How did I come to support Wimbledon? Well I worked in and around Wimbledon during the rise to the top. First I was almost dragged to a game, but then I got to like the excitement of watching a team playing “man’s football”. Then we had a team with no stars, who played in ramshackle surroundings. As the years went on it was a great buzz to watch the likes of John Barnes, Chris Waddle or Gazza running around a ground when only days earlier they might have been pitting their wits against the best in somewhere like the San Siro. Now I bet we hit a common denominator here, something in our personalities is attracted to the “against all odds”, “David and Goliath” type thing. I know I do. So until we left Plough Lane that was it, or is it that simple. Hell no.
Through the history of Wimbledon there are four distinct phases of identity. Nonâ€“league Plough Lane, Plough Lane in the climb up the league to the old First Division, First Division / Premier League at Selhurst and the future. To explain this until we were a fairly typical (if rather successful) non-league side until 1977, when we got elected to the league. Remember there are still supporters from that era, who still identify with that (and I hope we all take our hats off to those people!). Then as the promotions started to add up, rapidly the identity of this club changed to this “up at ’em team” in non-league surroundings, in amongst the elite. There are many of us who identify with this, and we still hang on at Selhurst hoping to return home. These are also people who get all misty eyed about Plough Lane, want to get back to the borough and are/were the most distrustful of Hammam (as well as the earlier group, of course).
I have a very good friend who is a Manchester United supporter, (I expect we all have!), but he is different. He was actually born well within Greater Manchester (thats not all thats different!), and finds the rise of Manchester United plc rather tedious. He goes to games where there are 55,000 supporters. There is no atmosphere. Why? Mostly because it is a different lot of people every week, and nobody knows any one else. They all think they belong, but they don’t. They belong to one big commercial machine. My friend has joined we at several Wimbledon games over the years. He even sneaked into the Huddersfield promotion game. Every time he says what a great bunch of supporters we have. He almost wishes he supports us! Just because of this! So there it is, despite all the changes, we the supporters are what makes us so special. Witness the sympathy we got at Southampton, they meant it because we behave properly, there was some “there for the grace of God go I” too.
So what identity do we have of Wimbledon FC now, or indeed what is the identity that rest of the world gives us. We all have our own perception of what we see in the club. I became aware of this situation in those dark days after relegation. Apart from the obvious, the press and public’s perception of us changed in just a few days. One day we were “Wimbledon FC Premier League club”, the next we were “A small club with no ground of its own, few fans and not much else”.
Let me expand that, to the outside world while we were Premier (despite all the hate from the press) we stood for something, we were (occasionally) on TV. We were the ones who would rattle Man U’s cage, the “crazy gang” etc. But as we now are not part of the top 20 clubs in the land, and we already have no ground (and indeed share a poor ground with poor access), we became an empty shell of a club (to them). A club that has lived a lie for years, and finally got found out.
So lets look on the bright side! We have new owners! Who have a very large amount of money indeed! Already they have waved the magic wand, bought the land and started on a new, state of the art, training facility less than two miles from the centre of Wimbledon. So what do we want next! A new ground, go back to the Premier League, both, or what? Well that has all changed rather hasn’t it? It would be easy for some to think that just by moving back to the Wimbledon area, we would take on the identity of the late 80’s. In some sort of modern Taylor report approved version of Plough Lane. Nice thought isn’t it?
Now anybody who supported Wimbledon FC on or before the 14th May 1988 will tell you about history. I’m not going to repeat that here. To me some project a future vision of WFC being somewhere in the borough of Morden. Having a nice new stadium, a bit like Middlesborough without the nuclear waste and psychopaths running the streets or a Coventry, well just not dull. How will we encapsulate all this? Well that is one tough question, to blend all this together, to be re-born, and yet retain the positive aspects of the club that makes us unique. Remember we do not have a hooligan problem.
Next Week: Where did it all go wrong? â€“ A new perspective, that is not too hard on the welly wearing one! You’ll be surprised.