The Sponsors Game

On 6th August 2011 the Dons kicked off the second coming of Wimbledon in the Football League by wearing a replica of the short worn the first time the club battled its way out of the non-league game. ‘Replica’ is was, as although it looked familiar enough, there were a number of differences. Mainly these changes reflected the commercially driven modern game we know and love – the most notable being the absence of those three blue stripes on the arm, replaced with a thick blue one thanks to insurmountable trademark issues. The shirt was also sullied with squad numbers and names, and competition decals… and yet the front remained beautifully untainted.

Sponsorship logos are now so lodged into the psyche of the average football fan, albeit crowbarred in by decades of presence, that even in the beer leagues we perform a double-take upon encountering a club sporting shirts free of corporate endorsement. As Dons fans we’ve wandered the country advertising the wares of the likes of Samsung and Carlsberg, LBC, the much detested Maximuscle, Elonex and Tiny (the last providing one of my most embarrassing moments sporting a replica shirt, when a Middlesborough fan encountered at Thornton Heath station after an evening cup replay gleefully pointed out ‘that fat coonts got Tiny on his shirt!’)

The rebirth and subsequent supporter ownership of our club opened up many possibilities that previously would have been unthinkable had the club remained in private hands, one of which was the option of leaving our shirt unspoiled by advertising. Our more radical cousins in Manchester chose that option, and it was one I desperately hoped we would consider, at least to begin with.

Yet from the moment our first shirt sponsor was announced I knew the correct decision had been made… Sports Interactive and AFC Wimbledon were a marriage made in heaven from the moment those nervous trialists set foot on the Gander Green Lane pitch wearing shirts borrowed from our new partners, right up to the aforementioned Bristol Rovers game where the Dons strode out in front of millions of viewers around the world in jerseys devoid of the SI name, publicity probably worth a five-figure sum commercially pretty much waived by a sponsor eager to help. Such a minor detail, but a gesture that meant a great deal to many Dons fans…

One of the benefits of the sponsorship deal is the knowledge we have agreed a commercial endorsement with a company who loves that game almost as much as we do. The game is essentially produced for people like myself (and presumably many of you reading this now)… people not afraid to stand up and say ‘Yes! I am a football geek!’. Back when I was a kid, the majority of my plentiful free time was taken up either watching or playing football… but these were the days before computers, so wet afternoons in the holidays meant Subbuteo competitions with hugely unrealistic scorelines due to my insistence on the realism of a ninety minute match, playing left hand v right hand when I couldn’t find a willing opponent or they walked off half way through.

But if the Subbuteo set was stuck in an inaccessible place (my parents frequently stored it in the loft if I went a few months without using it…), the only option was dice football. This meant rolling dice to determine the score, with the number corresponding to the number of goals scored, unless I rolled a five or six in which case the dice was rolled again and recorded as nil unless the same number was rolled… very complicated and very very random, the real pleasure came in planning home and away fixtures for every club, as well as the two cup competitions. As I said, I was and still am a football geek, a football geek who perhaps missed his calling into the world of sports administration (I don’t own a blazer, but I do like a biscuit or two)…

Eventually my parents managed to scrape the money together for a computer one Christmas, and the world of the football management game came to take over many an evening. There was the original Football Manager, looking retro but hugely limited now, as well as my personal favourite, Football Director. Text only, this allowed you to control the financial side of things as well as players, and its attention to detail (at the time) pretty much captivated me… wet Saturdays with no adults available to take me to ‘proper football’ would see me spend hours guiding the Dons to European success…

Yet it still wasn’t in-depth enough for my liking, and I soon tired of it – plus I’d learnt how to acquire endless amounts of cash, despite knowing it was wrong my pre-teen mind wouldn’t allow me to play the game properly, and ultimately it ruined the game for me. Other games came and went (I’m not even going into the amount of homework left undone thanks to Sensible World of Soccer…). But eventually I grew old enough to be allowed to attend at least home games on my own, that combined with other activities drew me away from the computer…

That was until someone gave me their copy of Championship Manager 93/94. As far as I was concerned it had everything, just the attention to detail I was looking for in a game, and it literally occupied days at a time, to the point my worried parents took the drastic step of removing my computer a few months before my GCSE’s – which probably saved me in a few subjects. Yet I had it back in time for me to start my A-Levels, to this day I blame that game for knocking me down at least a grade in every subject… and from conversations I had with friends at the time I don’t think I was the only one…

