Savour. Take in. Sponge in. Absorb. Imbibe. Assimilate. Soak up. Especially in reading the following words:
AFC WIMBLEDON : CONFERENCE PLAYOFF WINNERS 2010/11
WILL BE PLAYING IN nPOWER LEAGUE TWO NEXT SEASON
Wrote the first line above last night, added something today that means much, much more.
So then, Football League 0 Non League 0 (4-3 on penalties). Who said that this footballing supporting lark is easy? It’s easy to get caught up in the emotion and the occasion, but fuck it – this is the greatest day since 14 May 1988. It won’t have surpassed it in stature, but it may have overtaken it in sheer achievement.
Right now, the media are going on the angle that it’s been five promotions in nine seasons. And from a detached point of view it’s a correct one to take – to start again from literally nothing bar open trials on Wimbledon Common is an achievement in itself. There will be times during the summer when you will have that little moment you had when you realise just how far we’ve come.
We all remember the first game at Sandhurst. But do you remember Bashley away? Or Tonbridge Angels, when some bloke called Jon Main took advantage of our goalkeeping trials? Or Coney Hall? Or any other time within the last nine years where you stood on some crumbling terrace in the middle of nowhere?
When you remember those sort of horrible games that felt like a lesson in purgatory, it makes Danny Kedwell’s penalty strike all the more poignant.
But when people were bonding in ways that one would normally find down Canal Street on a Saturday evening outside afterwards, when grown men were crying tears of joy, it meant more than just a mere footballing achievement. It meant something that I doubt anyone not involved with AFCW could fully comprehend.
We got something back that was stolen – not lost – nine years ago this month. As I type, we are six days away from THAT day in 2002, one that will never fully heal for anyone who lived it, no matter what we do from now on or how far we’ve moved on. When it comes around this Saturday, we will be watching the Champions League final with a bit more piece of mind.
I don’t know whether the word I’m thinking of is dignity, but I can’t think of a better description right now.
See, it’s times like this when we realise not only what we lost back then, but the way our noses were rubbed in it afterwards. The fact that a certain Franchise in Buckinghamshire persists in using the name “Dons” still rankles even now, though it became a bit easier to stomach at 6pm yesterday.
To lose just about every bit of media coverage was painful enough, and clueless fuckwits claiming (to this day, as it goes) that we abandoned ourÂ club (translated: if they faced a similar scenario, they would pull their trousers down, bend over, and be booking the first ticket to their relocated “home”). But we’ve faced that for nine years, so we’ve kind of got used to it.
In amongst the euphoria and bundles yesterday, there’s those two little paragraphs on page 44, points 127 and 128 of the decision by the three man commission to move the league place of Wimbledon FC to Milton Keynes. It’s taken this site close to nine years to even read it, let alone post these few words…
127. The interests of the fans are important. But the interests of most WFC fans will not necessarily be served by a decision which results in the demise of WFC.
128. Furthermore, resurrecting the Club from its ashes as, say, â€œWimbledon Townâ€ is, with respect to those supporters who would rather that happened so that they could go back to the position the Club started in 113 years ago, not in the wider interests of football.
When you get angry at reading that comment, just close your eyes and remember Danny Kedwell slotting that penalty to Mark Tyler’s right. Just remember the real, genuine jubilation when it went in. Remember TB’s dance (if you can call it that, more like a fit). Remember the emotion, the love, and of Seb Brown’s tears.
I don’t know whether Charles Koppell, Mattias Hauger, Roekke, Gjelsten, Peter Winkelmann, Reg Davis, the faceless bureaucrats on the three man commission, and Sam Hammam who was plotting Milton Keynes five years before he sold up, would ever read a site like this, or indeed have any sort of basic human functions whatsoever, but just in case they are, just two sentences that need never be written again.
The game? Oh, that. As an actual contest, it was a typical final really – quite open, considering the style of play both sides like to employ, but perhaps not a barnstormer. Maybe that was just the nerves kicking in though.
To be honest, it seemed inevitable that it would go to penalties. When both sides hit the post, and the fact we looked knackered and absolutely shitting ourselves whenever Luton came forward, you had that feeling.
I don’t think either team deserved to lose, we certainly didn’t. Despite that, I don’t believe that penalties is anything but the best way to settle these contests. OK, it does the nerves no good at all, but with the exception of Mo’s spot kick (and why did he take one if he could barely move?), they were some of the best penalties you’ll see for a long while.
