FAREWELL KINGSMEADOW

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Kingsmeadow provided AFC Wimbledon with the refuge and succour in the fledgling club’s hour of greatest need. Yes, it can be a bit of a dump. But it’s been the dump that has given us a home for the past 18 years and that has chaperoned AFC Wimbledon on its considerable journey from the Combined Counties League to League One. IAIN SANDFORD bades a fond farewell.

I have a particularly fond ‘Kingsmeadow moment’ that endures repetition two to three times per season. It occurs immediately following the game on that narrow stretch of pavement on the Kingston Road between where the visiting supporters exit the away section and head towards the coaches that will transport them back to whence they came.

In this moment, the visiting fans will have just seen their team end up on the wrong end of a classic Dons smash and grab. This will have been either a late winner or equaliser scored against the run of play (think Portsmouth and Lincoln last season) or just a plain, old-fashioned injustice (think Peterborough in January this year… and try to stop chuckling!).  Coming face to face with the Dons faithful, their faces etched in post-match angst and frustration. There are moans aplenty – mainly about the game and score-line but also about the poverty of the view and facilities the away fans have had to put up with. As the home and visiting fans brush past each other, one can overhear snippets of a post-match analysis: “Can’t believe we didn’t thrash them. We should have scored four or five”, followed by a cranking up of the churlish: “What a dump, an absolute dump. Couldn’t see a damned thing.”

Personally, I love this kind of feedback. It demonstrates that the match day experience for visiting teams has been uncomfortable, sufficiently so to affect those margins that can determine the outcome of a game. In any given season, this could conceivably yield us an additional five to ten points – which in the past three seasons has been the difference between us staying up and being relegated. While we’re rightly salivating about our imminent return home, let us not forget that first and foremost we are a football club, currently punching considerably above our weight.

Walking up Jack Goodchild Way every couple of weeks regularly reminds us of this, of keeping our feet on the ground. Important though they are, let’s not get too obsessed with talk of income streams, corporate hospitality and debenture schemes.

Yes, Kingsmeadow is a bit of a dump. But it’s been the dump that has given us a home for the past 18 years and that has chaperoned us on our considerable journey from the Combined Counties League to our present perch, clinging on for dear life in League One. It has a creaking, homespun charm that has served us well. Kingsmeadow as a stadium and a football ground has evolved. Let’s not forget that less than ten years ago, what is now the John Green Stand used to be a wholly inadequate, non-sloping terrace with a view of the action even more challenged than what is now the RyGas stand. And the quality of the playing surface, thanks to the stewardship by Chelsea Ladies, is now light years away from the churned-up cabbage patch of the early-mid Kingsmeadow years.

The major downside for Kingsmeadow is of course its location – and there ain’t a lot we could have done about that. The very existence of Norbiton is as convincing an argument as there is against the tenets of Intelligent Design. It’s as weird as Milton Keynes but carries more of a dystopian menace. No, I don’t think anyone will miss Norbiton.

I started following Wimbledon FC regularly in the late 1980s and the prospect of returning home is an enticing, romantic prospect and one that will hopefully propel us to the next level in terms of community involvement off the pitch and footballing success on the pitch. But even though it is unlikely I will ever visit the place again, I will never forget the refuge and succour that Kingsmeadow has given us in our hour of greatest need.

Below are thumbnails of my top 10 ‘Kingsmeadow moments’, recorded chronologically. They are a fairly random, not exhaustive selection which I hope, in some way, depict the eclectic, unpredictable, high achieving football club AFC Wimbledon has been in its now ex-home, Kingsmeadow.

AFC Wimbledon 3 Hartley Wintney 1, 31st August 2002, Sim Johnston, top corner screamer

Controlling a difficult bouncing ball on his instep and then adjusting his body shape, Johnston fairly lashed the ball into the net from approximately 30 yards with power and dip. If this had been Stevie G, it would have been feted and replayed ad infinitum. Two weeks into AFC Wimbledon’s debut season and I remain convinced that I will never, ever see a more perfect Dons goal – and yes, Sim was a centre-half!

Kevin Cooper goalscoring exploits, 2002-04

Possibly the most astute business we ever made was to sign up the natural goalscorer who impressed in AFC Wimbledon’s first-ever game on that balmy evening in Sutton. Never mind the mind-numbing quantity (107 in 106 appearances), admire the quality of many of them. Almost De Bruyne-esque in the clean and precise way he struck the ball, Cooper rightfully has legendary status in the history of AFC Wimbledon.

