As the most boring weekend of the football season is upon us, here’s something else from the SW19 archives.
It was 10th December 1999. WFC were still a top flight side, yet the familiar issues off the field were still truly with us.
Yes, this article is unashamedly nostalgic, but I really don’t care reposting it. When you consider how things went even further south in the following three years, it puts our return home into yet more context.
So if you’re of that era, or even if you’re not, sit back and relax. I’ve even kept the old banner from twenty-one years ago.
And I just noticed the poignancy of the first use of the word “probably”…
Funny how fate throws you at some things isn’t it?
My day started off with a quick trip to the dole centre, and then onto Wimbledon to collect something that had been expected to come through earlier than expected.
Well, I went into the shop, and they said that what I was due to have was actually not done yet, and I could come back in an hours time to collect it.
Effectively, I had an hour in Wimbledon, and for reasons best known to myself, I made probably my last ever pilgrimage to Plough Lane.
Due to the fact that I had to negotiate Queens Road (which is a long old road when you think about it), I found myself on Haydons Road.
As I drove down the hill, past that hand painted graffiti sign which said “Scotty Dons” (does anyone know who Scotty was? And why he felt the need to openly advertise himself?), I found myself having flashbacks.
The times I passed Plough Lane when I was about 5, on the way to our weekly shopping at the Arndale (Savacentre hadn’t been invented then), wondering what the hell it was I was passing.
Then, thanks to Grandstand, I knew exactly what it was I was passing.
That first ever game I should have gone to, vs Gillingham it was, 1984, typically my dad forgot it was on.
Then the first game I actually went to, vs Man Shitty. first game in the second division. Fucking warm it was, reportedly about 7,000 Celsi turned up to discuss the weather with the Shitty fans.
Some even attracted their attention by the use of bricks to the away end, rather unsubtle.
The game against Portsmouth, lost 3-0 to them on New Years Day, 1985.
The match against Leeds – again, lost 3-0. Stoke – won 1-0, ran onto the pitch (I was a North Stand junkie), thinking we were up (we weren’t, Huddersfield a week later saw to that).
All the stuff in the old first……..all the old memories come flooding back.
Presently, I parked up in the Homebase car park next door. That opened in the last season we were at Plough Lane, though they finally put barriers up in the car park (to prevent overnight parking) after the coaches left for the last time from the Sportsman.
I got out, and walked down past the boarded up houses by the Sydney Black Hall. The old familiar smell of gas is still there, personally I think it ruins the residents’ brains…..
The whole thing is sealed up, but I managed to glance a quick glance through the railings to where the main entrance was.
Then the sheer horror struck me – totally burn out, windows smashed, did people like Kenny Daglish and Ian Rush really walk through there?
I stood a little dumbfounded, but people who had visited before have told me that it’s been like that for a while.
I moved on, and stood outside the exit gates for the West Bank. Again, I couldn’t get in, but I looked through the railings.
The weird thing is, the West Bank hasn’t really changed that much, true the advertising hoardings have mainly disappeared, but the old John Lelliott (currently building a better London with Bovis nowadays) is still there, rusting away.
Maybe some eccentric would buy up the West Bank, and transport it somewhere, Preferably outside Morden Civic Centre.
Also noted was the plaque on the Sportsman (a pub I was never keen on, though old timers will torch my house for saying that) – presented by Sydney Black, 1959.
Wonder what Mr Black would have made of the current sellout at Sellout? Not much. Wonder who the cunt was who wrote “CFC” over it?
I still had a spare hour, so I went for a walk. Unlike most people, I was a South Stander – well, I was short, and terracing wasn’t a place for a young soul like me, so I managed to wangle cheap STs in the Family Stand, which sounds sad now but was a lifeline for me in them days.
I walked from Durnsford Road straight into Plough Lane itself, and the memories came flickering back like trying to receive C5 in the Norfolk Broads with only a coat hanger for an aerial (you know you’re getting something, but it’s too fuzzy to tell).
Then, it struck me : the queues for the big matches against Arsenal.
The “No Merger” sign painted behind the South Stand (again, who the fuck wrote that?). The TV gantry, constructed in 1986, which Bobby Robson had to negotiate once.
