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).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
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 children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on