When Dave Went Up is the fairy-tale story of Wimbledon’s famous 1988 FA Cup win over Liverpool, and how a small team overcame the giants of English football.

More than just a recollection of the final itself, the book takes us through the tournament round by round, from the third round to the semi-final, and everything in between.

We all know that Lawrie Sanchez got the winning goal, but did you know he was in the wrong place for the free kick? The story shows what great team spirit and sheer hard work can achieve. With tales from the key players in the side, the staff, the fans, plus some of the opposition, this is the definitive account of how Wimbledon FC won the FA Cup.

Along the way you’ll discover how the Dons fell in love with the competition, with background info on their run in the 1974/75 season, when Dickie Guy become a household name overnight after saving a penalty against Leeds United.

If you don’t know about the Dons’ connection with the famous old cup, you certainly will after reading this fascinating book.

(Publisher:  Pitch Publishing Ltd. May 2023. Hardcover: 320 pages)


Buy the book here: When Dave Went Up

Book Review – Fit and Proper People: The Lies and Fall of OWNAFC by Martin Calladine and James Cave

With the advent of the Premier League in England from the 1992/93 season, football was changed forever. This didn’t just relate to events on the pitch, as overtime players and coaches from abroad came in and brought with them better dietary habits, different training methods and tactical knowhow. Off the pitch with the league awash with Sky’s TV revenue and sponsors willing to be associated with this ‘Whole New Ball Game’, business people from across the globe wanted a piece of the action. Suddenly it wasn’t enough to be a millionaire owner to compete, with the result that now Premier League clubs are the possession of billionaires. As a result many fans more than ever feel distant and without influence from the club they support.

And it is against this background that there have been attempts down the years to create a different type of ownership – one where fans own the club, make the decisions, and do the hiring and firing. The first real scheme of this type to hit the headlines saw MyFootballClub (MYFC) launch in 2007 promising on-line fans the chance to “own the club, pick the team”. By 2008 with sufficient interest and financial support MYFC bought a 75% controlling interest in Ebbsfleet United. It was to last until 2013, as with the club in financial trouble the remaining 1,300 MCF members (down from a peak of 32,000) voted in favour of handing two thirds of their shares to the Fleet Trust, and the other third to one of the club’s major shareholders. KEH Sports Ltd, a group of Kuwaiti investors.

In an article in The Guardian in 2017, Will Brook, who was the man behind MYFC, reflected that, “I never want to call it a failure. It had a bit of everything really – positive and negative. But I suppose the fact that it’s not still going means it didn’t achieve its ultimate aim. In some ways I think we might have been ten years too early. Had this been happening now, as a fresh idea, I think we’d have a lot more members simply because of the way social media works.”

Picking up on Brook’s point about MYFC not working partly because of social media limitations at the time, OWNAFC was an app launched in 2019 aimed at capturing on-line fans offering once again the chance to own and run a football club. Hitting the headlines after a BBC Sport on-line article on 28 February 2019, OWNAFC Stuart Harvey acknowledged the MYFC scheme mirroring Brook’s view of two years earlier, “the difference is theirs (MYFC) was 10 years too early. It was before iPhones became popular, before apps, and they were not using the technology we have today.”

Excited by this prospect users paid £99 or a later point £49, with founder Harvey claiming 3,500 sign-ups. However, just 18 days after the launch story by the BBC, the same broadcaster put out an on-line story that many who had invested were asking for refunds. How could such a turnaround occur in such a short space of time?

Martin Calladine and James Cave take on investigating how this happened in their book, Fit and Proper People: The Lies and Fall of OWNAFC. The research carried out by the pair is highly impressive, following the saga from launch to the collapse of OWNAFC, with the failed takeover of Hednesford Town along the way. The pair are single-mindedly tenacious in their attempts to discover the truth about founder Harvey and a scheme which ultimately left many of those that invested out of pocket. The story is more shocking given that both Calladine and Cave and their respective families suffered intimidation in looking to establish the realities of the claims of OWNAFC.

However, the authors also take on a wider remit within the book as they highlight the flimsiness of the Football ‘fit and proper person test’ and look at examples in recent years at clubs such as Bury FC, Chesterfield and Wigan Athletic who have suffered owner mismanagement. As a balance to the sorry tales of mishandling also included is a look at alternative models such as AFC Wimbledon, a supporter-owned club, who have shown there is an alternative in achieving success whilst ensuring engagement with both fans and the local community.

The book is a must read for anyone interested in the running of our National Game, and in truth does not paint a pretty picture of the majority who run it or indeed those who own our Clubs. Calladine and Cave must be commended for their work in the face of intimidation to tell the story of OWNAFC and as they conclude, if at a point down the line there is another way for fans to own a club, that it is done in the right way. Only time will tell.