Everyone who played the game at the time, and the various versions that followed, would have memories of players whose career in the game surpassed anything they achieved in the real world. Nii Lamptey was an example of that personally, the African Pele tipped to be a world star became the epitome of unfulfilled promise, yet in my game was a key member of a multi-championship winning side. And Paul Warhurst, a solid Premier League player in reality, the lynchpin of club and country under my command…

The nature of video games were changing… There was no need for a desktop computer when you could just plug a console into any old TV, but not compatible with in-depth strategy games. Personal circumstances were changing, in my twenties I didn’t have the time for this type of gaming anyway, post-work pre-pub time was limited… plus I had acquired a certain satellite television service meaning whenever I got free time of an evening there would invariably be a football match I could watch.

Yet I still missed the game… personal circumstances changed as I headed into my late twenties, various marriages (not least my own) decimated my social circle, financial considerations reduced the number of nights I found myself out on the town reducing from four, to three, to two, until almost without noticing I find myself lucky to get a night out once a week. Plenty of free time, enough to start a blog about the Dons with more to spare, still as big a football geek as I was as a kid (maybe more so)…

But the game was still there waiting for me. Not Championship Manager anymore, SI’s split with Eidos meaning the game bearing that name was a pale imitation… Football Manager was now the one to own, circumstance forcing our new sponsors to rebrand, but the soul was there – as were various improvements. The starkest of those being rather than text commentary, you could now actually see the action… first in 2D, then 3D. I have to say I was dubious of this at first – how could a mere computer simulate the movement and patterns of a real football match?

Yet they’ve done a surprisingly good job of it. Occasionally you get an instance where a player simply stops and seemingly runs on the spot for twenty seconds before continuing, but when your managing the Dons and Ryan Jackson is on the field I simply regard it as ultra authentic…

There are certain elements of the managerial process that for various reasons aren’t replicated in the gameplay. Unlike their real world counterparts, clubs finances are controlled far more strictly, it’s not the mess of multi-billion pound debt and administration we know and love. Plus I don’t know how, for example, the company that looks after Wayne Rooney’s PR would react if screen grabs started appearing advising he was fined for some indiscretion or other…

Yet for me, this adds to the appeal. Every new version of the game adds detail, brings new challenges. For 2012 I’m looking forward to is the option of switching to leagues across the globe without having to preload loads of different nations and have the slowest game ever. And of course I have the demo up and ready to go… but I won’t be buying the game just yet. SI are perhaps a victim of their own success in this respect, but I’m enjoying my 2011 game so much I’ll be sticking to it for now… in fact I’ll be sticking it on a little later when my wife heads off to work (spouses don’t appreciate the game as much for some reason…). For an in-depth game such as this means I average six weeks to complete a season, so my current save has plenty of legs left in it.

Yet I don’t think this will affect SI as much as you’d think. The 2011 game returned to the top of the sales charts eight months after its release earlier in the year, like AFCW the SI juggernaut is showing no signs of slowing, and hopefully our shirts will continue to bear their name for many years to come.

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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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The Golden Age Of The Anonymous Don

So for various reasons that I’ve spent the last few months moaning about, I’m not able to attend away games for the forseeable future, meaning the blog has had something of a lopsided feel to it. Only seeing half the tale has meant my initial plans for more exhaustive coverage of this seasons action have been shelved. Hopefully the occasional articles that will replace the old guff will turn out to be of much higher quality (well, that’s the plan…).

I’ve also given the blog a new look, so hopefully you can all read it properly now… and problems or comments drop me a line as usual.

A look at Crawley and the nature of rivalry will follow tomorrow night, after I’ve proof read it (words regular AD readers probably never thought they would read…).

Crewe Punish Dons…

While the blog is undergoing one of its regular six month overhauls – hopefully moving to a format where the majority of readers can view the font size – there won’t be much of a Crewe report. In fact there won’t be much of anything for another week or so…

To be honest I’d taken my eye off the ball as far as the Crewe game was concerned, and only really turned my attention to it fully at about midday on Saturday – and unfortunately judging from the performance so did the team. Don’t get me wrong, we could easily have won this game, and had Jolley not got his bearings all wrong after rounding the keeper in the first half we probably would have, but the performance was flat, the atmosphere non-existent… from fans to players, we just didn’t want it enough.

