Walking down the Haydons Road…

… to see the Dons at Selhurst.

Funny how certain things stick in your mind, even after all those years. That black-humoured song got an airing once in the early 1990s, probably at an away game, yet I still remember it to this day.

I gues it was because it summed up our naive thought at the time that we would be back to SW19 soon enough…

There is no doubt that many if not most of you will be having a little trip “back home” before too long. When the bulldozers come in, maybe even when the first proper signs of a new stadium pierce the sky.

Or you can do what your editor did last week and have a look before the first wrecking ball gets swung.

I’ve been past the current dog track a few times since 1991, either to go to Wandsworth or occasionally pop into the new Lidl (go on, abuse me for doing so, but its car park is better than Morden), but I’ve never really bothered to walk around and have a proper butchers.

Admittedly, I was going to have an evening at the dog racing while it was still around, just to get the proverbial tape measure out, but it didn’t happen. Probably just as well, as it might have ended up annoying me.

Still, if you believe in fate, on the day the judicial review period expired, your editor had an unexpected opportunity to have a nose around the place. And I wanted to see it in its pre-bulldozed state…

When the first ball at NPL gets kicked, there will be a significant number of people who have never seen a game in that area before. But there are many who have, and for them there will be something strangely familiar about the whole thing.

I always used to go (and occasionally park) down Gap Road, and that’s not really much different from back in the day. The cemetery’s still there, the houses are more or less as I remember it from 1991, and I bet there will be groups of old dears guarding the car parks of the flats.

Not everything will be the same, of course, and I discovered that when I left my car in Weir Road. Not only has the standard of HGV driving got worse (Poundland have started selling lorry driving licences) but parking as well.

Or rather, lack of it.

There’s more yellow lines, less actual spaces, and you’ll likely have to get there early on matchdays. There’s some scope for parking in the showrooms, especially as most of them close on a Saturday afternoon.

Oh, and there’s always Vantage House (the office block by Homebase) and its car park. Not quite AFC Bournemouth standard, but might be worth the fiver…

Actually, that’s what struck me about the whole area – if you can go by public transport, that’s probably what you’ll need to do. The Stadium Plan will tell us more, but you know in Back To Plough Lane when I said about parking in the Lombard estate…?

When you turn into Durnsford Road and see the old PL flats, you realise how big that site was. In the alternative universe, what if the WISA mockup had actually been built?

Or even more poignantly, what if the derelict place had not been flattened when AFCW got formed, and we somehow got our hands back on it?

Walking past them is how I imagine it must feel like for a Leicester fan to walk through where Filbert Street was, on the way to the King Power. That’s a similar distance to what PL/NPL is, by the way (about 500 yards).

It also may stand as a monument at how much Hammam tried to kill the identity of Wimbledon, but failed. We’re still here, and we did what he had no interest in doing…

Walking past the  Jehovah Witness church (since refurbished, and now looks like an Ibis Budget) and where the South Stand will start evoking some long held memories as well.

In the case of the latter, the sight of Liverpool/Arsenal/whoever queuing up, with our PA telling away fans to “move further down the terrace so more can get in”. The past certainly was a different era.

There’s a fair amount of new stuff down Plough Lane, that makes the older buildings look even worse. Put it this way – when a new Lidl improves an area…

Which leads to what literally stands on our new home. It’s certainly tatty. And yes, it wasn’t looking its best – it’s weeks away from becoming a pile of rubble, it’s been dormant for close to a year, and it hasn’t been loved for a good while.

But even at its peak it’s never been particularly nice. I don’t know when the current structure you see in these pictures were put up, but it’s never been anything other than functional. I would guess it looks like Hall Green did.

I’m biased, but I genuinely do think NPL will improve the place tenfold. It will be new, clean and – dare I say it – loved.

The other thing that strikes you about it (and you have to be on the other side of the road to fully appreciate this) is how big the site is. Not so much the entire site (and I haven’t included Volante), but the actual stadium itself.

You forget that it used to hold about 8000, before such pesky things as “safety certificates” came along. And yes, I bet in quiet moments you’ve mentally put a football pitch in the middle of the existing structure.

Hell, let’s arrange a friendly against Franchise to open it. We’ll demolish the site in hours, not months.

Next to the Galliard sales box is a gate where you can look through. It’s where the picture at the top of this article was taken. Anyone driving by must have thought I was up to no good (not true, officer).

It looks…. well, exactly like it does in the photo.

Even the caveats, the derelict state it’s in looks pretty apt for the former tenants. And really, how famous was Wimbledon Stadium anyway?

If you were part of the (small) world of dog racing, or the (even smaller) world of banger racing, then you would have your own memories. And yes, it will hurt some of them when it’s reduced to rubble.

But it was never Wembley, or Walthamstow, or even White City – where the Greyhound Derby still got associated with, many years after it it moved to SW19 in 1984.

The venue in E4 was the greyhound track you most associate with London. It was where David Beckham used to work. It was where the album cover of Blur’s “Parklife” was taken.

