Fan's Eye View: European target for Crazy Gang: No 62: Wimbledon

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The Independent Online
SO - Manchester United in the Cup. Dread, apprehension, panic and resigned fatalism? Well, yes, but not despair. If anyone is going to halt this totalitarian, elitist, triple-winning party that would be so destructive to English football, then it may as well be the South London Resistance Movement. In 1988, one had to stretch the memory a long way to remember a more dominant team than Liverpool. Need I say more?

No money, no home, no support, no critical acclaim, no well-wishers. In a land where the underdog is institutionally loved, Wimbledon have to be the exception that proves the rule. Ostensibly, this sounds like a woeful lament, but deep in the core of every Dons supporter lies a perverted heart that celebrates our plight. The press berates us, referees hate us, rival supporters essay pacts with the devil to defeat us - and we love it.

Millwall supporters traditionally chant: 'No one likes us, we don't care'. At Wimbledon, there is no such indifference - we positively thrive on the enmity. We have to. At least Millwall have sufficient numbers to form a chorus.

Of course, we would love to be involved in the bidding for Gazza or Giggs to bring them into Sam Hammam's extended family, but the reality is that the only bidding we will be doing is of the tearful-farewell variety, as another son turns prodigal in order to ensure the club's financial survival.

The supporters' survival rests heavily on a sense of humour, the feeling of familial support and a sustained delight in snubbing our noses at the aristocracy. The more glamour a club possesses, the more humiliation we can bestow upon them.

The FA Cup is our only remaining avenue this year for the fulfilment of a dream. Route one to Europe. Although the spectacle of Milan at Plough Lane was denied us by the ban in 1988, Europe has become something of an obsession.

This is merely another stage on which to display what is the underlying romance of the Dons. We don't buy our way through any doors. We simply bring a bottle, plug in the 'boogie-box' and have fun. We aren't really out to poop other people's parties, more to stage our own rave.

Detractors point out, of course, that if the 'Crazy Gang' played a more attractive brand of football, then the gate receipts would positively mushroom. Not quite. The lack of popular support is somewhat more fundamental than that. In a sense, the club is something of a victim of its own success, in that their meteoric rise to Premier status left no room to culture a broad base of support. With a handful of London clubs in the top echelon, all of them with a stronger, longer League tradition than ours, competition for a following is fierce.

Anyhow, Wimbledon is something of a geographical error in that the club was never supposed to be a success in an area that is predominantly 'old money' upper middle class, more at home on the genteel tennis lawns of SW19. On the club's greatest day in 1988, TV interviews revealed, rather embarrassingly, that very few people in Wimbledon High Street knew that the Dons were in the Cup final. The town redeemed itself, though, by staging a Continental-style yellow and blue traffic jam in the village, and free port and lemon in the Dog and Fox. But this was a one-off. Tradition is sorely lacking in the area.

The hardy perennials still return, though. For better or for worse, we have to. That first game I saw, an unbelievably turgid scoreless draw in the Southern League, sealed my fate, and the appearance of Corky with a 'perm' merely strengthened the relationship. His hair has gone now and so has he, but there are new faces and new characters to share the burden. I will still scan the travel agents' windows comparing prices for our aerial onslaught of Barcelona, though. After all, the bigger they come, the harder they fall.

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