AFCW: WE’RE STAYING UP!

Sammy Moore free kick 60'

Sammy Moore free kick 60′

AFC Wimbledon 2 Fleetwood Town 1 (0-0 HT)

When the crowd invaded the pitch after the final whistle, it was as though the Dons had won the FA Cup. 25 years after their success against Liverpool, it was very appropriate that one of the Dons’ heroes Lawrie Sanchez from that victory should be in the stand to watch AFC Wimbledon retain their league 2 status and avoid relegation back to the Conference. But it was touch-and-go. Nail-biting stuff right from the start. The Dons had a couple of early chances and were the better team in the first half, but somehow they could not find the net. When a Gary Alexander header from Sammy Moore’s free kick put them in front after 60 minutes, Kingsmeadow erupted. But the joy was short-lived, with the visitors from Fleetwood managing to equalise within three minutes through Andy Mangan.

Jack Midson Penalty 72'

Jack Midson Penalty 72′

As time ticked away, the Dons kept chasing the important score and were rewarded with a penalty in the 72nd minute when full back Curtis Osano was brought down on the box. Jack Midson stepped up to take it on his 100th appearance for the club. He made no  mistake and the home fans were left to count down the minutes and seconds, which included five minutes of added time (no idea where that came from as there did not seem to be many injuries). So it was almost 4:55pm when the referee blew the final whistle and the crowd descended upon the players. Job done and Neil Ardley was swamped by well-wishers before being taken away to do a television interview. Come on you Dons! Incidentally one of the Fleetwood substitutes who remained on the bench was full back Conor McLaughlin from Belfast, who has won one international cap for Northern Ireland.

Neil Ardley

Neil Ardley

DONS DELIVER IN DAGGERS’ DEN

Home of the Daggers

Home of the Daggers

A weekend visit to London gave me the opportunity to see a part of it I had never seen before: Dagenham. Once it was a village in Essex and I manged to find the original village green around the Anglican church. It’s quite close to Dagenham East tube station, which in turn is only a short hop from West Ham. So it’s not surprising that in the pub, I saw a West Ham flag and a picture of Bobby Moore on the wall. I was there to see the local football team play Dagenham & Redbridge in league 2 against AFC Wimbledon. Known as the Daggers, the club was formed in 1992 when two sides merged. Their ground at Victoria Road opened in 1955, where Dagenham FC played.

The Traditional Builders & Contractors Ltd Stand at the West end of the ground is for the awy fans and was built during the close season of 2009. It has a capacity of 1,240 and is all-seated. Access to this  stand is via gates at the far end of the ground from the entrance via Victoria Road. The stand has disabled facilities, and incorporates a bar, snack bar, and new club office and changing facilities. The ground now has a capacity of 6078.

AFC Wimbledon pre-match

AFC Wimbledon pre-match

The players emerge onto the pitch from a tunnel in this stand rather than the old tunnel in the middle of the Carling Stand, on the right of the picture. The floodlights were replaced in summer last year, bringing the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham Stadium fully up to the new Football League regulations. The view from the stand was excellent, particularly for any action in the goalmouth, but obviously more difficult to watch anything at the other end of the pitch! It meant that the 873 travelling Dons fand including myself in the crowd of 2265 got an opportunity to greet the team as they finished their pre-match warm-up.

Neil Sullivan AFCW goalkeeper

Neil Sullivan AFCW goalkeeper

One of the biggest cheers was reserved for goalkeeper Neil Sullivan, who kept a clean sheet during the game. The decisive moment came 80 minutes in, when a 19 year-old Parisian recently signed by the Dons on loan from Cardiff City, Kevin Sainte-Luce, struck a beautiful shot through a crowd of players after the Daggers had failed to clear a corner properly. A tense ten minutes of normal time and four additional minutes followed, but the Dons held out for a deserved victory, giving them seven points from their last three matches and lifting them off the bottom of the table.

Overall, there was a very friendly atmosphere at the club, which reminded me a bit of the old Plough Lane ground where Wimbledon FC used to play. The social club (one of the sponsors is a firm of local undertakers!) sold a nice pint of ale from Cornwall and was worth the extra 50p admission for non-members. One other point of interest: I noticed a steward sporting a Southend FC woolly hat, who remarked to a Dons fan that the teams would be meeting each other at their ground next month in a midweek match. So perhaps another short trip via Southend airport (where the service on both days was very good) is on the cards!

AFC WIMBLEDON ON THE BOX

IMG_4538 (2)AFC WIMBLEDON 2 BRADFORD 2 

A draw tonight for the Dons but if you are looking for a match report, look further down! I am going to reflect first of all on how my past was catching up with me today, taking in Dublin, Belfast and of course London, where the League Two match was played. I started the day in Dublin and as I began my journey northwards this afternoon, passed Milltown Park, where the Jesuit Provincialate is based. The complex used to be used for the training of Jesuit priests but now many of the buildings are leased. The Irish School of Ecumenics has its headquarters there. I was investigating the story of William Carleton, which I will be writing about on Saturday when we visit Sandford church.

I was on the trail of a Fr John Carbery SJ, who was based at Milltown Park and was in touch with Carleton, a neighbour, before his death in 1869. I was given some helpful information about the Jesuit archives. As I left the building I saw a rugby pitch which is now leased to nearby Gonzaga College, where I went to school for two years. In those days, the school rugby pitches were beside Glenmalure Park, home of Shamrock Rovers FC. I have written about their history and revival at Tallaght here.

Sacred Heart Church, Wimbledon

Sacred Heart Church, Wimbledon

In conversation with a Jesuit brother, I discussed how the order has decided to withdraw from the Sacred Heart parish in Wimbledon, where I grew up, owing to the shortage of priests. It was during my schooldays at Wimbledon College from 1963 that I started following Wimbledon FC at Plough Lane, then in their last season in the Isthmian League, having won the FA Amateur Cup thanks to Eddie Reynolds.  The following season they entered the Southern League first division as semi-professionals. Tonight as I followed them live on Sky Sports, I was wearing a Wimbledon supporters’ badge dating to the 1974/75 season when they were Southern League champions.

I went to (the) Chelsea to watch the match: my local bar on the Lisburn Road in Belfast. Another London connection! Anyway the televisions were showing some music channel but the bar staff kindly offered to turn over to Sky so that I could see the Dons in action, minus the commentary. I was delighted to see Jack Midson getting the opening score and then making it a double strike thanks to a penalty. His was one of the few recognisable names as the players came out of the tunnel before the kick-off. AFC Wimbledon were then unlucky I thought to concede a goal to Port Vale just before half time, making it 2-1. A lucky bounce on a well-struck drive eluded the keeper Neil Sullivan.

Jack  MIdson

Jack Midson

The second half saw some good chances for AFC Wimbledon including an effort by Midson that could have brought his hat-trick but was ruled offside. Then a bad back pass by Mat Mitchel-King and a mistake by Sullivan saw Port Vale equalising 2-2. The Dons held out against the league leaders and manager Neil Ardley will be pleased enough to come away with one point. But the Dons are still perilously close to the bottom place in the table and need to start winning a few games if they are to escape relegation back to the Conference. A full report on the match “Plucky Dons Deny Vale” can be found on the club ‘s website.