I’m reliably informed by somebody who knows dog racing that when it closed a decade ago, it was was the hammer-blow for dog racing in the Capital.

Wimbledon Stadium? Well, the car boot sale was featured in the Apprentice with Alan Sugar, for about twenty seconds. As ropey as it sounds. Oh, and it was the setting for Queen’s “Bicycle Race” video back in the early 1980s.

And the early 1980s is where it more or less stayed.

It was often featured on World of Sport back then, inbetween the wrestling and the half-time scores, and if I heard Dickie Davis behind me when I took the snapshot, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

But even a quick glance made you feel like you were walking around a Woolworths when it was closing down.

Neither AFCW, or LBM, or Galliard, or even the GRA are responsible for the decline of dog racing in London. If anything, we kept it going for five years longer.

It simply belonged to a bygone era, selling itself to a public that was no longer interested. It was always something your nan liked, along with Matt Monroe, Watneys Pale Ale and casual racism.

Looking like the sport of the used car salesman (as opposed to the sport of kings) didn’t help, and Mick the Miller and Santa’s Little Helper are the only greyhounds a casual spectator could name.

And one of those is a cartoon character from the Simpsons.

While I take a lot of what the animal cruelty brigade say with a bit of a pinch of salt, stories like this from last year, the coked up winner of the Irish Laurels and other such stories chops away at that industry.

What if there had been a rebuilt dog track on the site after all? To be honest, I don’t think anyone would have been capable of it. And even if they were, how long would it have remained open?

We can give a deserving home to the Mick the Miller mosaic (Killeigh, County Offaly is where it was from, and IMO that should return there. Good PR won’t hurt). I’d also like us to save the Wimbledon Stadium sign above, it’s so 70s-esque and funky.

Other than that, once flattened it will hardly be missed. NPL will improve the area tenfold, those who know Addlestone One will know what I mean by that, and even the traffic isn’t that much worse than anywhere in south west London.

I’ve no idea what this building was for originally, anyone know?

The area has few redeeming features, but walking around I realised just how few. An industrial rat-run is the best description I’ve read of the area, and as the old joke goes – a bomb would cause thousands of pounds of improvements.

There must have been some life at one point, because I counted three places that were obviously once pubs (the two tile places and I even remember the Tesco Express being a boozer – and I’m sure some local historian will know what they were).

True, the Corner Pin is still there, and assuming it’s not totally crap will do well out of us. There’s another micro-brewery opposite (the “By The Horns“), so the real ale types can enjoy supping on an Old Man’s Loveknuckle.

I find it impossible to believe there won’t be a “new” Batsford Arms, and/or a “new” Sportsman. Maybe somebody with some money could buy one of the tile shops and revert it back to original use?

It will be nice to have the first ever drink around there since I became legally old enough to touch alcohol. I’m currently 42.

The area is reasonably well served by takeaways too. I didn’t see a chippy, but if you take the area between the Haydons Road station entrance and where you start walking towards Earlsfield (and keeping those tower blocks in that range), there’s a couple of kebab places, at least two cafes and a fried chicken place.

And that’s not including other little establishments.

We’ll see what sort of business minds operate such places – if they’re smart, they’ll embrace us being there. The people behind Fat Boys at KM will have to sell the company Learjet when we leave, unless they’re using some of their funds to buy around the area.

If they’re hostile, and they don’t want our custom, so be it. They’ll lose out, and one thing we’re good at (as all football fans are) is spending money.

The more residential areas are a bit better kept than the area around KM, but it’s not as posh as around Norbiton station. It’s one of those areas that isn’t down-at-heel but isn’t quite gentrified yet.

This was turning into a half-hour sizing up of the joint, and I was starting to look a bit suspicious. After another sneaky peak through the gate, and a little walk by Lidl to get a bit more (literal) perspective, I was drawn to an obvious conclusion.

Us being there makes just so much sense on so many levels.

I’ve been to more football stadia than I care to remember, and they’re usually full of life on a matchday. We need to be back there, but equally the area needs us back just as much.

True, the traffic on a weekday can be busy, but we’re unlikely to be playing at that time. We’re improving some of the roads, it’s hardly gridlock as it is – it moves quickly enough.

I did make a little detour back through the old PL flats, the first time I’ve ever done it. The residents there didn’t seem particularly NIMBYish, it gave me the impression many of them won’t make their lifelong home there.

Assuming it’s not a private thoroughfare, I imagine many who are coming from that direction will make a short-cut through it.  Just for old times sake, even if you’ll end up pointing at a flowerbed and say that you stood there once…

I was enough of a sad bastard to do all this on a quiet afternoon, so I will leave it to others who will go down there at least once a day week during construction 😉

Most of us will have a cheeky peek from time to time though, if the situation allows. The next time most of us will be in the area is when the place is getting flattened, and that’s when it will properly start sinking in.

And it will bring home just how much it’s, well, home. In a way that Selhurst never was, and if truth be told KM isn’t as well.

NPL will chance the DNA of the club forever, in ways you probably can’t even think of. Yet strangely, when we play that first game, it may feel as though we never went away…