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. January 2022. Paperback: 352 pages)


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2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 24 (Part 2) – Saturday 22 February 2020: AFC Wimbledon v Blackpool

As mentioned in Part 1 of this Match Day adventure, we left Griffin Park with about fifteen minutes to go. I’ve never been a fan of leaving games early, but time was of the essence. So with the Brentford game still in progress we walked to the car through relatively empty streets, along with a few others who had also left early, possibly heading to the local pubs to avoid the queues. Fortunately, we didn’t miss any goals, however with Brentford having levelled with a penalty as we left, they had the momentum and it wouldn’t have been a surprise if they had come up with a late winner.

Kingsmeadow – The Cherry Red Records Stadium

So onward to Kingsmeadow for AFC Wimbledon versus Blackpool game in the Sky Bet League One. It was a fairly uneventful journey other than the masses of people in Richmond Park exercising and taking their dogs for a walk which immediately brought to mind the YouTube sensation “BENTON! BENTON!” especially when we saw a few herds of deer scattered around the park. Being uneventful traffic wise gave us the opportunity to chat about the two most important things in life, football, and music. We’d both started watching ‘the beautiful game’ around the same time and in a similar part of London, although my early days were primarily Stamford Bridge, whilst Paul’s were just down the road at Craven Cottage. It also turns out we also have a very similar music taste too; a bit of rock, a bit of indie, a bit of prog, plus there was a similarity to our gig history too, so a very enjoyable jaunt over to Kingston upon Thames, home of AFC Wimbledon, Kingstonian and Chelsea Ladies up until 2017. We parked up just in front of a car we saw park on an off road area very close to the ground, looking back on it, all a little too easy given how close it was to kick-off. More of that later.

AFC Wimbledon are another club founded by disgruntled supporters following the relocation of Wimbledon FC 60 miles up the road to Milton Keynes. My last house in London was in Wimbledon Park, so Plough Lane was about 20 minute walk from where I lived and I attended a few games as they rose through the top four tiers, primarily following Grimsby Town with my friend Nigel. I was at the “Harry the Haddock” FA Cup tie in 1988 and also a game in the “old” Second Division where around 16 Grimsby Town supporters turned up and me and Nige had a chat with Nigel Hatch the Grimsby ‘keeper whilst the ball was up the other end. The Wimbledon team that day was managed by Harry Bassett and included players who had seen them promoted the previous season and would see them promoted to the First Division in time, including Dave Beasant (who would move to Chelsea in the future), Alan Cork, Wally Downes, John Fashanu, Glynn Hodges, Ian Holloway, Lawrie Sanchez, Andy Thorn, Nigel Winterburn and a future Chelsea favourite, Dennis Wise. It was shortly before my old school football team member Dave Gilbert, joined the Mariners in 1989 where he spent seven seasons, playing 259 games, and scoring 41 goals before following manager Alan Buckley to West Brom.

Matchday programme and ticket

Wimbledon were formed in 1889 as an Old Boys Team from Old Central School on Wimbledon Common, Wimbledon Old Centrals and moved to Plough Lane in 1912.  They plied their trade in the Amateur Leagues lifting the FA Amateur Cup in the 1962/63 season, the season I was born. At the same time they dominated the Isthmian League winning it three years in succession before turning professional and joining the Southern League. An extraordinary FA Cup run in the 1974/75 season which saw them make their way through to an away game at Turf Moor against Burnley, a First Division side. They’d entered at the First Qualifying Round and had seen off Brackley Town, Maidenhead United, Wokingham Town, Guildford & Dorking United, Bath City and Kettering Town to book a date at Turf Moor in the Third Round. They became the first non-league team that century that had beaten a team from the top-flight courtesy of a single goal from Mick Mahon. Their next game was against the First Division Champions Leeds United and incredibly they drew 0-0 at Elland Road, with Dickie Guy saving a Peter Lorimer penalty. The replay was switched to Selhurst Park, home of Crystal Palace with the Dons narrowly losing 1-0 in front of 40,000 fans through an own goal. They won the Southern League twice out of the following three seasons and gained election to the Football League, replacing Workington in the 1977/78 season. I saw Lincoln beat Wimbledon 5-1 in 1981 at Sincil Bank, but this was before their dramatic progress through the divisions which saw them rise to the First Division with three promotions in four seasons. Their crowning glory was a 1-0 FA Cup Final victory over Liverpool in 1988, when as BBC commentator John Motson famously put it, “the Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club”. With the ruling on all-seater stadium for all top-flight clubs in England, the Club were forced into moving to away from Plough Lane to Selhurst Park. Following relegation from the Premier League there were attempts to relocate the Club and it was a dark day for football when a move to Milton Keynes was sanctioned by the football authorities. In 2002/03 AFC Wimbledon started life in the Combined Counties League Premier Division. Five promotions in nine years, saw the Dons once again grace the Football League and plan to return to Plough Lane on the site of the Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium for the 2020/21 season. 2015/16 also saw another promotion for the Club as they won the League Two Play-Off Final and have been in League One since.

