by Sidney B
Friday evenings, for me, are habitually reserved for the consumption of one’s body weight in Stella Artois. NOT football. It was therefore a rather unfamiliar sensation joining the throngs of southbound commuters at Victoria and subsequently traversing the cultural wastelands of South London en route to Thornton Heath.
Upon arrival at the Farley, ‘The Massey’ and myself remarked in the strongly perceptible ‘buzz’ that seemed to reverberate between the hallowed walls of Betty’s fine establishment. The TV cameras were at Selhurst Park for the live game and it seemed that our esteemed chairman was to recieve a rather higher profile reminder of our collective displeasure to his planned Buckinghamshire buffoonery.
Perambulating to our unloved home, fortified with the legendary ‘swift half’, The Massey speculated on audience figures – the armchair brigade as well as those in the ground. His predictions were not optimistic, this certainly seemed to be reinforced by the distinct lack of pedestrian traffic in the environs of the ground. Indeed an official attendance of 4,800 certainly came as no suprise, we may never know the TV audience – though I do have it on very good authority that there were no reported surges of demand for electricity in the South Yorkshire area. Draw your own conclusion.
10-15 minutes into the game, a moribund affair suddenly explodes into life, at least off the pitch. Large numbers of referee’s whistles have been smuggled into the ground and, without warning, shatter the relative serenity of the Holmesdale Road. Yellow and blue balloons are released, three hundred tifosi gather at the front of the stand, chants of ‘we want Koppel out!’ scream out and anti-MK banners are unfurled. This is all played out against a backdrop of tinnitus-inducing whistle blowing (which I hasten to add seems to contribute immensely to the sheer fervour) and a sudden appearance of a phalanx of yellow jacketed stewards and police who line the pitch-side perimiter fence.
‘Remarkable’ I remarked to The Massey, as we decide to join the throng, vaulting down 25 rows of the stand to do so. The match, for me, was a mere sideshow – it’s sole purpose was to show Koppel, his cronies and the watching millions on TV (ok thousands), that we, the fans, the club is WIMBLEDON!! A concept so stunningly simple, and central to the traditional tenets of English football (namely, that a football club represents the area from which it draws it’s name), that the mind still boggles that Milton Keynes (!!!) 80 miles away from Plough Lane (still a feasible option) is still being seriously considered as a possible location for ‘home’. (Exclamation marks ad nauseum)
As another stunningly dreary encounter draws to it’s conclusion, enlivened only by a late Cooper equalizer and some baiting of the home fans by Keith ‘Big Club’ Curle, it is clear that the mood is still one of anger. Our vigorous efforts throughout the game have not diminished the passion and desire to show those at the helm of this football club that their management and communication skills are stunningly inept. Musing to myself that any one from a choice of Dipsy, Tinky-Winky, La-la or Po from the Teletubbies would probably be a more effective chairman than Koppel, I sauntered toward the back of the Main Stand.
The sequence of events that will unravel over the next two hours will no doubt stay in the minds of those present. Did the evening of November 9th mark the time when the ‘Womble turned’?
300 fans congregate outside the directors entrance chanting for Koppels resignation, to withdraw the Milton Keynes application or alternatively to insert the town famed for its concrete cows in a certain bodily cavity (rhymes aptly with farce). The barrage of noise and abuse is met with the condescending and smug expressions of the assorted officials standing guard over the directors entrance. Twenty minutes elapse and the crowd become restless. There is a tangible sensation that the Yellow and Blue army is no longer the passive, tolerant and obliging bunch of the recent past. Ten years of wilful neglect and obfuscation (SW19 – what?) are finally having the inevitable consequence.
A small group suddenly breaks away from the main body of protestors. Others spontaneously follow. There is a heady brew of excitement, fear and the unknown. What are we doing? Where are we going?. “The Players Lounge” I hear in hushed tones and within seconds a baying mob is attempting to storm the the inconsequential-looking wooden doors. Stewards and police repel the invaders, smug expressions replaced with those of bemusement and shock. 15 years, man and boy, a Wimbledon fan and these scenes, to me, are unprecedented. This is our May 68, our Tianaman Square, our very own Womble Fightback Club. A beaker of tea is launched at the stewards giving a slightly idiosyncratic tinge to this particular revolution.
The Sheffield United players emerge and board their North-bound charabanc. ‘Big Club’ Curle is spotted and gives rise to a spine-tingling moment when, as if by by some osmotic thought process – call it ‘Womble ESP’ – an instantaneous, non-vocalised, collective decision is made to prevent passage of the team coach. One comic moment of many ensues, as hordes of Dons fans – men, women and youngsters – sit down in front of the coach, much to the astonishment and bemusement of assorted Sheffield players, staff and the police. The only parting of the ways is reserved for Warnock the Sheff Utd manager, who has to rush to Cornwall in his own vehicle to be at the bedside of his sick wife.
Clearly the coach will not gain passage, and after spending half an hour to surmise this, it is reversed toward the players car park. It would appear that the driver is in the mood to wow the crowd with some precision, three point turn trickery.
Baldrick memorably had ‘a cunning plan’. So did the Wombles, and it’s beauty lay in it’s simplicity. The coach now heading toward the Whitehorse Lane gates, under police escort, now faced a further obstacle – more disciples of the Yellow and Blue. With commendable foresight many (including your wheezing correspondent) had propelled weary limbs through the back streets surrounding the stadium to join our comrades adjacent to the main ticket office. Once again the coach was hemmed in, and to add to the escalating sense of euphoria the front seat was occupied by our old friend Keith ‘Big Club’ Curle.
A mirth-filled protest now as ‘Big Club’ draws heavily on a Silk Cut, and the Wombles remind him in song of the threadbare nature of his medal collection. We take delight in the glory of May 14th 1988 and enquire after the whereabouts of Keith Curle esq on that day. Looks of despair now form on the faces of the coach occupants as they now realise that the night will be long, and they will be entrenched in this deeply unlovely area of South London for some time.
With the hour fast approaching 11o’clock, the consensus is that the point has been made. Our displeasure has never been more apparent – both in front of the leadership of the club and the, no doubt, riveted TV audience. The police employ strong arm tactics to ensure passage of the coach and more comedy unfolds as it limps along the Whitehorse Lane surrounded by the yellow jacketed constabulary, protestors applauding the players for their patience (‘cos we are a jolly decent bunch you know) and an intriguing-looking motorcycle outrider. Possibly a member of the Colliers Wood chapter of the Hells Angels, our man is proceeding at funereal pace much to the fury of chief police officer – and the delight of the Dons. The Hells Angel screams away into the night with seconds to spare before Inspector Knacker moves to baton-wielding mode.
The protesters were drawn from representative sample of the Dons support, men, women and many youngsters. No arrests were made. The post-match events were not planned in any way, all were spontaneous. The inevitable conclusion however is that the these Wombles are turning, anarchy rumbles ever closer with the continued pursuit of this idealogically bankrupt Milton Keynes scheme.
What next? Keep tuned to the Scooper………………..