A magical day for our academy players
It’s now four weeks since Wembley glory for Wimbledon, but the memories will never be forgotten by our academy players, who turned up in force to cheer on Neal Ardley’s men.
An open-top bus was hired for Under-9s/Under-10s with Spike Brits one of the players pictured enjoying the excitement of the occasion.
Below is an account of an eventful day for nine-year-old Spike, which his mother Paula put together:
It’s the night before and Spike is struggling to sleep with nervous anticipation. At 5.00 am on the day of the match, we’re anxiously checking the weather - it could put a big dampener on an open-top bus tour! Thankfully, the rain holds off and at 10.00 am we go on a last-minute dash to the party shop in Centre Court for balloons and wigs. Wimbledon town centre is awash with yellow and blue - you can feel the excitement building. Time to go to Kingsmeadow. Checks are made for flags, music and face paint, along with beers and vodka jellies (for the adults!).
The car park is filling up with friends arriving and excitement is building among the academy boys. And then she came around the corner - a beautiful red retro open-top Routemaster bus! We clamber aboard with expectations increasing. Is this really happening? Are we really going to Wembley? Yes, we are, and let's get this party started!
Passing through New Malden, Kingston and Richmond, the singing volume is increasing and the general public seem surprised and amused, but they applaud us as we progress on our way. With Wembley Way on the horizon after passing through the North Circular Road, everyone is in full voice and an old woman laughs and wags her finger at the boys chanting Wimbledon songs!
As we approach Wembley, big crowds are along the roads now, cars hooting at us and showing their appreciation. In the last 500 metres, it was a scene to savour as we travelled over a bridge into the stadium with a sea of yellow and blue below us, cheering and singing with us.
Then we go in, finding our seats, before waiting for the teams to enter the fray. The game is a cagey affair with the first-half not quite producing the free-flowing football we were hoping for. In the second-half our defence is able to repel anything Argyle have to offer, but our attack isn't quite able to break the deadlock. With a huge Dons support chanting 'Unleash the Beast', maybe it’s time for a different approach? On comes Bayo Akinfenwa, but it’s “Lyle Taylor Baby” who strikes home the all-important opener.
We start to think that it’s Wimbledon’s day once again at Wembley, a total of 28 years since our last famous victory there. It seems to go on forever though as Plymouth press. Is the injury-time ever going to end? The agonising wait is curtailed when Azeez is brought down and “The Beast” makes no mistake from 12 yards. We can’t lose now. Argyle supporters start leaving early, a sign the Dons have done it, and we’ve triumphed against the odds. Spike and the academy boys celebrate as Neal Ardley and his players lift the trophy.
As the bus progresses through Wimbledon town we are now being applauded like it was US who won the cup! Next it’s back on the bus with AFC Wimbledon Foundation coaches Joe Roberts and Andy May joining us. There’s a few more beers for the adults and as we approach Hammersmith the boys are singing their hearts out. As we reach Putney, there’s fantastic support from the public. As we travel from Wimbledon Village, down Wimbledon Hill, masses of supporters outside the pubs join us in celebration. We spot Academy Manager Jeremy Sauer outside the Alexandra Pub. The boys chant 'Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy', and he responds with a salute.
Next it’s back up the hill, along the A3 to Kingsmeadow, followed by a massive reception from Wimbledon supporters who have already congregated at the stadium to greet the victorious first-team squad. The first-team arrives and the Academy boys are subsequently given the medals to wear around their necks! A fine gesture to round off a fantastic day. We said our goodbyes after a day that will live with us forever. WE DID IT!The realisation that this did actually happen. Some people will only ever dream about what we did.