AFC Wimbledon

Ground No. 210
Visited - Monday 5th April 2010
Result - AFC Wimbledon 0-3 Stevenage Borough
Competition - Blue Square Premier
Attendance - 3840

It’s a question that regularly comes up on message boards…. “if the club went bust, who would you support?” On an all too frequent basis it’s a reality that fans of many non-league clubs have to face, but in 2002 it happened to probably the most high profile side since Maidstone and Aldershot dropped out of the league in the early 90s. Wimbledon’s case of course was a little more complicated than merely folding, the FA appointed commission actually falling for Pete Winkleman’s argument that the formation of MK Dons was a move as opposed a new club buying out an existing one, a pretence that even he doesn’t bother to keep up any more (some interesting reading for those still harbouring the myth that it was all about ‘saving Wimbledon’), and so with the authorities conned, 12 months later the club made the move 60 miles up the M1 at the same time as local non-league side MK City were going bust due to a lack of funds. Not waiting to hang around for the move, Wimbledon fans had already deserted the club in the final year of playing at Selhurst Park, and in the summer of 2002 formed their own side, AFC Wimbledon, as the response to having their own team stolen from under them, attracting higher crowds than the old club when they were both still playing in London during 2002/03, despite a full six divisions separating the two!

That’s the story as everyone knows it of course, but it’s probably less well known that it could have happened some 24 years previously when former chairman Ron Noades had suggested the exact same thing, even going as far as buying MK City in 1979, with the intention of moving, only abandoning the idea after coming to the conclusion that crowds would be little higher there than where they were. It was because fans weren’t turning up at Plough Lane that Noades had been considering the move, and with little options for developing the site then following the Taylor Report, they abandoned the ground in 1991 to go across London and share with Crystal Palace. Understandably, even that move was unpopular with the fans, so on the formation of AFC, the plans were not just to keep the club going, but to end the years of exile and finally return home to the Borough of Merton. Unfortunately for the new club, Plough Lane, which had continued to host reserve team football up until 1998 had been sold to developers by then, so the next best alternative was Kingsmeadow, home of Kingstonian.

Starting life in the Combined Counties Premier League, they amassed a massive 111 points and 125 goals scored in their first season, yet still only managed to finish third such was the strength of the league, but going up as champions at the second time of asking then the clubs rise was inevitable, and six years on, promotion to the Blue Square Premier and only one step away from regaining the league place stolen from them was achieved as a nation of sympathetic fans willed them on.

I’d been planning on visiting for some time, so jumped at the chance of going when Duncan from the Football Ground Guide suggested the Easter Monday fixture against Stevenage. It had been a busy weekend already having been to St Helens on the Friday and re-completing the 92 at Torquay 48 hours earlier, but despite that, I was still looking forward to it, and set off to meet Duncan in Birmingham before driving down.

Kingsmeadow was celebrating 20 years of football this season, having been opened in August 1990 with a friendly between Kingstonian and QPR, but when Wimbledon moved in as tenants in 2002, its future wasn’t looking particularly rosy thanks to local businessmen, the Kholsa’s, who K’s fans had accused of asset stripping by seperating the ground from the club. Like a white knight on the horizon though, with a bit more financial clout behind them, AFC were able to agree a deal to buy the leasehold and secure the grounds future once more, with Kingstonian becoming tenants on generous terms. As part of the package, the ground was officially renamed ‘The Fans Stadium’, and despite its relatively young age, has seen a number of changes since AFC arrived, including the covering of the Tempest End, re-profiling of the Kingston Road End, and the seating of the Main Stand which once contained both seats and a terrace.

The journey down the M40 into West London went relatively well, avoiding the expected bank holiday traffic, meaning we got into Kingston-upon-Thames a good 90 minutes before kick-off. Already the area was buzzing, and after parking up we had a walk around, finding what is probably the largest collection of pin-badges in the world on a stall in the car park, before going inside to the clubhouse for a couple of pints prior to the game.

