The story of Wimbledon FC of south west London, is a warning to all supporters of what can happen when success attracts owners the club could well do without.
Formed in 1889 as Wimbledon Old Central FC and playing on Wimbledon Common, the club played in local football. In 1905 they dropped ‘Old Central’ from their name to become Wimbledon FC, although the change didn't bring much luck, as they folded owing to financial difficulties in 1910.
They reformed a year later as Wimbledon Borough before reverting to Wimbledon within a few months, and then moving into Plough Lane in 1912. The club joined the Athenian League in 1919 and then the Isthmian League two years later.
The 1930’s were to see many great triumphs at Plough Lane. Isthmian League titles were secured in 1930-31, 1931-32 and 1934-35; the same season that the club reached the final of the FA Amateur Cup Final for the first time. In the showpiece Wimbledon were defeated 2-1 by Bishop Auckland in a replay at Stamford Bridge A fourth consecutive Isthmian League crown was added the following season.
The Dons second Amateur Cup Final came in 1947. This time it was Leytonstone who triumphed 2-1 at Highbury. Further Isthmian League wins came in 1958-59 and 1961-62 and 1962-63 before the club completed the doube by finally lifted the Amateur Cup with a 4-2 victory over local rivals Sutton United at Wembley. An eighth Isthmian League title was claimed in 1963-64 before Wimbledon turned semi-professional and joined the Southern League.
To view the Wembley win against Sutton United, go to:
Wimbledon competed well without winning the league, but they were thrust into the conscience of the nation’s sports loving public during the 1974-75 season for an incredible FA Cup run.
Entering in the very first qualifying round they saw off Bracknell Town, Maidenhead United, Wokingham Town, Guildford Dorking United, Bath City and Kettering Town to find themselves in the third-round proper. They travelled to top flight Burnley and pulled off an astonishing 1-0 win. Their reward was a trip to Elland Road to take on reigning league champions Leeds United. Incredibly their keeper Dickie Guy pulled off a penalty save from Peter Lorimer as Wimbledon drew 0-0. The replay was moved to Selhurst Park, where a crowd of over 40,000 saw Leeds go through with a deflected goal. To see the Leeds encounters, go to:
The success helped spurred the club on as they lifted three consecutive Southern League titles in 1974-75, 1975-76 and 1976-77 under the guidance of Allen Batsford.
These triumphs led to winning the vote to be elected into the Football League to replace Workington for the 1977-78 season.
Batsford resigned in January 1978 to be replaced by a young Dario Gradi, who led The Dons to promotion in 1978-79. Their spell lasted just one season before they were relegated back to Division Four.
In 1979 chairman of the time Ron Noades tried to do a deal with the Milton Keynes Development Corporation to relocate Wimbledon there. He and his directors even bought out non league Milton Keynes City FC as part of the plan. It was never fully executed. Noades was a man who over the years owned Southall, Crystal Palace, Brentford as well as Selhurst Park and the land where Imperial Fields, the home of Tooting Mitcham United would later stand on. Moving a football club lock stock and barrel apparently held no fears to him!
Noades bought Crystal Palace and moved on in 1981 and took Gradi with him. The Dons won promotion once more under Dave Bassett but couldn't prevent another relegation in 1981-82. However, his appointment was to prove a master stroke.
Bassett built a powerful team mixing experience with players who’d been released from bigger clubs and the clubs youth system. This led to consecutive promotions in 1982-83 and 1983-84.
After just two in the second tier, the team, with no star names but an unbelievable fighting won promotion to the top flight of English football. Many people tipped the ‘Crazy Gang’s’ stay to be a short one, but they were in a for a big shock. Bobby Gould took over from Bassett who moved to Watford with madcap Chairman Sam Hamman running things. One day in May 1988 was to be their greatest ever.
Wimbledon beat Liverpool in the FA Cup Final in a game many pundits predicted would be the most one sided ever. It was one of the greatest cup shocks of all time. To view the amazing achievement, go to:
Unfortunately they didn't get to compete in European competition because of the ban on English clubs after the Heysel disaster. Europe didn't know just quite what they missed!
The club were not everyone’s favourites by any means, as the purists didn't like their high tempo football mixed with some physical tactics which they claimed bullied opponents. Players such as John Fashanu, Vinnie Jones, Nigel Winterburn, Dennis Wise, Alan Cork, Warren Barton and Dave Beasant were certainly no shrinking violets, but they could play as well. Many moved on elsewhere for large transfer fees.
