Category Archives: Yesteryear

Days Of Yesteryear #2 – Wembley ’88 (The Not Really Live Match Blog)

I’ve tried live match blogs before, notably on one occasion whilst listening to the game on radio two hundred miles away (a huge success, as the three readers who joined me for the afternoon will attest to). So what about trying a live match blog for a game that took place twenty-three years ago? Especially a game I haven’t watched all the way through for over a decade. Well I’m all for experimenting… I was only ten years old that sunny afternoon at Wembley, and its fair to say even if I thought of blogging from the stadium the technology wasn’t quite there at the time. Armed with my rapidly diminishing memories of the day, a copy of the DVD, and a packet of biscuits, here goes nothing. The Anonymous Don time machine has been put in gear…

12:00

I remember nothing about the morning of the game. I would imagine I was quite excited, and I can guarantee sugary drinks would have played a part (not Ribena though, that gave me nosebleeds…). I do remember the night before being like Christmas Eve, so its likely I would have been up for several hours by now.

Back in the 21st century, I didn’t feel the need to go to such levels of authenticity. If I did I’d be on the Metropolitan line right now. Instead the sofa beckons. A minor technical difficulty threatens to spoil the experiment… or at very least turn this ‘live’ blog into an examination of Sam Raimi’s campy 2009 horror ‘Drag Me To Hell’. In other words that was the DVD occupying the 88 Cup Final box. A ‘Brass Eye’ disc was in Drag Me To Hell’s box, with a season of ‘Ever Decreasing Circles’ having found its way where Brass Eye should have been. To cut a very long story short, the Cup Final disc was finally located in the ‘Game On’ box, along with a copy of ‘Love, Honour and Obey’ that doesn’t even belong to me, my copy of Game On presumably long since stolen…

14.45

Balls. I forgot the DVD copy uses Brian Moore’s vastly inferior commentary, so no ‘Crazy Gang beating the Culture Club’ stuff today. According to him, Dave Beasant lives ‘a mere Dave Beasant goal kick from here’, which considering some of Lurch’s clearances could easily have meant he lived in Slough.

By this stage, the ten-year old Anonymous Don was flouting Wembley rules by standing on the step behind but leaning forward to the crush barrier, effectively taking up two spaces and doing exactly what the stewards had told me not to do ten minutes earlier, but if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have seen a thing. In fact, coming in at this point is ignoring our journey to the stadium… which was relatively trouble-free and forgettable. As regular visitors to the stadium for England games, we had a regular spot we knew we could park in, simple.

Wembley Way was packed even hours before kick off, and the heat of mid morning meant the concrete burnt like hell if you touched it. Rather more Liverpool fans than Dons, some desperately searching for tickets, fended off easily by my large group of family and friends. It seemed to take forever in the queue for the turnstiles, various ticketless fans littering the place either desperately searching for spares or resigned, head in hands, propped against walls and in doorways obviously not really sure what to do next.

Still, that wasn’t my problem, we finally got ourselves in the ground… Old Wembley was as different to new Wembley as day is to night. Much was made of the new stadiums toilet facilities, partly as those who ever visited the old ground could ever forget the sight (or indeed the smell…).

14.55

Lady Diana is being presented to the players, and in the background you can make out the Liverpool support. Those younger fans who caught sight of Harry Enfield’s scousers with thick moustaches and perms might well have thought it was an exaggeration, that their stereotypical presentation was an insult to the fine city of Liverpool. As far as most Dons fans who were there are concerned, it’s a fairly authentic historical reenactment of Cup Final day. And this DVD is proof…

15.00

The teams change ends so the Dons will be attacking where I’m standing this half. Or back in the twenty-first century, kicking right to left. Bruce Grobbelaar runs like a chicken.

15.01

Hang on. New England manager Steve Nichol (who looks about twelve) blasted the ball back fifty yards to Grobbelaar, who just picked it up, the most blatant back pass you’ll ever see, and the ref just ignores it…. oh, wait now I remember… This isn’t the only Back To The Eighties piece of nostalgia I’ve picked up on, I’m forgetting it took at least another five years before the TV companies decided it would be a good idea to stick a clock in the corner.

