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Crabtree’s Classics: An unforgettable semi-final victory in 2008

Number 19 in our series this month

19 July 2020

Throughout July, Stephen Crabtree, the editor of The Historical Don, is selecting a memorable match from each season over the last three decades.

In the nineteenth part of the series, he looks back to the night when Wimbledon overcame a determined Hornchurch side to set up a play-off final that would finally allow the Dons to escape the clutches of the Ryman League. 

The picture above (taken by Paul Willatts) shows Jon Main surging past Hornchurch’s John Purdie before netting the decisive goal.

Tuesday 29th April 2008: Ryman Premier League play-off semi final

AF Wimbledon (1) 3 Cumbers 11, Main 42, 90

AFC Hornchurch (0) 1 Elmes 75

It was to be third time lucky. Having missed out in each of the two previous years, the Dons beat Hornchurch on a night of mounting tension to move through to the play-off final and a date with destiny. The Urchins' giant defenders were unable to cope with the attacking flair of Lois Cumbers and Jon Main, who put Wimbledon two up at the break but when Harry Elmes pulled one back with fifteen minutes left many fans feared the worst.

“We were hanging on and then Steve Ferguson cleared the ball,” Main recalled. “I ran about 15 yards back to pick it up. I was waiting to get clattered, but their defender stayed off me. He gave me a little bit of space to control it and then I was away. I could see Finnie (Tony Finn) on the right, all by himself, screaming for the ball. But I knew I could beat the last man. I got around him and tucked it under the ‘keeper. Then I remember being totally out of breath, and everyone piling on top of me.”

“The atmosphere at the ground that night was something special. There are times when Wimbledon fans really transform a stadium, and that was one of those nights.”

If the Tuesday evening encounter had been nerve wracking, Saturday’s final at Staines was excruciating. One down with 10 minutes left to play, many Wimbledon fans had resigned themselves to another year of Ryman League football before first Cumbers and then Mark de Bolla turned the game (and the season) around.

AFC Wimbledon: Pullen, Garrard, Haswell, Leberl, Goodliffe, Gayle, Ferguson, Quinn, Cumbers, Main, Finn.

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