Blue Sq.Bet Premier
Saturday 16th October 2010
My third trip to the smoke this season is also a personal first, being my primary trip down to that London supporting the Heed Army for their Blue Sq.Bet Premier clash with AFC Wimbledon.
AFC Wimbledon unfortunately don’t play in Wimbledon, they ground share with Kingstonian in Kingston-upon-Thames, 8 miles away at Kingsmeadow Stadium, which is now known as The Cherry Red Records ‘Fans Stadium- Kingsmeadow.
The Royal Borough of Kingston-Upon-Thames is an ancient market town which lies 10 miles south-west of Charing Cross. The suburb is historically known as the place where Saxon kings were crowned and the site of the first crossing point over the River Thames.
The stadium was built in 1989 on the site of the old Norbiton Sports Ground which replaced their traditional Richmond Road ground. The first game saw Kingstonian take on Queens Park Rangers in a friendly.
The stadium and football club was purchased by the Khosla family after Kingstonian went into administration after relegation from the Conference in 2001.
AFC Wimbledon undertook to buy the leasehold of the ground from the Khoslas in 2002. The capital was raised by The Dons Trust, who launching a share issue and in turn arranged for a commercial loan to clear the remaining debt to the owners.
AFC Wimbledon kept Kingstonian on as tenants and charged them a lower rent than they had been charged by the previous proprietor, with Kingstonian retaining both gate receipts and bar takings at their home games.
The stadium had a capacity of 4,720. Safety work and improvements which were carried out before last season have brought the stadium up to the required Conference standards, thus reducing the capacity from 6,299.
The Paul Strank Stand is the main stand which has a single tier of 1,125, made up of eight rows of red seats. The stand also houses the stadium's bars and facilities and was extended during the 2008-09 season when additional seats were added and the roof extended.
Opposite the main stand is The John Smiths' Stand, which is a shallow terrace which runs pitch length with cover running parallel up to the edge of each goalmouth.
The Kingston Road End is usually the away end with partial cover at the rear of the terrace which was improved and updated in the summer of 2009.
The Athletics End is a covered terrace which was named after the Kingston Athletics Centre, which is situated behind the stand. Cover was added during the 2005-06 season and was renamed the “The Tempest End" after the Dons shirt sponsor who contributed to the stands improvements. The front gangway is trench like with the terrace partly set back, which improves the view of the pitch.
The death of the original Wimbledon FC has been one of the most contentious decisions and a debatable issue amongst the football fan community in recent years.
The relocation 56 miles north to Buckinghamshire was unparallel in English football and by moving such a long distance and cutting all ties with the area, it was only natural that Dons fans turned their backs on the new MKD club in protest.
I can only compare it if the same situation happened to my own team. It would be alike in distance to relocating across to Carlisle or up to Berwick. Apart from the sheer injustice of such a move, I personally couldn’t be bothered to travel so far for what is supposed to be a “home” game, as Cumbria or Tweedside isn’t where I’m from, so how could you possibly call it home?
The Dons fans were determined not to let the a proud 104 year history die, a history which evokes memories from Southern League FA Cup giant killers in the 1970’s to the world of the Crazy Gang, who had the mettle to upset the odds and beat the mighty Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup Final. The Dons were one of the original members of the Premiership when Sky TV took over the working mans game in 1992, constantly upsetting and become a frequent thorn in the side of the so called bigger clubs.
The new club was founded in June 2002 just days after the FA gave permission for the Milton Keynes relocation. The club is entirely owned by the supporters as a co-operative. The Dons Trust having a one fan - one vote system with each member having a voice in the club.
Once the club was formed, player trials took place on Wimbledon Common over a three day period to assemble a squad for the new club’s inaugural season. Within a few weeks the team was ready and played their first ever game, which attracted a crowd of 4,657 for a pre-season friendly against Sutton United, which they lost 4–0.
The new Dons' opening match in the Combined Counties League was played at Sandhurst Town's basic Bottom Meadow ground and attracted a crowd of 2,449. A third place finish at the end of that first campaign represented a solid start, but the following season the Dons secured a league and cup double and ever since the club haven’t looked back.