15.02

Dennis Wise plays a thirty yard ball on the floor forward to Fashanu. Moore decides to describe this in commentary as ‘the first long ball of the afternoon’. No wonder we had such a reputation… Meanwhile, from the resulting move, Fashanu shoots tamely from an angle into Grobbelaars arms.

15.05

Aldridge heads over under pressure. Meanwhile Wise is hacked down on the edge of the box by McMahon but Wise drifts his freekick just over. This is already a better game than I remember…

15.08

Jones barrels through the side of McMahon with a late challenge. More recent examination of the game on ‘talking head’ type shows such as ‘Footballs 100 Greatest Moments That Just Happen To Be In The BBC Archive’ would have you believe Jones should have been sent off for this, but it was no worse than McMahon’s effort on Wise a couple of minutes earlier. In fact, it probably had a lot to do with that. Everyone just gets on with the game, including McMahon, the TV people don’t even bother showing a replay until a minute or so later. In fact the incident is so unremarkable, the ten-year old Anonymous Don soon forgets all about it.

15.14

Corky nods one wide. The Dons fans can be heard singing ‘We’re Gonna Score In A Minute’…

15.26

A moment I still remember to this day. Houghton’s cross is steered goalwards by Aldridge, his effort seems to take Beasant by surprise and the ball bounces up off his knee, with John Barnes bearing down to knock it into the empty net. Lurch somehow gets a hand up to tip it away before Jones knocks it away for a corner. A miracle save, somehow the TV pictures don’t do it justice. Liverpool forced a couple of corners on the spin from there, I remember mentally preparing myself for the inevitable goal that would follow…

15.30

Beardsley tricks his way to the byline before rifling into the side netting. An absolutely nothing piece of play watching back in 2011, but at the time it was enough to give a nervous ten-year old the fright of his life…

15.33

Beardsley is fouled on the way through to goal, the referee’s whistle goes, but Beardsley carries on and puts it in the net. My younger self hasn’t heard the whistle, and the relief I felt when I realised the goal hadn’t stood was unlike anything I’ve felt in life until Eastlands…

15.34

Phelan is tugged back by Nichol down by the left corner flag. As Wise prepares to take, we know whats coming next…

15,35

1-0 Wimbledon

Once I realised the ball was in the net, and the goal had been given, I remember jumping around so much I have no recollection of what else was going on around me. Presumably other Dons fans were doing similar. For the first time in the afternoon, I believed (although that belief was to be tested during the half time interval…).

15.40

As the ball is floated in by Nichol, Aldridge collapses under no pressure from the lurking Eric Young. What a fucking cheat. I said I wouldn’t go down the ‘these days you would have…’ route, but that would have been a card in this day and age, and quite rightly too. It just shows how desperate Liverpool already were.

Meanwhile, down the other end, Grobbelaar goes walkabout and drops a cross at Terry Gibsons feet, who can’t steer into the net with goalkeeper stranded. To be fair Nichol was lurking, and the angle was really tight. Brian Moore’s measured response to this is to scream ‘No foul on the referee!’. I should have hoped not, Brian…

15.42

Moore’s repeated references Little Dennis Wise and Big John Fashanu makes me wonder whether, in his head, he actually thinks he’s commentating on Liverpool v The Bash Street Kids.

15.46

The half time whistle goes. A happy Anonymous Don relaxes in the space created by those nipping off to the gents. Until my dad leans over and tells me he thinks Wimbledon need another goal, that one wouldn’t be enough. Bear in mind, at that stage of my life I believed pretty much everything my dad told me, especially regarding football.

16.00-ish

The second half kicks off…

16.11-ish

Corky makes way for Laurie Cunningham RIP. Even now its surprising how contained Liverpool are, they haven’t even threatened in this half so far.

16.15-ish

Penalty to Liverpool

Aldridge runs on to a ball dinked through the Dons back four, Clive Goodyear spots it and slides in, diverting the ball back to Beasant. Aldridge tumbles over his outstretched leg, the referee points to the spot!