Their current home, Kingsmeadow is a compact ground, with a capacity of less than 5,000 and today you can see why they need to move, with cramped conditions in the Rygas Stand where we found ourselves standing.

Break in play.

The Dons started brightly and forced an early save from Blackpool ‘keeper Chris Maxwell from Anthony Hartigan’s shot. They also had the first corner of the match with Kwesi Appiah’s header just wide. The positive opening fifteen minutes also included a good chance for Appiah, as from a Luke O’Neil cross the resultant header was just over the bar. Blackpool though responded with former Aston Villa striker Nathan Delfouneso through on goal, only for Joe Day to make an excellent save. The Tangerines in fact went on to dominate the rest of the half with Delfouneso and Matty Virtue the main threats. However, with defences on top it was not s surprise that the teams went in at the break level at 0-0.

Blackpool started the second-half on the front foot, with Day the busier of the ‘keepers, having to tip an early corner over the bar. However, he was a spectator just before the hour when from a cross, Taylor Moore just ten yards out, managed to blaze over the bar. The Dons were struggling to get any foot in the game and midway through the second period, the visitors had another great chance as Delfouneso was clean through, but he delayed his shot and the ball was eventually scrambled clear by Mads Sorensen. Wimbledon though ended the match on top, and in the final fifteen minutes substitute Adam Roscrow, forced Maxwell into a decent save. Then in the final minutes fellow sub Daniel McLoughlin, popped up at the back post but his shot was superbly saved by Maxwell. The home side had started and ended well, with the visitors dominating during the middle part of the game and in the end a draw was probably just about the right result.

Au revoir Kingsmeadow

As you may remember from my visit to Blackpool for the Lincoln City game, the traffic was a nightmare and I missed a large part of the opening half. Well the curse of cars and Blackpool struck again. At the whistle we made our way out of the ground to return to the car, sadly what we didn’t notice when we had initially parked up, was the ‘No Parking’ sign and therefore came back to a parking-ticket plonked on the windscreen. However, we had made it to two games in a day and even this could not dampen what had been a cracking Saturday in the capital. Whilst Paul returned to the North on the train that evening, Sunday was to provide another Match Day opportunity for me!


Saturday 22 February 2020

Sky Bet League One

AFC Wimbledon 0 Blackpool 0

Venue: Kingsmeadow

Attendance: 4,593

AFC Wimbledon: Day, O’Neill, Thomas (Rod McDonald 88’), Wagstaff, Hartigan, Appiah (Roscrow 66’), Rudoni, Sorensen, Reilly (McLoughlin 77’), Osew, Pigott.

Unused Substitutes: Trott, Pinnock, Lammy, Guinness-Walker

Blackpool: Maxwell, Feeney, Turton, Moore, Husband, Calum Macdonald, Virtue, Ronan, Dewsbury-Hall, Delfouneso, Madine (Nuttall, 81’).

Unused Substitutes: Sims, Howe, Bola, Edwards, Spearing, Ward


Steve Blighton

Book Review: Written In The Stars by Richard Stokoe

Every now and again a book comes along which wonderfully describes the idiosyncrasies and experiences associated with being a football fan – Written In The Stars by Richard Stokoe fits into that category.

From the moment the reader learns that the five-year old Stokoe became a Manchester United fan based on the fact he possessed a Subbuteo team featuring the colours of the Old Trafford club, you know this is going to be one enjoyable yet eccentric journey.

Stokoe uses a diary style format covering the period from 1975 to 2012 to look at his attachment to the game of football in general and in particular his relationship with three clubs – Manchester United, Chelsea and Wimbledon FC/AFC Wimbledon.

Whilst the book does follow a chronological timeline, Stokoe also on occasions drifts back and forwards in time in a cinematic manner. In essence this device is used to provide a sequence of events and outcomes that meets the authors desire to find a ‘happy ending’ to key games, rather than reality.

Indeed the filmic theme is extended to the clubs’ in Stokoe’s life, with Chelsea, cast as “the faithful, enigmatic wife”, Manchester United, “the jilted ex-lover” and Wimbledon FC/AFC Wimbledon, “the quirky down-trodden mistress”. This is translated in the book by Stokoe’s narrative on his early following of United, which is broken by a visit to Stamford Bridge in September 1984 and thereby starting his love affair with Chelsea that to this day survives, despite his brief flirtations with The Dons.

