1970 to 1979
Wimbledon opened 1970-1 with a friendly against Chelsea
and 3,000 saw the visitors win 5-4. Yet after the match, however, Chelsea
followers swarmed onto the pitch and stole the comer flags. Some even scaled the
scaffolding on the half-built Sydney Black Memorial Hall in Durnsford Road.
Wimbledon began their league season with a visit to
Nuneaton Borough and Alan Burton scored the opening goal as Wimbledon won their
opening fixture 2-0 - their last opening day victory until 1985!
Wimbledon were playing impressively at home. After an
early defeat by Yeovil, the Dons won the next 16 matches at Plough Lane. Their
away form was not as impressive, but they stayed up with the leaders.
Wimbledon began their defence of the Southern League Cup
by beating Burton Albion 4-1 at home, Cooke scoring twice and a 1-0 defeat at
Eton Park saw Wimbledon through 4-2 on aggregate. In the London Challenge Cup
preliminary round, Wimbledon were drawn at St. Albans City. Cooke scored an
eight-minute second half hat-trick and Wimbledon eased home 5-1 in front of
Guy was again excellent in the first round match at
Orient, where only 800 saw him almost single handedly keep the home forwards at
bay before O'Mara set up two late goals for Wimbledon.
This brought Crystal Palace to Plough Lane and they
fielded seven players with first team experience. Although Palace opened the
scoring in the 11th minute, O'Mara equalised twenty minutes later and a diving
McCready header midway through the second half sealed a 2-1 victory. Hitchin
were comfortably beaten 3-0 in the Semi-Final, earning Wimbledon a final place
against Football Combination leaders Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
But first came the F .A. Cup. Wimbledon were still exempt
until the fourth qualifying round stage where they were drawn away at
Leatherhead. There were all the trappings of a Cup upset at Fetcham Grove and it
was no surprise when Leatherhead went a goal ahead in the 20th minute.
But in the second half, Wimbledon showed all their
professionalism by taking control and when O'Rourke was bundled off the ball in
the 72nd minute, it ran free for Bailham to stroke home the equaliser. The home
team blitzed Wimbledon for 10 minutes and Guy had to make the save of the season
to keep Wimbledon level. But Leatherhead burnt themselves out and Bailham scored
with a beautiful 35-yard shot five minutes from time to earn Wimbledon a first
round tie at Peterborough.
A crowd of 5,919, including a large contingent from
Wimbledon, saw the Dons make the worst possible start at London Road. Keith
Sanderson, perhaps forgetting that Wimbledon were playing in red shirts and
white shorts instead of the usual blue, passed the ball straight to the
blue-shirted Garwood in front of goal and the home forward made no mistake after
only 21 seconds.
Cooke almost equalised with a diving header, but Wimbledon
went 2-0 down after 31 minutes before Cooke finally pulled one back with a
brilliant header. Wimbledon got right on top, but then tragedy struck. Cooke was
fouled and badly injured, was carried off and with him went Wimbledon's chances.
They continued to press forward, but without much conviction and Peterborough
scored on the break to give them a flattering 3-1 victory.
Cooke was sadly still sidelined for the London Challenge
cup final at White Hart Lane. Spurs fielded a strong side, including seven
players with first team experience and went ahead in the third minute, leaving
the Wimbledon fans in the 2,839 crowd fearing the worst. But Wimbledon soon took
control and Tottenham conceded 25 free kicks as they struggled to keep Wimbledon
out. But a late onslaught by Wimbledon was not enough and Tottenham held on to
Wimbledon beat Dartford by the only goal in a physical
League match, O'Rourke scoring in the 40th minute, before the sides met again in
the FA Trophy. Wimbledon made a great start, Collins scoring from a free kick in
the first minute, but the threatened rout failed to materia1ise. Instead, it was
no surprise when Dartford equa1ised in the 72nd minute from the penalty spot and
held out for a draw.
Conditions were appalling in the replay at Watling Street
and reduced the gate to only 732. Wimbledon had to kick up the slope, with the
wind and rain blowing in their faces in the first-half, and turned round 2-0
down. But they recovered after the break and Cooke scored twice before Bailham
beautifully flicked home what proved to be the 80th minute winner.
Bromsgrove were next and before the match Wimbledon were
quoted as 8-1 favourites for the Trophy by a Bromsgrove bookmaker, but this
didn't stop the visitors bringing 14 coaches and 450 fans on a specia1 train to
boost the crowd to 2,200. Wimbledon established early control and a 3 goal blast
just after the half-hour sealed the match. Bailham then scored on the break to
make the final score 4-0.
