In the fourteenth part of his series, Stephen Crabtree turns the clock back to our first league match after reformation.
On a hot afternoon at Sandhurst, goals by Kevin Cooper and Keith Ward (pictured celebrating with our supporters) earned victory – and so started a journey that led back to the Football League in 2011.
Saturday 17th August 2002: Combined Counties League
Sandhurst Town (1) 1 Mulvaney 36
AFC Wimbledon (2) 2 Cooper 18, Ward 22
Bottom Meadow had never seen anything like it. Just 12 weeks after receiving the devastating news that an FA Commission had granted permission for their club to relocate to a Buckinghamshire new town, the Dons and their supporters were ready to start again. The humble home of Sandhurst Town, more used to crowds of between 50 and 100, buzzed with the excitement of a new season and a new beginning, as nearly 2,500 fans converged to witness the rebirth of Wimbledon.
Kevin Cooper, who had been the first man to score against the new club in that first friendly at Sutton the previous month, went down in the history books by notching the opening goal with a low drive in the thirteenth minute. If that caused a major eruption they were literally dancing with joy four minutes later when Keith Ward headed home a corner to put Terry Eames’ boys into a two-goal lead. Although the Fizzers quickly pulled a goal back, the new Dons held on for victory.
“There were two and a half thousand people there, basically standing in a field,” goalscorer Ward recalled. “A year earlier they had been watching Nationwide League football in state-of-the-art stadiums and here they were crowded six or seven deep around a metal railing in a field with no seats to speak of.” It was the start of a nine-year journey that was to carry Wimbledon back into the Football League.
AFC Wimbledon: Bell, Oakins, Readings (Fry 75), Johnston, Roberts, Ward, Passmore, Sidwell, Sullivan, Mulcaire (Bassey 55), Cooper.