The 90s onwards
As Neal Ardley and the team make their final preparations for today’s FA Cup second round tie, we wrap up our tour through the Dons’ long history with memories of fans who started supporting the team in the 90s and onwards.
In the 1990s, the Dons would cement themselves in the top flight and under Joe Kinnear would go on numerous cup runs and take the scalps of the big boys at regular interviews.
It was enough to attract a new generation of fans. Below three fans explain why.
Alex O’Dee (1994)
1994 was the year that I fell in love with football. Naturally the first thing needed was a team to support and the lucky side.....Wimbledon FC. Coming from a family that was packed to the rafters with Dons fans, and living two minutes from Plough Lane it was the obvious choice really. Well I say choice but in all honesty there wasn't much choice in it at all, as a three-month-old baby in 1988 my Dad had decked me out in Wimbledon gear on the day of the Cup Final and from that point on it had been decided for me, I would be a Wimbledon fan.
The first game I saw was in December 1994, a 3-0 defeat to Blackburn, Alan Shearer scored but I remember very little about the game itself. What I do remember is that Selhurst Park seemed to be the busiest place I had been up to that point. In truth it probably wasn't, but I was hooked and from that point on I was nagging my Dad to take me back.
At the start of the 1995-1996 season I got my first season ticket and have had one ever since. Even in the dark days of relegation, and what followed in 2002 I never fell out of love with Wimbledon, and still love matchday as much as I did as that little six year old in 1994.
As a left back myself, my first hero was Alan Kimble. I idolised him, and remember meeting him on a couple of occasions and honestly feeling like the luckiest boy alive. I was convinced I would take his place in the team one day. Clearly this didn’t happen!
As for my favourite Game? It has to be the play-off final in Manchester. Words cannot explain how I felt that day, filing into the stadium knowing we were potentially one match away from claiming back our League place was too much to bear at times. When Kedwell’s penalty went in I was overwhelmed, we were back where we belonged.
Jenny Davey (1995)
My first Wimbledon game was against Liverpool at Selhurst Park in September 1995. We won 1-0 despite being down to 10 men – I was hooked.
I had moved to Wimbledon the previous year when I started work and I made two friends there, Tim and Sue, who supported the Dons. Tim, a work colleague, had been watching them since the Southern League days and Sue, a friend from classes at the YMCA, had got into them via her young son’s involvement with Football in the Community.
I had not grown up supporting a football team; my first live game as a spectator was at Fulham earlier in 1995; I was only there because a colleague was the fourth official and, despite them winning 4-0, it didn’t capture my imagination. It was important to me to support the team from the town where I live – and it also helps that, like many Brits, I like to support the underdog.
I was initially surprised by what I saw. Wimbledon FC was supposed to be this team that played dirty and didn’t let others play decent football. Yet there I was, watching the likes of Oyvind Leonhardsen, Marcus Gayle and Neal Ardley showing their silky skills (ok, we might have “shut up shop” in the aforementioned first game against Liverpool).
I bought my first season ticket the following season, watching an excellent run of games featuring a consistent starting eleven with Efan Ekoku scoring for fun. As I hadn’t known anything other than Selhurst Park it was the norm for me, but I didn’t enjoy being in South East London outnumbered by a combination of away fans and those who just wanted to watch Premier League football.
After that dreadful decision in May 2002, I threw myself into AFC Wimbledon, volunteering as a programme seller in the first season and getting to as many away games as possible. I cannot pin down one single favourite game from my time following the Dons, but it would come from the AFCW era rather than the WFC one. The candidates are perhaps Sandhurst Town away in 2002, the play-off final at Staines Town in 2008 or Gillingham away in 2012.
Hash Ahmed (1996)
My family had been abroad for a few years and we returned to England in 1996 (I was 12). At the time I didn't support anyone but that was the season when Wimbledon did really well in the league. I didn't want to be the typical kid in my school and support Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea so, encouraged by my brother, I went for Wimbledon without knowing anything about the club's history or spirit. As time went on and I learnt more about the club and how it got where it was, my bond and love grew stronger. It was being the 'underdog' that appealed to me. I loved how we gave it to the big boys, I loved how nobody liked us but we always defied the odds. Supporting Chelsea or Arsenal was easy, supporting Wimbledon wasn't but that made the love and bond with the club even stronger.
My first game wasn't until the 1997/8 season when we beat Coventry 2-1 at Selhurst with Jason Euell scoring the winner. It wasn't a great game and I was sitting in a horrible stand with wooden seats but there was this strange pull that I can't explain and I had the Wimbledon chants and songs ringing in my ears for the next week.
My first hero was Robbie Earle. I loved him being at France 98 and celebrated his goal like I would a Wimbledon one. I was also convinced that Jason Euell would become an all-time legend. But later it became Gareth Ainsworth, simply because of the spirit with which he played football. And that was what it came down to: spirit.
Wimbledon got and stayed where they were not through multi million pound buys and bankrolling billionaires but through 'spirit'. We proved that if you believe in yourself and you give it your best, nothing can stop you. Unfortunately we all know what happened next but today we see that spirit in AFC Wimbledon which was really summed up on a Tuesday night against Brimsdown Rovers in the London Senior Cup back in 2002. We came back from 2-0 and won on penalties. I lost my voice and my throat hurt but I was in love and had my football club again.
