Those We Have Lost: Wimbledon At Selhurst Park
The next in our “Those We Have Lost” series is a little different to the rest. Wimbledon supporter Tom Nash missed the club’s days at Plough Lane, but by the time that he was old enough he was venturing across south London to see his team play at Selhurst Park. If you would like to contribute to this series – which will be collected together as a page on the site for posterity – please drop us a line using the contact page in the links at the top.
I never got to see Wimbledon play at Plough Lane. A steadfastly anti-football dad who would take me to Donnington Park to watch obscure racing formulae took care of that. I can tell you about rainy weekends at Thruxton and Donnington Park, but I can’t tell you about Neville Southall repeatedly kicking the ball over the stands in to the road outside. Given the playing style of the Wombles, the balls were probably only good for one game at best. My first memory of Wimbledon was watching the FA Cup final at home. There was such excitement in the build up to the final, my dad begrudgingly bought my brother and I scarves and rattles, and I clearly remember having a banana milkshake with blue and yellow straws for good luck. I don’t remember too much about the game itself. Aside from the goal by Lawrie Sanchez, there are only a few moments that have stuck in the memory. Vinnie Jones putting in a shocking challenge on McMahon early on – any player would see a straight red these days, and on reflection it’s a small miracle that Jones didn’t then.. Big Dave Beasant saving Aldridge’s penalty, and of course John Motson’s iconic “And the Crazy Gang have beaten the culture club!” commentary just after the final whistle. It emerged some time after that it was a pre-meditated assault – Vinnie Jones admitting that he had picked out McMahon to target with an early reducer to take the wind out of Liverpool’s sails
With YouTube now available (Although other video-sharing websites are available) I’ve taken a look at the game with fresher, yet older eyes. By God we rode our luck! I’d forgotten all about Peter Beardsley’s disallowed goal. Even watching it now I thought that he must have been called offside- but no! Play called back for a foul on Beardsley. As his team-mate Alan Hansen would probably say “Unbelievable”. My dad popped his head in from the garden at half time, and he ended up watching when we told him that the Dons were 1-0 to the good. When the final whistle went, we went bananas – I had another milkshake to celebrate. My best friend has a Liverpudlian father, and I was straight round his house to challenge him to a game in the park.
The next day at school, we had another match up – Wimbledon vs Liverpool, which equated to the entire school of 300 or so against Peter. He did well to hoof the ball as far away as he could whenever it got anywhere near him – we were all showing off our Vinnie Jones techniques. Ironically, it was with my mate Peter that I first started going to matches in 1993/4. Wimbledon, never the best supported of teams, had given out free-tickets to local schools and we got hold of some and met in the town centre. I still remember a hot flush of embarrassment when I asked how long it took to walk to the ground. “A couple of hours Tom, we’re getting the train” was the reply. I cursed my football hating father,
Starting in 1994/5 I held a season ticket at Selhurst Park for four seasons in a row, before I was old enough to get a Saturday job. After that I had the money but not the time, although mid-week cup games and Sunday fixtures I’d get to if I could. In 1994 a Junior crazy Gang member could get a season ticket for just £55. We’d have to get off the train at either Selhurst Park or Thornton Heath. That part of Croydon isn’t the most charming of places at the best of times, and it was a case of sticking your chin to your chest and walking swiftly past the numerous Crystal Palace pubs en route. It was particularly bad when Palace were in the division below us. Even at the age of thirteen I was regularly been challenged to fights by drunk men in the street, but nothing would’ve stopped me going. Well, perhaps if any violence had actually occurred, but we were quite fleet footed when we needed to be. It was certainly a fast learning curve for two middle-class youngsters from Merton Park.
Season tickets prices remained low, and for the 1994/5 and 1995/6 season Pete and I were joined by two more friends. The journey became a big part of the day. We’d meet up in Wimbledon, have a few beers courtesy of fake IDs, and then catch the train from platform 5 up to Clapham Junction. Change to platform fifteen and get one to Selhurst or Thornton Heath. In a way it was a bonding experience for the fans. As I’ve mentioned, we were never very well supported, but you’d see regular faces on the train platform and have a sing-song on the train. It’s commonly thought that a team’s away support comprises the hard-core, devoted and passionate fans, and that’s how we felt. Every game was an away game for Wimbledon. We didn’t do too badly on the pitch either, Wimbledon finished ninth, then a disappointing fourteenth, then back up to eighth – all with our uncultured, intimidating style. It was a joke amongst Liverpool, Arsenal and above all Manchester United supporting school friends that Wimbledon was the only team where the team was more violent than the fans. As I said, I stopped regularly attending games after I had gotten myself a Saturday job, so I won’t talk about our Egil Olsen and our relegation. Suffice to say – it hurt. There was a feeling that as the game became more money-orientated Wimbledon would struggle, and it proved to be correct. I will talk about the Milton Keynes situation.
Since I had started attending matches I had never had a chance to see Wimbledon play in their home borough of Merton, but I was hopeful that one day it might happen. Fanzines sold outside the ground often mentioned rumours about a return to Plough Lane, or a possible move to the famous Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium, just down the road. Neither were going to happen. Other rumours were that Wimbledon would re-locate to Dublin?! Or Milton Keynes?!?! Surely this couldn’t happen? We’d just keep bumbling about in South London wouldn’t we? No. We wouldn’t. I read the news reports with disbelief, perhaps even denial – a refusal to believe that this could be done. Soon after it was confirmed, AFC Wimbledon rose like a beautiful phoenix. I am ashamed to say that I’ve been to very few games, but as soon as my son is old enough I’ll be dragging him along. It’s platform eight from Wimbledon now. I’m hopeful that one day he’ll be able to boast “I remember when Wimbledon played at Kingstonian” as he walks to the ground with his mates.
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