Book Review: This Is Our Time – The AFC Wimbledon Story by Niall Couper
My allegiance is to Fulham, it’s where I was born and they are the team I have supported since my first ‘live’ game in 1972. However, there are teams you get a soft spot for, a club whose results you look out for. That club for me is Wimbledon FC. The first time I went to Plough Lane was in January 1976 for an FA Trophy 1st Round Replay game against Sutton United. I’d never been to watch non-league football, but something that night hooked me in. Over the following years I regularly attended games at Wimbledon when Fulham were away and was fortunate enough to be there for some memorable games, including the victory against Minehead in May 1977 which went a long way to sealing the Southern League Premier Division, the first game in Division Four against Halifax Town in August 1977 and an FA Cup victory over Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest in January 1985. By the time I left London in August 1991 to live in Leeds, Wimbledon were an established First Division team, but had been forced to leave Plough Lane and were about to start life at Selhurst Park. Not being in the capital, I had to follow the disturbing rumours of The Dons move to Dublin and Milton Keynes from afar, but ultimately didn’t believe that The FA would sanction this most invidious of proposals. However, history tells us that the unfathomable decision came to pass and which subsequently led to the beginning of another chapter in the history of The Dons when AFC Wimbledon were born in 2002.
This Is Our Time – The AFC Wimbledon Story by Niall Couper recounts the incredible tale of the rise from the Combined Counties League (CCL) back to the Football League. Couper started following The Dons in 1982 and watched the club at Plough Lane and Selhurst Park. With the release of Charles Koppel’s plan to take Wimbledon to Milton Keynes in 2001, fans looked to boycott official merchandise. An alternative match-day programme, Yellow and Blue, came into existence edited by Couper, which in their inaugural season in the CCL became the ‘official’ club programme for AFC Wimbledon. In addition to this book, Couper was also the author of, The Spirit of Wimbledon – The living memories of the Dons 1922 – 2003. Both books are available from the publisher Cherry Red.
At nearly 600 pages This Is Our Time, is an incredible achievement in terms of research, editing and writing. In terms of style and structure, it is divided into 14 Chapters and for the most part dominated by interview pieces with key figures from The Dons down the years with players, managers, club officials and fans reflecting on the key moments from 2001 to the end of the 2011/12 season. The text is supplemented by a huge array of pictures, some of which are very poignant, including a shot of a disused and over-grown Plough Lane shortly before demolition. The opening chapter provides a brief history of Wimbledon up to the conclusion of the 2000/01 season and then takes on a more detailed look from the time leading up to the point The FA validates the establish of the franchise in Milton Keynes. There is plenty of coverage of the disbelief of the fans and the wider football community at the decision and the feelings of despair, anger and injustice pour out of the pages. Also in the book and very evident is the defiance and determination to put right this footballing wrong, so the stories of the Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association (WISA), the Dons Trust and Supporters Direct in the creation of AFC Wimbledon are all here. Incredibly the team was up and running for the 2002/03 season as The Dons entered the CCL after an inaugural friendly against Sutton United when a huge crowd of over 4,500 witnessed the fan’s club debut. The chapters then follow each season and progression from the CCL to the Isthmian League First Division, to the Isthmian Premier Division, to the Conference South, to the Conference Premier and the Football League. The Conference Premier Play-Off against Luton Town at the City of Manchester Stadium is not surprisingly detailed over two chapters, and the book gets its title (This Is Our Time) from the words of Danny Kedwell The Dons skipper that day, to his teammates just before he scored the decisive penalty.
You might think that this incredible nine year journey means that this book is just one long story of one big happy family where everything has gone well. However, Couper should be credited for writing a ‘warts and all’ book. The issues of the inevitable meeting with Milton Keynes in a fixture, the move back to Merton and the attempted takeover by Darragh MacAnthony are discussed. Likewise, the disciplining and sacking of Terry Eames is not avoided, neither is the difficult decisions that were taken when having to replace manager’s Nicky English and Dave Anderson. Disagreements amongst individuals, WISA and the Dons Trust are all here too. What comes through is that The Dons rise has not been without trauma, as the realities of the rapid growth, success and progress of the club hit home and the glass ceiling appears on the horizon. Those in charge accept that lessons have been learned and that mistakes have been made along the way. To some extent the model used at AFC Wimbledon is still really in its infancy and in the closing chapter, Where do you go from here?, the reality of The Dons surviving in the Football League on such a low budget and how progress can be achieved are explored.
This book is an exceptional read, not only because of the incredible story it tells, but in that it captures all the emotions experienced by those in the fight for ‘their’ club and the return to their rightful place in the League.
Nine years, it only took nine year….