The club unveiled plans for a new all seater stadium in Merton, but nothing came of it. New managers came and went before it was announced that Plough Lane was beyond development for top flight football after the Taylor Reports findings needed implementing after the Hillsborough disaster. Instead they moved to Selhurst Park to share with Crystal Palace.
Joe Kinnear took over as manager and slowly improved fortunes on the pitch. In 1994 ‘The Wombles’ (as they were sometimes called from the mid 70's after the TV animation of fury characters who lived on Wimbledon Common) managed to finish sixth in the Premier League, their highest ever finish.
Wimbledon also managed some good runs in both the FA and League Cup's during this period. Hamman had investigated plans to move the club to Dublin but was stopped in his tracks before he sold the club to a Norwegian consortium. Home support was never massive at Selhurst Park, but that allowed large numbers of away fans to fill the ground.
Kinnear resigned in 1999 due to ill health before Egil Olssen and then Terry Burton had time in charge before the club were relegated in 2000. In the following two seasons they just missed out on the play offs before Burton was controversially sacked.
It was announced in 2001 that the club under the chairmanship of Charles Koppell were looking at relocating to Milton Keynes. This was met with wide spread protest from fans, but on this occasion the owners would win whilst the fans would have their club stolen from them in probably the most disgusting development in the history of English league football of which full details can be found on the AFC Wimbledon section.
The Dons spent one last season under Stuart Murdoch in London before they went into administration and moved to Milton Keynes but retained the clubs name.
At this point AFC Wimbledon was formed by the vast majority of fans who wanted to do with "Franchise FC" as their old club was being dubbed. In their first season at the National Hockey Stadium all the players were sold by the administrator as the club was relegated in front of slightly improved crowds. The club were taken out of administration by Pete Winkelman at the end of the season.
The construction of Stadium MK was started soon after as the team name was changed to Milton Keynes Dons and the club colours changed to all white, with a new crest.
Unbelievably they listed Wimbledon's honours as their own. This was only changed when the Football Supporters Federation demanded they be returned to their home in the London Borough of Merton in return for accepting MK Dons fans and calling off their appeal for all fans to boycott the clubs fixtures.
It is a very sorry tale of a very decent old club getting over ambitious, with some very dubious business taking place involving owners and businessmen and at least one local council.
At least there is a happy ending as the soul of Wimbledon FC lives on at AFCWimbledon.
Wimbledon 1 Hull City 4 (Saturday 7th April 1984) Division Three
It wasn't until I reached secondary school in 1977 that Plough Lane hosted League Football yet within nine years The Dons were in the top flight as The Crazy Gang steamrolled all before them.
My first visit was for the top of the table third division clash between the home side and Hull City. I was at college at Boreham Wood just north of London at the time and I met up before the game with friends in the newly formed Hull City Southern Supporters Club, who's first ever meetings I attended. The Tigers sprang a huge surprise with a 4-1 victory which led to me gracing the turf in celebration at the end. The ground hadn't changed much, save for the high fences since their Isthmian League days and really struggled to meet demands. Those of us in the away end even gave an ironic cheer when Wimbledon scored a late consolation. The irony would later come home to roost as the club missed out on promotion by one goal to Sheffield United after an agonising evening in Burnley the Thursday after the other games had finished.
The aforementioned away Wandle End was a steep bank of open terracing with segregation down the middle, for the rare occasions that enough home fans turned up to make it worthwhile opening both sections. To the left was terracing with the South Stand perched at the rear which contained about ten rows of seats. The home end was a terracing half the size of the one it faced with a basic roof at the back while The Main Stand maybe held 1,200 seats and was about fifty yards long with terracing either side.
The ground was a ten minute walk from Wimbledon Park tube station and slightly longer to Wimbledon stations.
Wimbledon 3 Hull City 1 (Saturday 26th April 1986) Division Two
The Tigers and The Dons faced each other again in the old Second Division. Wimbledon were on their way to promotion to the top flight despite many of their home attendances being around 4,500. They were a good side and they pummelled Hull 3-1 on the 26th March. The only changes since my previous visit were high fences around the edge of the pitch. I had the consolation of a good drink with the City fans in a pub near Wimbledon station before the game.
A further call
In 2005 I went to watch a greyhound meeting at the nearby Wimbledon Stadium which wasn't on as I got the wrong night! I walked back to the nearest National Rail station at Haydons Road along Plough Lane to be greeted with a high fence surrounding the site where the stadium once stood. A supermarket company bought the land but had failed to gain planning permission to build there. I could just see the sorry looking flattened wasteland through a chink in the fence.
The pictures on this page have been taken from the internet.