Friday, 13 May 2011

AFC Wimbledon

A Stranger in my own home. (Or the day someone stole my t-shirt).

AFC Wimbledon 6-1 Fleetwood (11:05:11)

This isn't a European Football Weekend per se, but when Kingstonian fan Jamie Cutteridge comes knocking with a match report, the doors to EFW swing wide open....

The trip from my house to Kingsmeadow is a pleasant, simple one that I have become familiar and comfortable with over the previous 18 or so months. Like a well-worn t-shirt, I know the quirks, how to get the most out of it and most importantly how to wear it without ending up showing bits of torso that no-one needs see. (Example #1 of how to over-extend a metaphor).

My visit to Kingsmeadow on Wednesday night was different, uncomfortable, like someone had put it on the wrong wash and now it was stretched in all the wrong places. Traffic was heavier, parking was trickier and Peter Crouch was in attendance. (At this stage, I wish I had taken pictures, but I forgot, so I have improvised, like when.... *T-shirt metaphor.*)

Peter did look happy to be at Kingsmeadow, but his mood was brought down to earth (which would be hilariously difficult for a man of his height, because, in case you are unaware, Peter Crouch is, ironically, tall), as he was invariably reminded by everyone in around him that his own-goal at Eastlands the previous evening was from the same spot as his winner in the same fixture a year previously. I can also confirm that Peter Crouch is, indeed, taller than most other people. (Hence he would not fit in to any of my t-shirts).

Yes this was not my normal Kingsmeadow experience, because for this evening, the other club whom call it their home, Afc Wimbledon, were hosting Fleetwood Town and the ground, the area around, surrounding roads and the collective goodwill of English football fans were packed for the biggest game in the history of AFC Wimbledon as they sat just one second-leg away from their date with destiny and, less glamorously, Luton, in a game that could see them regain their league status. First, a second leg at home to Fleetword where the Dons arrived overwhelming favourites after leaving the North-West with a 2-0 lead the previous Friday evening. The game was a sell-out and I had only gained my ticket at 7:15 from a well known Christian speaker at a nearby off-license.

Normally upon arriving at Kingsmeadow I can relax, find a space in the car-park, pop in for a quick pint and hop onto the terraces at around 2:59. Tonight however I found myself squashed between a tree and a pizza vendor (at non-league? Outrageous) as I enjoyed a pre-match conversation with the blogging kings and Dons fans Andy 'Top-Brass' Brassell and Chris 'Narrow the Angle' Lines.

Interestingly, through the combination of climbing too many trees and eating too much pizza I can no longer use many a t-shirt.

And so it was game-time, for AFC Wimbledon fans, the biggest night in their history, and the chance to be one game away from an emotional return home. For me, an evening as a stranger in my own home, unable to move but caught up in something bigger than one game itself.

As soon as we entered Kingsmeadow it was buzzing, the fans aware of how big the evening was. The kind of evening where you put on a trusty t-shirt, one you're comfortable in, but one you know will impress. (For occasions such as these I own one that says 'Puns not Guns'). Whilst there was a buzz, there were also nerves. For the first time in their history, Wimbledon have gained a position of big boys. They're no longer the plucky underdogs but coming into this second leg they were expected to deal with Fleetwood comfortably, a feeling that does not fit well with the Wombles identity.

As we weaved our way to the John Smiths stand we realised there was to be no easy view of the evening's game as every view point was packed. Whilst walking along the aforementioned terrace Kaid Mohamed cut inside to score inside 30 seconds to settle everyone's nerves and begin 45 minutes where former £2million man Sean Gregan would be made to look very silly, or as, Rodney Marsh once put it, like a pig in lipstick. Gregan and his CB partner McNulty formed one of the largest, slowest and (to give them one kind word) robust centre half partnerships ever seen, even at non-league level, and hence the problems caused by the pace of this young Wimbledon team was hardly a surprise.

Mohamed's goal all but settled the tie, putting the hosts 3 up on aggregate, but Fleetwood continued to push, in the same way that you try to squeeze into that old t-shirt that you love, but that no longer fits, despite knowing that ultimately, your efforts are in vein. Home keeper Seb Brown produced a couple of decent saves to keep the lead comfortable, and eventually Don stalwart Danny Kedwell scored to confirm the Don's trip to Manchester. By this point, the crowd had generated a glorious party atmosphere, but this led to the deterioration of any kind of view. This therefore is my recollection of Kedwell's goal.

