majority of Vale’s home crowds anyway.

Moving up the divisions, we missed out on a few local clubs such as Kingstonian and Sutton, long memories saw us briefly face off against historical rivals, the likes of Dulwich and Tooting, but mostly the keenest of contests came against those sides who somehow found an extra few hundred thousand pounds down the back of the sofa (or by not paying their tax bill for a few years), or welcomed in a rich benefactor for a few years until they eventually got bored and wandered off. Yet while the likes of Withdean and Bromley have now been left long behind, we do still have one thorn left sticking in our sides after scrabbling out of the non-league game, the team that came up with us last year…

Its unlikely Dons fans would be giving Crawley a second thought right now if it hadn’t been for a combination of two factors… their convicted criminal manager, and one of the few people in a game that tends to close its eyes and pull the blanket over its head when faced with potential scandal who has actually managed to have been conclusively proved to be a cheat. Then of course are the huge piles of cash that allowed themselves to buy their way into the League to begin with.

That Crawley are disliked by Dons fans is no great surprise… they didn’t exactly romp to victory in the popularity stakes last year in the Conference, and their presence in League Two has already ensured they aren’t exactly being welcomed with open arms up and down the country – hell, they even managed to turn Manchester United into popular favourites for a game last year…

The Dons selling out our allocation for Saturdays game probably isn’t too much of a surprise, what with the size of Kingsmeadow meaning pretty much every game has been a full house so far, what did surprise me was Crawley selling out their section, meaning they’ll actually have more in the ground than they did at their own stadium for an evening game against Wrexham a couple of years ago.

It seems this game has been elevated to rivalry status by the sheer number of times the two sides have faced off over the past couple of years, this being the eighth meeting in that time, and its no surprise the two sets of supporters are getting sick of each other… I’m not exactly salivating at the prospect of Saturdays game, it’s one to get out of the way more than anything, yet victory will be celebrated by all of us in the same manner last seasons comeback win was (Kedwell free this time).

And as for defeat… well it’s not exactly going to be like last week where the result was pretty much forgotten about five minutes after final whistle – it has the potential to be an evening-wrecker, much as losing to Hampton or Bromley was. You see, knowing we’ll probably have left Crawley spluttering in our dusty trail in two or three years time counts for nothing right now, especially if a large group of noisy visitors are left celebrating in the corner as we file away into the evening.

Lets face it, Crawley have done nothing wrong in spunking vast amounts of dubiously acquired cash at quick-fire promotions, they haven’t broken any wage caps, they are paying their bills up front, and as long as the Fat Eyelinered one hasn’t been up to his old manila envelope tricks they deserve to be where they are on merit (unlike certain other new towns we could mention). And yet the nation still seems to be captivated with the side that went up with them via the playoffs… Crawley were almost the forgotten champions.

Football fans love a good news story, and the Dons progress with Brown assembling a young talented side within budget, playing good football, will ensure Crawley remain in our shadow for a while yet. And that must really stick in their throats, you’ll hear it in the songs they sing, the desperation… they know what’s coming in the years to follow and are looking for cheap victories while they can, like Withdean, like Bromley, like Hampton… hate us now, so you’ll remember us when we’re gone…

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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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