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Dons fans down the years (4)

1 December 2012

The 70s and 80s




In part four of our feature in which we follow the club's history through the perspective of fans we arrive in the 1970s, a turbulent decade. And for Wimbledon the national stage was being echoed both on and off the pitch. It would begin with a steep decline and end in a dramatic rise.


Below two fans also recall how the decade also saw the start of their love affair with Wimbledon.


Ray Armfield (1971)


I lived in Clapham back in 1971 and I'd been to a few top flight games with my Dad at Arsenal, Chelsea, Fulham and Tottenham. Whisper it quietly, but I was a bit of a Spurs fan then – hey, I was only nine and didn't know any better – mainly because I wanted to be Pat Jennings.


My mate Mike Harris, who I now sit with at Kingsmeadow, took me along to Plough Lane one day and that was it. I wanted to be Dickie Guy after that! My Dad eventually came down to see what all the fuss was about and he became a supporter as well.


I seemed to recall thinking that football teams were either the ones I saw on Clapham Common on Sunday mornings or the ones I saw on ITV's “The Big Match” on Sunday afternoons. Wimbledon fitted nicely in the middle somewhere.


A 41-years-and-counting love affair with the Dons started. As I got older, one girlfriend literally told me to choose between her and Wimbledon FC. So I did. She got taken to Wimbledon v Walsall on only our second date. We celebrated our Silver Wedding in July.


My actual first game was Folkestone at home in September 1971. We won 2-1 with a dodgy last-minute Eddie Bailham goal. Folkestone were so upset by the referee ignoring a linesman's offside flag that he needed a police escort off the pitch at full time and a few 'naughty' words were flying about. I remembered I wanted to go again the following week against Poole Town though. So I did.


I loved Plough Lane and still miss it deeply. We'd rush to buy a programme each week, stand behind the goal and see how many jokes we could get out of the visiting goalkeeper's surname. Poor old Poole Town had a bloke called 'Buck'. You can probably guess the rest.....


As for my favourite game that came four years later in the FA Cup when we took on League champions Leeds United at Elland Road. My Dad only told me we were going the night before. I was 12 and so excited I woke him up nice and early at 3am so we wouldn't miss the train. Wimbledon fought like tigers for ninety minutes and I just knew that Dickie Guy would save Peter Lorimer's penalty. I had monster bragging rights at school on the Monday morning!


Robert Dale (1977)


Up to the age of 13 I was a nomadic supporter.  My grandparents lived within spitting distance of Selhurst Park and, when I wasn’t sneaking into Crystal Palace at half-time, I’d go and see Tooting & Mitcham or Corinthian Casuals. That was until a more adventurous than usual evening cycle ride with a couple of friends took us within sight of the Plough Lane floodlights. 


Clambering over the advertising hoarding at the Wandle End, wondering how a football club so close to home had escaped my youthful attention, my first Wimbledon game turned out to be what was left of a reserve team game against opponents unknown.  The upcoming fixtures poster revealed the next first team home game and we duly trundled down the following Saturday afternoon, something that was to become a regular thing for the next dozen or so years. 


I don’t know for certain what it was about the place, but it just felt right. I felt like I belonged, and I made new friends, many of whom I still consider friends today.   I’d consider the team of the very early 80s to be “mine”, Alan Cork was the obvious hero, although if I had to choose a favourite player it would be Glyn Hodges.  Promotions and relegations followed and soon we were playing, and beating, the big boys. 


Sam Hammam deprived me of a Cup Final ticket through the club and, although I found one on the morning of the game, my love affair had been tainted, and the move to Selhurst was the final straw. 


For a decade I watched from afar, I watched the protests from my new house near the Thomas Farley pub (the adopted pub of choice for Wimbledon supporters at Selhurst) with a certain detachment, not believing it would ever happen. But I was suitably enthused to spend an afternoon outside Soho Square, and suitably angry when the announcement was made. 


I didn’t hear about AFC Wimbledon until the day before the Sutton game, but dragged a few friends along and was immediately convinced I was back home.


The 1980s marked a meteoric rise for Wimbledon. From the yo-yo boys of the basement divisions to FA Cup winners in a few short years. It was the perfect time to become a Dons fan.


Below two fans recall how the rise corresponded with the first time they turned to the Yellow and Blue of Wimbledon.


Joe Blair (1980)


I grew up in Earlsfield, pretty close to Plough Lane and after my Dad and Granddad on my mum's side tried and failed to get me interested in Newcastle and Nottingham Forest respectively, we went to Wimbledon.

My dad worked with Charlie Addiman who used to man the PA on Match days and he got us tickets for the North Stand against Darlington on 6 December 1980. I remember the whole experience just hitting me out of the blue and going from zero interest in football to being totally hooked. I remember very little about the game other than the result (1-1) and that Francis Joseph scored for us. He quickly became my hero along with Wally Downes. I'm pretty sure we left Plough Lane with me insisting we came back again next time and that I got a Wimbledon shirt for Christmas. The addiction started from then.

The point when I really felt that, not only was this my local club, but one that was really going places too, was when we knocked Nottingham Forest out of the League Cup in 1983. Forest were regarded as a huge club at the time and had been back-to-back European Champions three years earlier. Plough Lane was packed and Wimbledon absolutely ripped Forest to pieces. It ended 2-0 with goals from Steve Galliers and Glyn Hodges; the fact they both then went on to play in the top flight shows what a great time it was to become a Wimbledon supporter.

Matthew Couper (1982)


My brother and I had been looking for a team to support for a while. We were obviously both confused because at one point I was considering West Ham and Niall was thinking about Tottenham, but this really didn’t last very long. Our Dad even took us to see our local team, Charlton once, but it left us both cold.


I’m not sure what the actual catalyst was, but I remember I’d be in hospital for some time in 1981 and we started talking about why people supported particular teams. It occurred to us that people should support the team they were born nearest to. We were born in Queen Mary’s in Roehampton, so we got out a tape measure and found the nearest team was Wimbledon FC, who were on the brink of being relegated back to the Fourth Division.


We used to listen to LBC every weekend to try and identify all our players, at one point the most successful player seemed to be called Mr Owen Goal. I remember we got to the last game of the 81-82 season needing to beat Portsmouth by 13 clear goals to stay up, we won 3-2.


The following season we started going to the games with our grandparents and the whole experience was captivating, it was like we’d found a home and a common bond that continues to unite us.


The first game we saw was a 2-2 draw with Scunthorpe, but the first game I remember is at home to Aldershot, one nil down we went on to win 6-1. In that first season we were even made mascots for a disappointing home defeat to Hull City.


The rest of the decade was a whirl of success culminating in our finest moment on 14 May 1988 in the hot sun, against what was the best team in Europe at the time.  We won, so to quote Dave Beasant “we must have been close to being the second best team”.


Now Niall and I both have our own families and, unlike our parents, there will be no choice, they are already AFC Wimbledon fans.

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