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Sunday 29 December 2002
"Two great heads back local initiative"

The following article is the unedited version taken from the 29/12/02 edition of the Non League Paper.

WIMBLEDON legends Laurie Sanchez and Wally Downes are confidently backing AFC Wimbledon's vision for the future, writes Andy Fitzsimons.

In a recent interview, the ex Crazy Gang duo admit that whilst they have an affinity for both clubs, the fans who now support AFC Wimbledon are predominately the fans that saw them fight their way through the leagues and the fans they can most relate to.

Brentford Boss Wally Downes, who at the age of 17 was the youngest player to score a league goal for The Dons, said:

"The group of fans that are supporting Wimbledon now would probably never have seen me play. Whereas the ones who support the new club are the ones that would know what we achieved."

For the 1988 FA Cup hero, now Wycombe Wanderers manager, Laurie Sanchez, he said:

"AFC Wimbledon are a team that the local fans can support that is essentially based in the borough, that's what the fans want."

Sanchez, who even donated some of his own money to aid the Seagrave Haulage League outfit, added:

"Although technically it wasn't a club I played for, I have the greatest of respect for the fans. It is well run, well organised and I really hope that they can keep things going."

When asked if he thought the fans would stick by AFC Wimbledon, Downes, who is still regarded by many to be one of the true characters left in the game, said:

"I think they will, or at least I sincerely hope so, because if they don't it will just look to everyone as though it's a novelty, and they've put too much effort in to let it go."

With relocation now inevitable for the beleaguered Nationwide League club, Downes hit out at his former chairman Sam Hanman saying:

"You can't tell me for however many years Sam was in charge, that there weren't opportunities to buy land and build a new ground."

He added:

"To be honest, I don't understand why this doesn't get brought out more ? other clubs have constructed perfectly good grounds in the meantime, while Wimbledon have been edging around doing nothing.

"Sam's a shrewd businessman, he's a builder, don't tell me he didn't put his efforts into not doing it, as oppose to doing it."

Downes also launched a stinging attack on new Dons owner Charles Koppell, saying:

"If he says moving the club to Milton Keynes is the best thing to do, then fine ? you have to take it that he's in charge and he's running it. But if that proves not to be the case then he can be shown up for the charlatan and fraud that he is."

The Brentford Boss also feels that his ex club has sold their trusted fans down the river ? with many defecting to the non-league club for all the right reasons.
He said:

"If the fans have it in them to do that, then I'm sure they'll be resilient enough to stick with it. The very fact that they've done it is enough to prove that they will continue to support AFC Wimbledon whether or not they get promoted.

"The facts and figures show that Wimbledon have lost their support. Therefore, I firmly believe that if any club is likely to fold first, it will be my former club,"added Downes.

With the new Dons riding high in the league, and still very much on their honeymoon period ? it's hardly surprising that AFC Wimbledon Chairman Kris Stewart is overwhelmed with his side's quick rise to fame ? which has already brought a number of the old faces down to Kingsmeadow.

"It's fantastic," said Stewart. "However, AFC Wimbledon is never going to make a lot of money for its owners ? that's not the idea it was set up. It is a club that was set up by the fans and owned by the community."

"Football fans in general seem to put up with a lot, with clubs often abusing their loyalty. All I can say is that we won't mortgage our future and we won't spend money we haven't got," he added.

Stewart was also quick to phrase the local authority, saying:

"The council have done everything I have asked of them, they've been very accommodating to what we're trying to do here."

He added:

"Although I wasn't present at any of the previous council meetings, from what I can gather, Sam Hanman was asking them for a 30,000 seater stadium, with 4,000 car parking spaces and direct access to the motorway ? so it's not surprising if they weren't as helpful before.

"Essentially, I am quite sceptical that Sam did this for a reason, knowing that it would be refused."

Plans are already afoot to relocate the new Dons to Tooting & Mitcham's impressive Imperial Fields ground, with a view to utilising the on-site office facilities in a proposed three-year deal.

The move would then ultimately give Brentford Chairman Ron Noades the opportunity to exercise his 10-year agreement with Kingstonian to groundshare at Kingsmeadow at the end of the 2002/3 season.