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Friday 06 May 2011
A memory of Radio WDon from times past

In honour of the many Dons fans who will be watching or listening to the play off semi final from afar we are reprinting an article about the problems and pleasures of remote listening, written at the time of the Ryman League play offs.

When my wife and I decided on a nine-month round-the-world career break, I was all too aware that there was a major downside: I'd be missing watching the Dons for all that time. While the trip has been everything we had hoped for -- and more -- there were certainly times when I wished that someone had invented a teleporter and I could be beamed back home to watch AFC Wimbledon games.

The matchday experience for a supporter who is about as far away from Kingsmeadow as you can get is, of course, very different to actually being there. Keeping up with the news is very easy, even when in deepest South America, thanks to some fantastic sources of information: my family and friends, the Old Centrals Repository guestbook and Radio WDON. So, while I took my laptop with me primarily to keep in touch with family and friends, I did so knowing that I'd also be able to log on and "watch" some games via the guestbook.

Our trip began in December, the day after the home defeat to Chelmsford. Disappointed with this result, in the early part of our trip I was happy for my matchday updates to consist of a text message confirming the final score and the chance to read post-match opinions on the guestbook. In fact, as we adjusted to life without work, we often realised it was a Saturday only when the first football-related text arrived.

But it wasn't long before I found that I had to be part of it all again. By the time of playoffs, I was experienced in the joys and travails of following the Dons from afar. The struggle to find an internet connection or get mobile phone reception became a weekly ritual, and as we got closer to the end of the season it came to have a direct bearing on our travel plans. We found ourselves making increasingly desperate attempts to book a hostel or hotel with a reliable connection so that I could be up at some ungodly hour with my laptop and headphones. By that time, my wife was always sound asleep, woken only by my muffled cheers -- or more often, by me swearing at the computer.

I had listened to enough disappointing defeats by teams from the wrong end of the table to know that the WDON commentary was very entertaining, and an excellent way to follow a game when you can't be there. The guestbook adds to the matchday experience, representing a community of fans (some with very odd sign-on tags) who share in the isolation of not being able to attend the match but are part of another "club" that manages to make us feel that our support counts.

In the run-in to the playoff semi-final, our trip had taken us to Tasmania. When it comes to following the Dons on the internet, this has many disadvantages, not the least of which is the time difference: we were nine hours ahead, which meant a 4.30 am alarm call for a midweek game.

Once we had established our itinerary (for, as my wife reminded me, we were still supposed to be travelling), we set about trying to find somewhere with an internet connection. After several frustrating phone calls we were preparing to make a rather large detour to find somewhere suitable. But at the last minute we located a nearby Best Western hotel, and after a quick call to confirm that they had the facility to cope with my "important conference call" at 4.00 am, we booked ourselves a room.

From that point, everything worked like a dream: the alarm went off on time, the internet connection didn't drop out and, most importantly, the Dons won.

By the time of the playoff final we were in Tokyo, with the game kicking off at a much more civilised 11.30 pm. We arrived at our hotel at 8.00 pm, with plenty of time to spare. However, I didn't bank on my laptop failing to work, and after much frustration and swearing, and about two hours of increasingly desperate efforts, we tried a system restore as a last resort. Thankfully it worked; I couldn't quite believe that I might have had to miss not only the final, but any involvement with fellow fans at all.

As the game unfolded, the feeling that Staines were tightening their grip started to take hold. Although there was a very good internet commentary, it wasn't the refreshing sound of Mikey T, whose canon of puns can soothe even when we're losing. Despite some astute tactical advice from the guestbook (after all, we're not there but we're still all master tacticians) I began to get the feeling that it wasn't going to be our day -- or season.

The last few minutes of the game coincided with a meltdown of the internet, doubtless caused by thousands of absent Dons constantly hammering F5 to refresh the updates. Frantically switching between tabs on my browser as time appeared to be running out for Wimbledon, I saw an unusual entry in Paul Raymond's updates -- something like "1-vq". Sat in a hotel room in Tokyo, in the middle of the night, and thousands of miles from the action, I allowed myself to hope that this was the equaliser we had all been frantically hoping for.

Confirmation came a couple of minutes later on the internet commentary, which, being heavily buffered, was behind real time. My screams of celebration woke up most of the guests on our floor, and of course my wife, who joined me for the final few minutes. Much of this is still a blur: another odd text update, more buffered commentary and a broken guestbook, but enough to discover that Mark De Bolla had scored and we were actually going up.

So, in the end, it all worked out perfectly. We have had the trip of a lifetime and AFC Wimbledon got promoted. Do I mind having missed the most important game in the new chapter of our club? Well, yes and no. There will be bigger and better games to come, and after spending this season travelling from Rio to Cape Town across 18 countries, I have trips to Basingstoke, Bognor and Bath to look forward to. What more could a Dons fan ask for?