Wimbledon to begin new chapter in FA Cup
The south London club formed by disfranchised fans are preparing to make history, Glenn Moore reports
Saturday 08 November 2008
Twenty years after, in John Motson's words, the Crazy Gang upset the Culture Club to win the FA Cup final Wimbledon are back in the competition's spotlight. This, though, is not the original incarnation, which beat Liverpool in that 1988 final, but was transformed into Milton Keynes Dons. This is AFC Wimbledon, the club formed by angry supporters when it became clear that their club was going to be uprooted to Buckinghamshire.
AFC Wimbledon began with an open trial for all interested players on Wimbledon Common in June 2002. A hastily formed team joined the football pyramid in its nether regions, the Combined Counties League.
Six seasons and three promotions later the club is a force in non-League football, and on Monday night will compete in the FA Cup proper for the first time. They have drawn an attractive enough tie to lure Setanta's cameras to the Kingsmeadow Stadium, their Kingston ground, on the fringe of south west London's urban sprawl.
Peter Taylor's League Two high-flyers Wycombe Wanderers are the visitors for the first-round fixture, renewing an old Southern League rivalry. "It is an absolutely fantastic draw. I will be pitting my wits against a former England manager and you cannot get any bigger than that," the AFC manager Terry Brown, a 58-year-old veteran of the non-League scene, said when the draw was made.
Brown took Hayes and Aldershot into the Conference and is charged with doing the same for Wimbledon, who sit third in the Blue Square Conference South. "It has everything. It is fairly local, it is against a team that is flying and, most of all, for us, it is definitely winnable," he said boldly.
As Wycombe are the only unbeaten team in the top four divisions that is a strong claim but Dons' home form in league and cup – eight wins and one draw – gives it validity. A capacity 4,600 will watch a Dons team likely to include the defender Jake Leberl, who used to watch the old Wimbledon at Plough Lane and Selhurst Park.
For Erik Samuelson, the AFC Wimbledon chief executive, and many fans the most important thing is not the result, but that the match is taking place at all, given that the club faced extinction so recently.
"I'm always astounded how many people know our story but this helps keeps us in people's minds," he said. "There is a real buzz about the place but that has always been the case as we work towards regaining a place in the league the right way."
There was the possibility of Dons drawing League One's MK Dons but Samuelson said he had "no ambitions to play them at all". He added: "They have a league place that was taken away from us and playing them gives them a legitimacy I'm not comfortable with – but I'd rather focus on us."
With good reason. The £100,000 Dons expect to make from the tie will come in handy but they are stable financially and do not need it to keep them afloat. It will probably go towards building work as the Dons seek to meet the demands of Football League membership (5,000 capacity including 2,000 seats under cover).
The club still hankers after a return to its roots but with the owners of the only feasible site, the greyhound stadium adjacent to their old Plough Lane ground, yet to enter into talks there is, Samuelson said, "only a small chance". But he added: "We have to pursue it."
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