The ghosts of season present

Wimbledon 0 Gillingham 1
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Are you watching, Milton Keynes? Wimbledon added to the deep gloom at their south London home by losing unimpressively to Gillingham yesterday. To make things even gloomier, the Wimbledon followers objecting to the club's move to the Midlands comfortably outnumbered the people inside the ground, where the attendance of 2,476 was a record low for the club at Selhurst Park.

Are you watching, Milton Keynes? Wimbledon added to the deep gloom at their south London home by losing unimpressively to Gillingham yesterday. To make things even gloomier, the Wimbledon followers objecting to the club's move to the Midlands comfortably outnumbered the people inside the ground, where the attendance of 2,476 was a record low for the club at Selhurst Park.

Only 668 of these were Wimbledon fans, the other 1,808 being blue-shirted Gillingham supporters, the sole occupants of the large Arthur Waite Stand. The only well-filled section of the main stand was the directors' box, while the White Horse Lane End did not have a single spectator in the paying seats. So deserted was it that the first time the ball finished up in those seats Gillingham's keeper, Jason Brown, had to fetch it himself.

An underwhelmed Stuart Murdoch, Wimbledon's manager, said: "The atmos-phere took me back to my non-League days. It will be nice to play away. I am sure the players will be pleased to go to Grimsby on Tuesday."

The demonstration was largely good-natured and vitriol-free, though the few Wimbledon fans who came to watch the football entered the ground to chants of "scabs, scabs" or "scum, scum", with the occasional "Judas" thrown in.

Posters featuring the face of the club chairman, Charles Koppel, plastered the approaches to Selhurst Park, with predictable captions: "Wanted for the Murder of Wimbledon FC, Charlie 'Club-Killer' Koppel." The most vociferous demonstration was outside the Holmesdale Road gate, which was opened and then shut again every time a director's car arrived. The players arrived by coach too, rather than their own vehicles.

Though many Gillingham fans in agreement with the protest had stayed away, others who made the journey were anxious to justify their attendance. Among a bunch eating fish and chips on White Horse Lane, Richard Wright said: "I feel sorry for Wimbledon's fans but it isn't going to stop me coming to watch my team," and Simon Harwood added: "This argument doesn't affect us. We were in the same position as them in 1994 and nobody came to our rescue."

Displaying a protest poster, Wimbledon Independent Supporters' Association (Wisa) member Callum Watson complained: "What Koppel is doing is wrong. You can't move a football club 60 miles. The soul of the club has been destroyed, and the next thing is that the name will be changed. Ninety per cent of the fans are against the move and a lot have come up to me today and said they aren't going to the game."

Wisa spokesman Kevin Rye claimed that the new AFC Wimbledon team in the Combined Counties League had already sold 1,058 season tickets, while the First Division club's season-ticket holders numbered a paltry 476. Rye's mobile rang, he listened urgently, then said: "Get this. Wimbledon FC are giving away season tickets. An AFC Wimbledon season-ticket holder has been offered one." Rye went on to accuse Koppel's club of "abuse and betrayal" of fans. "This is not my football club any more," he said. "They are wearing 'Go M-K' on their shirts."

At the kick-off the protesters observed a minute's silence, followed by a brief conga and a walk around the stadium. Wimbledon's supporters inside were similarly muted as Gillingham dominated, though it needed half an hour even for them to excite their fans. Then, in the space of seconds, the strikers, Mamady Sidibe and Guy Ipoua, saw Kelvin Davis make fine saves. The reprieve was brief, however, with Ipoua sidefooting a goal after two minutes of the second half as Davis failed to hold Paul Shaw's shot.

The team may have been beaten but Koppel marches on. His programme notes claimed: "The people of Milton Keynes have already embraced the club."

In the present climate there is no doubt he will get enough players anxious for employment to follow. Perhaps some fans, too, but on this evidence, not many.

Wimbledon 0 Gillingham 1
Ipoua 49

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 2,476

Comments