In the end, it came about in the most perfunctory way possible. Cambridge City, part-time players from the Premier Division of the Southern Football League, couldn’t live with their full-time opposition and the resounding 6-1 win for the home side was proof, as if it were needed, that for all that we like to talk about the romance of football, the pitch is no place for sentiment and money talks louder than anything else. This was in sharp contrast to the events of Monday evening at Kingsmeadow, of course. York City should have been home and dry by half-time in their FA Cup First Round replay against Wimbledon, but a red card and an equalising goal from out of nowhere changed the complexion of the match towards the end of the first half, although a last minute York equaliser was enough to send this match into thirty minutes of extra time with the home side eventually coming through by the odd goal in seven.
Most of those that didn’t want Wimbledon to play their arch nemesis at this time probably knew that the game was up by the time that the full time whistle blew on Monday night, and now supporters of the club have to reach into their consciences and try to make a decision over whether to make the trip north to Buckinghamshire, to survey the estate of the company that took their league place, the weekend after next. Over the next two and a half weeks or so, familiar arguments will raise their heads as the lords of the Buckinghamshire manor seek to astroturf this particular “occasion.” It seems inconceivable that those behind this particular land grab will not seek to maximise the PR opportunities that this period in the media spotlight will afford them, so it’s probably appropriate to take a few moments to dispel a few of the myths that will be thrown around over the next eleven or twelve days or so:
- This isn’t the “tie” that all Wimbledon supporters wanted, by any stretch of the imagination.
- If there are swathes of empty seats in the away end for this match, this will not be because Wimbledon have “no fans” or because they “don’t care enough” – a more likely explanation will be that a large number of Wimbledon supporters will not travel there under any circumstances.
- The fact that Wimbledon won their place in the Football League back does not mitigate the events of ten years ago. Their opposition next weekend remain the nearest thing that English football has to an absolute pariah club amongst the supporters of many other clubs to this day, and deservedly so.
- The argument that “Wimbledon didn’t deserve a club in 2002” is not only morally repugnant, but also factually incorrect.
- And finally (because this specious and tedious argument always comes up on this sort of occasion), Wimbledon didn’t kill Kingstonian, they had nothing to do with the financial ruin in which that club found itself and they didn’t “steal their ground.”
Their opponents have already shown a degree of disrespect in the comments of their manager Karl Robinson immediately after the draw was made:
I was made up. I did a dance around the living room in excitement. I’d love it to happen. It’s one I want. It needs to happen.
And therein, perhaps, lays the rub when it comes to this fixture. This isn’t “just another match” for the supporters of Wimbledon. It isn’t just a match for their supporters to enjoy a couple of weeks of “banter” over and treat as the mother of all local derbies. Some supporters will travel – all clubs have a number who will support their team no matter what – but it seems unlikely that there will be many who don’t feel a little dirty at entering the stadium built on the theft of their clubs Football League place (there is an excellent analysis of the fundamental dilemma that Wimbledon supporters face today here) and the risk of disorder is sufficiently high for it to be likely that the match will have go ahead in the face of onerous policing conditions. Everything about this game shouts UGLINESS as loudly as it can be shouted.
The positives that can be taken from this match taking place have the hint of a pyrrhic victory about them. It seems likely that the prevailing consensus amongst football supporters seems to remain that what happened to the supporters of this club was an abomination, although comments such as this one from the Brighton & Hove Albion – a club who, of course, lost their ground and, for a couple of years, a place in their home town as the result of the carpet-bagging of others – forum North Stand Chat demonstrates that agreement on the subject isn’t necessarily universal. Perhaps there is a boil there which needs to be lanced. Perhaps Wimbledon will do very nicely financially from those that opt not to go and give the money that they would have spent on tickets to the club instead. More importantly than anything else, though, no amount of astroturfing from the PR men from Buckinghamshire can take away what Wimbledon supporters have, and when this FA Cup tie is over and done with, that fundamental truth will remain.
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