What is interesting is that Stokoe is open from the start in stating that despite not being a fan who attends games week-in, week-out at Stamford Bridge, he is one of many, “who are still adversely affected by the outcome of a game that they’ve chosen to avoid.” It is a fair point, since today satellite television, clubs’ own channels and the written and social media allow fans to watch and consume everything about their team without ever setting foot in the ground. This globalisation of the sport through modern technology has changed the fan experience and Stokoe successfully makes a case in this book that this new way to connect is still an emotionally engaging and demanding experience.

Overall, the book effectively captures so much of what it is to be football fan – positive and negative – whether this be match-day habits and superstitions, the feeling of dread at watching our team or the inevitability and fatalistic outcomes brought on by certain games and opponents. This idea of fate is reinforced through the title of the book, taken from Gary Neville’s commentary during the Second-leg of Chelsea’s Champions League Semi-final against Barcelona in 2012, and the destiny that sometimes besets our football experience as fans.

For all that is presented and maybe perceived as irrational thinking, behaviour or reaction by Stokoe the fan, the book itself is wonderfully and logically constructed, with links to relevant events and circumstances providing a strong connection throughout, with a good dose of humour thrown in for good measure.

Undoubtedly this book will appeal to Chelsea fans, but in reality has as a wider attraction for football fans in general, and in addition those who don’t follow or understand the game, yet have to endure the ups and downs of friends and family who do.


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2010/11: Blue Square Bet Premier Division Promotion Final

In another time and another place this was a game between FA Cup Winners and League Cup Winners, a fixture played between two teams from the top division of the professional game in England. Last season it was a match that marked their respective debuts in the Blue Square Conference Premier Division and on Saturday 21 May 2011 they faced each other in the biggest game in Non-League football – the Blue Square Bet Premier Promotion Final. The winners securing the prize of promotion to the npower League Two and back into the fold of the English games top 92 clubs. If you haven’t guessed by now, the teams in question are AFC Wimbledon and Luton Town.

In 1988, the month of April was an interesting time for Wimbledon FC and Luton Town. The teams met in the FA Cup Semi-Final at White Hart Lane on the 9th of that month. Wimbledon emerged victors that day with a 2-1 win on their way to a completely unexpected FA Cup Final victory over Liverpool. Luton though bounced back and just 15 days later carried out their own Cup shock by stunning Arsenal 3-2 at Wembley with two goals in the last eight minutes to take the League Cup. The 23 years since these sides won major domestic honours have seen countless twists and turns, many of which have been cruel, whilst others have been inspirational.

For Wimbledon, the FA Cup win was the pinnacle of an incredible journey that only saw them come into the Football League in the 1977/78 season. Following the Cup win, the Dons finished in 12th position in 1988/89 in the First Division, and had very respectable finishes in 1989/90 and 1990/91 of 8th and 7th respectively. However, storm clouds were gathering behind the scenes with regard to their Plough Lane ground and in order to meet the requirements relating to all seater stadia moved to Selhurst Park to ground share with Crystal Palace from the 1991/92 season. This proved to be an unsettling period for the Dons with three managers (Ray Harford, Peter Withe and Joe Kinnear) seeing out that last First Division season prior to the formation of the FA Premier League. Wimbledon continued to defy their critics with year on year respectable League finishes and in 1996/97, the Dons reached both the FA and League Cup Semi-Finals as well as finishing 8th. Joe Kinnear was an inspirational manager during his period as manager in the nineties and when he stepped down due to ill health prior to the 1999/2000 season, the consequences for the club were to prove terminal. Controversial Norwegian coaching guru Egil Olsen was appointed, but his tenure didn’t last the season and it was left to Terry Burton to oversee an unfortunate last day relegation from the Premier League.

This relegation was part of the beginning of one of the most distasteful acts that has taken place in English football. With the Dons unable to regain their Premier League status at the start of the new millennium, the club decided in August 2001 that it was to move to Milton Keynes. There was outrage amongst fans but it was to no avail and the relocation was sanctioned in May 2002. Thankfully the Dons faithful rallied and AFC Wimbledon were founded and the club today as it was then, are wholly owned by the supporters via the one-fan, one vote Dons Trust. The 2002/03 season saw AFC Wimbledon ground share with Kingstonian FC under the leadership of ex-Dons player Terry Eames and participated in the Combined Counties League. Prior to 2003/04 the Dons bought the ground and went onto secure promotion to the Isthmian League Divison One under caretaker manager Nicky English after Eames was sacked in February 2004 on disciplinary grounds. A second straight promotion followed in 2004/05 under new manager Dave Anderson and AFC Wimbledon found themselves on the up once more and in the Isthmian Premier. However, Anderson couldn’t make the next breakthrough and current boss Terry Brown came to the club for the 2007/08 season and immediately led the Dons into the Conference South. Brown then managed another promotion into the Conference Premier after securing the title in 2008/09 for the Dons. And so after one season acclimatising to life in the top flight of Non-League football, the Dons have battled their way to the Play-Off Final after a convincing 8-1 aggregate win over Fleetwood Town.