From this point on it was the opposite of every game I have ever seen at Kingsmeadow. The home side were comfortable, knocked the ball around, the atmosphere was rocking from all 4 sides of the ground and there were goals. 6 of them for Wimbledon in fact, matched by a solitary consolation own-goal for Fleetwood. Dons manager and all-round good guy Terry Brown kept those of us stood behind the dug-out entertained with his running commentary, and was able to take off key players to give them a rest. Half-time entertainment consisted of Dons' legends John Hartson, Lawrie Sanchez, Harry Bassett and, yes, Carl Leaburn, appearing on the pitch to a grandiose reception, Kingsmeadow was now home to the feel good event of the summer.

As more goals went in, the party spirit only grew, sure Fleetwood's goal just after half-time brought them back within 4 goals but it was a passing blip. As Mohamed completed his hat-trick with the scrappiest goal I have ever seen the realisation began to sink in that Wimbledon were going to have one game to secure their return to the league. As I have no photo of the scrappy goal, here is Scrappy Doo instead.

By this point I had come to accept the fact that this was not my normal t-shirt, it didn't feel quite normal, but it was good, and I was wearing it to a party, dancing with the prettiest girl and drinking those ones you only consider at 1AM.

Kingsmeadow was rocking and my sorrow at the Ks lack of playoff adventure was not going to ruin my mood. Ex-Ks player Christian Jolley added a 5th with a smart finish after a great fun which only added confusion. Jolley was an average player as the Ks got to the Ryman Playoff final last season but was sold to Wimbledon in the summer and has been a smash hit at, well, Kingsmeadow. Seeing him score in this context remains bizarre, but a glorious bizarre, like when your t-shirt has run in the wash but you realise it looks better in pink anyway.

Mulley made it 6 and it was game over. Full time came, the players processed round the pitch as the assembled masses sung 'Que Sera Sera, Whatever will be will be, we're going to Man City' proud of their imminent trip to Eastlands. To top it up we even had a pantomime villain as we realised that Crawley manager and all round wrong 'un, Steve Evans was performing co-commentary duties on the stand above us. Sometimes a part needs a bad guy as well. Sure these people were throwing a party in my house, but they were paying the rent, the tunes were bangin' and it had that glorious party feeling where you forget what day it is, but realise you only have to crawl upstairs to bed. A party so good that a repeated confusion of metaphors is put in ultimately tiny perspective.

Because that is the joy of AFC Wimbledon, perspective. This is a club, a community that had everything taken away from them, club, ground, money, identity, the lot. But from nothing, they grasped onto what they had. Each other, 11 men and a football. Wimbledon have the ability to embody all that is good about football, to realise the power in people congregating around something bigger than themselves. It shows us that money isn't what drives the game forward, it's the people around it, that soul remains more engaging than a hockey stadium in Milton Keynes. So the club is back, the ground is still up in the air, they can't throw money around but their identity, their soul, that remains, and keeps that ability to transcend themselves to inspire every other football fan in this country. Sure some may be cynical about the Wombles, but this is a club that football needs. To remind us about why we love this ruddy game when it's being taken over by men in suits and kicking us in the Testes on a regular basis. Because everytime you support AFC Wimbledon you're affirming the fact that football is glorious, brilliantly, gorgeously glorious.

Football was the winner and I remained t-shirted. Sometimes that's all you can ask for, that and a journey home that you are ultimately familiar with whilst feeling nothing like normal.

Like this? Mr Cutteridge has written on his beloved K's both home and away this season

You can follow both Jamie and European Football Weekends on Twitter

- Feel free to comment below - 


R.D. Farley said...

Damn, I love the internet.

Webbie - FootieAndMusic said...

I know their website won an award an all, but I still think that the Guardian should adopt this style of reporting.
World beaters.

Scrap them chalkboards. Get this on instead.

1860er said...

Been to that match as well and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The last paragraph says it all, luv it. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and good luck for the play-off final!

And Crouchie can get lost, even refusing his photograph taken with me!

Anonymous said...

With the risk of getting virtual spanking but... AFC Wimbledon is not returning to the league by any means since they've never been in the league before. They are a club with no history, a club founded when a club from the same area moved away. To say that AFC Wimbledon is a continuation of Wimbledon FC is emotional nonsense. AFC Wimbledon is a relatively new club and, with all respect to those involved, one of the most overhyped clubs around Europe. They have no history, only unless one wishes to ignore facts. Those facts are that Wimbledon FC is now living on as MK Dons. They and nobody else are the true continuation of AFC Wimbledon. Football culture and emotion are OK, but ignoring facts and overhyping a club is another thing. MK Dons got a lot of sh** to swallow which they didn't deserve. Meanwhile AFC Wimbledon get overhyped while having only a decent record in non-league football as history. MK Dons shouldn't even have returned that cup ; Wimbledon won that cup back in the late eighties and that club now is named MK Dons. Like it or not, AFC Wimbledon is not and will never be a continuation of Wimbledon FC. That club never ceased to exist in the first place although they were on the brink of collapsing. Relocation saved them and now we see a very potential club ready for promotion to the Championship. The overhyping of AFC Wimbledon begins to get annoying. It's a new club, and they did very well since they started off, so kudos to that. But they are NOT a club with a history in the football league. If they would beat Luton in these playoffs, next season will be their maiden season out of non-league football. All other statements are emotions taking control over pure facts.

