The more eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that I have been rather getting on my high horse over the AFC Wimbledon points deduction issue this week. Out of a belief in solidarity, we ventured to Norbiton for their Ryman League match against Bromley on Saturday afternoon. Over the course of the last few days, Wimbledon have slumped from fourth in the table into the bottom half, though they’ve won their last six matches in a row, and still may have half a chance of making the play-offs this season.
Fate was doing its level best to make sure that I wouldn’t make it there on time. The initial plan was to meet at Kingston early, and meander down to Kingsmeadow, stopping off at some of the numerous hostelries on the way. However, a fatality at Thornton Heath that morning (I am presumably alone in thinking that they should at least give a bit more information about what has happened?) meant that I was always going to miss my connection, so I was delighted to be met at Norbiton station with a small bottle of sparkling wine at half past two. We were, I guess, having an afternoon of celebration.
I have visited Kingsmeadow several times before, for league matches against Kingstonian and as an away supporter for the FA Trophy match between St Albans and AFCW last season. The Wimbledon match last season was a cliffhanger, resolved by a magnificent own goal. However, the away supporter’s experience of a match is a vastly different to that of the home supporter, and I was interested to sample the match day experience there from the other side of the fence. The surprising thing was the number of away supporters that had made the journey from Kent. The Ryman League is the sort of league in which the average home crowd is a couple of hundred. AFC Wimbledon, with crowds between two and three thousand, are an anomaly at that level of football. Bearing this in mind, travelling crowds tend to be in single or, at best, double figures, so it was something of a surprise to get into the ground, only to find that a good three or four hundred away supporters had made the journey. The atmosphere inside the ground, of course, benefited enormously from their presence.
Bromley weren’t at Kingsmeadow just to make up the numbers, and came flying out of the traps, taking the lead after five minutes through Peter Adeniyi. Wimbledon took time to settle and looked nervous for the first quarter of an hour, but they levelled things up after eighteen minutes when a long ball found Steve Ferguson so far clear of the defence that there must have been a suspicion of offside about him. Ferguson’s finish was clinical and, curiously, there were no major protests from the visiting defenders.
Into the second half, and it was much more like one way traffic. Roscoe D’Sane pulled a fine diving save out of the Bromley goalkeeper Walker, but Wimbledon looked (much as they did when I saw them at Worthing a couple of weeks ago) brittle defensively, and a warning was fired at them from Bromley’s Gareth Williams, whose twenty-five yard shot brought the save of the match out of Andy Little. Five minutes later, Tony Boot should have given them the lead, but managed to balloon the ball over the crossbar from eight yards out.
The path of the game changed in the course of a ten minute period just after the midway point in the second half. On seventy-three minutes, Steve Ferguson was put through to give Wimbledon the lead. They had been starting to control the game more and more as time had gone on, and it was deserved. Barely five minutes later, Bromley were handed a golden opportunity to get back on level terms when a clumsy challenge gave them a penalty. Maybe it was the pressure of the occasion, but substitute Nic McDonnell’s shot was a poor one, and Little saved it comfortably. With eight minutes to play, and the ball now permanently lodged in the Bromley half, Wimbledon tied the game up once and for all. A horrid mistake by Bromley substitute Francis Duku allowed the ball to run for D’Sane, who dummied the goalkeeper and rolled it into an empty goal.
The Ryman League, for whatever reason, hasn’t caught up with the rest of the world yet in announcing how much stoppage time will be added, and the referee took full advantage of this by giving us what felt like an added ten minutes at the end. The clock was ticking past five o’clock when Nic McDonnell headed home unmarked from a corner. The league table shows that they’ve only conceded twenty-four goals in the league this season, so maybe I’m just a jinx on their defence.
The atmosphere at Kingsmeadow yesterday afternoon was one of polite defiance. There were a couple of chants of “you can shove your Ryman League up your arse”, but by and large the home crowd got behind the team. It’s the right thing to do. It would be very easy for everyone at Kingsmeadow to get distracted by the events of the last couple of weeks or so, but the important thing to remember is this: any appeal the club make is likely to be unsuccessful. Appeals usually are. AFC Wimbledon are, therefore, left to climb a mountain to make the play-offs this season, but the team will need all the support that it can get if it’s going to make up these eighteen points and see if they can salvage something from the season. Their support yesterday was terrific. They deserve better than the way that they’ve been treated by the Ryman League, but I’m fairly certain that their remaining time in it will be relatively brief.
(As ever, highlights of their last match are available online – you can see them here).