Wimbledon were still in with a chance of winning the
League, were in the last 16 of the FA Trophy and had reached the Southern League
Cup Semi-Final. But it seemed that this was not good enough for the board. On
February 22 they decided that at the end of the season, Les Henley's contract
would not be renewed and he became the first Wimbledon manager to be sacked.
The timing of this announcement left a lot to be desired.
The FA Trophy game with Yeovil was just five days away. The news certainly
affected the players in the third round tie where a best of season crowd of
3,194 turned out to see Yeovil go ahead after just three minutes.
Henley was still at the helm, though and would be for
another two months and he inspired the team for the second half where a
brilliant Hodges equaliser in the 69th minute earned Wimbledon a replay. In the
Yeovil replay Bailham missed two good chances in the opening 20 minutes, but
Yeovil scored on the stroke of half-time and went on to win convincingly 4-0.
Three days later just 849 spectators, Wimbledon's first
three figure crowd in the Southern League, turned up to see Wimbledon beat Bath
City 5-2 in blizzard conditions. But the Dons' League hopes had already died and
their only chance of glory was in the Southern League Cup. That all came to an
end at Weymouth in the Semi-final, however, beaten by two late goals.
There had been eight applications for Henley's job. But
even though the board had stressed that they were looking for a player-manager,
two of the eight were no longer playing and of the other six none were big
names. O'Mara was sold to Brentford for £750 plus another £250 if he made 20
appearances just before the transfer deadline, while on April 5 Mike Everitt was
named as new player-manager.
Henley's last match in charge was the 3-2 home win over
Gloucester City on April 17, Cooke scoring a late winner and Everitt took over
for the home match against Poole Town three days later, with Cooke again on
target with the only goal of the match. Wimbledon eventually finished eighth in
the table fading away after Henley's dismissal.
But Henley was awarded a testimonial against Oxford United
at the end of the season and 1,038 supporters paid around £250 to see United
win 3-1. Wimbledon had averaged just under 1,500 in Southern League matches and
had not attracted 2,000 to any home League game. The financial position was now
serious, and the directors needed the team to do well.
But if the board expected Henley's dismissal to lead to
an immediate improvement in playing standards, they were to be mistaken. Things
would get worse before they got better. When the Board of Directors informed Les
Henley that his services were no longer required, they were acting in response
to the changes in the way the game was being played, as well as the specific
needs of the football club.
Alf Ramsey had won the world cup for England in 1966
without wingers and in the European Competitions the defence orientated Italian
outfits were gaining ascendancy with their style which was a tactician's dream
and a spectator's nightmare. The objective in Football had become to concede
less goals than your opponent rather than to score more and into that defensive
mould new manager Mike Everitt fitted ideally.
Everitt was a young, enthusiastic Manager. "First and
foremost, I want a team of fighters and runners," he declared, shortly after
taking over and his brand of enthusiasm was undoubtedly a factor in winning over
the Directors. On the playing front, Everitt faced a difficult introduction. The
squad had grown old together and it was clear that fresh faces would have been
needed even if Henley had not been sacked.
Since the death of benefactor Sydney Black in 1968, the
Club had had to rely much more on gate receipts than had been necessary before,
but these had dwindled. It was hoped that the changes would bring about an
upsurge in interest. Everitt had taken over team affairs with a couple of games
left at the end of the previous season, but his first real test was to come at
the start of the 71-72 campaign.
The benefits of the new, strict regime imposed by the
manager initially appeared to be paying off. The team swept to the top of the
Southern League with nine wins and two draws in their first thirteen League
Everitt's weight training and five-mile cross-country runs
across Wimbledon Common were paying dividends, with the Dons playing a brand of
fast, entertaining football which had seen gates top 2,000 for a League game,
for the first time since 1969. But Everitt warned that the League position was a
false one and that he still needed two or three more players to make a serious
The Board, mindful of the financial position of the Club,
turned down this request and within the space of a month the team crashed out of
three potentially money spinning Cup tournaments. Queens Park Rangers
Combination side were held to a 1-1 draw in the London Challenge Cup at Loftus
Road, came to Plough Lane and won the replay 4-1 in a game that was a lot closer
than the scoreline suggests.
More embarrassingly, Dons tumbled out of the Southern
League Cup, beaten home and away by Waterlooville who had been playing Hampshire
League Football the previous season. Most significantly, a single goal defeat at
Margate in the FA Cup fourth qualifying round ended any hopes of injection of
finance into the Club's coffers. Margate were drawn away to Bournemouth in the
next round and, although humiliated to the tune of 11-0, were at least able to
share the receipts of a bumper 12,000 crowd.