From my vantage point, behind the goal, I could see this wasn’t a penalty. I knew it was a great challenge. I was as furious as a ten-year old can get, more furious than I was two years earlier when England played a friendly against Germany in the USA but I got sent to bed (I subsequently sneaked down and tried to listen through the door, this worked for ten minutes before my parents spotted me – partly because England scored and I celebrated. Fortunately they decided this show of determination on my part needed to be rewarded, and I was allowed to watch the rest of the game… but that’s a story for another day).

Back to TV land, and Brian Moore has immediately determined it was a penalty, hesitated on being shown the replay before to his eternal credit Ian St John, Mr Liverpool himself, bailed him out by telling the nation it wasn’t. I wasn’t fully vindicated myself until hours later, on my return home, where my mum confirmed to me it definitely wasn’t a penalty. And what mum said went in our house.

16.16

The Save

Theres only been one penalty missed in FA Cup final history, and you have to go back to 1913 for that.

A ten-year old Dons fan is believing again… surely, after all this, we can’t lose?

16.30-ish

Now I can see why neutrals don’t rate this final. Literally nothing has happened since the penalty. Liverpool have largely held possession in the Dons half, but have created absolutely nothing. Still, the clock is going backwards as far as I can make out, with fifteen minutes to go I was set for the longest quarter-hour I’ve ever experienced…

16.40-ish

Now I might have only been young, but I already knew that heartache and agony in football could come out of nowhere. The previous seasons FA Cup campaign had taught me as much. I was convinced Wimbledon’s name was on the cup, until our defeat to Spurs. So the fact that Liverpool hadn’t done anything so far in the half was if anything more worrying…

Three minutes to go, every Dons clearance is greeted with ever louder cheers from the Dons end.

16.45-ish

The last few minutes or so has seen Liverpool resort to the long ball game. Fortunately they aren’t very good at it. The Dons fans erupt at the whistle… but it’s only Fashanu caught offside.I have no recollection of this happening, but the real whistle comes not long after…

Big Dave Beasant lifts the cup for Wimbledon, before Dennis Wise shouts the infamous ‘Oi oi you bastards!’ at the Dons fans… three sides of the ground had departed, leaving Dons fans to celebrate, to pinch ourselves, was this real? I don’t remember leaving the ground, my next memory was turning into our street, standing up through the sunroof on my dads car, cheering my head off.

Then the next morning, heading to Wimbledon to see the open top bus. So many people were out on the route, cheering the lads home, for one day the people of Wimbledon remembered they had a football club. What became of them? While on my return to school a few of my schoolmates had become Wimbledon fans overnight, it lasted only a couple of weeks, until the new season started and it was all about Man U and Everton once more. Crowds remained the same next season, people had forgotten again.

Still we had our moment. Ever since that day, on meeting people and revealing I was a Dons fan, they would ask ‘Were you there?’, and I could proudly say yes, yes I was. It was one of the greatest moments in my life, and probably always will be.

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Days Of Yesteryear #1 – Eastlands 2011

Continuing the theme of kicking off a summer historical feature with events that have just happened, and acknowledging I never actually managed to knock out a report at the time, the Anonymous Don reminisces about the good old days of, erm, last month… in fact the Dons last competitive game…

Once all the bitterness relating to the choice of venue (with which I never had too much of a problem with) and ticket pricing policy (which I most certainly did) had passed, I actually found the build up to the Conference playoff final at Eastlands pretty comfortable. Well, actually it was completely uncomfortable, but the point is it could have been a lot worse. Remembering the old military adage of the five P’s, or seven P’s… however many P’s, I had prepared long in advance. But I didn’t want to jinx anything either, so I decided a trip to visit my family, relocated years ago to the Doncaster area, could solve my problems… and then, if anything happened to be going on in Manchester on the Saturday, we could just drive over…

A brilliant strategy, one only partially wrecked by the subsequent announcement of ticket costs meaning it would just be my dad and I travelling. I had kind of imagined such an event would see the seats around me filled with family and friends, the decision to play the game at Eastlands kind of killed the latter (with the exception of those who follow the Dons, naturally), but the costs involved in bringing the folks meant it became a no-no for everyone except the old man (he had to come, he was driving…). Plus a well-intentioned gesture at his own expense saw my dad purchase tickets in the upper tier – a great view but this would mean separation from those on the lower tier, including those I most regularly travel with. Still, there’s always scope for a few beers before the game…