Five years after that first promotion, AFC Wimbledon are now just one step away from the Football League after achieving four further promotions through the Ryman Leagues and topped off by winning the Conference South title at the first attempt in 2008-09.
In a tight game where one goal was going to be enough to clinch victory, it was a 72nd minute header from Ismail Yakubu which finally saw off a determined Gateshead.
An even first half saw the home side create a few half chances for Kedwell, while Jolley had a good effort with an overhead kick. However it was the visitors who had the best chance and could have gone ahead, but Kris Gates fired over from six yards after good work from Nelthorpe.
The home side did eventually find a winner when a Wellard free kick fell perfectly to Yakubu, who found time and space to bullet in a header from 12 yards which earned three more precious points for the Dons.
This matchday was as long one, like one of those really long days you see in a complete series of “24” I left home at 0610 and didn’t return until midnight, thanks to engineering works on the east coast line which put an extra two hours plus on to my journey home.
I arrived at Kings Cross at 0950(must mention that I spoke to Shepherd aka Celtic Heed doing his trolley-dolly job for on the train) and took the tube straight to the Wetherspoons at Liverpool Street Station, planning to have breakfast and a pint. However on arrival I found the pub chock full of Spurs supporters and also Norwich fans who were in town to take on QPR, so I just have to settle for the pint - and no bait!
Around lunchtime I headed down to Waterloo to catch my connection train towards Hampton Court, where I was meeting Squad #162 Michael Green for a drink in New Malden. Michael had emailed me after he viewed the ‘Possibles and Probables’ column and noticed I was due to visit Kingsmeadow. He suggested meeting up for a drink and promising me “a unique pub experience”
The public house in question is called Woodies Freehouse and it was a splendid choice. The pub is covered from floor to ceiling in sporting memorabilia and serves a decent selection of ales. The bar also does a good choice of grub, the delicious chicken and leek pie more that compensated for earlier missing out on breakfast in ‘spoons.
I finally arrived at Kingsmeadow at 2.30pm and spoke to a few members of the Heed Army, as well as finally meeting Terry’s Badges, I’m a regular customers of his and he has a large badge stall behind the Main Stand
I was made very welcome by Club Secretary David Charles and the local press guys, as is normally the case, my arrival is met with much anticipation as they’re always desperate to know before kick-off Gateshead’s formation and who’ll be playing in each position.(Why don’t they just ask Ian Bogie?…Eddy)
One thing that caught my eye at the match was the club mascot. Unfortunately I’m old enough to remember the Bernard Cribbins narrated kids show The Wombles, which first hit our TV screens back in the 70’s. Although I wasn’t a fan, I have seen it, and what I do remember is that the characters were a bunch of pointy nosed happy-go-lucky types, who were at their most content picking up rubbish found on the common and making good use of the things that they’d found.
The Dons club mascot is Hayden the Womble who is nothing like those TV characters who proceeded him. Hayden tries his best to drum up the home support by carting ‘round an empty wheelie bin, then proceeds to bang the lid up and down and wait for the crowd to respond. I know it’s just a bloke in a big sweaty suit but his face just looks pig sick all the time, as if he just can’t be chewed with the hassle, at one point I felt almost sorry for the yellow faced litter picker, he’s just not in the same class as Wellington, Orinoco, Great Uncle Bulgaria and of course the greatest of them all - Superwomble.
Most fans will be in total agreement that if one club deserves a return to League football then no one could argue the case against AFC Wimbledon. The club seem to be heading in the right direction, although I feel their future would be more suited away from Kingsmeadow. The ground is good enough for this level of football, however there isn’t much scope for improvement should the club progress.
It would be a Wombiling dream to see the club return to SW19, but that isn’t likely to happen in the near future, but in the meantime they’ll happily settle for the Wimbledon name to return to the Football League, I for one really hope they can do it.
AFCW 1(Yakubu 72) GFC 0
Admission: (PP) £14