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Happy Homecoming

Plough Lane (2020 version) : no crowds and a Covid hotbed as well.

OK, that’s pushing it a bit, but since the news Friday that the Rona has struck here, one has to wonder if our home is already turning into a curse.

Were the skeletons of greyhounds past disturbed, letting out something that cannot be controlled?

Did the smell of ancient fuel from the speedway bikes or the rusty old Ford Cortinas somehow combine to create a new variant of the virus?

If more crap happens to us, you’d have to wonder if there’s something in it. And we’ll have to go back to KM after all.

Whatever happened to that spray-cubicle thingy that the club was trialing a few months ago?

Anyway, the news yesterday that all players and staff will now need to self-isolate isn’t really much of a shock.

Wigan this weekend is off, not that anyone could go, and we’d have precious little training time before we head to Rochdale.

Knowing us, though, we’ll go there and end up winning 5-0.

Things being what they are right now, it’s a surprise there aren’t more teams that are in our situation.

I think you can safely expect it happening to other sides at some point in the next few months, and it’s something we’ve got to live with.

Not that I think missing Barrow on Saturday and the Pie Eaters this weekend is a bad thing. We’ve had a lot of games recently, and there’s plenty to work on – even if it has to be via Zoom again.

All of this overshadows last Tuesday. A reminder for those who have forgotten – Wimbledon are back at Plough Lane.

We’ve returned home, and nothing can take that away from us.

Even seeing little things like “Plough Lane” as the venue on the official box score puts the hairs on edge.

Commercial needs will be a must, especially post-Covid, but I like the name of our home being that, rather than the Asos Arena or whatever it will turn out to be.

I have to confess, I only looked again at the goals from Doncaster this morning, nearly six days later, and I focused on the stands behind the goal.

They look a bigger and better version of the JG stand at KM, or to a lesser degree a smaller version of the Whitehorse Lane end at Selhurst.

I think it’s going to be a decent venue after all.

It’s nowhere near ready for crowds, mind you, and it’s pretty obvious the absolute bare minimum was completed simply to get us playing there.

How much more needs to be done? This from the local paper in Doncaster after last Tuesday might give you an idea:

Walking through a literal building site to simply get to the ground, what awaited on arrival was a construction project only slightly further down the line than the hulking apartment blocks surrounding it.

Wires hung from ceilings, plaster remnants had been swept into corners, seats were missing from stands, windows hadn’t had their protective film removed.

Couple that with anecdotes of attendees having to climb over rubble to get into the stadium, and you get even more idea how unready it is.

Plough Lane is due to be handed over to us by Buckingham on December 7th, which presumably means the rubble becomes asphalt and it starts to look like an actual venue.

Then it’s up to us to fit it all out. But that’s the nice part of the moving-in process, when we start making it ours.

And ours it is.

It was good to read the almost universal positive reaction from last week – I say “almost” because the only sourpusses are the ones you fully expect it from.

Franchise customers finally got the truth bomb they so richly deserved last week – we proved once and for all that their whole raison d’etre is a complete lie.

Maybe it will twig for one or two of them, but there’s more chance of Donald Trump conceding the US election right now.

There are many, many good things about PL, but one of them is that we can rub the whole thing in their noses physically.

When we finally play them at home in front of a crowd, the few of them that bother to turn up will hopefully wonder what hit them.

The only other bitterness from last week has unsurprisingly come from the stock car racing meatheads.

But there’s only about ten of them, and most of them will go back to their Britain First meetings and hitting their spouses.

Like Franchise fans, they avoid reality – namely that Galliard had absolutely no use for them (and dog racing)…

Just about everyone else seems genuinely pleased for us that we’re back home.

Granted, we weren’t exactly Fleet Street’s favourites in the 80s/90s, but our return home has pricked a few consciences.

At least one of them from that era privately admit us moving to Selhurst and then MK crossed a line.

Tuesday righted the biggest wrong of the lot, and it’s something that for 29 years never looked possible.

Many admirers suggested that if ever a game deserved not to be behind closed doors, it was Doncaster last week.

And they’re right, although it’s ironic that if fans could return we’d be back home in January/February anyway.