The 80s and 90s had seen Wimbledon defy the odds and produce heroics. The next decade would begin with a huge injustice, but would end with the club on course to produce an even greater meteoric rise.
The injustice of 2002 would inspire a whole swathe of fans to rally behind the boys in Blue and Yellow. Below two fans recount how they fell in love with Wimbledon
Toby Buckman (2002)
I used to be a Liverpool fan. But living in South West London and being unemployed made it rather difficult to travel to Anfield on a regular basis. Or... ever, actually. So I began looking for a local club to support. A team I could go and watch in the flesh. A team I could go and see play in midweek cup games that would not entail me traversing the West Coast Mainline and risking my life in a two-star Toxteth guesthouse... (probably).
A friend of mine suggested I go with him to watch AFC Wimbledon. So, one December day in 2002, I found myself in the Kingston Road End watching the mighty Dons take on the slightly less than mighty Sandhurst Town in level 356 (or something) of the football pyramid. And I loved every second of it! It may not have had the same level of skill, the glitz or the glamour of the Premier League, but I felt like I’d found my football calling. It was all here: the action, the excitement, the camaraderie and the humour. I don’t remember too much about the game itself, but I believe we (We! I was already calling us ‘We’!) won 2-1.
I enjoyed my first game so much that by the time the next home game came around (Raynes Park Vale, Boxing Day, Cancelled) I had a half season ticket. Over the following four seasons I only missed three home league games. I was hooked! Noel Frankum was my favourite player from the early days. In fact, he still is my favourite player. My white third shirt from this period is still my favourite Dons shirt, and still gets worn to all the important games.
There have been many memorable moments: the Premier Challenge Cup Final at Woking, Bromley, Staines, Millwall, Manchester. There was the Crystal Palace game with its horizontal blizzard (still the coldest I have ever been, ever), all eight minutes of Gareth Graham’s debut and the game against Boreham Wood that was so tedious and boring that it seemed to go on for about six weeks and had four days injury time...
My love for the Dons has continued to grow. I still look out for Liverpool’s results, but they are very much my second team now. Because somewhere, some-when, during that first season I realised that I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m a Womble ‘til I die...
Wagner Gimenes (2004)
My father started taking me to football when I was around four or five at Corinthians in Sao Paulo. I used to go to the matches at every opportunity until I moved to America in 1981.
I married my British wife in ‘86 and moved the family to Brazil three years later. After five years in Brazil, my wife had had enough and we moved to England in ‘95. I decided to “follow” my father-in-law’s team, Liverpool. When I say “follow”, I mean I never spent a penny on Liverpool, never bought any merchandise, paid for a match ticket, etc. That for me is very different from “supporting” a team.
For the next nine years, I only went to football three times. Once to take my dad to Wembley to see ManU v Arsenal in the Charity Shield, once to see ManU v Southampton at Old Trafford and one more in 2004 to see Chelsea v Liverpool. That is when the bug bit me again.
I saw the Liverpool supporters singing and jumping for 90 minutes, despite losing 1-0. I knew then that I had to go back to watching football, but I also knew I could not afford the time and money to follow Liverpool all over the Country. I decided to look for a local club to support. The greatest single consideration to choose a club was atmosphere at the games. I wanted to go and enjoy the experience.
Palace and Fulham were strong candidates, but I thought it would be far too cynical to support another Premier/Championship Club. I thought of perhaps looking in the divisions below and considered QPR or Brentford. Again, I judged that too close. Then I decided to look at the bottom of the pyramid and consider clubs local to me. I researched Epsom & Ewell FC and started to realise how many levels and small clubs there were competing in England, also how small the crowds were (as low as 20 sometimes). At the time, Epsom & Ewell were playing in Banstead, who in turn were in the same division as AFC Wimbledon.
I never liked Wimbledon FC. I associated them with violent anti-football team, who were homeless and unloved by the wider football fraternity. I remembered the protests at Selhurst against the proposed move, and sympathised with the supporters who were against it. I remember the decision by the FA and the news that the supporters met at Wimbledon and sold 1,000 season tickets after forming a new Club. I was happy for them, but never followed up any of the developments until October 2004. But all told they looked like the best potential candidate for my support.
The more I read about AFC Wimbledon, the more I was hooked on the principles and objectives of the Club. I started to read the Weird and Wonderful World guestbook, the Big Tissue and other forums to understand as much as I could about the journey so far. I knew I had picked the right club to support.
I started supporting AFC Wimbledon in November 2004, almost exactly eight years ago with a trip to Bashley in the Ryman League First Division South. As it happens, it was also Matt Everard’s last match.
I volunteered as a programme seller, Haydon minder and steward soon after and I’ve been involved with the Womble Underground Press for the past six years.
I have enjoyed every day as a Dons fan, the culmination of which was certainly our penalty shoot-out win over Luton when my favourite player, Jon Main, was the first to celebrate with Danny Kedwell our promotion to the Football League.