Even after Jolley got us back on level terms you got the impression we just expected the winner to come without much effort, and that’s exactly the performance the players put in. Crewe’s second goal was as basic as they come, we just switched off from a set piece, probably thanks to a poorly timed substitution just beforehand. That momentary lack of concentration meant instead of looking for a win, we were chasing a point… and due to a lethargic performance we didn’t end up getting that either.

The Dons seemed unwilling or unable to pick up the tempo, and ultimately got what they deserved out of the game. Disappointing, as I don’t think Crewe really came and taught us a lesson, I’m happy to accept defeat if we can take something out of it but I don’t think that necessarily happened yesterday.

And do we need to take some personal responsibility? Even the sub 1,500 crowd for the Stevenage game generated a better atmosphere than the ‘effort’ produced by three times that number. The players should be professional and not affected by external surroundings, but they’re also only human… we’ll never know if the input of a few thousand voices might have injected the bit of urgency we desperately required. What I do know is it wouldn’t have done any harm…

Anyway, renewed blog service will follow later in the week, where hopefully I’ll find a little more time to examine a few of the points I’ve raised, before Crawley arrive to issue an inevitable spanking…

Morecambe Reaction

My inability to make it to most away games for the forseeable future means this is almost half a blog… plus I miss out on impressive, unexpected away wins such as yesterday. From the sound of it (I mean literally sound, listening in on WDON…) the Dons dominated large periods, bourne out by the stats showing the visitors clocked up twice as many chances as their opponents.

And now, after twelve games, we find ourselves deservedly in third position. A quarter of the way into the season, well, we know we probably won’t be involved in the relegation picture, but our position can’t be viewed as a springboard to a promotion push just yet. I’m not saying it won’t happen, this Dons side have surprised us all before, but its unlikely we’ll find ourselves playing for much come April.

We now have two home fixtures in a row, and its these games where I predict a Dons downfall, on the back of four wins in a row KM is bound to be packed for the visit of Crewe next week with home fans looking at the visitors position down in nineteenth and cracking up the pressure for another win. Even if we get past them with three points in the bag, that should set up a top of the table clash with pre-season favourites Crawley, ominously sitting in second after early troubles.

I’m seeing parallels with our first season in the Conference, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we see the campaign pan out in similar fashion… the Dons hovering around the play off picture until the New Year, before falling away as opponents learn how to unlock us more effectively, all while Brown learns which players in his squad aren’t going to cut it in the Football League.

Yet while we are on this run of form we should enjoy it. We have a pair of forwards in Midson and Jolley who are bang on form right now, fourteen goals between them so far this season, and you can’t see that coming to an end any time soon. Even if it does, there are goals in the squad, the number of scorers now into double figures and our midfield chipping in on a regular basis.

A quick word on the JPT draw, after the excitement of victory over Stevenage a draw away at Swindon has drastically reduced my interest in the competition for no other reason than I think it’s the sort of place we’ll lose on a cold Tuesday night. Unless the home side field a squad side that doesn’t gel on the night and circumstance allows us to go almost full strength, I’m kind of looking at this game in a similar manner to when we lost at Chelmsford in the Conference Cup all those years ago – a win would be a bonus but I’m not counting on it…

A very depressing update this one, think I’m having a reality check Sunday, either that or just sour for missing what looked like a fantastic victory!

AFC Wimbledon 2 Stevenage 2 (4-3 pens) – A Match Report

I’m going to do the match report a little differently today, which will probably end up with it being longer than recent efforts… all in the name of experimentation… I’m finding the O/S report is far in advance of anything I have the time to put together, so I’ve decided to look for a new angle (match reports won’t always be like this from now on by the way, just trying something different…). So from front to back, our entire line up, plus subs and a quick word on the opposition…

JACK TURNER – I was delighted Jack was getting a start, but his night didn’t exactly begin as we would have hoped… He probably knew he didn’t need to come for the ball that lead to the first goal as soon as he moved, and ended up caught out of position. Still, you would expect to get away with it 99% of the time with your defender favourite to pick up the pieces, extremely hard luck that it ended up cannoning of the forward and dribbling in.

