Fan’s View – 2019/20 – Wimbledon away

Article by Paul Beasley Monday, December 30th, 2019  

AFC WIMBLEDON AWAY

Kingsmeadow / Plough Lane

Same as ever

I know Oxford supporters who go to almost every game but opt out of a trip to Kingston such is the awfulness of Wimbledon’s current home ground. Those who have come along for the first time are oft heard to say, “I’m not bloody coming back here”. On Sunday I heard “every time I come here I say that’s it. No more. Yet here I ****ing am”.  On every visit I comment on how terrible the view is. The shorter amongst us probably only get to see 10-50% of the action depending on where they manage to squeeze themselves in on the criminally shallow terracing. Even if, like me, you are over 6 foot the best you can hope for is 90% with anything down the left wing in the final third being a blind spot. I heard many an “I can’t ****ing see”. The Cherry Red Records Stadium (Kingsmeadow) is blatantly not fit for purpose and that’s without taking account of the woefully small capacity of 4.850. We were allocated 74 seats and 700 terrace tickets. They all sold, and two more from somewhere if the number of away fans quoted at 776 is correct. The total attendance was 4,763 but it never seems to have full on atmosphere there and remains all very non-league.

No wonder AFC have been for many years looking to move back close to their ancestral home.  There’s a section headed “Future Developments” in their latest published accounts to y/e 30 June 2018 where we learn: “In December 2015 Merton Council unanimously approved a planning application for a new stadium for AFC Wimbledon with a capacity of 20,000 plus associated development in a site on Plough Lane”.  “On 13 Dec 2017 protracted negotiations were completed. As a result the group of which the company is a member is committed to building the first stage (with a capacity of between 9,000 and 10,000) of a 20,000 stadium.” “The stadium will be largely funded by a £14m contribution from Galliard Homes, with whom the group made a joint planning application for the site, the proceeds of the sale of Kingsmeadow, the stadium owned by fellow group undertaking AFCW Stadium Ltd, with the balance to be financed by borrowings”.

“The new stadium will be held by a newly formed group company, The Wider Interests of football Ltd”.

Kingsmeadow is now owned by Chelsea FC – it’s where their women play.

As we enter 2020 the situation stands that AFC are £11m short of the funds needed to finance the new ground. Originally they had to find the money to finish it by the end of January but they’ve now been given an extra month. Outside investment is a possibility but it has all gone a bit Dragon Denish with three Wimbledon-based businessmen offering £7.5m for a 30% stake in the club, which is of course supporter owned. The Dons trust is split on this option with a survey being planned to gauge support possibly followed by a vote. Another possibility is for fans to be allowed to buy bonds in the club.

What I’ll say is I never want to go back to the Cherry Red Records Stadium. Hate the place.

Rest of their finances

In those latest accounts AFCW recorded an operating loss of £929k but with player sales this loss comes down to £507k. The balance sheet showed a deficit of just £361k. Turnover was £5m with £2.9m of that coming from match receipts and prize money. Employee costs came to just £3.8m which means they obviously find it hard to be competitive on the salary front.

On the field

Having been promoted from L2 via the play-offs in the same season as we went up, Wimbledon have subsequently found the level above a bit of a struggle. In their first L1 season they finished 15th but then 18th just three points above the drop zone and last season only survived on goal difference.

This time around they are again near the bottom but their home record before this wasn’t too bad with four wins, four draws and two defeats and in their last five on home turf had conceded just three goals. Their current form was somewhat more impressive with three wins, one draw and one defeat in their last five with their Boxing Day game being a win at high flying Bristol Rovers.

As usual then we’d got our work cut out and if sport is to have true meaning that’s the way it should always be.

AFC WIMBLEDON 1 OXFORD UNITED 2

We always expect a tough physical game against this lot and that’s what we seem to get, particularly at their place. This may be in part due to the fact that we are so close to the pitch and are seeing (chance would be a fine thing for many) the players doing battle a few feet away.

There’s no getting away from their long ball style though and perhaps that’s down to them feeling some sympathy for the paying spectator. If the ball is in the air there’s a much greater chance that those who have parted with their dosh in the hope of some entertainment will at least get a glimpse of it from time to time. Playing along the floor, no chance.

More and more in these FVs I’m quoting the match stats but they do confirm how games have gone and the type of football each team plays. We made 429 passes to their 316. The number of long passes provides the key. Just 79 of ours fell into that category but they clocked up 106. We of course had more possession, 57%. That’s because we pass the football and don’t just kick it.

The latest iteration of our opponents differs to that of other fairly recent versions. I wouldn’t call them dirty as I have done in the past. They were fairly enthusiastic but limited. No longer do they have a player like Lyle Taylor, one that you can’t help thinking, “I wouldn’t mind him in our team”.

