Today started a fair few hours before the 3 o’clock kick off, of our live game, at Vauxhall Station. Before enjoying what AFC Wimbledon and the Kingsmeadow stadium had to offer, there was a little matter of North London pride, bragging rights and whoever was going to get dinner depending on the victor to be contested. At 12:45 friendship was put aside for 90 mins because at White Hart Lane, the North London derby was being played.
As there was only half an hour from the final whistle of one game, and the start of another, on our bumper day of football, we decided to travel to Arsenals spiritual home South London, to watch the game in a Kingston pub, then move on to the live match of our double header.
On arrival in Kingston, Tom’s phone informed us of the many local watering holes, which show football and we made our way to the nearest one. From the outside it was not at first obvious if this pub did show football and signs for its brand new Tapas menu did not improve that. Tom spied a TV on a wall though a window, and as we opened the door we were greeted by an empty pub and a lady behind the bar sipping from a pint glass through a straw. We asked if they were showing the game, and she replied “What channel is it on”?, we both told her in unison it was BT, and with a shrug of her shoulders she said they did not show their games. On enquiring where we might catch the game locally, she screwed her face up so tight and simply said “I dunno”, after prompting the joyous landlady a little she pointed down the road and suggested the Oak’s.
After a short walk, we opened the door of another empty pub, only to find two guys behind the bar, studying an iPhone, and talking quietly to each other. It was clear from the GINORMOUS TV on the wall that they showed football, but most importantly did they show BT? The answer was a kind of yes as they were looking into streaming the game. With only 15 mins until kick off, and with reassurances that they would be able to show it, we looked at each other, decided to put all our eggs in one basket, and made ourselves comfy on the big leather sofa in front of the TV, which soon sparked to life and out flooded the dulcet tones of Owen Hargreaves and Micheal Owen.
As I must show impartiality when doing our blogs, and so as not to anger my compatriot, I will refrain from going into too much detail about the fantastic performance from Spurs, and the one Harry Kane, which resulted in a much deserved victory, 3 points, bragging rights and most importantly a Dirty Burger when we got back to Vauxhall!
We decided to jump in a cab to the match, as time was a little against us. Two things struck me on getting in. One was the overpowering smell of the air freshener and the second was the fact that every surface was covered in some kind of wipe down, black and red leatherette material, which made me wonder exactly what kind of Saturday night inspired natural disaster the driver was preparing his cab for?
After a short tour of suburbia, the tell-tale signs of match day became more and more obvious. The small group of fans in blue and yellow, the police huddling on street corners and a flood light towering above a semi-detached house.
We joined the crowds making their way to the ground, under a metal arch saying KINGSMEADOW, and made our way to the Chemsflow end, named after a local water treatment and air service company. Just before we entered the ground we noticed a group of what I think were local kids/youth, being spoken to by the police, one was on his own against a wall, when an older fan walked past and made the comment, “all you can smell is Lynx!”
The Chemsflow is a covered terrace, the whole length of the north end of the ground. Tom has a friend who is an AFC Wimbledon fan who suggested it was the best place to watch the game, and enjoy the atmosphere. He was not wrong!!
As we made our way to the other the end of the terrace to the way we had come in, because it was already very full, the teams came out, and chants of “AFC, AFC, AFC” started, and the singing and chants in one way or another never stopped. There were two huge flags hanging from the back of the stand, one stating the “THE REAL DONS ARE HERE”
“LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, YELLOW & BLUE, WOMBLES”
There are two main reasons Tom and I, were looking forward to coming to see the Don’s. One was what the club stands for. It’s truly meteoric rise from its creation in 2002, and 5 promotions in 9 seasons to League 2 after the decision to effectively franchise Wimbledon FC, ripping the heart out of the community and moving them to Milton Keens, to create the MK Dons. A fan led stance against the death of their club, proving to everyone it’s the fans and community that make a club, the base of all its history. As a fan of a club who have flirted with moving to a different location, for what can only be financial reasons, and nothing else, this is something very close to my heart.
“SWING LOW, SWEET CHARIOTS”
The second reason we were looking forward to coming was to see the two time FIFA strongest player, the only man ever to bench press his own Chairman, and the one who in these parts is simply known as the BEAST!!! And as the teams were read out this is how he is introduced, and shouts of “BEAST, BEAST” can be heard all around.
The visitors are in a state of mixed fortunes, they have just lost their manager, former Spurs player Justin Edinburgh to Gillingham, but still sit in a promotion place. The news that their Lottery winner Chairman, is going to stop bankrolling the club, which was seen to be a huge factor in Edinburgh leaving, is one he denies. Their caretaker manager will have a job lifting their heads, as on today’s performance, it looks like confidence is low.
“MILTON KEYNES IS FULL OF SHIT”
The Dons are 6 places below Newport in the league but with number 10 Akinfenwa “Beast” up front, it only ever seemed like there was going to be one winner. And 11 mins in, he added to his goal count, after a cross from the right, Akinfenwa heads in for 1–0. Newport, much like Liverpool in their FA Cup game a week or so ago, are simply unable to get to grips with him. His sheer size, like something from the grid iron and not a football pitch, paired up with his good touches, completely by pass his lack of mobility and make him one of the most fascinating players I have ever seen live.
