Statler and Waldorf

Football League Division 4 – AFC Wimbledon v Accrington Stanley FC
Saturday, 29th September 2012, 3pm
Kingsmeadow (The Cherry Red Records Stadium in new money)
Distance 3 miles, Attendance 3405
Decades on, I’m struggling now to remember when I first found my way to Kingsmeadow. Whilst initially I turned up to see Kingstonian, this pilgrimage is now taken to watch Wimbledon too. I know the ground has changed hands between the two but, I couldn’t tell you when, where, how or why. As both clubs are afforded a place close to my heart it matters not.
It’s not Plough Lane, and it’s not Merton but, Kingsmeadow on match days has a special aura. Fans mingle in the car park prior to kick off – beer in hand – whilst children try their luck in the Community Football Scheme’s inflatable goal. Collection buckets and fanzines sellers thread their way through the contented throng who form a comforting impression of courteous self-policing. Even as an outsider it’s hard not to feel welcome.

The match day programme warned this would be a good test for the manager-less Wombles. The good test for me was (and is still hours later) trying to pinpoint the song emanating from the tannoy as we entered. I know I first heard it back in the 70s, but now I was hearing it in my head all the way to the perch that we’d take up for the game amongst the home fans, and ultimately until being distracted by the teams being announced. 26 Matty Whichelow… 30 Piero Mingoia… 25 Dale Bennett… A few short weeks back I’d seen them all play well in pre-season for the Golden Boys. I checked and double-checked the programme. I couldn’t go to Huddersfield today but, if there’d ever been any doubt at all, undoubtedly I WAS now at the right game.
For the second time this week, I was at a game where the next ninety-plus minutes were an entertaining and very evenly fought contest. At no time did either team dominate, at no time did either team deserve to lose, and – when all is said and done – a score draw would’ve been a fair result. Leaving the ground I thought I might have seen one. I know I’d seen both sides score twice, and heard scorers announced for all four goals, yet somehow Stanley were celebrating whilst the Dons fans trudged away. How could this have happened?
Somewhat against the run of play, Padraig Amond put the visitors one on 25 minutes after nipping in with a tidy chip over the onrushing keeper, then 10 minutes from the break Byron Harrison got on the end of a free kick to level the tie. In the second half a stunning volley from Peter Murphy put Stanley ahead again. Then deep into injury time Sammy Moore deservedly put The Dons level. Or so I thought…
As it turned out Harrison’s effort had been ruled out for offside. We hadn’t a clue (and no, BBC and Sky weren’t offering help online). Instead we had children and chips and sweets to care for. Lucky eh? Fortunately the family atmosphere in the ground meant those distractions were completely tolerable. Just as acceptable was the honesty of the boy doing the halftime crossbar challenge. “Are you a good player?” enquired the announcer before a mumbled response “He doesn’t know!” came the announcer’s confirmation. Smiling I wondered why many professionals couldn’t be as straight forward when faced with the same question.
So our sons had distracted us from the action, and disappointingly neither had said “who are they?” about the visitors, and the result didn’t go to plan but – in the sunshine – we’d seen a pretty good-natured game, with open play, and an exceptionally well taken goal. We’d been introduced to the best two-footed youngsters in South West London, and we’d seen fine displays from three Watford loanees (through yellow tinted goggles). Wandering out the highlight of my day was clear.
We’d introduced our sons to Wimbledon and Accrington, two great clubs with wonderful histories filled with extraordinary highs and lows; teams who can both look back with pride at what they’ve recently achieved. They aren’t the most glamorous clubs, they don’t sit in the glare of the media spotlight, and rarely get the credit they deserve. On the periphery of the big show are Stanley and Dons, the Statler & Waldorf of the football world. Two heart-warming characters that just make you smile, and give us all reason to cheer.

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