AFC Wimbledon 1 Harrow Borough 2, 1st September 2007, Adomah volley from half-way line

Having missed the majority of games under Dave Anderson (but not the dispiriting play-off semi-final defeat against Bromley which hastened his departure), I was keen to get back into the swing of things with the exciting appointment of Terry Brown. A drab game lit up by a wonderful piece of skill by Harrow’s young forward Albert Adomah who, on receiving the ball, flicked it up, swivelled and struck a majestic volley over a bewildered Andy Little from the half-way line.

AFC Wimbledon 3 AFC Hornchurch 1, 29th April 2008, Rymans Premier play-off semi-final,  Main slalom goal

Having fallen tantalisingly close in the previous two campaigns, there was no margin for error for manager Terry Brown who, earlier in the season had rolled the dice and recruited Jon Main, the division’s most prolific striker from Tonbridge Angels, to provide that extra push to get the Dons over the promotion line. It was 2-1 in the play-off semi-final with injury time approaching and the tension was palpable. Not that this affected Main, who picked the ball up on the half-way line and embarked on a slalom run that left two Hornchurch defenders and the goalkeeper on their backsides before slotting the ball calmly home.

AFC Wimbledon 6 Fleetwood Town 1, 11th May 2011, Mohammed hat-trick in drubbing

The Dons were ruthless in their dispatch of the great pretenders Fleetwood Town, following the 2-0 away first-leg triumph with an emphatic 6-1 drubbing in the home leg five days later. It was the perfect night for new recruit from Bath City, Kaid Mohammed, who effectively put the tie to bed by scoring within the first 30 seconds. Mohammed’s power, running and finishing was a thorn in the side of the Fleetwood defence, whose physiques looked as though they had done their pre-match training in the local Wetherspoons.

AFC Wimbledon 0 Barnet 1, 1st April 2013, Barnet’s central midfielder

Who is that geezer with the dreadlocks and the shades who looks as though he can play a bit? Why it’s multi-award winning ex-Ajax, Juventus, Barcelona and Inter Milan midfielder Edgar Davids – now, bizarrely player-manager for Barnet and inspiring his team to a late win over the hapless and increasingly relegation threatened Dons. Surreal.

AFC Wimbledon 2 Fleetwood Town 1, 27th April 2013, Midson survival penalty

Everyone knows the narrative. Win and we stay up. Draw or lose and we are relegated back to non-league football. The stakes couldn’t be higher. There are 18 minutes remaining and the score is 1-1 when Dons’ right-back Curtis Osano finds an ingenious way of locating a Fleetwood leg, makes contact and wins penalty. Many refs wouldn’t have given it. Thankfully this one did, leaving the coolest man in the gaff, Jack Midson, to slot home the penalty and preserve our Football League status.

AFC Wimbledon 1 Charlton Athletic 0, 10th April 2018, Lyle Taylor complete performance

A midweek game at Kingsmeadow, under the lights and a crackling atmosphere. From the outset, it was clear that the Dons’ soon-to-be departing talisman Lyle Taylor was up for it. Hustling and harrying the Charlton defence throughout the 90 minutes, Lyle delivered the complete centre-forward performance, including pressing Charlton centre-back Patrick Bauer into a costly error, leaving Taylor with a one-on-one with the Charlton goalkeeper which he gleefully converted to win us the game.

AFC Wimbledon 4 West Ham United 2, 26th January 2019, Wagstaff delivers

This Saturday night drubbing seems like yesterday as plucky, bottom-of-the-table Dons chastened the East End Premier League wideboys to a humiliating, ignominious FA Cup  defeat. This was the game when Scott Wagstaff stepped out of the shadows to prove there was more to his game than running around a lot. Waggy’s reward for his dynamic display was a date with chirpy BBC reporter Mark Clemitt, a yellow and blue dyed beard and demotion to the substitute’s bench for the next round vs Millwall.

AFC Wimbledon 2 Wycombe Wanderers 1, 27th April 2019, Pigott cements ‘Great Escape’

Four days earlier the Dons were celebrating as if we had won the UEFA Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup, all on the same night. We hadn’t – we had drawn 2-2 against League 1 champions elect Luton Town, albeit in a season changing manner. Fortunately, everyone had calmed down by Saturday, not least the players who were aware that there was still a job to do, starting with a tricky encounter against a niggly Wycombe Wanderers side. Step forward Joe Pigott who put behind him the disappointment of an early penalty miss with two opportunistic headers to cement the most unlikely of ‘Great Escapes’.

So farewell then Kingsmeadow – it’s been emotional!

 [Farewell Kingsmeadow was first published in the May-June-July 2020 issue of the Wombles Downunder fanzine.  Details on how you can subscribe to Wombles Downunder.]