Anonymous said...

PS: the article is well written but makes it sound like supporting or liking AFC Wimbledon is like obligatory for a football fan. I strongly disagree with that. The hype only shows people put rational thinking aside way too easily. I for one have more sympathy for MK Dons, without disliking AFCW. But MK Dons had a lot of crap to swallow while they did nothing wrong. And get your facts straight, they've long left that hockey ground and are in a fairly nice new ground new. Hopefully in the Championship next year, silencing everyone that badmouthed them.
This by no means is saying I dislike AFC Wimbledon, kudos to what they achieved so far, but really, this is one of those hypes making little sense. Let's wish both MK Dons and AFC Wimbledon best of luck and treat both with respect. That would be the only rational way to deal with this subject. If Wimbledon promotes then deep respect for that, because they achieved a lot for a young club. If MK Dons promotes, respect for proving everyone who disliked them wrong. Good luck to both.

Anonymous said...

mkdons did nothing wrong? was that aside from taking a league place from wimbledon fc? closing down the best run community football programme in england, making many coaches redundant, kicking out hundreds of kids from its teams, changing the clubs name, shirt, badge, and pissing on 100 years of football history and tradition by gifting Milton Keynes a football league place it didnt earn. MKDongs are guilty of a LOT.

Anonymous said...

An excellent, well written, entertaining and amusing article.


Z said...

Dear Anonymous (the first one),

Your grammar is appalling. This only goes to prove my theory that Franchise sympathisers must be poorly educated if not just plain simple.

football lover said...

mkdons went in to administration, paid their non-football creditors only 30p in the pound which means they were effectively subsided by among others the tax payer (ie you and me) and the likes of the St Johns Ambulance.

They then went and got big names like Paul "the governor" Ince and Di Matteo and funded one of the biggest playing budgets in their league.

Stuart said...

With writing a load of rubbish like that,no wonder you remained Anonymous,you should be ashamed of yourself, i have supported wimbledon football for 36 years ,i saw us last gain promotion to the league via elections,i am on the verge of (hopefully) seeing the dons gain that promotion AGAIN. I was also at the F.A CUP FINAL and saw WIMBLEDON win it , not some place up the motorway in buckinghamshire.i have never supported a club from Milton K.AFC Wimbledon is the continuation of Wimbledon.All of us fans are still here,we never left..And as you like to spout on about FACTS...Wimbledon was never in financial trouble and never had to leave south london.The club in fact Traded a PROFIT after player sales etc... pity that they never presented their financial dealings to the F.A .. So Wimbledon F.C would not of died as you like to claim,It died the moment it was traded in for a football league place in buckinghamshire ! Now that is a FACT !!

P.S The K's fan that wrote the was a bloody good write up :)

Carl said...

A superb article, well written and amusing. Congratulations and thank you.

I fear that by posting my comment, I am just rising to the pathetic opinions of the first Anon. poster that intended to flame others. Oh well!

The first Anon. poster has no clue! How many times do you have to repeat the same words and phrases in your comment! Boring!

First Anon, who do you support and how would you feel if the club you had supported all your life was taken away from you? The move was facilitated because businessmen wanted and thought that the turdhole of England deserved an 'instant' football league club, rather than starting from the bottom and working their way up?

I am sure there are local non league sides in MK that would have welcomed the investment along with the chalenge of rising throug the leagues.

Having your club stolen is one of the worst experiences a sportsfan can go through, hundreds of times worse than a relegation. After a relegation, you have the chance to regroup and rebuild.

It has been a superb journey up to this point, that would not have been possible without the blood, sweat and tears of those who had the vision to start again, as well as all the people who give up their time to run the club. Not forgetting the effort that players and managers (past and present) have put in.

Whatever happens in the playoff final, we will still have OUR club and we will get OUR league place back one day soon, should Luton be the worthy winners on the day.

Womble 'til I die!

Mills said...