So from that heady day in April 1988 when Steve Foster held aloft the League Cup at Wembley, how have the Hatters found themselves at the City of Manchester Stadium battling to regain their League status? A year after the 1988 triumph Luton were back at Wembley to defend the League Cup only to lose 3-1 to Nottingham Forest. Sadly their League form was in decline and in the following seasons they only just clung onto their First Division status, finishing 16th (1988/89), 17th (1989/90) and 18th (1990/91). Finally in 1991/92 their luck ran out and Luton along with Notts County and West Ham were relegated, so missing out on the inaugural Premier League season. Things didn’t fare any better in 1992/93 and 1993/94 as the Hatters only avoided relegation in both seasons by two points. Whilst in 1994/95 the Hatters finished a comparatively comfortable 16th place, David Pleat left the club after his second stint as manager ended with Lennie Lawrence taking over. However, a change of leadership didn’t help the Hatters as they were relegated to the third tier of English football. In 1996-97 Luton did manage to finish third to make the Play-offs, but lost to Crewe in the Semi-Final games 4-3 on aggregate. There followed three seasons of mid to lower league finishes, before relegation to the bottom tier of the professional game in 2000/01. Joe Kinnear came to the club and achieved promotion as runners-up with the club the following season. There looked to be stability about the team when in 2002/03 Kinnear took the Hatters to a competitive 9th place finish. However, in May 2003 John Gurney sacked Kinnear and in came Mike Newell. With a summer of confusion and the club in administration, Newell’s first season saw a 10th place finish and then lead the Hatters to an impressive title winning season in 2004/05. 2005/06 saw a respectable if unspectacular 10th finish in the Championship under Mike Newell and did nothing to hint at what would happen to the Bedfordshire club in the next 6 years.

Against a backdrop of more financial uncertainty, the 2006/07 season in the Championship was not a memorable one for the team from Kenilworth Road, with the club being relegated with 40 points. Worse was to follow in 2007/08 as the season saw the club in administration and with a 10 point deduction, drop further down the League ladder, as they finished bottom of League One. Luton fans must have wondered if things could get any worse, but they did as the club started the 2008/09 in League Two with a devastating deduction of 30 points. Mick Harford bravely saw his team accumulate 56 points, enough to have seen the Hatters finish in 15th position, but for the deduction. With 26 points Luton were placed bottom. Despite their inevitable relegation, Luton picked up the Football League Trophy in front of over 55,000 fans at Wembley, overcoming Scunthorpe United 3-2. However, this couldn’t take the edge off the club having to drop out of the Football League. Under Richard Money, 2009/10 saw Luton finish second in their first season in the Conference Premier, but didn’t make it to the Play-off Final after losing both legs of the Semi-Final Play-offs 1-0 to York City. Money looked set to take Luton into the Play-offs once more this season, but left the club in March being replaced by Gary Brabin. Brabin steered the Hatters to finishing third in the Conference Premier table, 6 points behind the Dons, and through 5-1 on aggregate against Wrexham in the Semi-Final Play-offs.

For my part, my journey to this game goes back to 1976 when as a Fulham fan, I was taken to Plough Lane to see Wimbledon beat Sutton United 3-1 a FA Trophy First Round replay. Whilst I remained loyal to the Whites from Craven Cottage, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Dons and that game sparked my love of Non-League football. If Fulham were away, I would head for Wimbledon and was there the day they played Halifax Town in their first game in Division Four in August 1977. I’ll lay my cards on the table and say without hesitation that AFC Wimbledon are the continuation of the original club. MK Dons should never have been sanctioned and my wish is to see them out of the League structure – they have no place in the Football League.

Therefore I travel to this game as nervous as any fan. As I set off for the match from Leeds station I spot a Luton Town shirt and think, is that an omen? Are Luton going to win 1-0? Quickly I see an AFC Wimbledon shirt which makes it 1-1. In search of a winner, I search the platforms but don’t see any further shirts as I board the train. The journey is spent looking out the window, checking the time and suddenly we are stopping at Huddersfield. Surely that’s a good omen for the Dons, as that is where Wimbledon got promoted to the First Division after a 1-0 win at the old Leeds Road ground back in May 1986. Onwards we go again and without realising it I can see the City of Manchester Stadium coming into view. For Luton fans, if they think of Manchester and particularly the blue half, they must think of the relegation game on the last day of the 1982/83 season. I can remember watching it on Match of the Day and David Pleat’s hop, skip and a jump as a last gasp Raddy Antic goal saved the Hatters and relegated City.

I change trains at Manchester Piccadilly and take a local service to Ashburys. A short walk and I’m at the stadium. So far all I’ve seen are Hatters fans, but then realise that this area is designated for the Orange Army. Much has been made pre-match about he ticket prices and I’m sure the attendance will be affected by the sky-high prices and associated admin and booking fees.

