Monday, January 5, 2009

1/6/09: History Lesson- Wimbledon FC: Soccer's Version of the Relocated Cleveland Browns

Reasoning Behind Offseason Soccer History Posts:
I have been reading alot of books on soccer history thanks to a Borders gift card for Christmas. I usually pick up regular history books with my time, but have shifted to the history of soccer. I bought three books. The Ball Is Round a 1,000 page complete history of soccer which factually describes why soccer never took off until recently in America or Australia as it did in England. The complicated reasons behind the slow take off include economic and social reasons. But, also included simplistic playground decisions like whether the boys who started football in the 1800's on the school playgrounds decided to run with a football in hand(Australia Rules, American Football, and English Rugby) or kick the ball(Football/Soccer). Also sometimes soccer was shunned in Ireland for example because of Irish nationalism and soccer being a British sport. The Ball Is Round additionally discusses everything on soccer's history from 1,200 B.C.E to 2006, albeit I have only made it to pg. 200 so far.

The books that sparked this post series idea:

I also bought "Bloody Confused", the recent story of American sportswriter Chuck Culpepper who was depressed with the American sports scene of steriods, overhyped players like Chad Johnson and Pacman Jones, and ESPN repeat highlights 24/7 so Chuck moved to England for a love interest and to write about soccer. When he moved to England, Culpepper decides to pick a team and falls in love with the simplistic Fratton Park and Portsmouth over the 2007 season. Chuck becomes a supporter home and away of Portsmouth, befriends a group of guys(one who dresses up as a blue bear with the Pompey symbol etched on his outfit), and Chuck visits just about every stadium in the EPL. Culpepper also goes to a few non-Portsmouth games including Aston Villa, Wigan, and a couple relegation battles as he was fascinated with relegation. I finished this one very quickly, very good book.

The third I picked up because I still had $18 bucks left on my Borders Gift Card was, "March of the Hooligans", by Dougie Brimson. Dougie theorizes that hooliganism may hit America next and pointed that theory out on MLS Rumors with a strong suggestion to read his book which is only a measly 150 pages. Since it was between that and a book on Beckham's life, (not much of a soccer selection at the Borders in Erie, PA) I said, "what the hell." The book talks about his sort of hooligan days at family club Watford and rather poorly connects it with Hooliganism following on the back of Beckham to America. Yeah, it made about as much sense as the thoughts behind creating the MTV show "Bromance" (and, I think Dougie hasn't spent enough time around American stadiums and with American supporters if he really thinks what he does, it's like me trying to talk about the Hyundai A-League). As the more I have researched the topic, whether it's England or Continental Europe, the more convinced I have become that the societal and economic make up as well as the relationships between the fans makes that sort of hooliganism in 80's England downright impossible in America (MLS becoming more popular then the NFL is more plausible). Instead, supporters tough guy bravado is usually more of an act in America and compared to a OSU vs. Michigan game or a Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh NFL game or a crowded bar on a Friday night an almost unregisterable acting. Further, a bunch of college kids no matter what team they support are not downtrodden and bonkers enough to take it to Cass's level. That's just crazy and stupid. I watched that movie on youtube and said to myself, "what the hell, these guys are crazy, nope not possible here and if Fire fans start leg stabbing that's when I start watching online." Instead, it seems as in America the best way to one up your opposing fans instead of whatever you call the West Ham game(I call it a full moon), is to embarrass them in their own stands by creating more noise or better crowd demonstrations(TIFO). I think the summer of 2008 was a phase in MLS(like Emo music for teenagers) and not a real violent one at that(I believe there was one arrest at MLS stadiums this whole season which included one American West Ham Fan from Philadelphia, PA), instead of all that MLS supporters groups are hitting a new phase. Here in Columbus it's a crowd noise and crowd demonstration phase, one that Chicago and DC fans hit about a year before us. Security has improved and the topic has become boring to American supporters, in the Eastern Conference final fans were way more concerned with celebrating with their own team then to worry about the Chicago rival supporters. As we bounced to the chants of "We Love You" with our team bouncing euphroically as well right in front of our stands, the last thought on my mind was what the Chicago scumlords were up to. It's just not happening like that. Yes, it's fun to have a laugh at away fans, but not to an insane extent.

Anyways, the point of boringly describing the books I have read during my Christmas siesta is to point out that I have fallen in love with the history of soccer. The good and the bad. And, during the slow times of this offseason I will be sharing interesting stories that I have found that you may know something or nothing about. The first one is about Wimbledon FC (probably not exactly the most important development in the history of soccer, but I love real teams like this and I run the blog so I don't have to go in order, :-) ). Wimbledon was a team that I faintly heard about but never studied until I came across a video today. It's quite the story.

