AFC Wimbledon v Liverpool Legends: 1988 revisited

Posted by Olly on September 13, 2004, 01:26:00 PM

On the 14th of May in 1988, Liverpool suffered a major shock as we were beaten by unfashionable Wimbledon in the FA Cup final.  The Crazy Gang's win over the Culture Club sent reverberations throughout football - this was considered to be one of Liverpool's greatest ever sides, playing wonderfully fluid football week in, week out with the likes of Barnes, Beardsley and Aldridge ensuring 4-0 wins were the norm. But on that day a "bunch of cloggers" (copyright any tabloid newspaper) beat us 1-0 with a Sanchez flicked header from a corner and reemphasised the romance of the World's greatest cup competition.

This turned out to be the Don’s finest hour, and was made all the more remarkable by the fact that the club were in the 4th Division only 5 years previously, and had been playing non-league football 6 years before that.  Since then life as a Wimbledon fan has not been all that rosy, with a take-over by a bunch of Norwegian suits, a manager who coached in his wellies and relegation from English football’s top flight.

In the summer of 2002, something which saddened football fans across the country occurred – the smart people who run our game in England decided to grant permission for a group of business men to relocate Wimbledon Football Club at the first possible opportunity to the relatively new city of Milton Keynes, some 70 odd miles from the club's history, roots and fans. Quite how the FA reached their decision is beyond me, but no doubt money prevailed over the wishes of the fans and the game of football in this country was betrayed.

Wimbledon were christened “Franchise FC” by many and it wasn’t until the other week that I noticed in the paper that the old Wimbledon are now called MK Dons and scrabbling for points at the bottom of Division 2 (or Coca Cola League 1 or the old Division 3 - whatever you want to call it). It won’t be too long before “Dons” is scrapped altogether and the team becomes MK City or MK Concrete Cows or such like.

Imagine how you’d feel if a group of wealthy business men, with no attachment to your club but with wads of cash to wave around, decided to relocate your team, the team you’ve followed for decades. And not just to another area of town, or a suburb on the edge of the city, but to a different city altogether? This may be common place in America, with franchised American Football teams moving every few seasons to which ever city will offer them the most cash, but for it to happen in this country, where the football club is often seen as an extremely important part of the community, is a disgrace and another example of how the FA is completely detached from the fans.

Amid great sadness and anger, the vast majority of Wimbledon's supporters disassociated themselves from something that they did not view as their club anymore.  How could they? As a result they decided to form their own club, and with open trials for players taking place on the local park AFC Wimbledon was born. Six weeks later they had obtained a ground, playing at Kingsmeadow (the home of Kingstonian FC), appointed Terry Eames, the former Wimbledon full-back, as manager and had been elected into the Combined Counties League.  The new adventure at the bottom of the football ladder started on Wednesday 10th July 2002 as AFC Wimbledon played their first match – a friendly against Sutton United – and pulled in an incredible crowd of 4,500.

Last season AFC Wimbledon were promoted as champions having gone the entire season unbeaten. They were victorious in 42 games, and drew just 4, amassing a record 130 points and ending the season with a staggering goal difference of +148.  Having played 7 games in the Ryman Division One league so far this season they are unbeaten again, and looking for promotion to the Ryman Premier Division. Looking at the attendance figures for the league it’s amazing how many fans attend AFC Wimbledon’s matches on a regular basis.  Their attendance is regularly around the 3000 mark, and they often take at least 1000 with them to away games. This in a league where last weekend’s fixtures saw one game pull in a crowd of just 65!

On Sunday 12th September AFC Wimbledon and their fans arranged a fund-raising day, with a match between some old Wimbledon players against some Liverpool legends taking centre stage to celebrate the history of the Dons and their special day in 1988. Kingstonian FC have recently hit upon hard times and may have to fold, and so AFC Wimbledon are purchasing their Kingsmeadow ground off them. Proceeds of the day will go to their stadium fund, and a donation will also be made to both the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and the Hillsborough Family Support Group.