League form had also slumped. Although there were
encouraging home wins of 6-0 against Merthyr Tydfil and 5-1 against Hillingdon
the latter before the season's best crowd of 2,200 away form was disastrous. The
season now hinged on the one remaining competition, the FA trophy, but when this
ended in the sorry debacle of a 5-1 home defeat by Yeovil it heralded the
beginning of a crisis period.
Eddie Bailham was one of the scapegoats for the Yeovil
defeat and left for Cambridge City almost immediately and several others were to
stay only until their contracts ran out in the summer. Crowds dropped alarmingly
to tilde more than a thousand and the Club finished the season in tenth
position, their lowest placing since turning professional.
Any overall view of Everitt's first season at the club has
to be tempered by the fact that he inherited an ageing team, set in their ways
and still smarting over the axing of Henley. The pre-season declaration by
Everitt that the basis of the team would be its sound defence was not backed by
the statistics, for the 64 League goals conceded was ten worse than the previous
The average age of the team had to be lowered and Everitt
did this with considerable speed and success, but the price of this lack of
experience was a first round exit in the Cups. In short, the honeymoon period
was over and the success to which Wimbledon had become accustomed had to return
if Everitt was to stay at the helm. In the close season there was another
pointer to the parlous financial state that the club found itself in.
The High Court quashed plans for the club to have a market
on their grounds by invoking a statute decreed by King Charles I in 1628 which
forbade any other market within a seven-mile radius of Kingston's. Plough Lane
was reckoned to be situated some five and a half miles from Kingston's traders
and this reverse in the Courts highlighted the lack of finance inside the club
following the death of Sydney Black. It was revealed that it cost £31,000 per
annum to run the club and that gate receipts were just £10,000 a year.
A benefactor was desperately needed and Bernie Coleman
was, therefore, made very welcome when he appeared on the scene at the start of
the following season. He had been involved with the club in his capacity as a
publican when he helped convert the Supporters Club premises into a public
Suggestions were invited for the name of this new public
house from the Supporters, whose ideas ranged from names with footballing
connotations, such as "The Corner Post" and "The Nod Inn" to a
tribute to the late Sydney Black by naming it in his honour, a suggestion that
was appreciated but politely declined in view of the family links with the
Temperance Society. The winning vote went to "The Wibbandune" and it was under
this name that the "Sportsman" Pub was originally known.
Coleman was keen and in August of 1972 he showed that he
meant business, buying the majority share holding from President Sir Cyril
Black. He paid off debts which amounted to some £13,000 and declared that money
was available for new players. To his credit he was honest enough to admit that
he could in no way match the spending output of Sydney Black, but nevertheless
it was a welcome shot in the arm for a club whose prestigious standing in
non-league football tended to preclude their delicate financial situation.
Sir Cyril, for his part, relinquished his role as
President which he had held for 25 years, stating that he had taken financial
charge after the death of his brother only in order to guide the ship into
calmer waters and was happy to stand down once a new benefactor had been found.
Thus new season opened on a more stable footing off the
field, although for Everitt the problems on the pitch were to continue. Six of
the opening eight league games ended in draws, although the cup duck was broken
with an easy 5-0 aggregate win over Bognor Regis Town in the Southern League Cup
and a 4-0 away win at Athenian Leaguers Cheshunt in the FA Cup first qualifying
round - was the first time for ten years that the Dons had been asked to compete
in the competition at such an early stage.
By late September and early October, when the Cup
Competitions were getting into full swing, Wimbledon's performances were pretty
inconsistent. In the London Challenge Cup, for example, Fulham's Combination
side was swept aside to the tune of four goals to one in a scintillating game of
football. Yet less than a fortnight later, the Dons made a sorry exit at the
hands of amateurs Dagenham, defending for the whole match in order to try and
force a replay until two late goals gave the Athenian League side a well
It was the same story against Stevenage Athletic,
comfortably defeated 3-1 in the FA Cup yet only ten days later were back at
Plough Lane in the Southern League Cup and reversed the scoreline.
The result that really hurt, however, was the 3-1 defeat
at local rivals Sutton United in the third qualifying round of the FA Cup. Not
only did it end any chance of a money spinning tie in the competition proper,
but also dredged up the hoary old chestnut of the relative merits of amateur and
semi-professional football. To rub salt into the wound, former Dons' stalwart
Roy Law was assistant manager at Gander Green Lane.
With only the FA Challenge Trophy left to keep interest in
the Cup competitions, League form assumed greater importance. But the Dons,
while comfortable enough not to have to worry about relegation, never managed to
put together a run that might threaten the leaders as Yeovil, Chelmsford and
Dover set the pace.
