In August of last year, my first match of the season took me to Kidderminster to see St Albans play their first match of the season, and a four hour journey up there with just half a bottle of gin and some tonic water for company left me in such a such a state of disarray that I couldn’t remember anything about it the next day. Twelve months on, and have I learnt anything from the experience? Well… no. My first proper match of the season (really, I’m not counting Worthing vs Brighton for the purposes of this – they weren’t even trying), and I ended up in a condition that left me with a serious bout of sunstroke, a horrible head cold, and a very disconcerting hangover.
The first thing you notice about the travelling support of FC United is that, well, they don’t look like the supporters of other clubs. I don’t mean this in a derogatory way in the slightest. They have, in a very pure sense, tapped into a source of support that has been shoved out of the way by the gentrification of football. and the game is all the richer for them being back and involved in it again. One of their supporters coaches had turned up at Kinsgmeadow on the Friday night, whereupon their supporters had drunk themselves almost blind and all fallen asleep on the coach in the car park at the ground. Staff arriving there on Saturday morning had been surprised to find them banging on the door of the bar at half-past ten, asking politely that they open it.
Arriving at Kingsmeadow just before 2.30, the atmosphere was excellent, with not a hint of trouble outside the ground, even though the scenes in the bar were somewhat chaotic. Kick-off was eventually put back until twenty past three (ostensibly because of congestion at the turnstiles, but more likely to allow everyone outside the ground a final pint before the start of the match – please double the bar staff next time!). Inside the ground, it was noisy but good natured – on the pitch, Wimbledon were the stronger side once they found their bearings, and would have won by considerably more than the 2-0 scoreline that they did had it not been for an outstanding performance by the United goalkeeper Sam Ashton, who saved Samuel Hatton’s penalty and pulled off a string of fine saves before two Wimbledon goals in two minutes just before half-time, from Daniel Webb and Anthony Finn, sewed things up for the Wombles.
This match report kind of ends here, because we didn’t make it back from the bar for the second half. The weather was too warm, and the beer was too cold. We sat around outside the ground until about 7.00, when I tottered off back towards Brighton. I don’t feel particularly guilty about missing the second half, for the record. Last Saturday was about more than just a football match – it was a celebration of two clubs that have found another way of doing things. Wimbledon, on the strength of this performance, look well-placed to win the Ryman League this season, whilst United are still plenty strong enough to win what looks to be, on paper at least, a pretty mediocre Unibond League Division One North. All that, though, is for another day. August is the month of the football calendar when fans can, for once, be cautiously optimistic about the coming season. Witnessing the camaraderie and bonhomie on display at Kingsmeadow on Saturday was the perfect warm up for the months ahead.