His head could have gone down after this, and if he was the sort of talented keeper many clubs tend to produce who go on to do nothing in the game it probably would. Instead he showed an admirable amount of mental strength to keep not only his concentration, but the Dons in the tie with a number of excellent saves in the first half.

Beyond his impressive (although sometimes a little over eager) distribution, he barely touched the ball in the second half, and could consider himself a little unfortunate to find himself picking Roberts sweet strike out of the net in stoppage time. Still, it gave him the opportunity to be the hero in the shootout, with a couple of great stops. One of the benefits of our involvement in the JPT is extra game time for Jack.

I hope he is an automatic pick for our next JPT game, and fingers crossed later stages of the competition – he deserves it, it can’t be fun and must be extremely frustrating not getting to go out on loan, but he seems to be pretty grounded about it, accepting Seb is the number one for now… Experience such as last night will hopefully ensure if anything happens to Seb in the short to medium term he can step in for him, and he will hopefully develop into his ultimate replacement should our number one go on to bigger and better things.

SAM HATTON – You would expect on occasions such as this your more experienced players would hold things together early on while the squad players feel their way into the game, but the reverse was true as Sam uncharacteristically gifted possession away on two or three occasions during the first half, but as the Dons turned on the gas in the second Hatton was back to his best – solid defensively, and driving forward to assist Jackson down the right.

He dispatched his penalties in an ice cool manner (despite some rather obvious attempts at delaying from the Stevenage keeper Julian for the first), and as Midson was on the field when the first was given, the question must be asked… is he our new penalty taker, or was this just to get him off the mark? If it’s the former, we probably couldn’t ask for a more reliable taker.

CHRIS BUSH – You get the impression Bush was going to play anyway, but his appearance held added importance as it looks like he’ll be filling in for Gwillim for a little while yet. Like Hatton very solid defensively, unlike Hatton he has a bit of pace about him when he gets forward, even if the final ball isn’t always there just yet. A run of starts is just what he needs at the moment, and who knows, if it goes well he might not just be filling in for Gwillim after all…

SAMMY MOORE – A forty-five minute cameo from Mr Consistency Moore, who held things together in midfield, wasn’t afraid to put in a few crunching challenges, and was generally neat in everything he did. His half time withdrawal was more than likely preplanned, and testament to the amount of work he’s put in that he was given a rest.

BRETT JOHNSON – Extremely unfortunate that his attempts at intervention lead to the opening goal, Johnson dealt with a very direct opposition very well. Dominant in the air, calm and in control with ball at feet, a return to form will be very welcome should Brown elect not to extend McNaughton’s loan spell.

CALLUM MCNAUGHTON – Very much a player in the mould Terry Brown is looking for, McNaughton put in the sort of performance that makes you wish we could hold onto him for a little longer, at least until Mitchel-King resumes fitness (cue the more cynical readers out there assuming I’m calling for him to stay all season…). Another that made way at half time but was this for fitness reasons or an experiment to see how our next player fared at centre half?…

LEE MINSHULL – A game of two halves for Lee, equalled an impressive performance all round. Solid in midfield and always looking to drive forward, looking more and more comfortable both in possession and distributing the ball. While his immediate future probably lies in midfield after recent stellar performances, it was great to see him step back into the defensive line and perform as well, if not better than during the first half. Plus the cherry on the cake… the guy can take a penalty! Probably way down the pecking order for League games, but progress in this tournament could come down to more shootouts, so nice to see he’s another we can rely on.

RAHID YUSSUFF – Sometimes Toks puts in a performance thats so tidy, amid his neat link play you barely notice he’s there. Last night I can’t remember him giving the ball away, and his night should be remembered for his neat finish for what should have been the winner rather than his Kaid Mohamed impression in the shoot out.

JACK MIDSON – Worked hard once more holding together an untried forward line, exemplified by teeing up Yussuff for the second. While some of our squad looked a little rusty to begin with, Midson started the season strongly and has kept his performance level high ever since.

JAMES MULLEY – Another player badly in need of ninety minutes, and Mulley didn’t disappoint with a performance that suggests there is plenty more to come from him. Playing the link role that Luke Moore has filled recently, Mulley looked especially impressive in the second half, holding the ball with ease and looking strong against a tiring opposition.

