Tag Archives: Conference Playoffs

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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Reliving The Moment – That Kedwell Penalty

If there’s one aspect of the modern game I would have loved to have had as a kid, it’s the proliferation of fan-shot camera footage of huge moments. Even I, not the most technically proficient of bloggers, have been known to upload the odd YouTube clip now and again (well, once…).The only problem is how many of us actually had our phone or camera to hand and happened to be filming when the ball was hopefully tossed into the Crawley box last September? Penalty shootouts on the other hand are a little different. Everyone knows what is about to happen, giving plenty of time to prepare. Given that, there has been an absolute explosion of videos showing Danny’s winning penalty a fortnight ago, and having watched most of them on a daily basis I now present you with my five personal favourites.

Before that, can I give my thanks to everyone who uploaded any kind of video of the day… I was too busy doubled up trying to get oxygen in my lungs between kicks to even think of using my camera, those of you who captured the moment are like gods to me…

I have limited my selection to those primarily featuring Keds penalty, of which so far I have found eighteen, the vast majority on YouTube, with new clips still being added on an almost daily basis – and by the way, these are just my selection, if you have a personal favourite embed it in a comment and explain why, as I have with mine!

(PS, the language in some of these videos can get a little fruity!!!)

5)

We are going up! This video from Oxfo94 makes my top five easily, partly because the angle reminds me of my own view from block 230. In fact I can make out me and my dad seated a few rows ahead for a couple of seconds from 0.37 onward… for some reason I have my hands on my head… Another reason to love this video is the pure, unrehearsed emotion from the cameraman, including shrieking ‘Yes! Yes!’ over and over, and the bad singing towards the end of the video (it had been a long old day…).

4)

There are a few vids from the Luton sections of the ground, this one being remarkable for the length of time the guy carries on filming after Keds slams it into the net – I have to say, I would have been out the ground and back in the car by the time this video stops had the boot been on the other foot… It not only gives a different view of our celebrations, but an insight into the desperation of the Luton fans just before the kick was taken… and remember if just two of those penalties had turned out differently, it could have been us…

3)

From the upper tier behind the goal, this gives an idea just how close Tyler got to it… we are fortunate Danny just decided to blast it! Uploaded by creeves713

2)

Wonderful video, uploaded by MrAfcwimbledon. Would have been my favourite if there hadn’t been just so much going on. Fantastic attempt at commentary before the penalty (John Motson this ain’t), deranged celebrations after, which comes across as a beautiful blur of colour and sound. highlights include a comedy fall leading to a close-up of the Eastlands pitch, and a players eye view of the celebrations that Nike’s marketing team couldn’t recreate if they tried…

1)

My personal favourite is this one from a similar position to the previous, this charming video was uploaded by ThisCharmingDon, winning out only because its fixed position gives a better close-up view of the penalty and madness that ensued. This user also uploaded a video of the squads return to Kingsmeadow, which being stuck up in South Yorkshire and missing the moment I greatly appreciated.

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50/50

If you were having difficulty remembering just how far we have come over the last nine years there are frequent reminders pretty much everywhere. The last question in the ‘Can You Help’ section of this weeks Knowledge in the Guardian features a question wondering whether Tipton Town, who racked up 100 points this season and still only finished second in the Midland Football Alliance, were the greatest runners-up of all time… I’m sure there’ll be quite a few replies from the South West London area pointing out the third place team in the 2002/3 Combined Counties season and their mighty 111 point tally…

I’ve seen comments from a couple of people on the WUP guestbook mentioning how surreal the last seven days have been and I thought ‘hang on, with respect hasn’t the last nine years just been a completely bizarre experience?’. If I woke up in a daze to find its 2002, the three-man commission are about to unanimously throw out Wimbledon FC’s request to relocate, and the last nine years have been but a vision, I wouldn’t be surprised. In fact I’d be fucking delighted, I’d be twenty-four again…

But then again, haven’t the last nine years been unbelievably special? We’ll never know what would have happened if we had been given a chance to breathe life into the Wimbledon FC corpse, presuming the Trust had somehow been able to take control of the club… it’s likely there would have been a minor feel good factor upon taking over but years of hard slog would have followed, as we slipped down the table. We could easily have found ourselves in exactly the position we are now (including playing at KM) without that special feeling we have around the club, not to mention the momentum we carry with us.

I thought twice about writing that last paragraph in case some passing Franchise apologist picks up on it and uses it as justification for the move, the old ‘it’s worked out best for everybody’ excuse that the outcome of the event somehow justifies the theft itself. And while we’re on the subject of theft here’s a well know quote form the commission report you might want to bear in mind on Saturday…

128. Furthermore, resurrecting the Club from its ashes as, say, “Wimbledon Town” is, with respect to those supporters who would rather that happened so that they could go back to the position the Club started in 113 years ago, not in the wider interests of football.

 Well come 5PM on Saturday, ‘Wimbledon Town’ could be back in the League, the only problem being our opponents were also royally shafted by the football authorities… neutrals I’ve spoken to are admitting split loyalties, but are falling down on our side of the fence. Not that this means anything beyond being a nice gesture, anyone with even half an interest in making the journey was put off by those darn ticket prices, so it’s just our core support of 6,000 heading up, outnumbered 2:1 by Luton (but then again hasn’t that always been the Wimbledon way?).

Regarding the game itself, I’ve been thinking about it pretty much all week and have come to the conclusion this could really end up just about any score you could think of… its close, 50/50, but if one team cracks under the pressure on the day the other side could end up knocking in a few… yet maybe that’s what comes from thinking through just about every possibility in my head since last Wednesday.

I’ve got to say, while I’ve analysed how I would react to failure, I’ve stopped short of thinking what I would do if we actually won… I daren’t even allow it to cross my mind for even a moment – well that’s a lie, actually, I thought about it  Monday morning on my way to work, and its highly likely I’ll end up in tears. Perhaps I’ll even end up standing there passive, shell-shocked, my mind unable to find a suitable expression to the level of emotion I’ll feel.

I know we’ve convinced ourself defeat won’t be a disaster, and we’re right, it won’t be the calamity it would be for Luton if they miss out. I have heard that Saturdays loser will automatically be installed as next seasons favourites for promotion, but the truth is we have no idea how much money Fleetwood and Mansfield are going to throw about over the summer. We just don’t know how competitive the bigger clubs like Grimsby are going to be. We can do ourselves a massive favour by winning at our first proper attempt.

I’ve got a lot of respect for Luton and the majority of their supporters, they’ve been treated as harshly as we have… but another season in the BSP won’t kill them. We’ve spent nine long years in the wilderness, we’ve worked hard for this, we’ve earned it and we deserve it. We shouldn’t be ashamed to admit we want this badly, it’s the reason why so many of us haven’t been able to sleep for most of the week…

So come on Wimbledon, make us prouder than we already are right now. And whether you’re joining me at Eastlands, watching at home or the pub, or some dodgy feed in some corner of the world, I hope we have something to celebrate together come 5pm BST on Saturday…

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It’s Oxford Or York For L2

Luton and Rushden & Franchise have the dubious pleasure of a visit to Kingsmeadow next term after defeats to York and Oxford respectively. A pair of 1-0 victories were enough for York to progress after what sounded like a gritty and defensive performance this afternoon at Kenilworth Road. They will face Oxford who eventually eased past R&F 3-1 on aggregate.

The final takes place at Wembley on Sunday 16th May, KO 5pm. The match will be shown live on Sky Sports.

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