I do still believe we’ll have crowds again in 2020/21, although full houses aren’t really likely until next season.

Remember that a few games this campaign did have paying punters already, and by the time it’s feasible we’ll be further advanced still in getting them in and out safely.

It might be a bit of a bunfight, having 1000 maximum at PL, but we need test events to open to the public…

And we’ll get a second homecoming anyway, in a stadium that will be completed by that stage.

True, the more PL gets completed the more frustrating it will be to look at it empty and not able to go in.

But that puts us in line with every other football club right now.

It’s unadvoidable that urgently need a shakeup of how we do things from now on, to be more “professional”.

The upcoming DTB election means jack shit until the club’s structure changes.

There’s a lot to do still, both in terms of completing PL and the off-field stuff that gets talked about but never gets done.

And SW19 has long said that the moment we return home, the club changes forever.

I wrote most of this on Friday, before Covid hit us, and the main thought I’ve had is this – from last Tuesday, we became a “normal” football club again.

We’ve never been as special as some hoped we are, the way we formed is unique but that’s as far as it goes.

But while we face post-Covid challenges aplenty, the biggest adjustment is ahead of us.

We no longer have to pore over planning applications, look at schematic drawings and artist impressions.

Hell, even wondering if Merton or whoever will find something – anything – to fuck us up.

When we play home games in front of crowds again, we don’t have to go to somebody else’s stadium to do so,

True, we got used to KM, and if you’re being truthful with yourself, you got used enough to going to Selhurst too.

Yet we no longer have to go to SE25, or especially KT1, and kid ourselves it’s “ours”.

I don’t think we’ll properly bond with PL until we’re physically watching games in there, which is why sometimes this past week has felt a bit of an afterthought.

Once we do, you’ll know.

Even writing this on the following Monday, it still doesn’t feel entirely real, and I think that’s what three decades of a nomadic existence does.

We’ve basically trained ourselves to not having our own little turf of grass because we had no other choice.

Especially when we had one for many years, but it got taken from under our feet.

I can only speak for myself here, but I think others might agree with the following sentiments – I’m relieved, happy, ecstatic to be home, and I’m counting down the days/weeks/months before I see it in the flesh.

But over the past 29 years, I’ve had a lot of resentment too.

It’s not so much leaving OPL to begin with, or even the whole MK shit, although I understand when older heads say they don’t “feel” AFCW like they did WFC.

Though I felt less like being a Wimbledon fan during the mid-late 1990s than I have ever done before or since.

The best way of describing it is through an SW19 front page (remember then? Should I bring them back?) that I created on Christmas Eve in 1999.

It summed up how I felt back then, and posting it just reminded me of my thoughts from last century.

Playing the victim can grate, and I think we still do that too much with the whole Franchise thing, but there’s long been something impossible to describe missing since 1991.

I think it’s when I’ve been to away venues, past watering holes that have been around for generations, with people who have their own little community in their own community (IYSWIM).

Whereas we tried to make the Thomas Farley “ours”, then put up with the KM bars for eighteen years.

Even little things like seeing a shop name or a mural relating to the football club in that particular vicinity managed to cause a second or two or irritation.

Since 1991 we’ve had Arthur Waite and Jack Goodchild reminding us where we played. The latter is somebody who played for WFC but nobody ever remembers.

Oh, and DonEagles at Selhurst. It’s still there, by the way. At least it was when I drove past it a couple of months ago.

Yes, we have Bassett House, and Stannard House and whatever else they named the flats on OPL, but that’s been like naming a graveyard after your grandparents.

We’ve lost out on a lot of things since 1991, and it will take a while to properly realise just how much.

The need to rebuild not only the club’s roots but our relevance in the wider Wimbledon community is one of the most important next steps.

Things like the DLAG will help, and continued kudos to all involved in that, and now we’ve got a physical focal point to base it around.

I’m trying hard not to overdo the entire “we can become a normal football club again”, but when I originally wrote this on Friday, I made the following observation:

In “normal” times, we’ll be heading up to Barrow tomorrow, and those going on the coach might be hoping they get back for last orders at the New Sportsman/Batsford Arms.

And the first away day that happens, suddenly it will all seem very real…

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