It was apparent that Wimbledon needed a new striker to
convert the chances that were still being created in large numbers and Everitt
made strenuous efforts to recruit someone to fit the bill. Tony Bass of Hendon
and Roger Connell of Walton were both approached, as were Crawley's Eric
Whittington and Les Bums of Guildford, but no one joined the cause.
To add to the problems in team selection, young striker
Andy Larkin was ruled out for over a month with a fractured shin, while centre
half Alan Young was advised by specialists to give up the game due to an
arthritic knee. He had had the unenviable task of stepping into the shoes of Law
and made his last appearance in that Sutton Cup defeat.
December heralded the start of the FA Trophy for senior
non-League clubs and the challenge of Banbury United was taken seriously,
especially as they forced a 1-1 draw at Plough Lane. In the event, the
Oxfordshire side only surrendered to an Ian Cooke goal two minutes from the end
of extra time on a quagmire of a pitch in the replay.
Everitt's Christmas wish was pure and simple. "In the
Wimbledon Club stocking," he said, "I would like to see a centre forward who has
been bought, paid for and who we would have for the future."
This highlighted again the Club's principal problem, but
against all the odds, the team went to Nuneaton in mid-January for the second
round proper of the Trophy and came away with a 3-2 victory, courtesy of
ex-Brighton player Andy Marchant's hat trick, their finest performance of the
season to date.
Three weeks later, however, the glory of Nuneaton was but
a memory as the Dons went to Bedford, a side they had done the double over in
the League and lost 3-1 to end their Trophy hopes for another year. Several
hundred Wimbledon fans had made the trip, the biggest away support for some time
and it was this aspect that proved disappointing during the remainder of the
season as home gates slumped to less than a thousand on several occasions - not
even high-flying Chelmsford, City being a big enough draw to attract a
In retrospect, it was perhaps this lack of public interest
that was most disturbing for those in charge at the club, for the original
intention when replacing the old-style Les Henley, with a track-suited all mod
cons coach, like Everitt, was to rejuvenate the club at all levels, specifically
boosting falling gates.
From a statistical point of view, the final league
position of 12th, with 14 wins, 14 draws and 14 defeats, 50 goals for and 50
against, backed up the fear that the club was slipping into a rut that it would
be hard to get out of. Although many clubs who saw themselves as struggling
would have gladly accepted the anonymity of a mid-table placing, the fact
remained that it was the Club's worst placing since turning semiprofessional in
1964 and that was the criterion by which they were judged.
One of the stranger talking points of the season was the
Club's participation in the newly-formed Mid-Surrey professional floodlit
league. The format consisted of a mini-league of seven teams playing each other
home and away, 12 games in all. The four games played before Christmas,
resulting in two wins and two draws, reflected initial enthusiasm for the league
but once interest had waned in Cup and Southern League the remaining eight games
were seen as an irritating addition to the fixture list, watched as they were by
no more than a few hundred diehards.
However, a series of narrow wins over sides such as
Crawley and Wealdstone found the Dons in the unusual position of having to win
their last game, at home to Basingstoke on Mayday, by a five goal margin to take
the tide. Marchant was once again the hero, scoring five goals himself to clinch
the tide, while Cooke weighed in with a hat-trick and Tommy McCready chipped in
to record an amazing 9-0 win over a Basingstoke side who, it has to be said,
played throughout with only ten men due to a car breakdown.
Three days later, on the eve of the famous
Sunderland-Leeds Cup Final, there was another interesting exercise. Second
Division Aston Villa were invited to Plough Lane in order to gauge the Club's
potential in the event of election to the Football League. Ten thousand leaflets
were printed to advertise the match in the surrounding area and five thousand
special souvenir programmes were printed at a cost of roughly £200.
Since Villa were getting an appearance fee of £500, club
officials were hoping for a gate of some four to five thousand to defray
expenses. In the event, 3,100 turned up to witness a match that the League side
always had under control, their dominance reflected in a 2-0 scoreline. This
carnival type end to the season did not, however, hide the fact that the 1972-73
campaign was the Club's poorest for some time.
Chairman Jim Reid admitted: "We've had a diabolical season
and the reason is that we haven't been sticking them in the net. We must get
some forwards and if they're all going to cost us money, then we will have to
fork out." Such brave sentiments were unfortunately rarely matched by financial
reality and, as Everitt pointed out, Dave Armstrong had been his only purchase
in two years as Manager.
