The story of AFC Wimbledon
so often in the Wimbledon story, it all came down to a penalty kick. In
the final moments of 2012/13, Jack Midson stepped up to score from 12
yards. It was a goal that not only secured victory over Fleetwood Town
but preserved the new Dons’ hard-won League Two status. The wave of
euphoria as relieved fans invaded the pitch to celebrate evoked memories
of good times past.
two years earlier, it was Danny Kedwell whose final penalty kick in the
shoot-out decided the Conference play-off final against Luton Town at
the City of Manchester Stadium. Such penalty heroics were hardly
something new for older supporters, who remembered the saves from the
spot that immortalised the names of Dickie Guy and Dave Beasant in FA
was preserving that glorious past that drove followers of the club to
start again in the summer of 2002 after a specially appointed three-man
FA commission shocked football fans everywhere by allowing the old
Wimbledon FC to relocate to a Buckinghamshire new town. Determined not
to let a proud 104-year history die, Dons supporters organised
themselves and within just six weeks AFC Wimbledon – a club the
commission had declared would be “not in the wider interests of
football” – was born.
new Dons’ opening match in the Combined Counties League attracted 2,449
fans to Sandhurst Town’s Bottom Meadow ground, where terracing was
improvised from bales of hay. After finishing third at the end of that
first campaign, AFC Wimbledon secured a league and cup double in 2004.
The next season they won the Ryman League First Division South before
taking three years to escape the Ryman League Premier Division.
the guidance of the experienced Terry Brown, the Dons won the
Conference South title in 2008, but the Conference National proved a
slightly tougher nut to crack. However, after finishing eighth in their
debut season, the Dons secured the runners-up spot in 2011, and captain
Kedwell demonstrated nerves of steel in that play-off final in
Manchester as he fired home the decisive goal.
rise of AFC Wimbledon has brought inevitable comparisons with their
illustrious predecessors’ climb from the Southern League to the old
First Division during the 1970s and 80s. That success culminated in a
victory over Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup Final, prompting BBC
commentator John Motson to deliver the immortal line, “The Crazy Gang
have beaten the Culture Club.”
days may be in the past, but the collective spirit lives on in the
large numbers of fans who give up their time to run the present club.
After 11 years of unbroken success, the fans are beginning to come to
grips with the difficulty of trying to compete in League Two with one of
the smallest playing budgets in the division.
a realist, chief executive Erik Samuelson summed up the Fleetwood game
from his own perspective. “It was a dramatic and very exciting final
day, and we all ended up on a high as a result of that. But when you
stop and think that we were only 18 minutes away from returning to the
Conference, it is important to make sure that we do learn lessons.”
the man charged with coupling such hard-headed realism with the
enthusiasm of the supporters is Neal Ardley. He made over 200
appearances for the Dons in their Premier League days, and by
refashioning the side in mid-season last year he quickly established a
reputation as one of the brightest young managers around. He will need
all his intelligence and guile as he seeks to move the club up to a new
level this time around.