It was a match that I will always remember, May 14th, 1988 at Wembley Stadium in front of over 98,000 spectators. Wimbledon FC took the lead late in the first half with a Laurie Sanchez header from a Dennis Wise cross that beat Bruce Grobbelaer in the Liverpool goal. After an hour The Dons conceded a penalty and for the ONLY TIME in the history of the F.A.Cup, a penalty was saved, by Dave Beasant from John Aldridge and the champions of England were beaten 1-0. Bobby Gould was the manager and Kenny Dalglish for the Reds.
As I left the stadium and along Wembley Way with jubilent blue and yellow clad cheering fans, little did I imagine the upheavel to follow. Due to the 1985 Heysel Stadium disaster, blamed on Liverpool fans prior to the European Cup Final in Brussels with Juventus, English clubs were banned from European competition for the fourth year in a row and Wimbledon never got to play in the UEFA Cup Winners Cup.
Wimbledon were one of more than a dozen London professional clubs, in a small stadium with a small, if passionate fan base. They were sold, run into the ground, ground shared with Crystal Palace and then moved lock,stock and barrel 43 miles up the motorway to Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire and became the Milton Keynes Dons. The trully faithful were outraged and vowed to do something about it. In 2002 they formed AFC Wimbledon, played on a borrowed ground, Kingsmeadow, of Kingstonians FC (which they later bought) and gradually moved up the ladder, with 4 promotions in 7 seasons, and in May were winners of the Blue Square South league. and now one tier below the Football League, in The Blue Square Premier.
On Saturday I saw them play for the first time up north against 2nd in the table Altrincham FC at Moss Lane. On the train to Manchester Piccadilly station I joked with a Man City supporter. "Why do you spend so much on players when there are two decent clubs in Manchester already? :Man Utd and Man Utd Reserves?" Usually I get the fast METROLINK train to Altrincham but it is being worked on and closed until November so I took the X5 replacement bus which took twice as long, past Old Trafford and through the leafy lanes of Timperley.
Outside Moss Lane I chatted with Rupert, one of hundreds of fans who came to support The WOMBLES as they are called, on a scorching hot August afternoon. The Wombles are pointed-nosed furry creatures that live in burrows on Wimbledon Common, and were a successful kids TV series in the 1980's. AFC had their first trials for players on Wimbledon Common. ALTY are a well run club with part time players and LOTS of volunteers from security, to cleaning the stands, to all the jobs associated with the club, and many of the officials wear splendid smart blazers.
The crowd of 1,438 was almost twice the normal with about 500 visitors, mostly on the Carol Nash Terrace. With the recent demise of Setanta TV who showed Blue Square matches last season, this turned into a loss of about £70,000 for a club like Alty.Schemes such as shirt sponsorships, mobile phone hand ins and more bring in welcome funds, and Goodwin Coaches, another major sponsor, takes the team around England, and also carried the Australian cricket team this Ashes series.
It was a hard fought match, but with 5 matches in two weeks on a hot day, part-timers began to wilt, and after 82 minutes AFC Wimbledon scored the only goal of the afternoon and took the 3 points. Prolific Danny Kedwell was the scorer. Alty had brought on striker Colin Little at half time for a defender, but to no avail. If there was to be another goal it would probably be for the visitors. Creating space up front is so important, but the Wombles fought like tigers in defence. You couldn't blame the pitch, it was in superb condition, and where Manchester United play their reserve matches.
I hung around in the bar after the match, with players, officials and fans and chatted with friends Brian Flynn the Press Officer and Director Andrew Shaw who bought me a Magner's pear cider. Congratulations to Andrew who has become a 'blazer' or F.A. Councillor. "Suits you Sir !" About time we had men of vision in high places.
Back at Piccadilly I could have waited 3 hours or so and seen at least 14 sets of supporters pass through: Bolton fans returning from Hull, Wolves leaving Man City, Blackburn returning from Sunderland, Man Utd from Wigan, Peterborough from Preston, Blackpool from Watford, Stockport from Brighton, Huddersfield from Bristol, Exeter from Carlisle, Tranmere from Leeds, Swindon from Oldham, Accrington from Aldershot, Grimsby from Bury, Macclesfield from Morecambe..... With 80,000 passengers a day, it is second only to Leeds(100,000) of all provincial stations.