With a capacity of 4772 then Wimbledon’s average of just under 4000 was clearly pushing the limit, and despite going in fairly early, the ground had already started to fill up. The only seated area at the ground is on the near side, where the recently renamed Paul Strank Stand sits. Eight rows high it houses the dressing rooms and offices, including the large bar area where we’d been drinking beforehand. Opposite is the John Smiths Terrace, which is quite shallow, and not offering the best of views with a low roof, which used to be the case with the Kingston Road End as well, although as mentioned, this has now been modified slightly to give better views for visiting supporters, similar to which can be enjoyed at the far end in the slightly bigger Tempest End which had a number of flags draped from the roof and seemed to be where most of the hardcore singers chose to stand during the game.

As the season reached the business end, Wimbledon’s form had tailed off into outsiders for the play-offs, but the visitors Stevenage were sitting top of the table, going into the final month with an in-form Luton hot on their tails. Having lost 1-0 to the Hatters on the Saturday, then this game would be a question of character for the Hertfordshire side, who might have took that loss as a dent to their confidence, but when the game got underway then there was no suggestion of that, the visitors controlling the tempo with ease. They went ahead in the 9th minute thanks to Mark Roberts who put the ball home from a corner, the home fans behind the goal seeming to suggest it came off his arm, not that their protests did any good, because three minutes later it was 2-0, Lawrie Wilson slamming home a fantastic volley to put ‘boro in complete control. The hosts didn’t really have an answer to it, and other than forcing a good save halfway through the first half, come the break the fans seemed to be writing it off as a typical end-of-season display.

If the fans were thinking that though, manager Terry Brown must have had other thoughts, because they came out in the second half looking like a different side, threatening Stevenage from the off. Perhaps the visitors were just content to sit back, but what had been a bit of a lacklustre match in the first half became more entertaining and even. Still though Wimbledon couldn’t find a way through, and as time passed then the result started to look inevitable until injury time when substitute Eddie Odhiambo scored at the death to make it 3-0 and game over.

It was a result that as good as confirmed another season at this level, not that that was anything to sneeze at given where they’d come from, but the mood of the fans leaving the ground was a little down as we made it back to the car to start the journey home, again avoiding the bank holiday traffic that we’d been half expecting to get caught up in, with the journey going well.

Whilst the reason for their founding still leaves a bitter taste, (even for someone like myself who was never a Wimbledon fan!), then what the fans have achieved since holding trials on Wimbledon Common 8 years ago has been remarkable and two fingers up at the mercantile nature of the professional game. Their rise back into the Football League seems somewhat inevitable, but at the same time that makes you wonder what the future holds for Kingsmeadow, and not merely because they’ve stated that they want to leave!

The ground is politely described as functional, but the real issue comes down to its size, because whilst suitable for Kingstonian (AFC have said they will hand it back once they leave), with redevelopment options limited and Wimbledon’s crowds continually growing then they find themselves once again in an all too familiar position. The 3840 present today was more than that at 7 of the 12 League Two matches taking place (plus a further two League One games), so something will have to give soon. Moving back to Merton has always been the stated desire, and the greyhound stadium was muted as a possibility not so long ago, perhaps an ideal solution with it being only a few hundred yards along Plough Lane from their old home, but as a football pitch can’t be fitted inside the greyhound track, then that in itself brings its own issues. A return to Selhurst probably isn’t the most welcome suggestion! But whatever happens then you feel that the club are in a brighter position than where they were 19 years ago. Even if they don’t repeat that famous fairytale climb up to the top flight that they enjoyed in the 80’s, then the fans and people in charge of the club can hold their heads up high and proudly answer the opening question with “well…”

Welcome to Kingsmeadow

Rear of the Paul Strank Stand

The Club Shop

The Paul Strank Stand

The Players Line Up

The Kingston Road End

The Tempest End

The John Smith's Terrace

The Paul Strank Stand

Kingsmeadow Panoramic 1

Kingsmeadow Panoramic 2


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