- AFC Wimbledon Vs Chipstead
The increasing corporatisation of football is leaving fans out of pocket and out in the cold. But now there is an alternative. SQUALL sent its seldomly commissioned footy correspondent down to deepest south London to find footy fans fighting back.
21st August 2002
I never thought I'd see the day when I'd go and watch Wimbledon play. "No way, I'd say", if you'd asked me a few years back. Not even if they were playing Southampton, the team I've supported since I was a gullible nipper.
And yet here I was disembarking at some culture-forsaken part of south west London called Norbiton, on my way to watch AFC Wimbledon play Chipstead in the opening game of the Combined Counties League Premier Division.
But there was sound method in the apparent madness. I was on a mission, accompanied by a Manchester City supporter, a Slough Town supporter and a former Wimbledon FC fan, to support a people-led revolution... and watch AFC's first ever league match.
Sick of being emotionally connected to a sport that would sell its own grandmother just to grease the chairman's palm with another shilling? Fed up with being amongst the millions of footy fans fleeced on a regular basis in order to pay the wages of footballers and managers who receive more money in seven days than we earn in 365? Well, we were. And so were 4,200 other football fanatics packed into Kings Meadow last night. And the thousands who couldn't get into the ground.
AFC Wimbledon, you see, have revolted against the revolting, and turned their back on the corporate regime which ran the team they once gave their loyalty to. Years of financial fiddling and money manoeuvring had seen Wimbledon FC leave its home ground at Plough Lane in Wimbledon, and share Crystal Palace's ground at Selhurst Park. The final straw came when the owners of a club that had once battled it out with the big money boys in the Premiership, decided they would relocate, away from Wimbledon to Milton Keynes, for financial reasons. So the fans thought 'nuff is nuff' and decided to form their own club. Two hundred prospective players turned up on Wimbledon Common for trials. The fans designed their own logo and team strip, produced their own match programme, sold 1000 season tickets and launched themselves into the Combined Counties League Premier Division. Ultimately they want to buy back their old ground at Plough Lane.
Unrestrained triumphalism remained undimmed when AFC lost all first eight of their pre-season friendly matches, and thousands of fans kept turning up to obscure football grounds more used to just a few hundred spectators. Then in a gripping and effusively jubilant 2-1 goal feast, AFC secured their first ever win against Sandhurst earlier this month.
Meanwhile dark days loom dour over the old dons. Now dubbed Franchise FC by their old fans, Wimbledon FC have not sold a single season ticket despite being in the second highest league in the England. They still have a few more seasons to play at Crystal Palace's stadium before moving to Milton Keynes and, ominously, their first home game against Gillingham this season was attended by a paltry 600 Wimbledon FC fans. The corporate management fiddled with the fire too much, and now it's gone out.
According to Chris Phillips, who once made the announcements for Wimbledon at Selhurst Park and has now switched to being AFC's tannoy man: "What we have done is the perfect antidote to the poison shot into the veins of our national game. The money men must herein live in fear of being abandoned."
Meanwhile back at King's Meadow, the AFC Wimbledon fans are singing like they've just won the FA cup, and the team aren't even on the pitch yet. We had to queue for a half hour to get in and we were one of the lucky ones. "What's going on?" said the son of local newsagent as we were on the way in. "Is Manchester United playing or something."
The population of Norbiton must have jumped out its skin when the players came on the field and the capacity crowd erupted. Initially it felt alien singing pro-Wimbledon songs from the terraces, but swept along with the revolutionary fervour I bellowed loud and proud: 'Come on you dons'. And, it felt good.
I surged forward with the collective elation when a cracking low drive from twenty yards out by man of the match Kevin Cooper, leveled the scores one-all just before half time. And then cursed with the customary set of expletives familiar to all those who develop an irrational devotion to a football team when the opposition score the winner five minutes from time. (Much to the pleasure of all twenty Chipstead fans). But then the highest highs come after the troughs. And that's certainly true of football in Wimbledon. The old dosh dons are dead. Long live the dons.