About 2.30 I make my way to my seat and I’m struck by how well the pitch looks. With mid-May sun lighting up the pitch and stadium it could be the opening day of the season in August. The teams go through their pre-match drills and as the respective sets of supporters drift in the volume and sense of anticipation increases. To my right and ahead of me there is a sea of orange and in the area I’m sat and to my left, the blue and yellow of the Dons fans is evident. The players go off to applause, knowing the next time that emerge onto the pitch the real action will begin. There is a brief lull. All around me there is expectation and this is reflected in faces that are anxious and faces that are just enjoying the moment. Sunshine greets the players as they enter the arena passing the Play-off Trophy and the volume reaches a new high for the day. Fireworks burst into life and jets of flames add to an already hot atmosphere. The team’s line-up, but quickly officials are ushering them into a different position as they await the presentation of match guests. As they do so, players nervously wave to loved ones in the crowd. All those around me agree that the game is too close to call and that one goal will win it.

Wimbledon kick-off, but immediately give it away and concede a free-kick. The game is held up further as players stamp on blue and yellow balloons that drift across the playing surface. Play resumes and within the opening first five minutes Luton and AFC Wimbledon both win corners, which neither defence defends comfortably. Gary Brabin the Luton manager, arms folded prowls around his Technical area. His opposite number Terry Brown remains seated during the opening exchanges. The defences look nervous and Seb Brown in goal for the Dons doesn’t come for a through ball. Suddenly the ball switches into the Luton half, seven minutes gone, Kaid Mohamed shoots, Hatters keeper Tyler saves and Kedwell crashes home the rebound. The Dons players, fans and management explode with joy, but it is short-lived, the linesman flag indicates off-side, Hatters fans taunt their rivals. Luton respond well and have a couple of shots off target. Terry Brown the Dons manager is now out in his Technical Area as the first third of the first half elapses. There is a great deal of tension in the play and possession is too easily given away and corners and free-kicks are wasted by both sides, the prize so much of a burden at this stage. Twenty minutes gone and Luton start to build some pressure, as they win another corner. A fine save by Brown from Claude Gnakpa, as the Frenchman gets into the game. Still the mistakes continue as a Luton player throws the ball straight out of play, both managers exchange a smile to relieve their tension briefly. Thirty minutes gone and Luton are enjoying a good spell, Dons skipper Kedwell knows this and his sense of frustration is evident. Gnakpa threatens the Dons defence once more, but is fouled by Brett Johnson and the first booking of the day is made. With five minutes before half time, AFC Wimbledon have a decent spell and their supporters are lifted. Good runs are made down the wings, but lack of numbers or poor delivery means the chances are lost. The official holds up the board to indicate 2 minutes of time added on and with it a booking for Luton’s Keith Keane. Half-time. Those around discuss a first half of wasted possession and an AFC Wimbledon team that currently has a midfield that appears to be playing too deep. Others around me continue with the mantra that one goal will be enough to win it.

The first half sun has given way to grey skies as Luton kick-off the second half. The Dons continue as they finished the first half and look more threatening in the first ten minutes of the second period. Luton’s turn to be frustrated and Lawless, rather suitably names, goes into the book. Wimbledon continue to press as the hour mark approaches. The announcer gives the crowd at 18,195 – I look round, and consider that the Dons fans are outnumbered 2 to 1. Surely the Conference can’t be happy with the attendance and must look at how this years arrangements were made. As the game enters the last 30 minutes, both sides made changes, Matthew Barnes-Homer replaces Robbie Willmott for the Hatters and Ismail Yakubu is brought on as a substitute for Gareth Gwillim. The changes cause a bit of a lull in the game and the crowd is quietened briefly. Luton bring the match back to life as first Kroca, then Asafu-Adjave have shots off target for the Hatters. The Dons manager brings off Wellard and on comes Mulley. The impact is immediate as the latest Dons substitute curls in a shot which Tyler pushes away for a corner. As the game hits 70 minutes, Yakubu has work to do at both ends. First he fires off target for the Dons, but then is called into defensive duty on two occasions to null the Hatters threat. Gnakpa continues to be lively for Luton, but with just ten minutes to go, Extra-Time is looking inevitable. Luke Moore gets a yellow card as certain players look to be feeling the strain of the game both emotionally and physically. Bradin the Luton manager disputes a decision and the referee has to come over to defuse the situation. With five minutes remaining the Dons look more likely to score and a succession of half-chances come and go. Then in the space of two minutes Luton are denied first by heroic blocking from the Dons defence and then what looks like a goal bound header from Walker comes back off the post. The official signals four minutes of added time, but everyone is resigned to another 30 minutes.

