Many, many years ago, SW19 did a short lived feature surmising the likely outcome of certain scenarioes that would have changed Wimbledon FC (as was) forever. Literally, “What if xxx happened?”. Based on educated guesswork, it was as scientific as reading the Bible, but it was a fun exercise to do.
Anyway, due to little things like having the club murdered, the idea got nixed and never saw the light of day. Until now that is.
It’s actually quite a nice time to bring it back, as after a turbulent decade the club we all know and love is on an even keel and may even be heading upwards some more. Life in the Conference South isn’t too bad, even if you’re reading this in 2010, still suffering from losing on the last day of last season to St Albans, therefore meaning the playoffs. And meaning the inevitable defeat to H&R.
So, back by unpopular demand….
WHAT IF… AFCW HAD REMAINED IN THE RYMAN PREMIER IN 2008/09?
Picture the scene. A late April/early May afternoon. Bright sun, shirt sleeves and more tension than you could healthily cope with. It’s eighty minutes gone at Wheatsheaf Lane and you’re getting too edgy for words. You’ve already seen us have a certain penalty turned down. You’ve seen their goalscorer remain on the pitch and score against us. Lady Luck has once again run off with somebody else and is giving them a blowjob in the back of their Jaguar.
Suddenly, without warning, the ball is thrown in by Sam Hatton and there’s a tangle between our player and their goalkeeper. It works loose and up pops Luis Cumbers to head in. For a second, you can’t believe it. We’ve scored. Or have we? The linesman is flagging, it’s a free kick and the mood darkens some more.
Mark DeBolla gets a free kick, but it hits the wall. The clock ticks but we just cannot break through. One last try in the 93rd minute with Nic McDonnel jumping highest from a corner. It’s close. Very close. But not close enough. If it’s possible to see a crowd take a sigh of resignation, you’ve just witnessed it.
The ball is thrown out, the final whistle goes and we just stand there. Again. Third year in a row that it all fell apart, and worse, this time we actually got through to the final. You may have shed a tear, you certainly clapped off the players who are trudging almost as pained as anyone else. Sure, it was worth the effort queueing up there for three hours in the rain to get in, but at that moment, you feel lower than a snake’s ratting backside.
You forget what you do after that, but you may avoid the guestbook and this place until you’re ready to get solace. You certainly avoid the gloating from the Ryman forum who would trade every single achievement their club has ever made for a pop at our painful expense. You just wonder what was going to happen next. In the meantime, you just want some words of encouragement from TB and the club. And sure enough, on the Sunday, a few little lines from TB pop up, expressing outright sorrow. Christ, you could sense the woe through the monitor.
You do hear that the likes of Fergie and DeBolla are gone. You twigged that. You’re surprised that Finn went as well, although we’re managing to keep Main another season. We sign a few players that you’ve never heard of, but this time you hear that TB is going to try something different. A few from the youth system? Makes sense, probably – we went for broke and we came up short. No Jon Main signings this season.
The mood that season just gone was horrible at times. But after a much needed break from each other, we all came back surprisingly upbeat. People accepted that we just weren’t good enough to go up that season, and without Chelmsford and Staines things looked easier. Only cause for concern was Dover coming up, but people remembered that FAC game there and it was certainly a favourite.
But upbeat as we were, nobody was happy. The sideswipes from people like Ramsgutter and Billericay Town still stung, the sneers that we were always going to be stuck at this level rankled more than ever. This hurt. Fortunately, there was a sense that TB had got the hang of the modern day Ryman Premier better, with a couple of players brought in who weren’t scared of a few kicks in the face.
Season ticket sales had stagnated a little though, and plans to extend the main stand were obviously put on hold. We wouldn’t need it. Coming back for the first PSF against Croydon Athletic was a bit strange, and the climax of the last competitive fixture still hurt people. But the team looked a bit more like a team, and despite the obvious ring rust showed promise.
By the time the first game of the season came along, at home to Ashford Town (Mx), we were apprehensive, stung, but ready to prove to ourselves that this time, we really could do it. Unfortunately, nerves did take hold that game, and within the first ten minutes a sloppy bit of defending led to a goal. And much rolling of eyes and shrugging of shoulders. Not again…….?
But we pulled back midway during the second half. With ten minutes left, we got a penalty and Main slotted away the first of hopefully many in the season.
We actually had a pretty good start, winning four of the first five games and playing as much decent football as we could in the Ryman. But like the season before, nerves were frayed. A trip to Hastings would see our first loss, and for the first time some real and substained abuse aimed at TB and the players ensued. Pure frustration of course, but the mental scars of last year were in evidence again. And worse, Dover had already overtaken us at the top.