The week, or rather more accurately the four days I actually went in before travelling on the Friday, was probably the easiest working week I can remember, largely because I didn’t really give a crap, my mind being prematurely two hundred miles north. Still, this wasn’t a carefree ‘Office Space’ style attitude, I was thinking about the game, thinking about it some more, then realising I had over thought it, scrapped all my previous thinking and started again. Occasionally I would snap out of it momentarily and realise I’d spent the best part of five minutes staring at a pencil, or completing a task I’d already completed. My colleagues must have had a great deal of fun over the following days clearing up the mistakes I must have made. This was an occasion I had no point of reference for, the only game that even came close was 1988 (which will be getting the Yesteryear treatment itself pretty soon); the difference being the prize on offer… our return to the Football League. Was it a bigger game than ’88? It felt like it, certainly, although its difficult to weigh up the relative importance of league and cup games, never mind those in different eras.

The journey across the M62 brought reminders this was the only game of any note taking place in England, although supporters coaches ferrying fans back and forth along the M62 were a familiar sight, albeit carrying Rugby League fans… arriving at Manchester early, we found our way to the ‘fan zone’ style bars of City Square. While we have been away, the average Premier League fan has found themselves spoil beyond what we could ever have imagined on our journeys to place like The Dell and The County Ground in our experiences of the early years of the competition. Such facilities don’t replace pubs entirely (they don’t have the capacity for a start, as I was soon to find out…), but Premier League fans pay through the nose for it, and I wonder just how active a fan I would be if the Dons had somehow survived that final day in 2000 and gone on to entrench themselves in the top flight, I might not have been priced out of home games, but trips to stadiums such as this would be the exception rather than the norm.

It was at this stage we decided to take a quick walk across City Square to the food outlets, somehow the fact the food had the Marco Pierre White seal of approval made that £4.00 sausage in baguette seem a little easier to swallow. I mean it wasn’t worth the money, but was definitely worth a pound more than similar fare served in the outlets at KM… perhaps we could get our own deal with Ainsley Harriott? The problem was this twenty-minute trip across the square cost us, our vision blocked by the City Megastore or whatever it is, the bar had filled thanks to the arrival of the first dozen or so supporter coaches. Thinking back I’m certain my dad might have engineered this, although he is supportive of the Dons on the whole, he seems to have it in for Dons fans in general thanks to an incident at an FA Cup replay at Goodison Park (away capacity 5,000) where a Dons fan (one of approximately 80 there on the night) managed to tread on his foot…

A short abortive conversation over the barrier with those now in the bar later, nerves had got the better of me, and it was time to head into the stadium. Empty, Eastlands doesn’t disappoint (although to be fair it didn’t exactly fill up…). The view from block 230 was worth the extra fiver, becoming aware I could see the opposite corner flag a bonus considering some of the grounds we have played at over the last nine years. The organisers had tried their best to entertain, although the opera guy might have checked whether either side had any chants that went with his selection before urging everyone to sing along, and its fair to say even those in the ground early of an 18,000 crowd would be by far the largest audience the winner of Mecca’s Got Talent (seriously) has ever performed in front of.

The arrival of the players saw flames leap thirty or forty feet in the air from what I had previously presumed were speakers, finally it was game time. I had set myself up to expect Wimbledon to concede a couple of early goals, so seeing Mohamed Kaid’s shot parried into the path of Danny Kedwell for the captain to fire home seemed too good to be true. Sorry, it WAS too good to be true, a linesman’s flag cutting the celebrations short as Keds had strayed offside. My memory of ’88 was restricted to the big moments, I had presumed this was because it was so long ago and I was quite young, but writing this just over two weeks later I can’t visualise the details… I remember the Dons looking good, vaguely threatening throughout, but Luton having chances too. The guy sitting next to me identified a nervous Sam Hatton as our weak link, obviously not a regular I told him he was our Player of the Year…

I don’ really remember much more about the second half either. Luton came into it more, but Wimbledon were getting the counter attacking side of their game together and it looked like a pacy break might be enough, but final balls were lacking and shot blocked. Unfortunately a few Dons forwards started to cramp up… Kedwell wasn’t dropping as deep to collect the ball anymore, for example, and all of a sudden the pitch was looking larger by the minute. For those out there on the pitch standing on the edge of their own box, the opposite goal must have seemed miles away.

