Glenn Moore: To loos le trek but Dons rise without spending a penny
The Football League Column: The annual wage bill doubled this season (players are now paid 52 weeks a year, not 44) but remains less than Carlos Tevez receives in a month
One of the many oddities of Wimbledon's old Plough Lane ground was that visiting supporters could continue to watch the match while using the toilet facilities parked on the top of the away terrace. A different lavatorial issue now occupies the board of the Dons' successors, AFC Wimbledon. This is how to provide facilities for home fans in Kingsmeadow's John Smith's Stand which are currently so far away that spending a penny can entail missing a significant chunk of the match.
Until this year, supporters used the same facilities as the away fans who share that side of the ground. Promotion to the Football League has, however, meant strict segregation, so they are now out of bounds. The solution would be to build a new block, but there is, ironically, an access issue involving the adjacent sewage works.
It sounds mundane and it is, but that is the reality of joining the big league. AFC Wimbledon's first match in the Football League was a glamorous affair with Sky TV cameras, dancing girls, fireworks and a former FA Cup-winning club legend in Dave Beasant. Two months on, the showbiz has gone. Gillingham are more storied opposition than Forest Green Rovers, whom the Dons were playing a year ago this weekend, but only just. Now the club is engaged in the hard grind of winning points and completing the paperwork and budgeting needed to meet the requirements of being a designated stadium.
As Saturday's 3-1 win over the Gills in front of a full house underlined, it is so far so good. This third victory on the bounce moved Wimbledon into fourth place in League Two, two points off the lead. "People will be talking play-offs, or better," said the local hack to manager Terry Brown. His face fell. "That's absolute rubbish. The first results I look for are the ones at the bottom, I want to be safe. There's no point in going through nine years of toil [from AFC's formation] to blow it in the first year."
Later Brown, reflecting on the step up, said: "The points tally is far in excess of what I envisaged which takes a bit of pressure off. No matter how often you say 'we're as good as these' you can't coach the confidence that winning brings." A lifelong non-League veteran, he added: "I'm still being surprised by the quality of play. All the forwards are better, they cause more problems, and our midfielders are still getting used to it. But defences are the same format as in the Conference, most centre-halves are big, win their aerial battles but are not the best on the ground. That suits us as we have real pace up front."
It did for Gillingham, whose defence fits that description. Christian Jolley, a 23-year-old who was playing parks football two years ago, and Jack Midson, one of the few summer signings, put Wimbledon three goals up in 27 minutes.
The other promoted side, Crawley, also won to go second They look an even better bet to emulate Stevenage in going straight from Conference to League One. Of the last 16 clubs to have been promoted, only Chester, amid financial collapse, have left the League. Meanwhile in the Conference, last season's relegated duo, Lincoln and Stockport, languish. New blood clearly raises standards and while the League resisted three-up, three-down when it was discussed this summer it should be only a matter of time.
Kingsmeadow still looks like a Conference ground but upgrading – much of it required under league regulations – is on the way. The current ground, said chairman Erik Samuelson, should take them to League One. Progress after that will be dependent on a new ground, ideally in Wimbledon.
In the meantime the club tread carefully. The annual wage bill doubled this season (in part because players are now paid 52 weeks a year, not 44) but remains less than Carlos Tevez receives in a month. The club are budgeting for £120,000 profit this year but as that includes transfer income, and TV windfall will be £100,000 less next year, there is no room for profligacy. The plight of Plymouth and Bradford shows the danger of over-reaching.
And why are 'southern' ways of speaking spreading north?
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