Report by Dave Boyle
A beautiful day
How good was that? Think of all the things that you want football be to about, and it had them. Nick Hornby did one in Fever Pitch that included things like a sending off, a 5 goal thumping, and some real-life thumping between players. I disagree. He misses some of the best aspects of being a football supporter though with that list, and they were all there for this game.
The sun was shining, for a start. Sandhurst were well organised and ready to treat us. They'd made the club bar the 'Batsford Arms' for the day, and the rebranding was continued with AFC Wimbledon flags on the roof. The Wombulance was doing brisk trade, as was the bar. Everyone was smiling. It was a happy day before a ball was kicked.
The ground was filling up nicely, as were Wombles with a nice selection of food put on. Veggie burgers too, and Italian ice-cream. There were no stands at all - just a metal barrier round the pitch and some distinctly boggy areas around it. The advice was to get there early to get a spot to view from, and it was good advice too.
The players came out to warm-up, and we caught a glimpse of the new shorts. 15 minutes later and we saw the real deal. Wombles in yellow and blue and 2500 to raise the non-existent roof.
From kick-off we looked good. The worry from the friendlies was just not knowing how we would fare, having no measure of what the level was in the CCL. There may be easier games, there may be tougher ones, but we looked OK. Kevin Cooper was already threatening - his pace and skill beat the last man out wide and he went for a shot. That was narrowly wide.
It set the tone though - Keith Ward was working hard in midfield and playing the ball intelligently and we looked dangerous. The Sandhurst defence looked shaky too, with clearances not always relieving the pressure. This frailty led to the first goal, as the ball came through, was missed by the centre back and came through to Cooper, who's low shot really should have been saved, but the keeper let it slip under his body and it trickled into the net. Cue massive celebrations and the Dons swarming forward. A corner forced a good save from the keeper making amends for the first goal, but he was helpless from the resulting corner where Ward powered a header into the back of the net. Ward ran over to the crowd behind the goal where he was mobbed, his face pumped with emotion.
Unfortunately, the pressure on the barrier and the lack of good drainage meant that the bar bent and the barrier as a whole was far from secure. Cue stewards asking people to move away from the barrier. It would be difficult to stop the crowd though if we kept this up.
We should have had a penalty when Cooper was hacked down by three players. Coops then got a free kick a minute later for a far more subtle offence. Was the referee losing it? It certainly looked so. We still threatened though, with Trigger going close with a spin and turn volley.
But then we were hit by a piece of bad luck. A screamer from outside the box was tipped on to the bar, but the old style square goalposts meant that instead of skimming off and out, the ball bounced up in the air and was nodded in on the rebound.
Second half. Much more open that the first, and we had several chances but just couldn't put the ball away. Sandhurst continued to look vulnerable, but so did we. The pace of Sully and Cooper gave their back line a torrid time, but our midfield tired and didn't give our own defence any respite. Cooper kept getting caught offside - or was he? Maybe the Linesman was a bit rubbish. The debate was settled when he pulled up a move which had Ward breaking through whilst Cooper retreated playing no part in the move. Muppet.
Several chances left Dons hearts in mouths as Sandhurst sensed our nerves as we failed to get the killer third. Tony Reading was taken off after a clash of heads late on left him with a nasty cut and left us worried. Could we hold out? It was nearly time, but the big issue was how long the referee would allow. I watched him more than the match, I must confess, waiting for the whistle to go to his lips. He seemed to stop his watch (made in Old Trafford?) for every throw in and corner, and I wondered how many times a man could look at his linesman without signalling full time.
After what seemed like an eternity (but was actually 9 minutes, which is the same thing when it comes to time added on), he did the right thing. We'd done it - won our first game in the league. Kevin Cooper was the official man of the match, and mine too. Everytime he got the ball and the defence backed off and the crowd became excited. He might be frustrating, he might seem greedy, and he might get caught offside, but he'll score goals, create goals and win free kicks everywhere in this league. He still needs a haircut though.
A great day finished off in style back in Wimbledon at the Hand in Hand, where Terry and players joined fans for a drink to talk over the day's events under a beautiful late summer sky. Does football get much better than this? I can't see how. Scorching sun, three points, great hosts and lovely ground, our lovely fans, our lovely team and a bond between everyone at the club. You can stick your football league up yer Milton Keynes if you ask me.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Kevin Cooper