RYAN JACKSON – Perhaps the player who had the most question marks hanging over him prior to kick off, Jackson only had an erratic cameo at Aldershot under his belt so far this season. The Dons game plan in the first half involved hitting big cross field passes over the Stevenage left backs head for Ryan to run onto, with varying degrees of success. Still, fairly stop-start until the second half, when he started combining with Hatton down the right flank, and running at defenders with the ball at his feet.

His persistence won the penalty that tied the scores early in the second half, and was one of a few players guilty of missing decent chances to wrap up the tie in the second period… the only issue being rather than his well saved drive he would probably have been better off cutting back for Ademeno in a better position. Still, hindsight is a wonderful tool, and one Dons fans put into use approximately one minute later when the ball found its way into our own net…

MAX PORTER – On at half time, his introduction changed the game. An energetic performance saw him popping up all over the field winning possession, the difference between struggling to find a foothold in the first half and dominating the second. After a shaky start, Porter is starting to find his feet back in League Two at a time when pretty much all the Dons midfield are in form, unfortunate, but his time will come.

RICKY WELLARD – Again, just what the Dons needed in the second half, providing an outlet and moving the ball on sensibly. Another Wimbledon midfielder probably unfortunate not to be commanding a starting spot in the League at the moment, but what a great problem to have.

CHARLIE ADEMENO – For a smaller player, Ademeno constantly amazes me with his ability to hold the ball up. Frequently got the better of a much taller defender purely down to his ability to get himself between him and a dropping ball… and once in possession Stevenage found it difficult to get the ball off him. The guy is an absolute bull, just pure muscle, and it was great to see him get some game time. Obviously his injury history makes you wonder whether we’ll ever see the best of him, but if he even gets close we’ll have some player on our hands.

OVERALL – Decent first half showing perhaps lacking in the final third, the Dons turned things around in the second, giving a strong Stevenage side the run around. Missed chances meant the scoreline could, and probably should, have been convincing at the end, but holding a single goal lead is always dangerous no matter how dominant you’ve been. Having said that, no harm done, the victory was ultimately earned thanks to some cool penalties.

Stevenage didn’t disappoint, very well organised to start with, but this being lower league football they lost a little shape as the game went on and the Dons were able to exploit that. They obviously set out to unsettle the Dons by putting in a few questionable challenges early on, and when the referee somehow failed to show any cards just continued in the same vein.

As for our progression in the JPT, well we won through with an experimental side, but as to how seriously we’ll be taking the area quarter-final, it depends on the draw and the injury situation at the time. Progression in this tournament seems to hang on that element of luck, yet regardless of selection if we perform like we did last night we’ll have a chance of doing quite well…


Stevenage JPT Second Round Preview

I remember the days when these minor cup competitions held a strange attraction to the young Anonymous Don. Way back when a trip to watch Wimbledon actually meant crossing the A3 and heading into the town that bears our name, I was reliant on my dad to take me to games. I’d heard of the Full Members Cup, that went on to become the Simod Cup, that went on to become something called the Zenith Data Systems Trophy… in fact I’d been to Wembley to see the Chelsea-Man City final a few years previously (which my juvenile mind seems to remember finished 5-4 to someone…).

Yet despite seeing the Dons in FA Cup and League Cup action, friendly and West London Cup games against Fulham (which might have been one and the same thing…), even a weird mid-season fixture against HJK Helsinki which we won 3-0 (again, this seems extremely unlikely, I wouldn’t believe it myself if I didn’t have the programme). But I’d yet to see us feature in this strange tournament – not surprising seeing as though we rarely troubled the later rounds.

And therefore I yearned to tick that box. One night, I got my chance. The visit of Ipswich brought with it a visit from one or both of my Town supporting cousins (again – bit hazy on the detail), and we attended more as a family meet up than anything else. Naturally the Dons lost, which was the way whenever we played them, but the cold evening air, the floodlights, the empty terraces… I was hooked.

Since then I’ve got them all under my belt… From the Intertoto Cup to the Cherry Red Books Trophy, I (and presumably most, or at least some, of you) have seen them all. With the obvious exception of one – which explains my current excitement at the visit of Stevenage. The Dons have history of sorts in this tournament, in fact we made it to one of the first finals – sadly not played at the national stadium, instead at the home of our opponents was chosen, and a trip to Grimsby saw the Dons fall to defeat. The Dons history in various minor cups would probably be worth a  ‘Short History’ article, if I had the time to prepare and write it (if we stay in the competition beyond tonight I’ll resurrect that for the next round…).