“AZIZ, AZIZ, AZIZ, IS ON FIRE”
Newport have very little threat going forward, only the pace of their number 10 O’Connor and the hefty long throw of their number 13, Andy Sandell, look like causing any kind of problems, but with the Don’s number 22 Will Nightingale controlling things in defense and Akinfenwa being dominant in the air defensively and offensively, it doesn’t quite look like it’s going to happen for Newport.
“WE LOVE YOU WOMBLES, WE DO”
The rest of the half is dominated by “easy” chances not taken by either side, first is Newport’s turn. A cross from the left is knocked down and only requires a toe poke, 2 feet out, only for who the AFC program have dubbed Newport’s well-travelled number 11, Chris Zebroski the “Fan Favourite” to miss. Zebroski seems quite the figure of fun for the Don’s fans, his propensity to go over easily and moan at the ref, has one person brand him a “Diva” and they don’t let up the whole game.
The Don’s chance comes from a really well worked set piece. The team set up as if anticipating a cross from the free kick to the left of the Newport box, only for the Dons to slip the ball down the channel to their unattended player to fire the ball across the front of the goal, only for everyone in blue to miss it, and it rolls out the other side unscathed.
The last chance of the half is one that goes begging by Newport. Their Rory Delap inspired throw in, breaches the Don’s at the back and is knocked down only for the Newport player to tamely poke it in to the arms of the keeper. They will come to rue these missed chances in the 2nd half.
The last action of the first half is to my amazement the first booking of the game. A high standing tackle to the stomach of Wimbledon’s number 40, Adedeji Oshilaja. I am frankly amazed at the physicality of the football, and have winced at some of the no nonsense tackles, and crunching 50/50, but everyone seems ok, stands up and dusts themselves off. Perhaps I have been watching the prima donnas of the Premier League for too long?
Half time is a quick trip to the bar, which means leaving the ground, being reminded by the stewards to make sure you have your ticket so you can get back in. On our way back in, the same group of lynx scented youths are being frisked by the stewards and seem to be doing everything in their power to be as obnoxious as possible.
The 2nd half starts with the Dons applying good pressure on the away team, and it’s only a few mins into the half when they get their first chance. It consisted with a low cross along the ground from the right, with a good touch to get it under control, only for Akinfenwa to be “eased” off the ball by the Newport defender. The fans standing behind us say it must be a penalty if they managed to ease him off the ball!
One older gent to our right shouts “They don’t like it up them Mr Mannering”. A feeling from the home fans around us, as I’m sure with many fans around the country is that when their team is 1 up, there is a need to score that all important 2nd goal and kill off the game.
Seconds after noting the feeling of the fans around us, regarding a lack of pressure, the Dons attacker makes a run into the Newport box, and this time the easing off the ball results in a trip, and he goes down. The instant chants of “Off, Off, Off” start, the referee obliges and the Newport number 3, Feely, is shown a red card and the referee awards a penalty.
There is only one person who was ever going to take it, you were never going to see a re-enactment of the Mirallas, Baines farce that played out at Goodison Park recently. Akinfenwa places the ball on the spot, turns, walks with a few steps, and with what can only be described as a slow amble makes his way back towards the ball, strikes it softly and without any real venom, makes it very easy for the Newport keeper, Joe Day, to dive to his right and make an easy save, it’s still only 1–0.
Even with the 1 man advantage the home fans still don’t feel like their team is going forward enough, but with 15 mins left to play, Akinfenwa got his 2nd of the day, and sealed the home victory. A low cross again from the left, across the ground, takes a slight deflection and he easily pokes it in for 2–0, to shouts of the BEAST.
There may be many other players called the beast, including ex Spurs player Sandro, and ex Manchester city player Negredo, but in my eyes now, there is only one beast, AFC number 10 AKINFENWA.
Today has been really fun, not only the victory in the derby, but the amazing atmosphere at the Kingsmeadow stadium. I don’t think I have ever heard so many different songs and been to a game where the singing did not stop. The icing on the cake and the biggest endorsement I could give AFC Wimbledon is the way the players gave their time after the match to pose for pics with a small group of kids, and two 30 year olds outside the players and official’s door. A single club official introduced the players as they exited to the Jnr Dons who were waiting patiently. Without a moment’s hesitation they were more than happy to oblige their clearly excited fans.
After getting to meet Akinfenwa ourselves and grab a quick picture, we had time for reflection in the very grand sounding Presidents lounge. Just outside the lounge was a cabinet displaying some of the clubs achievements and memorabilia, proudly displayed for all to see, a signed picture of Vinnie Jones, hoping they enjoy the medal, his FA Cup winning medal no less and a piece of the road sign of Plough Lane, Wimbledon’s spiritual home. To outsiders like us, it is clear this club is very proud of where it’s from, and is firmly rooted in its local community, along with the fine atmosphere and constant singing, football has a lot to learn from the Don’s, for me they are the poster boys for what football is all about.