Then a heart in mouth moment, a huge ‘what if?’ if ever I saw one (in fact that’s an idea for a future feature…). A cross into the Dons box, Luton’s Walker gets his head on the ball, it hits the post… as far as I can see it’s in, its rolled back into the goal… Seb Brown has clutched the ball but surely it went over the line… from a hundred yards away I couldn’t understand why the Luton players weren’t celebrating. But play continued… somehow the ball didn’t go in. A huge escape.

Then of course there was the penalty incident, or as I saw it at the time the ‘ cleared off the line’ incident. I’ve since seen it on YouTube, and from that high angle that followed the player I’ve seen them given. The bigger picture being the forward managed to get his cross/shot away as Brown came out to spread himself there was an inevitable collision. Fortunately that’s how the referee saw it, and the Dons were able to scramble the ball away from danger.

Full time, and far from celebrating or leaving, we prepared for an extra half an hour. It wasn’t just Kedwell struggling now, Mohamed went down early in the period, all over the field players were struggling. Looking back it seems miraculous there wasn’t a goal. There so nearly was. Luke Moore somehow failed to turn in a low ball into the box… a similar move sees Mohamed side foot past Tyler, we’re already on our feet celebrating, but the ball bounces away off the outside of the post. The agony continues… one final chance, a deep ball into the Luton box with Kedwell and Yakubu unmarked an queuing up at the far post with Tyler stranded. Yakubu took responsibility, but his header nestled in the side netting rather than the back of the net – and before we knew it, after nine months, forty-six games, a two leg semi-final and 120 minutes, it was going to take ten penalty kicks to separate the two sides.

There are undoubtedly fairer ways to decide a football match. In the good old days both sides would have replayed a few days later (well, being pedantic the Dons would have gone up as runners-up without all this nonsense…). And yet I’ve always thought if you’re going to settle a game on the day, penalties are probably the best way of doing it. They aren’t the lottery they are sometimes made out to be. I’ve seen the Dons lose shootouts before, and it hasn’t changed my opinion, whether I’d be cursing them now if we had lost I’m not sure. Victory in a shootout depends on a number of things, keeping your nerve, accurate finishing, and perhaps most importantly, a goalkeeper with excellent reactions… and whose research is up to scratch…

Much has been made of Seb’s scrap of paper, I certainly didn’t notice it at the time, and wonder how many of the Luton players did. Even if there was any writing on it, you would have hoped Seb and the management tem had found every video clip, every match report, everywhere a description of a potential Luton penalty takers technique might have been, I’m sure they would have looked. But at the time, none of these thoughts crossed my mind. I was convinced we had blown our best chance in extra time, and spent the ten minutes or so while the shootout was organised attempting to mentally prepare for defeat.

You will have all relived the penalties by now, and will at least be familiar enough not to require a blow-by-blow account. Suffice to say from my point of view Seb saving the first penalty was bad news, as shootouts have a habit of swinging, Mohamed’s miss was a sign the shootout had indeed swung in Luton’s favour, and Browns second save was little more than miraculous as far as I was concerned. Still, I only really believed when Yakubu stuck away his penalty, knowing who was coming last, we were as good as in the Football League… which didn’t stop me needing to bend double just to get some air in, convinced I would faint at any moment…

Once the penalty went in, everything was a blur. I screamed until my throat hurt (which didn’t take very long…). I literally floated out of the stadium, saw and old school friend through the crowd and ran like a kid to shake his hand. Getting the car out of the car park saw me hanging out of the car window shouting to those waiting for coaches, singing with passers-by… and then before I knew it the stadium was long behind me. Then, a surreal moment, we got lost trying to find the motorway…

The thing is, the week before I told myself no matter how hard it was, if we won, if we went back to the Football League, I’d feel like I was floating on air. And I was… at least, I though I was. It turned out I had the flu, and celebrating returning to the Football League mainly involved a week in bed watching media clips over and over and over again. Still, I’m sure I’ll get a chance to do a big game properly when we reach the JPT final in 2019…

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