Dons fans celebrate League return but Rovers spoil party

Fan-owned Wimbledon lose on comeback and face battle to put down roots among bigger rivals

At Brighton, as Albion opened their new stadium, there were fireworks, waving flags and dancing girls.

At Kingsmeadow, as AFC Wimbledon made their Football League debut, the atmosphere was more low-key, the few festivities connected with live television coverage. Though there was enough sense of occasion to contribute to Wimbledon's nerve-ridden defeat, the atmosphere was anticipatory rather than celebratory.

There is a reason for this, and a clue came in the matchday programme. The "one, five, 10, 20 years ago" feature is a staple of such publications, gently jogging memories of where a club has come from. Few, though, illustrate such a roller-coaster past as AFC Wimbledon's.

One year ago they were in the Conference. Five years ago preparing for a season in the Ryman League. Ten years ago AFC Wimbledon did not exist, but the column referred to its predecessor, Wimbledon FC, which announced as the 2000-01 season began that it was moving to Milton Keynes. And 20 years ago? The club had just embarked on ground-sharing with Crystal Palace, leaving Plough Lane behind. Sam Hammam, the then chairman-owner, said: "I can say with my hand on my heart this is the single best thing ever to happen to Wimbledon Football Club."

That did not seem likely at the time; with hindsight it can be seen as the precursor to all the heartbreak subsequently experienced by Wimbledon fans – the poaching of their club and its relocation to Milton Keynes, the long haul up through non-League and the search for a base in Merton.

That continues, with three sites being examined at present. It is a long process and in the meantime AFC Wimbledon play in Kingston, at a ground they own, but share with Ryman League Kingstonian. They may be back in the League, but unlike Brighton do not feel they are back home geographically.

That said, how many present on Saturday actually watched the Dons play at Plough Lane? No one under 25 will remember doing so. Curiously the attendance on Saturday, 4,629, was almost identical to the gate at Wimbledon FC's opening Football League game in 1977 – a 3-3 draw with Halifax Town. Their average attendance that first season, which became a relegation struggle, was 3,139. Last season, in the Conference, AFC Wimbledon averaged 3,390.

As with the original club, there may well be periods of overachievement, for they have a promising young side backed by a flourishing youth system. But it is very hard, with the finances of the modern game, to imagine a fan-owned club like Wimbledon surviving in the Championship, especially if burdened by the cost of a new ground.

For now, though, Dons fans can savour being back in the League, playing clubs like Plymouth, Bradford and Bristol Rovers. On Saturday the latter took advantage of errors to take a 2-0 lead through Scott McGleish and Matt Harrold.

Wimbledon battled back, veteran defender Jamie Stuart scoring AFC's first League goal. Charles Ademeno, signed from Grimsby this summer, then levelled. But, unlike at Brighton, there was no fairy-tale finish. Instead it was Rovers who scored the late winner, Adam Virgo converting from the penalty spot after Brett Johnson's unnecessary handball.

Goals: AFC Wimbledon Stuart 40, Ademeno 67; Bristol Rovers McGleish 17, Harrold 19, Virgo pen 85.

AFC Wimbledon: (4-1-2-1-2) S Brown; Hatton, Stuart, Johnson, Gwillim (Bush, 80); Porter (Minshull, 62); Wellard, Yussuff; L Moore; Midson, Jolley (Ademeno, 68). Substitutes not used Turner (gk), S Moore.

Bristol Rovers: (4-4-2) Bevan; Smith, Anthony, Virgo, L Brown; Anyinsah (Carayol, 67), Stanley, Gill, Zebroski (Lines, 52); Harrold, McGleish (Osei-Kuffour, 62). Substitutes not used Bolger, W Brown.

Referee: K Stroud (Hampshire).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003