Armstrong then announced his intention to quit football,
setting up in business as a tailor, while promising young mid-fielder Barry
Silkman was allowed to go to Barnet for £700. Additionally, veteran striker
O'Rourke left on a free transfer for Chelmsford City, while in the other
direction came 31-yearold midfielder Stan Brown from Fulham and 27-year-old Joe
Gadston, a striker from Aldershot.
Player of the Year, McCready, and Cooke were holding out
for pay increases, bearing in mind that Club wages had stayed the same for six
years, but the unrest among the players was nothing compared to the bombshell
that was about to hit Plough Lane. On the Monday before the new season began,
came the shock announcement that Everitt had become Brentford's new Manager,
succeeding where 35 other applicants had failed.
Although the Wimbledon post had not yet been officially
advertised, over a dozen applications were received within the week and rumours
of Henley's return were rife. As it was, a week after Everitt's announcement, a
late-night Board Meeting concluded with ex-Colchester boss Dick Graham appointed
to the Plough Lane hot seat, taking up his duties from the second Saturday of
the season, at home to Weymouth.
A Boardroom re-shuffle also saw Jack Beavan taking over
the Chairman's role from Jim Reid, who resigned because of business pressures.
Said Beavan of his new Manager: "We wanted a man with experience and contacts
and we have got just that. "It wasn't all that long ago that we were knocking in
100 goals a season and I'm sure with the new manager in control the Club can
once again start to go places."
These positive words rubbed off on the players, who
responded with a 5-2 home victory over Weymouth, before coming through the first
round of three different cups, beating Banbury 5-1 on aggregate in the Southern
League Cup, Epsom and Ewell 5-1 in the FA Cup first qualifying round and
Walthamstow Avenue, 1-0 in the London Challenge Cup.
In so far as the League was concerned, the Dons had made a
comfortable start, lying eighth with five wins and two draws from their opening
ten games. The second rounds of the Cups had seen the team fall by the wayside
in the London Challenge Cup and scrape past Southall in the FA Cup. They also
started a marathon Southern League Cup tussle with Wealdstone that would take
four games and not end until nearly December.
But perhaps more important in the long term was Andy
Marchant's leg break at home to Guildford in early October. The full back was a
popular figure with the crowd, but he never fully recovered from this shattering
blow and was released at the end of the season. While League form remained
moderate, the attention was focused on the FA Cup. Further qualifying rounds saw
off Staines and Maidstone, the latter before a best of season crowd of 2,365.
But the first round draw was not kind, sending Wimbledon
to East Anglia to face fellow Southern Leaguers, albeit from the division below,
King's Lynn. And any dreams of a second round place for the first time since '68
were dashed as the Dons were hustled out of their normal game and went down to a
lone goal on the hour. To make matters worse, the referee took the players off
as fighting fans spilled onto the pitch after 35 minutes and then proceeded to
attack the police, although Norfolk police later praised Wimbledon's fans for
Wimbledon bounced back four days later, with a 3-0 home
win over Wealdstone, coming at the fourth attempt, to at last put them into the
third round of the Southern League Cup. But Christmas and the New Year brought
lime seasonal cheer for the diehard supporters. The Dons slipped into the
bottom half of the table and edged nearer the four relegation spots and they
crashed out of the FA Trophy with a 1-0 home reverse in the first round against
On the transfer front, Skipper Stan Brown was allowed to
go to Margate, while promising striker Alan Pinkney left after a few games to go
to South Africa. Joe Gadston was unsettled and prepared to move to Cambridge
City, while in the other direction came winger Mick Mahon from Colchester. Jeff
Bryant was back in the squad as well after serving a hefty five month ban for
getting his age wrong while trying to get into the England Youth team when at
With only the Southern League Cup to look forward to and
the power crisis and the three-day week affecting attendances at all clubs, the
Board decided that Graham, who had earlier quit the supermarket business to go
full-time should revert to running the club on a part-time basis, just three
weeks after they had approved a full-time role. With morale at a low ebb, Graham
was less than pleased by the decision and stated that he would certainly
consider any offers of a full-time job at another club.
Further personnel changes in the playing staff took place
as striker Andy Larkin quit due to pressure of work and Bob Bennett, an on-loan
striker from Southend, came into the side as it recorded successive wins over
Barnet and Yeovil to ease the team back towards mid-table. Another good result
came courtesy of a 1-1 draw at high-flying Grantham in the Southern League Cup
and the replay was fixed for a Sunday, the power cuts ruling out a mid-week
A big crowd was expected, but unfortunately the weather
conditions were diabolical and only 980 spectators braved the elements to see
Grantham oust the Dons from their last Cup hope with a 2-0 victory. All five
games in March were lost to leave the Dons just one point above the relegation
zone and following two consecutive defeats by bottom club Hillingdon, came the
hardly unexpected news that Graham had resigned.
