In the wider scheme of things, the 10th July 2002 won’t go down as a major historical date. In fact the only significant event according to onthisday.com was the sale at Sotheby’s of Peter Paul Rubens’ painting The Massacre of the Innocents for £49.5 million.
In football circles however, the rise of AFC Wimbledon was about to start. The story of this football club is the stuff of legend. It’s about how Wimbledon FC was allowed to move 60 miles from its home, change its name, and alienate it’s entire fan base. All, according to the English Football Association, “in the wider interests of football”.
Not lying down quietly, the fan base set up their own club, held player trails on Wimbledon Common, and organised on this day 16 years ago a friendly against Sutton United. No one knew what to expect. Would anyone turn up?
As it happens, yes they would. Some 4000 fans queued outside Sutton’s ground on a balmy Wednesday evening. So many in fact that the kickoff was delayed by almost an hour to allow them all in.
The rag bag mix of players ran onto the pitch. They weren’t fit, hardly knew each other’s names, let alone where they were supposed to play, but we didn’t care. After a long hard battle to keep our club, we fans just wanted to watch football.
We lost the game, fairly easily as it turned out, but it didn’t matter. Never had a defeat seemed like a victory until that evening. I was there that evening, and the smiles on the faces as we left the ground, is a sight I’ll remember until my last breath.
We knew we were onto something special.
Roll on to 2018 and our club has multiple promotions under it’s belt, turned professional, and maintains a position in the third tier of English football. We’re not the biggest or wealthiest club by some margin, but it was never about wealth or prestige. We just wanted to get back to watching our team play football.
Whether this changes remains to be seen. It is a fact that with our success comes expectation. The sense of anger and injustice over the original decision to allow the club’s relocation is still there, and it manifests itself occasionally in a greed to get back to the Premier League.
We may well have been founder members of the Premier League, but that was almost 20 years ago. These days the league is a different place. Money abounds. Money we don’t have. We run our club on a shoestring. Our playing budget is around £3,000,000. With some Premier League players on £250,000 a week, our budget wouldn’t last long.
So for now we do our best to maintain our position. We’ve got a new ground to look forward to in around 18 months. It’s just down the road from where the old ground was before it was knocked down to make way for apartments. Whenever we play that first game back on Plough Lane, it will be another lump in the throat moment in the life of this incredible club.