Peter, Helen and myself went along to the afternoon to show our support, and to catch a glimpse of some of our heroes from the glory filled 70’s and 80’s.  Almost 3,000 fans were packed into the tight little ground, and everyone there made us feel very welcome. There is a cracking atmosphere amongst the fans, with everyone pulling in the same direction and a real feeling of pride in what they have achieved in such a short space of time. A feeling that is fully justified. We took along the Purple Bins banner (last seen all over Euro2004) and were asked by some parents to explain the Justice part of it to a few of their kids, and were also told about the progress of AFC Wimbledon both on and off the field.

The afternoon began with a celebrity match between an AFC Wimbledon side and a Liverpool side. I say celebrity, but to be honest they could have been anyone. The only one I recognised was Ralf Little from the Royle Family. After this Wimbledon legends from down the years were introduced to the crowd, people such as Lawrie Sanchez (unable to play in the main game due to a long-standing injury) and the old kit man, before the teams for the main event were introduced. Phil Neal, managing the Reds for the day, said a few words before the game kicked off.  Liverpool lined up at the start with Bob Boulder in goal, Alan Kennedy, John Wark, Dave Watson and Gary Gillespie forming the back four, Michael Thomas, Steve McMahon, Nigel Spackman and Jimmy Case making up the midfield, and John Aldridge with Mark Walters up front. Now that's some team.

On the bench were Ronnie Whelan, Paul Walsh, Davey Fairclough and some bloke who’d won an e-bay auction to take part (Ed - "some bloke" is a well known RAWK contributor and will be giving his exclusive report later).  For AFC Wimbledon Efan Ekoku and Warren Barton were joined by the likes of Dickie Guy and John Scales, and Terry Burton took up the reins for them.

The game, as expected was a very light hearted affair, with very few challenges being made. AFC Wimbledon started brightly and Boulder made a couple of good saves, before the Reds passing game started to take control.  Michael Thomas and Aldridge were put through a few times, but a lack of pace let them down.  It was great to see the likes of Alan Kennedy and Ronnie Whelan play again, and Steve McMahon was busy sniffing out the opposition despite gaining a few pounds.  Towards the end of the half Thomas hammered a good shot just wide, and so the teams went in at half time at 0-0.

The second half was a lot brighter as both teams upped the work rate.  Paul Walsh, who looked busy all game, placed a great chipped effort against the bar with the keeper in no-mans land.  Against the run of play AFC Wimbledon then scored with a good close range finish. 1-0 to Wimbledon but hardly surprising seeing as they had 13 men on the pitch at the time!  It was 1988 all over again.  As the game restarted, a lad ran on to the pitch stark bollock naked, carrying an old Wimbledon FA Cup Winners flag.  It was fairly cold by this point, and so probably wasn't the best of ideas, but he entertained the crowd as he ran round the pitch between the players for a few minutes before hopping back into the terraces.  With Aldridge looking a constant threat up front Liverpool continued to push for an equaliser. Thomas went close with a header, and both Walsh and McMahon forced good saves from Dickie Guy in the home goal. With 10 minutes to go Liverpool were awarded a penalty for a handball on the line.

With the crowd jeering, up stepped Aldridge to banish the ghosts from 1988.  This time he made no mistake as he slotted it home, with the home crowd singing “It's 16 years too late”.

The game finished 1-1, and was pretty entertaining. Well done to AFC Wimbledon and their fans for arranging the day to raise money for three worthy causes. We were made to feel very welcome and had a great afternoon.

Good luck to AFC Wimbledon on Saturday in their FA Cup game against Dover. 3000 AFC fans are expected to travel. And good luck in their attempts to get back to league football – hopefully it won’t be too long before they’ve overtaken Franchise FC in the league pyramid.

© Olly 2004

If you would like any more information on AFC Wimbledon and their fundraising efforts (or to give a late donation to their fundraising day) visit:

http://www.afcwimbledon.co.uk/

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