The Rise and Fall of Wimbledon FC, And It's New Rise To The Top As AFC Wimbledon:

Wimbledon FC from 1982 to 1986 earned three promotions in four seasons to move from the fourth division of English soccer to the first division, 9 years after being elected to the English Football League. Wimbledon FC, in 1987, then went on to place sixth in their first year in the first division(now known as the Premier League). Wimbledon then went on to win the FA Cup in 1988 1-0 against Liverpool thanks to their players dubbed the "Crazy Gang" which included Vinnie Jones, Lawrie Sanchez, and John Fashanu. Lawrie Sanchez scored the winning goal below:

The "Crazy Gang" known for their eccentric behavior and their toughness, were also known for their staying power on the team, if you think Oughton or Frankie have been around with the Crew a while with just over 100 caps a piece, imagine players with well over 250. This group below along with others, contributed to the club's remarkably long stay in the English top flight:

Vinnie Jones is a well known actor for roles in Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Gone in 60 Seconds, and Euro Trip. Jones amassed around 254 league caps for Wimbledon FC and 21 goals. Jones now plays on the same club, Hollywood United, as actor Anthony LaPaglia on their over 40 side. Former Crew player and former Crewture interviewee Brian Dunseth also plays on Hollywood United's senior side. A side that surprisingly defeated the USL-1 Portland Timbers 3-2 in the Lamar Hunt Open Cup in 2008. In 2007, the 42 year old Vinnie was offered a trial by a clueless LA Galaxy scout who saw him play in a benefit game, Vinnie said "you're 15 years too late." Here's a good video interview with Vinnie if you haven't heard of him before.

Lawrie Sanchez was the Northern Ireland coach from 2004-2007 and the Fulham manager for the 2007 season, Sanchez amassed 270 caps with Wimbledon. Sanchez had an Ecuadorian father and his mother hailed from Northern Ireland, Sanchez had 3 caps with Northern Ireland during his playing career. And, was the player to score the goal against Liverpool above.

John Fashanu amassed 276 total league caps for Wimbledon and 107 goals. "Fash" made the Times list of 50 worst footballers of all time for an assault that shattered Tottenham Hotspur's Gary Mabbutt's eye socket. Fashanu's brother, the late Justin Fashanu, was the first openly gay English footballer and scored this cracking goal against Liverpool, probably one of the best goals I have seen.

John's brother, Justin's tragic story.

Back to the club:
Wimbledon FC kept it's spot in the top division for a surprising 14 years from 1986 to 2000, the first division became the Premier League in 1992. And as late as 1997, Wimbledon FC finished 8th in the Premier League. But, were relegated on the last day of the 2000 season thanks to a 2-0 defeat at Southampton combined with a surprising 1-0 win by Bradford City against Liverpool.

During it's two years in what is now the Championship, Wimbledon FC just barely missed the playoffs despite having some well known names as John Hartson and Nigel Reo-Coker.

In 2002, faced with 20 millions pounds of debt thanks to unorthodox finacial management and transfer dealings along with relegation, the club was in financial trouble. Wimbledon had the smallest crowds in the Premier League but were comparable to a Championship side, there great academy, management, and loyal players kept them up for the 14 year period.

So, the club owners faced with financial crisis believed that moving the club away from London could make Wimbledon profitable again. They even crazily considered moving the club to Belfast, Dublin, or Cardiff.

The idea of moving a club away from its roots was unprecedented in England, but after much debate and speculation the English FA allowed the Wimbledon management to move Wimbledon 58 miles North to Milton Keynes. During this same time, the disgruntled Wimbledon fans started their own club AFC Wimbledon.

After the move was stamped the club could not leave London for the entire 2002 season and the support at Wimbledown dwindled down to mainly away fans, because of the protest of the home fans. In 2003, the team played as Wimbledon in Milton Keynes. In 2004, they changed the name to Milton Keynes Dons.

In 2006, the Wimbledon area of London called Merton received the returned ownership of all the Wimbledon FC memorbilia and trophies.

Since 2002, the AFC Wimbledon side has been replicating their old sides of the 80's by being rapidly promoted. AFC Wimbledon has jumped from the 9th division to the 6th tier, being promoted 3 times in 6 years. At this moment, AFC Wimbledon sits 2nd in the Conference South with 46 points, only 6 points behind Chelmsford City who have played two more games. If AFC Wimbledon finishes first or second, which is likely, they will avoid the playoffs for third and fourth, and once again be promoted. That would be AFC Wimbledon's 4th promotion in 7 years putting them in the fifth tier.

If they win promotion to Conference National(fifth tier) next year and become promoted from there. Wimbledon FC will once again be at the Division 4 level(League 2) that the Dons were at in 1982 before they started their run to FA Cup and Premiership glory.

AFC Wimbledon has a usual crowd of 3,000 supporters(out of 3,100 seats). Well above all of their opponents and a crowd that is continually growing with every promotion.

More videos:

AFC Wimbledon Website.


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