Spot kicks are as much a part of the game as throw-ins, free kicks and shite refereeing decisions. I’ve yet to find a better (ie less gimmicky) solution to finishing a game on the day. Cautions? Corners? We’ll be back to tossing of coins next.
We won on penalties because we followed the motto of Mr Robert Gould on 14/5/88 : proper preparation prevents poor performance. True, there was some psychological warfare going on – was the bit of paper Seb read before the first spotkick really blank? – but we had practiced our penalties for six weeks and it showed.
Actually, I think we won because of our approach. We spent three days up in Manchester, trained at Eastlands on Friday and acclimatised to the occasion as well as we could. Apparently, Luton trained in Bedfordshire on the Friday, didn’t take up their right to train at the COMS that afternoon and as a result we got the home advantage – meaning we could set the pitch dimensions to how we wanted them.
To get through that sort of game requires every bit of mental strength, but also a bit of nous, and we showed it. Dare I suggest we did it like a Football League club would? Yesterday was pressure, and then some. And yet we handled it well, we looked confident (bar the bit in the first half when we were poncing about at the back) and we just about deserved the win.
No, it was never going to be the 6-1 against Fleetwood (and doesn’t that seem like a lifetime ago now?). Although for the sake of our blood pressure, we wish it was. This was better though, simply because of the occasion and the fact you do only get one chance to get it right.
Nobody let us down yesterday. Everyone played to their ability, we had no passengers and we were not only a team but a unit. Our only loanee player (Gwillum) looked like he’s been with us since day one. I would expect at the very least we will try and sign him up permanently, although one wonders if D&R will sell to a fellow League Two club.
There will be some changes in the close season, though not to the extent of previous campaigns. Would keep Yak and Stuart as that bit of L2 experience we need, with us finally being able to bring on the likes of Reece Jones, Ed Harris and FF. Three players who this time last year may have felt they were on the scrapheap, but are now going to become part of something quite special.
Still, that’s for the upcoming weeks ahead. Right now, whether you’re going to KM today to greet the returning heroes, or sitting back flicking through DK’s penalty again, you are entitled to feel smug and self-satisfied.
You’ve earnt it.
Plus points: AFCW are back in the Football League.
Minus points: N/A
The referee’s a…: To be fair to him, he wasn’t too bad. There’s an argument that he could have given a penalty for Luton, but then he could have given us the same too. He didn’t ruin the game though, which helps matters. Just think what you could be feeling right now if his fuckup had cost us the game…
Them: You would have to have a serious heart of stone – or support Watford – not to feel even just a tiny twinge of sympathy for them right now. Going 120 minutes without letting a goal in, hitting the posts in the dying moments of normal time, ballsing up your first penalty etc etc, the stuff that nightmares are made of.
What they do demonstrate though is that no matter how much you think you deserve “justice”, you do have to earn it. In the buildup to the game, there was a slight tinge of cockiness, a tad of a divine right syndrome. Yes, they got a 30 point deduction which they should never have got, and will be in a division next season they shouldn’t be in.
But as Clive Tyldsley said about AFCW before our match against Stevenage this/last season, success isn’t guaranteed.
Reportedly, they didn’t even go to Manchester until Friday, by which time we’d trained on the Eastlands pitch and got given the home dressing room, with the right to set the pitch to our preferred dimensions. Their team bus also arrived 90 minutes before kickoff. Little things like that may have kept them in the cesspit for another season.
Luton remind me of teams like Leeds United, Southampton and Man Citeh when they ended up in the third tier. They will get back to their natural level sooner or later, but they will have to do more cleaning of the stables beforehand. Even when one goes to Kenilworth Road, there’s a sense of decay about the whole place.
It won’t be of much comfort to any Luton fan reading this right now, but losing yesterday may be the best thing for them long term, because they now have to drastically rethink what they do from now on, especially with a reduced budget. Next season they’ll face a big spending Fleetwood, improving sides like Darlo and the usual side that pops up from nowhere. Everyone right now is saying they’ll win the division next season – it’s quite possible they may not.
They will eventually work it out and become a League club again, because they’re still far below their natural level (that of being a League One outfit, maybe Championship in a good year). But like Oxford before them, they may have to have another season or two of heartbreak to get there…
Still, it’s not really our concern any more. Fair play to the vast majority of Luton fans who seemed to take such a kick in the bollocks as well as could be expected. OK, you do get the odd wanker (metaphorically), and a lot of fans of other clubs in the FL don’t seem to like them, but you have to speak as you find.