The first period of Extra-Time seems to flash past. Few genuine chances are created as weary bodies and minds try to keep going. The dangerous Gnakpa departs for Luton as Newton comes on, whilst for the Dons, Minshull replaces Steven Gregory. Before we know it the final 15 minutes is underway and Wimbledon suddenly appear stronger, Minshull gets himself booked, but chances are created by the Dons. And with the last attack of the game Yakubu misses with a header with his skipper behind him perhaps better placed. That’s it – the lottery of penalties is the fate for these two teams.

The five players with the dubious pleasure of taking the pressure kicks line-up on the half-way line, separated from the rest of their team-mates who link arms on the sidelines. The respective keepers share a joke and make their way to the end where the Blue and Yellow ranks of the AFC Wimbledon fans are seated. Luton take the first spot-kick and England C International Brown saves from Alex Lawless. The Dons fans erupt and then calms as Sam Hatton steps up. He confidently put away the kick and his team are ahead 1-0. Pilkington, Moore and Newton all score their penalties making it 2-2 with Mohamed getting the chance to restore the Dons lead. The hat-trick hero of the Semi-Finals steps up and his kick is saved and the advantage is gone. Two penalties left for both sides. If Walker scores, Luton are ahead for the first time in the penalties and the pressure would be on the Dons. However, Brown is the hero again; his up-stretched and bear-like hand claws the ball away. Substitute Yakubu steps up and coolly puts ball away, sending the Blue and Yellow fans into raptures. Luton must score to keep their dream alive. Jake Howells is equal to the pressure and brings the scores level at 3 all. However, he and his team-mates know that if AFC Wimbledon skipper Kedwell scores, the Hatters are destined for another season in the Conference. Up steps the skipper and blasts the ball home. This cruellest of ends to any game sparks utter euphoria to my left and utter despair to my right.

The Orange Army no longer glimmers in the late May sunshine. They stay and applaud their team as the players collect their loser’s medals. I turn to watch the scenes of joy at the Dons end of the stadium as they leap and hug each other and as players bring their children onto the pitch. Amidst it all the managers congratulate/commiserate with each other. As the Dons climb the stairs to collect their prize, I glance to look where the Luton massed ranks were – there now is only empty light blue seats. With Danny Kedwell raising the Trophy, the fans erupt into cheers once more. Now as the players make their way to the pitch podium for more pictures a new chorus emerges from the travelling Dons fans, “…9 years, it only took 9 years, it only took 9 years…” Yes, just a nine year journey from the Combined Counties League to the Football League. Another remarkable story in the history of a remarkable club.

MK beware– the real Dons are back!


Paul Hatt – Editor

2010/11: FA Cup 4th Round – Where were you in ’85?

The 1984/85 season brought about to Fulham one of those oddities that seem to happen in football. In the League Cup, the men from SW6 who were then in the old Second Division, got drawn against First Division Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. Despite being a tier lower than their opponents, Fulham weren’t disgraced in a 3-2 loss at the Third Round stage.

Come the New Year and the FA Cup Third Round draw, fate dictated that Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday once again locked horns, although this time the fixture was at Craven Cottage. With Sheffield Wednesday bringing a good away following, a crowd of 11,434 gathered to see if Fulham could gain revenge for the defeat earlier in the season. Just as in October The Owls were victorious 3-2. Ray Houghton scored Fulham’s goals, whilst Mel Sterland and Lee Chapman with two, ensured the South Yorkshire team progressed to the Fourth Round. Wednesday were a robust team back in the eighties and they were certainly too strong physically for Fulham on the day.

Now for most fans, once their team is knocked out of the FA Cup, their interest pretty much ends, possibly until Cup Final day. Yes Fulham were out, but that didn’t mean that was the end of my Cup adventure that year. One of the advantages of living in London at that time was that there were plenty of options in terms of watching other clubs – and I use the term watching as opposed to supporting deliberately.

1984/85 was Wimbledon’s first ever season in the old Second Division and they more than held their own to finish in a respectable 12th position. Having overcome Burnley 3-1 at Plough Lane in the FA Cup Third Round, the Dons got a very tricky tie against one of the teams of the eighties, Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. At the City Ground the underdogs from South London earned a replay after a 0-0 draw. Back then replays were arranged for the following week, with the game at Plough Lane set for the following Wednesday night. Given that Brian Clough’s team were one of the big attractions then, the replay was made all ticket.

The lure of seeing Old Big ‘Ead (as my nan loved to call the incomparable Mr Clough), in the flesh and a possible Cup upset proved too strong a temptation to resist and so I took my place amongst a bumper crowd to see if the Dons could beat the twice European Champions. On a night of great tension and nervous moments, Wimbledon caused a Cup upset with a Paul Fishenden goal enough to see off Forest. It was an evening when you couldn’t but help get caught up in the emotion of the occasion. That is what the FA Cup can do.

