This time of year, more than any other period in the football season, is when the focus is well and truly on heroes and villains – the scorers of goals that win championships, cups and promotion, or the mugs whose errors doom their teams to relegation or failure. A time of joy and despair for football fans up and down the country.
As the build-up to the weekend’s vital games intensifies, one promotion-chasing club has cause to celebrate even before a ball has been kicked, such has been its achievements in its short history.
Take a bow AFC Wimbledon. While supporters of the Conference runners-up will be willing their heroes to get a good result in Friday night’s first leg semi-final play-off at Fleetwood Town, the real heroes of this fledgling club are the fans themselves.
Men like Kris Stewart, Marc Jones, Ivor Heller and Trevor Williams. It was this quartet, aided and abetted over time by many others, who refused to give up when the football authorities allowed the original Wimbledon FC, with its 120 year history, to be stolen from them and moved 90 miles away to Milton Keynes.
Deeply resentful at the betrayal by the Football Association, Messrs Stewart, Jones, Heller and Williams channelled their anger and considerable energies into a uniquely footballing solution to fill the vacuum and gnawing sense of injustice that invaded their lives following the FA’s cop-out.
If they couldn’t watch their own club, then they’d do the next best thing and start their own team. And that’s what they did, just nine years ago, when AFC Wimbledon was born. Despite having no experience of running a club, the heroic Dons just got on with it. It was, to put it mildly, a sharp learning curve, but one key principle guided their planning – that the new Wimbledon would be owned by the fans, and not be subject to the whims of one, all-powerful shareholder.
That principle has served AFC Wimbledon well, helping the club to establish the firm foundations needed to progress up the football pyramid in double-quick time to where it stands today – on the brink of promotion to the Football League.
So, whoever emerges from the weekend matches as heroes and villains on the pitch, spare a thought for the real, unsung heroes of our national game, men such as Kris Stewart, Marc Jones, Ivor Hellor and Trevor Williams – and visionary fans like them all over the UK.
By Roger Cox – AFC Wimbledon fan