The story of AFC Wimbledon
What had begun as a distant dream became a glorious reality when AFC Wimbledon completed their first League Two campaign last May. As the Dons fans enjoyed the conclusion of their first season back in the Football League with a victory over already promoted Shrewsbury Town, it was a lot for them to take in. A club that had faced oblivion a decade before had established itself back among the elite 92 - an astonishing achievement in so short a time.
In May 2002 a specially-appointed FA Commission made a decision that shocked football fans everywhere: the old Wimbledon FC was to be allowed to relocate to a Buckinghamshire new town. The Dons fans were outraged and determined not to let a proud 104-year history die. Within just six weeks, during that summer, AFC Wimbledon - a club the three man panel had declared would be "not in the wider interests of football" - was born.
The new Dons’ opening match in the Combined Counties League attracted 2,449 fans to Sandhurst Town’s Bottom Meadow ground, where terracing was improvised from bales of hay. After finishing third at the end of that first campaign, AFC Wimbledon secured a league and cup double in 2004. The next season they won the Ryman League First Division South before twice failing in the Premier Division play-offs over the following 24 months.
The upward momentum was restored with the arrival of the experienced Terry Brown in 2007. The new manager helped the team to scramble out of the Ryman League via the play-offs in his first season, and he followed that up by leading his side to the Conference South title twelve months later. The Blue Square Bet Premier proved a tougher nut to crack, but after finishing eighth in their debut season, the Dons secured the runners-up spot in 2011 before triumphing in the play-offs.
The rise of AFC Wimbledon has brought inevitable comparisons with their illustrious predecessors’ climb from the Southern League to the old First Division during the 1970s and 80s. That success culminated in a victory over Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup Final, prompting BBC commentator John Motson to deliver the immortal line, "The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club". Those days may be in the past, but the collective spirit lives on in the large numbers of fans who give up their time to run the present club.
AFC Wimbledon is still controlled by its supporters via the one-fan-one-vote Dons Trust. The club was conceived on 27 May 2002 by Kris Stewart, Ivor Heller, Trevor Williams and Marc Jones, who were looking at how they could start anew while fellow campaigners were protesting in London’s Soho Square and waiting to hear whether the relocation of their club would be sanctioned. "We all felt that if the vote went against us, we would have to start another club," Heller said.
Ten years on, founding chairman Stewart admitted that reaching the Football League in so short a time had shocked even him. "I thought it was possible, but it did not seem likely or even probable," he said. But driven by a powerful sense of injustice, the club earned the right to be back rubbing shoulders with familiar foes from their days in the old Fourth Division. It was a vindication for those who believe that league places should be earned solely through success on the playing field. What a difference a decade makes!