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AFC Wimbledon: One of the Best Comeback Stories in Football

A passionate Football (Soccer) fan who is into the sport as both a player, a fan, and in the future, a coach.

Left: Wimbledon FC's original logo. Right: AFC Wimbledon's current logo.

Left: Wimbledon FC's original logo. Right: AFC Wimbledon's current logo.

The Best Comebacks

In 1889, Wimbledon FC was founded in southwest London. For most of its history, the club was a non-league team, meaning that they played in the lower divisions of the English football system. However, after three successive Southern League championship wins between 1975 and 1977, they were elected to join the Football League. Through several promotions, they found themselves in the top flight of the league (First Division) by 1986. This was a fast rise after just joining the Football League four seasons prior.

Wimbledon FC was known as "The Crazy Gang" due to the boisterous and eccentric behavior of its players. The club's biggest achievement while being in the First Division was winning the FA Cup in 1988 by defeating a dominating Liverpool FC.

What Went Wrong?

After the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989, which killed 96 football fans due to overcrowding in the central pens of the stands, English football made changes to its stadium regulations. Prior to the year 1991, all football stadiums had both seated and standing options. According to the Taylor Report in 1990, the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control and overcrowding of the stadium.

Plough Lane, the original home of Wimbledon FC, struggled to adjust to the new regulations. This led the club to move their home ground to Selhurst Park in 1991. This venue is the home of their rivals, Crystal Palace FC. The hearts and memories of the fans were broken. They knew they would never see Plough Lane ever again. The club did continue to see good results over the next few years. However, what happened next would change the club's future forever.

In the year 2000, Wimbledon FC was relegated to the Second Division, following bad form and many managerial changes. A controversial decision was made in 2001 by the club's owners to re-locate to Milton Keynes, which was 56 miles (or 90 kilometres) from the club's traditional home. This angered many Wimbledon FC fans.

Due to the dissatisfaction of their fans, a fan-owned club was formed in the year 2002. This team would be called AFC Wimbledon. Meanwhile, the original Wimbledon FC, which gained approval to move their club to Milton Keynes in 2003, renamed their club MK Dons (Milton Keynes Dons).

AFC Wimbledon during their rise back to the Football League.

AFC Wimbledon during their rise back to the Football League.

Restarting From the Bottom

AFC Wimbledon, which is a completely different entity from its predecessors, aligned itself with the London & Surrey Football Associations and entered the Premier Division of the Combined Counties League, which is in the ninth division of English football. They stayed there from 2002 until 2004 when the club finished as champions of the Combined Counties League, which promoted them to the Isthmian League.

The Isthmian League Years

AFC Wimbledon competed for four years in the Isthmian League. They started their first season in the Isthmian League First Division, where they won the First Division in the 2004-2005 season. This sealed their promotion to the Isthmian League Premier Division.

A good start in the 2005-2006 season saw the club reach the playoffs. However, the club lost the playoffs, which kept them in the league for another season. The club missed out on promotion again in the 2006-2007 season, where they fell short in the playoffs again.

In the 2007-2008 season, after the appointment of Terry Brown as manager, AFC Wimbledon achieved promotion into the Conference. This was through another playoff run. The club played in the Conference South during the 2008-2009 season.

The Conference Years (Now Known as the National League)

Surprisingly, in the 2008-09 season, AFC Wimbledon was lingering around the top of the table for the majority of the season, eventually winning the Conference South (Division 6) title and earning promotion to the Conference Premier League (the 5th Division in English football). They were edging closer to a return to the Football League.

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Their first season (2009-10 season) in the Conference Premier was not exactly a fruitful one. The club was 14 points away from the playoffs, which marked the first time the club failed to achieve the top five in the league table.

In the following season, AFC Wimbledon finished in second place, allowing them to qualify for the playoffs. In front of 18,195 fans, in the City of Manchester Stadium (now known as Etihad Stadium), through a penalty shootout against Luton Town, AFC Wimbledon won the match 4-3 through penalties, which resulted in the club joining the Football League. They were the youngest club in the Football League and the fastest club to attain league status after achieving five promotions in nine years.

AFC Wimbledon's League Two playoff win.

AFC Wimbledon's League Two playoff win.

The Football League Years

After a fantastic rise to the Football League, the first season (2011-12 season) for AFC Wimbledon was one to forget, as the club finished in 16th place with only 10 points above relegation. In the following season, longtime manager Terry Brown was sacked early in the season. He was replaced with a former player, Neal Ardley.

AFC Wimbledon met arch-rivals Milton Keynes Dons for the first time in December 2012, in the FA Cup Second Round. This was their first meeting since Wimbledon FC's relocation to MK Dons. This is considered to be one of the hottest rivalries in the Football League, as hot as the Liverpool-Manchester United rivalry.

The club stayed in the Football League for the next few seasons, mingling around the mid-table zone and avoiding relegation a few times in the process. After five seasons in League Two, AFC Wimbledon finished in seventh place in the 2015-16 season, qualifying them for the League Two playoffs. In the finals, AFC Wimbledon won 2-0 against Plymouth Argyle in front of a crowd of over 58,000 in Wembley. This marked AFC Wimbledon's highest rise in the club's history.

AFC Wimbledon's run in League One hasn't been as interesting as their rise to the Football League. The club has stayed in the lower mid-table for the past four seasons. However, arch-rivals Milton Keynes Dons were relegated from the Championship (Division 2) in the 2016-17 season. This marked the first time that both rivals would meet in the same division. However, in the 2017-18 season, MK Dons were relegated to League 2, which marked the first time that AFC Wimbledon played in a higher division than their rivals.

AFC Wimbledon's league performance based on charts from 2002-2021.

AFC Wimbledon's league performance based on charts from 2002-2021.

A completed Plough Lane in 2020.

A completed Plough Lane in 2020.

A Return to Plough Lane and an Aim to Go Further in the Future

The 2017-18 campaign also marked a huge change to AFC Wimbledon's future. They received approval to build a new 9,300-seat stadium called Plough Lane, which would be about 250 yards from the original location. The club was previously playing at Kingsmeadow, a ground bought during their time in the Isthmian League. In 2020, AFC Wimbledon officially moved to Plough Lane, with significant approval from the fans on the effort to return there.

As a Liverpool fan, my only wish is to face AFC Wimbledon in the Premier League one day to relive old times.

© 2021 Nigel Koay Talks Football

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