Trainer Danny Keenan took over the reins with the support
of some senior players, among them Cooke, Loughlan and McCready and the turning
point came almost immediately when the Dons outplayed high-flying Kettering on
their own ground and came away desperately unlucky to have lost 2-1.
The following Saturday Atherstone led 1-0 at Plough Lane
with 20 minutes to go but were caught by two goals in two minutes to give the
Dons the lead. The visitors hit back to level at 2-2 but in the dying seconds
Mahon shot home a dramatic winner.
Good results followed in Kent, with a 1-1 draw at Dover
and 1-0 wins at Tonbridge on Good Friday and Folkestone on Easter Saturday,
providing the springboard for escape from the threat of relegation.
The end-of-season recovery saw Wimbledon equal their
position of the previous season, 12th and although this was still level with
their worst ever placing in the League, there was obvious relief that a season
of changes and turmoil had not ended in relegation. That might have been the
last straw given the Club's still precarious financial position.
Indeed, at a crisis meeting between the board, President
Coleman and the Supporters Club Executive, the future of the Cub was laid on
the line. Either several thousand pounds was raised to meet the bank's overdraft
deadline of the end of May 1974, or the Club folded. Faced with such an awful
reality, the Supporters Club came up with £2,500 and Bernie Coleman chipped in
with a similar amount. The day and the Club, was saved.
After such a narrow financial escape, the arrival of the
new manager was of secondary importance, although the Board had appointed a man
well-respected in local non league circles, Allen Batsford. He had led Isthmian
League Walton and Hersham to the Amateur Cup in 1973 and followed that up with a
giant killing as his Walton side went to Brian Clough's Brighton in a Cup replay
and won 4-0.
Relations between Batsford and his Committee had become
somewhat strained and there had been several open disagreements on policy, but
this aspect of his management did not scare off the Wimbledon Board who
appointed him ahead of 27 other applicants. The three seasons between 1971 and
1974 were times of transition and stark financial reality.
The club had had to learn to stand on its own two feet,
rather than be continuously propped up by a generous benefactor, as Sydney Black
undoubtedly was. It also had to accept that it had no divine right to success as
one of the leading non-league outfits in the country. Once it had taken stock of
these facts it could look to the future in the expectation of, if not glory, at
In the event, it was glory that would be present in
abundance, but the three years in between had provided a never to be forgotten
lesson for one and all.
When Allen Batsford took over as Manager in the summer of
1974 he inherited one of the smallest squads of all time. Just seven players. As
such, the purchase of new recruits was a necessity rather than a luxury and Dave
Bassett, Dave Donaldson and Billy Edwards were signed from Batsford's former
club Walton & Hersham Striking duo Keiron Somers and Roger Connell had left
Walton for a year, following a contract dispute, moving onto Hendon and were
only too pleased to link up with their old manager again.
Pre-season matches yielded promising results, including a
1-0 win over Crystal Palace's first team, but the important opening day of the
season saw the Dons go down 2-0 away to Nuneaton Borough and have Selwyn Rice
sent off. The following Tuesday, however, Yeovil tame to Plough Lane and were
beaten 1-0 and that was the first in a run of 22 successive victories that the
Dons strung together.
The impact of this was not immediately apparent. Eleven of
the matches were in different cup competitions, often against weaker opposition
such as Corinthian Casuals and Bideford. The team were near the top of the
table, rather than at the top, due to Saturday's spent fighting their way
through the FA Cup qualifying rounds, as well as London Senior Cup ties as the
London FA insisted these took precedence over League football.
Corinthian Casuals, Cheshunt and Leytonstone were all
knocked out at Plough Lane in the London Senior Cup and similar good fortune
with home draws saw Ashford, Bideford and Bognor Regis leave SW19 with their
Southern League Cup hopes in tatters.
The main focus of attention was, as always, the FA Cup,
and when Dickie Guy lost a cross in the sun at Bracknell, which ended in his
net, he probably did not imagine that the next FA Cup goal he conceded would be
to the Football League Champions. Recovering from their early 1-0 deficit to
record a comfortable 3-1 win at Bracknell, followed, it should be said, by five
coach loads of supporters, further home victories over Maidenhead (4-0) and
Wokingham (2-0) saw the Dons drawn away to Guildford & Dorking.
Although the team had won 5-0 in the League against the
same opposition, a close match ensued and Wimbledon's two late goals gave the
scoreline a flattering 3-0 look.