Those are the best graphics... genius... kind of "Modern Toss meets Peter Snow". Seriously, one of the quality nationals would use buy that kind of thing for a clever, ironic illustration of some news or sports event; you should look into it ;)

BTW, I can barely see the join in ypur Photoshop re-creation of the goal ;)

BTW 2, my "word verification" for this comment is "ractom" :O

Richard242 said...

Great read, even for someone with minor Cod Army affections.

As for the complete tosh written by Anonymous, Carls comment sums up my thoughts on The Winkleman Project.

"There are local non league sides in MK that would have welcomed the investment along with the challenge of rising through the leagues"

That's how a town earns a league football team and respect, something that MK Dons will never ever have

sebytfc said...

Superb article. As a Yeovil Town fan who went to the game you've captured perfectly the nights events and the intoxicating feeling around a trip to AFC.

Luton will be a very tough opponent but should they progress it will be a massive up yours to those cretins at the FA who initially said AFC were not in the interest of football.

Here's hoping those Franchise Scumbags don't get anywhere in their play-off ventures as well.


Unknown said...

Firstly Mr Cutteridge...cracking report! I too was at the match (with Sebytfc above and others) and can absolutely confirm what a great night it was (almost on a par with the home match v Creepy this year and Super Danny Kedwell's late winner!). But, it always is. I'm actually a season-ticket holder at Fratton Park but am finding myself enjoying going to Kingsmeadow more than I do my first team! Will have to take in a K's match next season. I've been going for about three seasons now and just love it for the reasons you mention, especially the bit about re-affirming our love for football being 'glorious, brilliantly, gorgeously brilliant' in the wake of so much negativity and the plethora of contemptible regimes and people.

Which brings me to Anonymous (first one). There's no risk of a virtual spanking, you fully deserve one. For someone with no understanding whatsoever of what football is about. And the sheer hypocrisy of banging on about history, while referencing Franchise FC, who bought their position in the league, and have none, deserves nothing but contempt.

I've never been to Peterborough, or seen Peterborough play, but tomorrow and Thursday, I and plenty of genuine fans, will be praying they turnover the scum from Buckinghamshire, before their hopefully rapid financial implosion and extinction from any league. What happened is just plain and simply wrong.

Bitter? You bet. That's what happens when a true club like Wimbledon gets under your skin. Come on you Dons!

PS - Here's a vid I took of hat-trick hero Mo, doing a spot of MC'ing after the match in the main bar...

Gerrit said...

PS: I would bet on a Wimbledon victory actually, they're on a moral high probably after the recent victories with high scores, and Mohamed is scoring very easily. It'll be a close contender, but I would guess Wimbledon at least have the moral advantage over Luton.

Gerrit said...

Not sure why my earlier post is missing (can't you post twice when you actually forget something and you post a PS ?)

Anyways, again: I only posted as Anonymous due to having missed the Name/URL option . Silly, I know!

I too dislike modern football turned into a business. However, it is an evolution I'm afraid cannot be stopped. Knowing that, I stand by my comments. To single out MK Dons as the bad guys is very odd to say the least. What they did is selling out in not much different ways than Man U or Arsenal hardly fielding any local player, selling merch in countries on the other end of the world, and trying to build fanbases in places where few would be able to locate English cities on a map. Commerce is anywhere, in that way MK Dons is not that much different than the likes of Celtic, Man Utd, Real Madrid, Chelsea, AC Milan, ... To single out MK Dons as the bad guys is over the top. People driving to random teams they never liked just to support against MK Dons, is very odd to me.

I have seen my own favourite club change badges, riots over the colours when it was threatened to change, ... In my teenage years I cared. Now I wonder why I ever cared. If they change the club's name tomorrow, or change the colours, so it be. I'm really not going waste sleep over such issues. I've seen my team relegate and promote several times, and in each of these occasions the emotions make room for rational thinking about 10 minutes after the final whistle maximum.

The one argument against the relocation I see, is the youth players having to look for a new club. That is quite wrong indeed. But sadly enough this happens all the time when clubs go bankrupt or merge.

I do compliment AFC Wimbledon for what they achieved. Especially for the way the did it, for the community efford. To build up a new club so well in such a short time is a great achievement. If they promote, I'll congratulate them and not just out of politeness but because the praise would be well deserved. This all however does not mean MK Dons deserve all the sh** they had to deal with for all those years. My bet for the final is a Wimbledon victory as they are on a moral high. Mohamed is scoring so easily too. Wouldn't be surprised if both MK and AFC promote, although MK seem to not deal very well with pressure and are more likely to mess up in the last moment.