I think I recall writing pieces for various WDSA anniversaries along the way, 10, 20, 25 and now upon the 30th birthday of the our group. I still get the same feeling – what a great idea it was to start a club for Wimbledon FC (now) AFC Wimbledon fans in Australia and New Zealand, keep everyone informed about the club (s) and get to know our fellow fans.
That thread has always united us. I can remember the thrill (well surprise, more than anything) when I received Newsletter #1 in the mail with Rob Smith proudly stating that I was one of four founding members of WDSA. Rob’s talented and tireless work helped us glean valuable information about goings on at Plough Lane in days without internet and only a very sparse coverage of our little club in SW19. I even had a couple of amateurish goes at producing the newsletter whilst Rob was in England.
In 1986 I visited New Zealand and stayed with WDSA members, the Anderson family, very nice people who became great fans of WFC through their support of Napier City Rovers FC in the National League. Brian Gayle and Paul Fishenden had both played for NCR before breaking into the Crazy Gang ranks.
WDSA has cemented some great friendships over time. Rob and I have been mates for 30 years, catching up often in the 1990s when he was working as a journo at the Australian Open tennis in Melbourne. I first met Liam Nolan on the steps of the Melbourne GPO during the disastrous (for Australian fans) two and a half day cricket Test in December 1987 and despite his almost insufferable jibes at the time, we have remained firm friends ever since.
We have linked up in various places around the world, most of which are recorded with Liam wearing his Wimbo shirt. He joined Paul, Jack and the whole Russell family, Mike Gostlow and the late Gerry Hargraves to form a solid band of support in Adelaide from day one. I met Gerry once over dinner in Bangkok and he was a charming man. Mike Flanagan “The Wizard” is a legendary character who I met later at Kingsmeadow.
WDSA was, of course, inspired and encouraged by the support of the Commercial Manager of WFC, the late Eric Willcocks, who both Rob and I and many other Dons fans remember with long time affection. Eric’s enthusiasm and kindness sold me on the club.
I was a programme subscriber and upon my first visit to Plough Lane in 1984 on a busy Friday afternoon, Eric stopped what he was doing, saying “I know who you are”, made me a cup of tea and introduced me to Harry Bassett and the office staff.
I met many of the Crazy Gang with Corkie even buying me a pint in Nelsons (after he broke a barren spell in a 1-1 draw). “Hey Aussie, want a beer” – I’ll never forget it. WFC in those days really was a friendly and tight-knit club.
This tradition of recognition and welcome to WDSA is carried on superbly by the AFCW management and support – in particular Erik Samuelson, Ivor Heller and Ray Armfield. At the Barnet game I met mates of Liam’s (Nipper and Vince and Pat) from Selhurst Park days 15 years ago and more recently guys who I shared beers and laughs with away fans at Bootham Crescent.
Around the time WDSA was formed, Rob and I seemed to take alternate writing articles in Dons Outlook and then Supporters’ Gravevine and Yidaho; fanzines that grew up along the rise of WFC. Dons Outlook was stewarded by Andy Watson and often had humourous articles like The Andy Away Guide which seemed to catalogue in great detail every possible pub and ale you could partake of at Dons away venues.
Our articles were a window from Down Under of events happening at Plough Lane or about football in the region or in general. They complemented the content nicely. I remember writing a decent review on the Australia v Scotland World Cup knock out game at Olympic Park in Melbourne in December 1985, that I attended. It was an exciting 0-0 draw with the Jockos going through – it was an amazing night back in the days of terraces.
Through one of those fanzines I got to know Laurence Lowne and I was very pleased to see him just before the kick off of our 2-0 win over Barnet recently.
Laurence even convinced me a few seasons back to be interviewed at half time on WDON by Mikey T about overseas Dons fans and WDSA, a task so daunting that I had to have a few calming pints beforehand. Did it show whilst I was on air, I guess I’ll never know.
In the late 1980s the British Soccer Week newspaper came out in Australia. WDSA was proudly the fourth club to list in its Supporters Club directory (behind Everton, Rangers and Norwich City). A supporters club football tournament sprouted in Melbourne called the UK Cup and WDSA fielded a team for 11 years until I went to work in Bangkok in 1997.
The Dons had a proud reputation as the most popular team that took the day out in the spirit in which it was intended. Rob, Paul, Liam, Dave Dyer, Paul Monds, and others all had fantastic times.
The stand out was our first win after five years with a 1-0 win over a desperately unlucky and great bunch of lads from Derby County. And my did we celebrate after that! You’d seriously think that we had won the entire cup. Another tournament Liam scored the goal of a lifetime against his arch nemesis Chelsea with a 30 yarder that floated in gracefully, sending us all off in Carlton Fairweather airplane spins. Upon which I heard a Chelsea opponent remark “you know, I really hate Wimbledon!” Classic! So typical of the time when the Dons regularly knocked off big clubs.
The FA Cup final remains my best memory of WDSA and of following WFC in Australia. One afternoon I was bored out of my brain working for Customs and very frustrated that my common sense had kicked in after just purchasing my first house, that chose to stay home rather than go to the 1988 Cup Final.
I could have got a ticket to Wembley courtesy of another good friend of WDSA, Margaret Whisker. I thought that maybe SBS television who were showing the Final live, may not have much background on the virtual unknown WFC. We were after all in most football followers’ minds, going to be a sideshow-cannon fodder-comedy routine to the then aristocratic champions of Liverpool.
So I collected bits out of various programmes and newspapers and wrote down snippets like players nicknames, cameos about Corkie and Vinnie etc and didn’t think anything of it.
George Donikian, the iconic football presenter of SBS, seeing the banner head of the WDSA newsletter contacted Rob and interviewed him at length about the WFC story prior to the final.
WDSA received at least three plugs from George during the broadcast, and in particular for the party held at the Russell’s house in Adelaide. George was dropping references to “Crazy Gang”, “Lurch” and “Fash” like he was a seasoned Dons fan. And you know, I think he was that night! Rob also got in the Sydney Morning Herald.
I will always remember that FA Cup party. I drove over from Adelaide through the Mallee desert only for my car to strip a timing gear and be stranded in the middle of nowhere. The tow rope fell off the truck pulling my car and the driver went ten miles into town before he realised that we were no longer attached. Then I hailed a bus in driving rain to travel 100 miles to get to Adelaide just in time for the kick-off and George’s show. I remember Jack Russell smiling like he enjoyed the entire match while the rest of us were nervous wrecks. And the final result was surreal. An unbelievable result fitting an incredible day.
I sat by a computer in my house on Cape Cod, USA, biting nails at the penalty shoot-out over Luton. My lows are the FA Cup semi-final in 1997, relegation in 2000 and the years before I embraced AFCW, a 2-0 win over Gateshead followed by a trip into the VIP lounge to meet Dickie Guy, courtesy of Erik and Rob, sealed the deal once more.
Congratulations Rob and to all at WDSA for 30 great years of football and friendship.
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