At the start of the game we weren’t doing a lot other than defending which is something we’re pretty darned good at and naturally when we did have the ball we passed it about a bit. Football matches are 90 minutes in duration and there’s no need to force matters early on particularly when you are in a period when fixtures come thick and fast. Additionally, with five changes from three days earlier it would take a little time for us to get into the groove but our footballing principles remain the same whatever the starting XI we put out.

The first team to get the ball into the net were the hosts but Joe Pigott was clearly offside. The next time the ball found it’s way past a keeper it again was put there by a blue shirt when  Shane McLoughlin made as if to put a Sam Long cross out for a corner with his right foot, only to miscalculate and the ball instead hitting his left and giving West Ham loanee Nathan Trott no chance. Thank you very much.

The lead we had at the break barely lasted a minute after the resumption of play. Neat play by the corner flag by Brighton loanee Max Sanders set up Nesta Guinness-Walker (yes, really) whose first time cross was headed away but quickly delivered back into our penalty area. Pigott got there first to bang home. There’s nothing wrong with playing the game like that and rewards can be reaped as proven here. The closest white shirt to the scorer was Long’s who wasn’t far off getting a block in but whether that should have been his task as a full back is debatable because he was nearer to the penalty spot than the more traditional full-back territory.

This set-back did not cause any heads to drop or belief to disappear. We just kept playing our patient game and just past the hour mark had regained our lead and this time it was all of our own doing when we produced a trademark OUFC goal. The ball was played square across our back line and Shandon Baptiste in a bit of space received possession from Rob Dickie. He just turned and let it run over the half way line, looked up and played a dream of a pass which picked out the run of Mark Sykes and took defender Rod MacDonald out of the game.  It still needed finishing though and that’s what Sykes did with a very good low shot to notch his first league goal for the club.

We now looked much the better side and created and missed further chances. Such was my position on the terraces I couldn’t tell how close we actually came to getting a third but one or two fired in from distance looked very good attempts.

“We’re second in the league now, as things stand” a bloke stood near me excitedly insisted on telling me. Wait until 5 o’clock I told him. Even then I wanted to put a dampener on things by reminding anyone who would listen that there are still 20 games to go.

Having not wrapped the game up, we very nearly paid the price. Even top players make mistakes from time to time. Alex Gorrin was hassled in midfield and lost the ball resulting in a quick attack from Wimbledon. Pigott, who isn’t a bad player actually, got a shot away despite being surrounded by many Oxford defenders. Jordan Archer didn’t deal with it particularly well but did manage to block a follow up and we somehow got the ball out of play without damage being inflicted. The person who found the touch line? Gorrin who’d got back like the good pro he is.

As to be expected we look stronger when we’re playing our full first team but in this day and age it is questionable whether there is such a thing. It is very much about squad rotation to ensure the maximum is squeezed out of available resources over the short, medium and long term of a football season.

The defence still for the most part looked very solid and the two coming in, Long and Elliott Moore, once they settled to the task, did their jobs well although the former does not offer the same attacking threat down the flanks as the soon to be departed Chris Cadden and the latter is obviously yet without the experience of John Mousinho.

I didn’t think Robbie Hall contributed that much but Mark Sykes was one of our best performers.  This was only his 15th league start for us and it usually takes 20 -30 games or possibly even more to see a player get close to what they can become. I think Cameron Brannagan took a while and I’d say the same about Ryan Ledson and Joe Rothwell.

There are some though that are the exception to this rule. Take Shandon Baptiste for example. This guy has exceptional talent and it has not gone unnoticed much further afield than Oxfordshire.

As with the Lincoln game we have men not fully fit and even in healthy young men illness isn’t shrugged off in an instant so once more in those circumstances this was another marvellous performance and result.

I was impressed with our work rate throughout and so admire the way Gorrin pops up here and there to be stood in front of an opponent. He’s one of those players who must cover a helluva lot of ground yet never looks like he’s belting about here there and everywhere like a headless chicken.  In fact none of our players do which tells that they know exactly what their jobs are in each and every game they play for us under Karl Robinson.

There’s hardly time to draw breath this time of the year as it’s off to Doncaster on Jan 1. Looking at that League table though does take one’s breath away. With 22 games still to come and knowing that all teams are likely to have good and bad runs between now and early May I’m going to adhere to the one game at a time principle.

John Shuker

It was a sad day when the passing of another great OUFC man was announced. He was a regular in the side when I first started going to games as a kid and he is synonymous with the history of our football club. He was there at the very beginning for me and until fairly recently still there, attending the Manor Club at Cowley Workers Social Club.

John Shuker at Bicester Town Football Club after the Nigel Cassidy Memorial game in 2008

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