As in the previous season, a fellow non leaguer, Bath
City, was the first round 'reward', but the match was at Plough Lane, rather
than the inhospitable terrain that King's Lynn had provided the year before. The late postponement of the Tooting and Crystal Palace
tie nearby helped swell the crowd to an excellent five and a half thousand and
created the atmosphere for an excellent, end to end cup-tie. The excellence of
the two goalkeepers kept the scoreline blank, until, with the game in injury
time, Mick Mahon let fly with an absolute screamer that at last found a way
beyond the agile Kenny Allen.
A dramatic ending to an excellent match and another home
draw in the second round, against fellow Southern Leaguers Kettering . With more
at stake and nearly 6,000 inside Plough Lane, a measure of the team's growing
maturity came in the shape of an easy 2-0 win, which pitched the team into the
third round proper for the first time in history.
With visions of a glamour tie against the likes of
Liverpool or Tottenham, an away draw at Burnley was regarded as somewhat of a
short straw. There was little prospect of a result or a good pay day, while
League form had stuttered over the Christmas period with defeats at Stourbridge
and Wealdstone, the latter before nearly 3,500 spectators.
But the interest generated by the Club's first ever third
round FA Cup appearance meant that over a thousand supporters more than the
previous season's average home gate made the long journey to Burnley's Turf
Moor. What they were to witness was one of the amazing results in FA Cup history
as a non-league team won on the ground of First Division opponents for the first
time since 1920.
The only goal came in the 48th minute when Cooke's shot
was parried by Burnley 'keeper Alan Stevenson and Mahon drove in the rebound.
'Keeper Dickie Guy had saved some good efforts in the first half, but he
surpassed himself in the second with brilliant saves from Fletcher and Hankin.
Incredibly, the team held on to win 1-0 and once the
Fourth Round draw had given an away tie at League Champions Leeds United, media
interest soared. Wimbledon were buzzing and big news. Before Christmas, a
consortium, including George Best, was strongly tipped to be about to buy out
Bernie Coleman's 80 per cent share holding, with Best himself in line to take
over as player-manager.
The idea fell through eventually, but the blaze of
publicity created by the Cup run enabled Chairman Jack Beaven to launch an
appeal to reduce the £35,000 debt by offering 19,000 non-voting shares for
issue at £1 each.
Back on the field, interest in the Leeds game was
reflected in the crowd of 46,230 which attended the Elland Road cup tie.
Wimbledon again defended magnificently against a Leeds side, at the pinnacle of
European Club football and as every schoolboy knows, Guy saved Peter Lorimer's
penalty kick, with just eight minutes left, to force an incredible goalless
People queued throughout the night for tickets to see the
replay at Plough Lane the following Tuesday and when all the tickets were
snapped up in 90 minutes, there were angry scenes. Supporters clashed with
touts, with one being chased down the street and having to leap onto a bus to
avoid being attacked. As it happened, the replay never took place at Plough
Lane, due to a waterlogged pitch, which pleased the police as they believed
there were thousands of forged tickets in circulation.
The match was switched to Crystal Palace's Selhurst Park
where another 45,000-plus crowd saw the end of the Cup dream as a Johnny Giles
shot, going wide, deflected off Bassett and beyond Guy for the only goal. It was
Wimbledon's first Cup defeat of the season in 19 matches.
The alternative route to Wembley, in the FA Trophy, had
started well, with home victories over Sutton United, Kettering and Telford
putting the Dons into the quarterfinals for the first time ever. Drawn away to
Scarborough, Lady Luck deserted them as no fewer than four efforts came back off
the woodwork and a bad back pass gave the home team the only goal before a
massive crowd of 8,000
Then two days later Kettering earned revenge for their
Trophy exit by knocking the Dons out of the Southern League Cup semifinal to
the tune of 3-0. In the space of three days, four targets had been reduced to
two and, to their credit, Wimbledon won both.
The London Senior Cup, which the club had tried to avoid
entering due to fixture chaos, was won in April with a 2-0 victory over fellow
giant killers, Leatherhead. But the most praiseworthy achievement was winning
the Southern League.
Putting behind them the glamour and the razzmatazz of the
Cup, the team knuckled down to the job in hand, playing three or four games a
week, sometimes on successive days. Of the first five matches in April three
were lost and two drawn, but this was only a hiccough in the relentless pursuit
of the title, ahead of rivals Nuneaton, Kettering and Yeovil.