Tonight we welcome Stevenage, slightly unfortunate that we find ourselves up against semi-regular opponents over the last couple of years, a chance for us to avenge our FA Cup defeat last year or very least actually score a goal against them for a change. Stevenage have a pretty poor rep among some lower division fans and Dons fans in particular… without wanting to offend anyone who might be harbouring dislike of them, I’ve always presumed this was mere jealousy of seeing a smaller club doing well. My article on them during the summer outlined my personal view but if you can’t be bothered to read all that, basically good luck to them. They’ve got a decent enough manager, play to their strengths but nowhere near as crudely as some, but above all else are probably operating slightly above their natural level at the moment. So no need for Dons fans to demonize them (especially when they did us a pretty huge favour last season in their FA Cup first round game…), in ten years time we’ll more than likely find ourselves at the same level or possibly even  above them…

With Brown having named his side in advance, no need for me to guess his starting lineup this time around. Instead I’ll try guessing the crowd. Not naming you all, that’s probably taking it too far, but in terms of numbers I’ll stick my neck out with 1611…

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AFC Wimbledon 3 Gillingham 1 – A Match Report

He scores with his left. He scores with his right. That boy Jack Midson makes Kedwell check his bank balance and at least be assured he can pay off his mortgage. It wasn’t our former skipper, or his team mates day, kept very quite by the Dons defense. Although to be honest this was more a case of the Dons having a particularly good day while catching the visitors on a bad one… we’re fourth at the moment, and loving it, but an ordinary looking Gills side still had enough about them to cause us a few problems in the second half, albeit at 0-3 down.

Had it not been for that clinical early spell this could have been a much harder game than it turned out to be – seasoned Dons fans were left biting their fingernails after a well taken Lee goal half way through the second period threatened a Gills comeback. But as the Dons were forced further and further back, that goal proved mere consolation as the at times desperately defending Dons held on. In fact the home side could have extended their lead on a couple of occasions, Jolley leading pacy counter attacks looking for either the repeat performance of his Port Vale goal (which you would guess is going to work for him sometime or another), or someone to get on the end of one of his crosses (again, were hit into decent areas, but his fellow forwards have great difficulty catching him when he’s in full flight…).

Actually it was a bit of a surreal day all round. This hot spell we’re having made it seem more like I was heading off to a pre-season game… only the full house when I got there convinced me otherwise. It was a little hot and sticky in the terraces to say the least, not that I’m moaning about that – we’ll be shivering away in a couple of weeks. And we certainly caught Gillingham cold (hmmm…) with a red-hot start (hmmm… again…).

You could probably question Gillingham’s defending for the three goals, but then again if you scrutinise every goal scored in this division you’ll find somewhere the conceding side could have tightened up in 95% of them. The first Dons goal was just unfortunate, a big Dons punt up field, the visiting defender just slipped… yet you have to take advantage of such fortune, not something Dons teams have exploited in the past.

The second arrived just two minutes later, Hatton delivering a low cross from the right that Jolley just wanted more to double the lead, much to the home supporters surprise. It was probably inevitable on this particular day that Jack Midson would find his way onto the score sheet, and when the goal arrived in the twenty-second minute it was a bit of a Wimbledonesque disaster for the Gills defence. They looked like they had dealt with Christian Jolley, who looked more likely to fall over himself than cause the visitors any problems. Yet a panicky stab goalwards found Midson, who was never likely to miss.

Wimbledon being Wimbledon the only danger of holding a 3-0 lead with pretty much seventy minutes of the game remaining is our leaky defence might throw it away, but they’ve improved considerably in recent weeks and were unfortunate not to go on and keep a clean sheet. Gillingham might have had more luck if they hadn’t left it until the second half to add playing some football to a game plan that had previously only involved trying to rough up the Dons players. Their front men barely had a sniff – the aforementioned Kedwell looked a shadow of the man who was destroying Conference defences on the same ground twelve months previously, and I only realised Nouble was on the pitch when he somehow stayed on the pitch after slapping Seb Brown to the floor ten minutes into the second half.