26 years later and what does the Fourth Round hold for the teams. My beloved Fulham have the misfortune to once again draw Tottenham. I say misfortune as Spurs knocked us out after a replay in the Quarter Final last year and in the seven meetings in the competition Fulham have yet to win. Sheffield Wednesday have battled through wins over Southport, Northampton Town and Bristol City to a Fourth Round tie at Hillsborough against Hereford United, in which the Owls will fancy their chances of making progress to the Fifth Round. AFC Wimbledon came through in the First Round after a replay against Ebbsfleet, but fell in the Second Round against Stevenage. Forest overcame Preston at Deepdale in the Third Round and face an interesting game at Premier League West Ham. How times have changed.

Whoever your team enjoy the Fourth Round this weekend and may it provide some more Cup Magic!

2010/11: My Guilty Football Mistresses

We all have one team that we follow – our team – that team that when they lose, the result ruins your weekend – the team we defend in any situation – the team we spend so much time, money and emotion in watching. How we come to support that team is a very individual thing. Mine is a simple philosophy –  you support your local team, the place of your birth. So in terms of my family, my dad is an Arsenal fan, although he never tried to make them my team, even on the occasional trips to Highbury with him. I was born in Parsons Green in Fulham and therefore the men in white from Craven Cottage are my team. Liam, Leeds born, now has his own team in white to follow.

But I have a guilty secret in that there a number of other teams results that I look for. I want to be clear though, it’s not teams I support, Fulham are my team always were, always will be  – my “other” teams, I have a “soft spot” for. So how have I come to this situation? For the most part, there is a good reason (well for me anyway!).

Where to begin? Well in the Premier League there is Arsenal. Quite simply because they are my dad’s team and I really did enjoy the trips to Highbury. With Fulham languishing in the lower reaches of the Football League, trips to see the Gunners meant First Division and European football during my teenage years. In recent seasons I marveled at their unbeaten Premier League season in 2003/04, admired the manner of their play and more recently because of their sensible financial approach within the Premier League that puts other “big” clubs to shame.

In the Championship, there is Leeds United. The City I came to in 1991 and the place of my sons birth. Without realising it, I’ve been attending games at Elland Road for 19 years. I’ve shared in the Premier League days, the European nights, the dark days of League One, but hopefully will see the re-emergence and return to the top-flight. I can never be a Yorkshireman, I can never be a Leeds supporter, but I do care about what happens to the club. It is one of my pleasures to be able to go to Elland Road with Liam – and all that that means in terms of sharing the experience that is a matchday.

The rest of my “mistresses” are either non-league or European teams. Stade Malherbe Caen FC (also known as SM Caen or just Caen) are a French team based in Normandy. For the 2010/11 they will play in the Ligue 1 having last season been promoted. They have no great history and my “following” of them is because I spend my 30th birthday in this area of France. I didn’t get to see them play, but fell in love with their previous slightly ramshackle ground Stade de Venoix.

Spain is the next destination and here I have two teams within my “establo”, who exist at the two extremes of the football spectrum. Firstly there is Barcelona, a team I am fortunate to have watched at the Nou Camp on a couple of occasions. This came about due to a mate who I was best-man to, moving out to the Catalan City. The stadium itself is nothing in terms of design, but the history of the place and the famous teams that have played on the hallowed turf, resonate within the great bowl that the Nou Camp is. At the other end of my Spanish rainbow is UCD Lanzarote FC. A team who play (unsurprisingly) on the island of Lanzarote. Given the volcanic nature of the island, the team play on a synthetic (FIFA approved) pitch. Los Rojillos unfortunately got relegated last season and now find themselves in the fourth tier of Spanish football. This season entrance to a game is five euros and I look forward to getting to see them in action this November when I go out there on holiday.

So finally, to my non-league favourites. As a kid, I was allowed to get the bus to Plough Lane on my own to watch Wimbledon FC in their Southern League days. It was a sign of growing up, of being trusted and being responsible. It’s where my affection for non-league football comes from. For that reason I’ve followed the Dons fortunes ever since and from afar enjoyed their rise to the top-flight and  the FA Cup victory. I also despaired at their move to Selhurst Park and the hideous creation of MK Dons. A manufactured team in a manufactured town. No history, no place in it for football. The FA should hang their heads in shame that this location is part of the England 2018 World Cup Bid. A big play has been made about the England Bid because of the history of football in this country. Milton Keynes has none – it’s a disgrace. So from all that, you might have guessed that AFC Wimbledon is the team that I recognise from my days on the terraces at Plough Lane. I hope that one day (soon) that AFC Wimbledon get into the Football League and that MK Dons drop into non-league. How much appetite will there be for the club then?

That’s it then, I’ve come clean – made it public – my conscience is now clear. I can now check the scores without feeling like it’s a betrayal. Can you say the same?