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One of the more cunning ideas to have come about in recent years within non-league football has been the introduction of matches on the August Bank Holiday Monday. With the Premier League and Football Leagues not playing, it’s a day for bumper crowds right at the start of the season, although the effect of going to a non-league match when there is no other football on can be a little unsettling. Upon arrival at Kingsmeadow tis afternoon, we are treated to twenty minutes of Rugby League, with Bradford Bulls playing against Hull Kingston Rovers. It’s a strange fifteen minutes, sipping on a pint whilst trying to make sense of a game that I just don’t understand. “Fifth tackle? What does that mean? Why don’t they tackle, like normal rugbists do?”. In some respects, Rugby League, with its shoulder pads, summer season and teams with daft, marketing-fed nicknames, is like a warning for us. This is what our game could become if we’re not very, very careful. If I’d grown up in Yorkshire watching it, I don’t know what I’d have done.
AFC Wimbledon’s start to life in the Blue Square south has been charmed, to say the least. They completely over-ran Newport County on the opening day of the season, but have ridden their luck somewhat since then. Against Thurrock, they needed two goals in the last five minutes to secure a win against a team that seems likely to struggle this season. They were similarly laboured against Bognor Regis Town (two goals in the last three minutes to win 3-1) and required an own goal to beat Basingstoke Town last Saturday. They finally went clear at the top of the table last weekend, but this afternoon’s match isn’t going to be easy. There is some bad blood between them and today’s opposition, Bromley, who knocked them out of the Ryman play-offs two seasons ago. There is also the feeling that the tension may be rising at Kingsmeadow. People that perhaps had spent the summer anticipating a season of mid-table consolidation are starting to believe that a second successive promotion might just be possible. It doesn’t take long for expectations to rise.
Wimbledon start brightly, but it soon becomes apparent that they are going to have difficulty breaking down a stubborn Bromley defence. There is much huffing and puffing without very much end product apart from a run on goal from John Main which ends with a shot blocked by the legs of the goalkeeper Gareth Williams. For Bromley, Nic McDonell, an AFC Wimbledon player until the end of last season, shoots well over when he should have done better, and Luke Garrard is fortunate, when sliding along the turf and allowing the ball to strike his arm, not to concede a penalty. The game livens up in the couple of minutes before the end of a first half that is elongated somewhat by an ankle injury to defender Michael Haswell. Bromley’s defensive solidity is suddenly and expensively broached by defender Steve Clark, who allowed himself to be dispossessed by Elliott Godfrey inside his own penalty area. Godfrey rolls the ball back to Anthony Finn, who curls the ball across the goal and in off the far post. There’s still time for Anthony Joseph to hit the crossbar for Bromley but, at half-time, it seems more likely that Wimbledon will extend their lead in the second half than anything else.
At Kingsmeadow, however, sticking to the script doesn’t always appear to be the order of the day. Wimbledon start the second half sluggishly and goalkeeper Andy Little is forced to make an excellent save from Bromley’s increasingly impressive Warren McBean. The equalising goal comes just after the hour, and is proof of the old adage that you have to take your chances when you get them. At one end of the pitch, Williams saves brilliantly from Sam Hatton – in the blink of an eye, McBean has broken away at the other end and pulled the ball back for Danny Hockton to score. There’s still a third of the game left to play, and suddenly the home side are on the back foot, though the visitors struggle to create many clear cut chances with the score tied at 1-1. With time running out, one is starting to suspect that Wimbledon can’t pull a late, late rabbit from the hat yet again, but somehow they manage it. With two minutes left to play, Williams brings down Main inside the penalty area – he’s lucky to stay on the pitch, but Main picks himself up to send him the wrong way from the spot to give the home side the lead. A couple of minutes later, Sam Hatton cuts in from the right and pulls the ball back for Main, who rolls the ball in to guarantee five wins out of five and at least another five days at the top of the Conference South table. There is one moment of concern, with Main limping off the pitch having damaged his ankle after having scored the third goal, but he is likely to be fit again for next week’s match. With six goals in his first five matches of the season, his contribution to their cause is invaluable.
In spite of the close shave element of this particular match, there were many positives that Wimbledon supporters can take from this afternoon’s performance. Firstly, there was the attendance – 3,149 is the highest league crowd at Kingsmeadow for quite some time, and is surely an indication that interest in the club is not, as some had suggested last season, starting to wane. Secondly, there was the overall perfomance itself. Bromley created chances, but Wimbledon comfortably deserved the win. They look more polished than they have over the previous couple of seasons. Tom Davis, who, having spent the last few seasons at St Albans City and Lewes, seems to be following me around, is an outstanding addition to their midfield and put in an elegantly understated performance whilst, in John Main, they have arguably the best striker anywhere below the Conference. It is probably still too early to talk seriously of a second successive promotion, but it has been a very encouraging start indeed.
Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
My girlfriend’s Dad is a huge Hull FC (the bigger of the two RL clubs in the city). When I say huge, I mean ‘season ticket, away games, hums club song all the time, internecine rivalry with relations who support KR etc etc.’ His attitude to the increasing loonification of League has been, more or less, to put the blinkers on and act as if everything is still the same as it was in the days of This Sporting Life: my feeling is that a lot of supporters of Premier League football teams have done more or less the same thing. If you can maintain some kind of plausible nostalgia, and if the club are willing to participate in feeding that (endless references to heritage, selling vintage shirts etc etc) they seem to be able to get away with doing more or less what they like. I often think that I follow the Darlington I started watching twenty years ago rather than the modern team playing in an 85% empty all-seater stadium who have cheerleaders on the pitch before the game. Much like the contemporary Labour Party, football seems to trade on its past reputation to trap its traditional fans in a kind of false consciousness while at the same time doing exactly the opposite of what those fans want in order to appeal to a new ‘demographic’ (Bill Hicksian ‘urgh’.)
On another note, AFCW have the air about them that suggests they might get their first decent cup run – they’ve only three qualifying rounds to deal with before (and I bet the thought has already troubled Pete Winkelman’s brow, if no-one else’s) they have the chance to have a crack at MKD at Kingsmeadow…
I just want to respond to Joes last point about reaching the first round proper of the FA Cup.
If we do reach that stage of the competiton, and are lucky enough to draw a team from the professional leagues then I really hope that we get a proper team. There are 91 proper teams in the football leagues why would we want to play the only fake one?
I thought you might want to, you know, mete out justice to them. Presumably you’ll cross swords with them at some point, so why not sooner rather than later?
SO how was the bus from Raynes Park ?
I think you are being a little uncharitable…..Thurrock scored in the 15th minute and played for the draw, under intense AFCW pressure. Similarly, Basingstoke’s own goal was the result of a first half dissection and was one of at least 15 attempts on goal in just the first half.. This season we just seem to keep plugging away in the belief the result will come. I’m not sure why you think the pressure is building – most fans just seem to be sitting back and enjoying the fantastic football we are playing this season !
Joe, how would it be justice? Given their professional status, we would most likely lose and our silly media would think that that reinforces the move and their credibility. The only justice would be for them to relinquish their League place, let the highest-placed Conference side have it (or us!) and start at the bottom of the Pyramid like we were forced to do. I hope we never play them in any competition. I hope they go bust. They lost another £2.5m last year and the profits of the property development are drying up, especially now that M&S have pulled out.