Gillingham’s goal was the best of the game, Lee picking up the pieces and guiding the ball into the top left corner from the edge of the area, and the fear was the home side would fall apart. A second goal would have been crucial, but the home defence stood firm, held together by our new skipper playing like a man possessed. Despite some inconsistent defensive performances as a unit, Jamie Stuart has been in form this season, the master of the last ditch interception, and although he didn’t perform his party trick of a knee-high headed clearance, he did just about everything else.

That’s three wins in a row for the Dons, and although you still get the impression of the two sides on the field yesterday the visitors are more likely to be in the promotion picture come May, we’re doing fine. October is a tricky month for us, so the more points we can put on the board early the better, if we find ourselves still in the top half of the table going into November we’ll have done very well indeed.


Gillingham Preview

So yesterdays ode to Kedwell means I’m all Dannyed out right now, its time to concentrate on tomorrows actual game rather than what sort of reception the great man will get. Although interestingly Keds himself seems unsure of what sort of welcome he’s going to get – proof if anything that not only do players take note of what is said on social networks and message boards, but negative comments have a habit of overwhelming the majority of well wishers looking forward to his return. Fortunately the minority who want to boo him (without wanting to demonize them – they have every right to express the disappointment we all partly share) should be overwhelmingly drowned out by those of us looking forward to thanking him for his contribution to our amazing story. That is until 3PM, when we’ll join together to remind the fat pikey he should have stayed at the big club…

One thing I do want to say before I move on to the preview itself is this story where Danny promises not to celebrate any Gillingham goals… and I have to say I don’t really agree with this type of taking respect way too far that is creeping into the modern game. Goals are the most glorious part of the game, what strikers live for, yet even the most prolific will only get to feel that moment of elation twenty or so times a year. If Kedwell repeated his effort at Luton a couple of years ago tomorrow, I wouldn’t expect him to hold back his celebrations for my benefit – as long as he isn’t baring his arse to the Tempest I’d probably be too caught up with the shock of conceding a goal to notice. Still, a nice sentiment, says a lot about the man, but Danny – what makes you think Gillingham are going to score anyway?!

The Gills management team of Andy Hessenthaler and Nicky Southall seem to be building their visit up as a trip to play the Crazy Gang circa 1986 in downtown Basra, rather than a side who has the potential of laying out the welcome mat (despite recent improvements, we all know they still have it in them), combined with an atmosphere – despite the best efforts of the Tempest and a handful in the KRE and JSS – that more often than not barely reaches simmering. Those 750 Gillingham fans might make a lot of noise, sadly the away enclosure seems to act as some kind of sound bubble, so they’ll only be heard by anyone wandering within a twenty yard radius of them.

Kedwells return has brought the prospect of a Kedwell/Stuart battle, the sort of clash that you would expect more often than not would result in at least one of them picking up a card of some colour, had they not apparently been quite good mates who were still in regular contact with each other. Yet another intriguing battle could be taking place alongside, with Callum McNaughton taking on West Ham team-mate Frank Nouble. With McNaughton looking as though his loan may not be extended, this could be his last appearance at TCRRFSKM for a while, and hopefully he’ll want to go out by keeping his fellow Hammer quiet.

Another player facing his former club is Rashid Yussuff, not that he had much of a Gillingham career, by all accounts he wasn’t exactly highly regarded in his eight appearances. Yet he’s had a full season in a Dons shirt, and is starting to look better and better, to the point he is becoming the sort of player who can run games. He still has the odd stinker as shown against Aldershot, still very much a work in progress – like the team – but could go on to be a leading midfielder in the lower division.

All this talk of former players coming up against their old side, friends and team mates squaring off has disguised the fact we’re looking at an early season top of the table clash. Now we’ve passed the ten game point we can look at the League table as some kind of guide to strength – it’s still nowhere near accurate, and won’t be until nearer Christmas, but the Dons sit seventh on merit. I always like to judge which game is the ‘biggest’ in each division by adding the positions of each team and seeing which fixture has the lowest sum… and we aren’t quite game of the week material, Southend-Shrewsbury comes in at a meagre five.

Yet it’s another of those moments when I catch myself wondering how the hell we got to a position where we’re facing off against Gillingham in a ‘promotion’ clash. We might not find ourselves troubling the top seven for much longer, so lets enjoy it while it lasts. And hell, I haven’t even thought of what I might do if we actually win tomorrow, which is probably more likely than a few of us are allowing ourselves to believe.

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WUP 9.1

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