Our run of form would be predictably erratic. Two or three wins on the trot would ensure a draw in the next fixture. Funnily enough, we didn’t really seem to lose many games though. But like last season, the mood was starting to turn sour.
By about mid-October, we were lying in second. Again. Four points behind. Again. Suddenly, a home match against Canvey Island became rather too important for that part of the season. Sure, we’d beaten Coldseal in the playoff (and they weren’t much cop in our mid-September fixture there, with us winning 3-1), but the ructions of last season, which had died down this time round, were starting to resurface…
Nobody knew much about Canvey, apart from the usual tedious gags about them being the father club of Chelmsford, but they weren’t anything special. We went 1-0 up on 29 minutes and pretty much on top. But then, you guessed it. Halfway during the second half, they scored and we looked ragged. Ten minutes later, they scored again, and we cruised to defeat almost effortlessly. The groans turned to murmurings, then turned to boos. And suddenly, “Brown out”.
This wasn’t an odd lone voice, like the guy the season before who called for TB’s head in September 2007. These were regular matchgoing fans who were just fed up. No, it wasn’t the whole crowd, but it was enough to make the AFCW top brass walk out of the ground in a mixture of horror and disgust at what they’d heard. TB’s post match interview was of a man who had heard it all before of course, and realistically his job wasn’t on the line. But the voices were getting louder.
Things calmed down though, and we’d been stung enough to go on a five game winning run. Before the inevitable loss at Harrow Borough. Still second and still playing catchup, even our rattled fans would have expected a good win at the turn of the year against bottom side Heybridge Swifts, even after last season. But something changed, and in a way not seen since Terry Eames departed the club in acrimonious circumstances. Firstly, the crowd was lower than you would expect – 1877 – but worse than that. It was the first time that there was real and vocal dissention – against TB normally, but against individual board members too.
It may have been out of the blue, but its repurcussions would be felt for a long time. “You’re a fucking cunt, Ivor” said one irate fan, to the shock of many around them. Any thoughts of a conversation were shattered when a well-aimed season ticket book hit the Commercial Director’s cheekbone. Even Erik, a man used to high powered discussions at PWC, didn’t escape a verbal volley, which really shook him up. For the first time in AFCW’s short history, people were turning on the club.
It was no surprise though – tempers had been tested last season, but now such dissent was out in the open. Word of the top brass getting verbals spread. The AFCW guestbook was full of little anon sideswipes at various factions. “Named” people were suddenly finding their characters dragged through the mud and pissed upon for good measure. Games were starting to become unpleasant to go to as well – a scuffle between two long serving Dons fans at Boreham Wood just summed up the state of play.
Why had it fallen apart? The Ryman Premier had just gotten too much for people. The standard was still shit, the crowds were dropping, the results weren’t coming and now the very direction of the club was under attack. For those in charge, who benefitted from oceans of goodwill in the past, they were facing up to the aftermath of not going up that season, and they didn’t like it.
As for those on the field, for those still paying attention, the team was still winning games, though off-field tensions were clearly starting to show on the pitch too. And as we moved to within five points of Dover, all attention suddenly turned towards the Crabble for our usual must-win of the season……………….
To be honest, guessing what would have happened this season if we hadn’t gone up is pretty frightening. The prediction of civil war within the club isn’t that far fetched if you were paying attention towards the end of last season – people were really agitated and fearful of what might happen. There was a precident for this anyway with the Terry Eames saga, where for a time the top brass at AFCW really were under the cosh over it amongst some (though Eames’ conduct afterwards gave victory to the club over it), so no use pretending it’s beyond contemplation.
Would we have gone up this season? Probably. We were always a good team for the playoffs, and with the exception of Dover nobody would have come close to us. I deliberately went for a worse-case scenario here, which was simply a repeat of last season. It’s also quite plausible that we would have done a Ryman One season and just be top for most of the season – it all depended on how settled TB got his squad. One thing is likely, there wouldn’t have been nearly so many loanees this time round.
At the most optimistic though, it would have been another season we considered wasted. The anti-Turdey stuff would have continued on, along with our attitude towards other clubs who weren’t fans of ours. We wouldn’t get a 3000+ crowd for any contest in the season, unless it was the last game of the season and we’d gone up – you can certainly forget the 4600+ we got for Chelmsford. The player budget would still be sufficient for the season of course, but we were to be a little bit more wary. No alleged Â£800 wages for Danny Webb this time around.
After reading this little lot, do yourself a favour and watch the Playoff Final again. Like your editor after reviewing said game for the purpose of this article, you may never be able to look at it with such calmness again….