Even the barbed wire. I then proceeded past the old entrance I used to go in, then to the away entrance – did you know that boys and OAPs could get in for 70p? Well, you do now, though I suppose that must have been from the 70s at least.
Hell, you can’t get a cup of tea for that now at most soccer grounds.
I then turned the corner, and walked across the path by the side of the Wandle. A quick glance to my right shows the Total Garage, the Wimbledon City Ford place, the houses, the sub station, and of course, Wimbledon Stadium.
Apart from the first two, the rest of it looks like it’s in decay. The bushes are overgrown, the Wandle looks like it’s got a direct feed from Sellafield, and the whole thing needs leveling.
And a new 25,000 stadium, purely for football, put in its place, together with a huge car park on the turf that I was standing…..oh well, another lifetime maybe.
The whole of the away terrace is cordoned off with tin fencing, though you can walk past it. I walked for a little way, then I discovered a hole in the fence. I wasn’t going to look, but of course, I did….
The whole place was desolate, totally in ruins. the main stand a shell, rubble everywhere, the old club offices ransacked, the place where the local Fiat dealers used to store their cars was lying empty.
I stood there, no emotion, just stood there. I wanted to go in, and explore, but I couldn’t.
Maybe if one of the Batsford Boys were there to keep a lookout, I would have, but in truth I was probably glad I didn’t go inside.
It would probably have pained me to see the old girl look like that. I turned away, kept walking, and made my way out through where the entrance to the car park was. I crossed the road, found Homebase, got in my car, and headed back towards Wimbledon.
Plough Lane should be flattened ASAP now, although in truth it will remain standing until Safeway get planning permission for their new supermarket.
However, I’m glad I went, and here’s why : despite the fact that Plough Lane looks like a bomb site, despite the fact that it’s been nearly 10 years since we left it (and 2 years since it was sold), I still got a buzz about the place.
The old matches, the sights, sounds, smells etc. And as I drove away from it, probably for the last time, I still felt attached to it, despite the fact that the next time I pass it, it will probably not exist.
Here’s the rub. I spent half an hour max there, but I still felt much more attached to it than 8+ years at Shitehurst Park.
Yes, we’ve beaten Liverpool, Man U, Arsenal at SP. We’ve recorded our highest ever win in the top flight at SP.
But I don’t feel euphoric about any of those.
SP is alien to me, no matter how much SH would like to brainwash me that it is “the answer”. It isn’t, that visit proved it to me.
I defy anyone – and I mean anyone – to go there, especially those who have seen top flight football there, to visit it now, and not get any sort of buzz out of the place.
Look me in the eye and say that SP is better for us than Plough Lane and mean it. Bet you can’t.
It’s sad that the club hasn’t done even a token gesture like sell off the turf – it still can, just give the surface a cut, cut it out and sell it for £5 a lob.
Maybe even sell off bits of Plough Lane? A floodlight? My old seat in the South Stand (that’s mine BTW)?
Will the club respond positively? I won’t hold my breath, but IF we moved out of SP I bet they’d suggest a leaving ceremony for it. Hopefully only one person will turn up for that.
I have said in the past that the moment the club signs up at SP forever, it will mean that WFC is dead (be honest, SH wants SP badly).
That visit proved to me that it’s as true as it ever was, if not more so.
We effectively have new controllers at WFC, and they must be informed that a new stadium for WFC – away from SP – is the only way forward.
In the past, I have at times thought that SP may be “the answer”, usually that thought lasts for about a minute.
But from now on, I could never think it. Ever.
I want to go home, 99% of WFC fans want to go home. The fact that we’re being denied this is probably even more insulting than being told that if I didn’t want WFC to move to Dublin I wasn’t being a true fan.
The moral is, we need a new stadium. In our “own” area. And I don’t care how many people it fucks off……
Oh yeah, the thing I was collecting at Wimbledon? Well, when I got back, I received a framed photo of an aerial shot of Plough Lane.
£4.75 from the club shop at SP. Maybe somebody at the SP portacabins IS listening after all……