No idea what happened when the stewards piled into their end before the full time whistle, and while there was far more of them than us, we never really felt outnumbered. Not sure about their new shirts though.
One other thing – with White Hart Lane in 1988 and now Eastlands in 2011, just how much do they hate facing us?
Blue Moon: So then, the City of Manchester Stadium. Or Eastlands if you prefer. Or Council House, if you’re from the red side of Manchester. Decent stadium, maybe a little bit soul-less (apparently quite a few Citeh fans don’t go there because of that, although no tram line yet doesn’t help). But today, it’s Mecca.
A smaller version of it would do very nicely for us, and for a big stadium it was certainly intimate enough, if that makes sense. I bet for a big game like the Manchester derby it would be a very intimidating place to go. I wasn’t too sure of the little games in the concourse though, like the one that invited you to do the Tevez dance. Presume they will have to change it to doing the Tevez sulk, where you are led by your agent wearing a Real Madrid shirt carrying a huge bag of money…
Is it better than the other big new Premiership stadium, the Emirates? No. It does seem that Citeh haven’t really done what Arsenal have done, and tried to transplant the history and character that Maine Road had (much in the same way as Plough Lane had character). Mind you, with Luton relegating them in 1983, Peter Swales and “Forward With Franny”, perhaps that’s just as well.
Your editor noted the “Maine Road Chippy” outside the ground, and quite simply it tasted like it had been cooked from when Citeh played in Moss Side. Wasn’t cheap either…
Point to ponder: How weird was it to go back home (and especially if you went around the Manchester Ring Road) and pass Stockport, then realise we are above them in the football pyramid?
Come to think of it, the journey home involved signs to Shrewsbury, Macclesfield, Oxford and Stoke (for Port Vale). That’s one of the unsung joys of getting promoted – that bit of the trip back home when you pass places you will see next season.
Be honest, who here has already looked up how to get to Plymouth? Or made a mental note over which B&B to book in Torquay? Stevenage notwithstanding, of course. The fixtures come out on the 17th June, by the way.
Truth is stranger than fiction: (1) Actually winning a game against a decent opponent. Lest we forget, our record in the regular season against them wasn’t that good. (2) Rediscovering the delights of travelling to an away game being outnumbered on the road by the opposition. There was one village idiot – and I’m not making this up – who decided to put on his window “MK Dons For Life”. I felt embarrassed for his carer, although on the flip side the insides of his windows were clean. (3) Flag with “FA-FU” on it. I hope somebody important was watching.
Anything else: The amount of “well done” messages from fans of other clubs – from Yernited and Citeh to Chelmsford and Ashford Town (Mx) – has been genuinely touching. Plenty of journos on Twitter have congratulated us too, and our name trended worldwide for a while. Christ, we even got mentioned in Sports Illustrated and the Washington Post. We even got a mention on WCHS8 in Charleston, WV until they realised how obscure it was…
Thing is, why has this been such a popular thing to happen? While I think there’s been a subsconcious belief that what happened to us on 28/5/02 was one of the biggest – if not THE biggest – wrong to have happened to a club, it may not even be down to that. After all, look at how plenty still want us to play Franchise (which we will doubtless do in the JPT next season).
I think it’s simply down to something that isn’t bogged down in cynicism. OK, we like to present ourselves as the fans doing good (to an extent it is, but it’s as much down to Erik Samuelson’s accountancy nous and a few big donations here and there…), and it can be a little bit vomit inducing at times.
But people do like to see a nice heartwarming story once in a while. Leyton Orient against Arsenal, Stevenage gubbing Newk, even Crawley’s run in the FAC (yeah, I know) tugged at the heart strings. And in an increasingly cynical world of football – OK, football was never anything else – those little human interest stories greatly appeal.
Ours especially. Maybe it’s a collective prang of guilt that not more was done or said on 28/5/02? No matter what you think of a club, relocating it (and although it’s not broadcasted as such, in a pretty obnoxious way too) was a line that got crossed. It appears that the rules have been tightened up over it, and since then no team has even dared suggest to relocate. Maybe Franchise was a test case and one that has gone badly wrong? No other club would be stupid enough to try it, surely…
Whatever the motivations, it’s nice to be popular. It was never the case as Wimbledon FC, so enjoy it before people get fed up with our halo gleaming 😉
So, was it worth it? For a chance to play at Crawley next season with higher ticket prices? Yeah, probably…
In a nutshell: Welcome back. It’s been nine years too long.