The games in hand were finally played and the title
clinched with a 1-1 home draw against Telford on Mayday. The final margin of
victory over second placed Nuneaton was three points. Perhaps the most
disappointing aspect of the finest season to date was the four votes polled at
the Football League's June annual meeting at Ashton Gate. Kettering, with 20,
polled the highest of all the non-leaguers, which suggests that geographical
location and canvassing ability were more important factors than footballing
But despite this set-back, the club had taken positive
steps to renewing former glories on the field, while wiping out the overdraft
with the cup run off the field. Yet the old maxim that it was harder to stay at
the top than to get there was about to be put to the test.
The new season was eagerly awaited and boss Batsford took
the opportunity to strengthen his squad. One of the most important aspects of
the previous season was that it had been generally injury free, enabling
Batsford to get by on a squad of 14 full-time professionals. Reinforcements were
needed. Billy Holmes, a striker from Barnet, exWrexham midfielder Tommy
Vansittart and full-back Harry Falconer, to replace Bob Stockley, transferred to
Atherstone, were all recruited and off Dons went again.
The first nine League games saw Wimbledon record eight
wins and a draw to put them at the top of the table, while Hillingdon were
crushed 5-0 on aggregate in the Southern League Cup and Kettering beaten 1-0 in
the Southern League Championship Cup. In contrast to the previous year, the team
were, once again, exempt until the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup and
were able to get on with the business of picking up league points.
Romford, in the Southern League Cup and Finchley, in the
London Senior, were knocked out at Plough Lane before the FA Cup trail began in
November with the visit of local rivals Kingstonian. Over 3,000 spectators
attended expecting a tough local derby but it proved to be nothing of the son as
the Dons ran out easy 6-1 winners, earning themselves an away trip to Nuneaton
in the first round.
In between these two matches the prestigious trophy to
decide the non-league team of the year came to Plough Lane, as Northern Premier
League Champions Wigan went down 2-1 on aggregate. The FA Cup was still the main
interest and Nuneaton must have fancied their chances, with home advantage. But
the experience of the previous year's run stood Wimbledon in good stead and
Connell's goal gave the Dons a well earned victory and another home local derby,
this time against Fourth Division Brentford.
As a result of their previous year's run, the Dons were
installed as favourites for the tie and the interest generated swelled the crowd
to 8,775, the biggest at Plough Lane for nearly eight years when Bristol Rovers
visited at the same stage of the competition. But no longer underdogs, Wimbledon
felt the pressure and Brentford hit them twice on the break to record a 2-0
victory. Paul Priddy, who had played one game for Wimbledon as Guy's understudy
the previous season, returned with Brentford to play a blinder against his old
club and dreams of further Cup glory came to an abrupt end.
Two days before Christmas, the grip on the London Senior
Cup was relinquished as crack Isthmian Leaguers Enfield beat the Dons 1-0 after
a goalless draw at Plough Lane. But, to their credit, the team went to
Wealdstone three days later and became the first side to win there, establishing
a firm hold on the League, followed with a 3-3 draw at perennial rivals
Kettering on New Year's day.
A flu epidemic caused selection chaos in January, but
despite this the Dons scraped through in the FA Trophy against Sutton United and
moved into the Southern League Cup quarter-finals following three arduous games
against Chelmsford. Dagenham were to be Wimbledon's undoing in the FA Trophy,
winning a replay 2-0 in East London after a goalless draw at Plough Lane, but
the remaining five games in February all resulted in victories, including an
excellent 2-1 win at strongest challengers Yeovil.
With only the League and the Southern League Cup to play
for and aided by the lack of postponements caused by a mild winter, the team
moved sweetly into the final of the latter with a 4-1 aggregate win over Dover,
both legs being played at Plough Lane to ease the Kent club's financial
In the League the club were picking up enough points
regularly to be strong favourites to retain their tide, while at the same time
being able to introduce a new 20-yearold striker in Dulwich's John Leslie.
Leslie had been signed before Christmas, but had found it hard to break into the
first team - a point illustrated when he scored four goals in a 6-0 win at
Stourbridge in March, but was promptly relegated to substitute for the next
The first trophy of the year appeared on the Wimbledon
sideboard early April as the Southern League Cup was won over two legs against
Yeovil. The first leg in Somerset produced a 1-1 draw, through a Billy Holmes
penalty for the Dons, while the second leg score of 2-1 to Wimbledon implied a
close match, although Yeovil's goal came in injury time.
The title itself was all but clinched three matches later
with a 2-1 win at Dover on Easter Monday and confirmed mathematically two days
later with a 2-0 home win over Nuneaton. Only two league games remained after
this but one of them, a home game with London rivals Wealdstone, produced
headlines of the wrong sort with six players sent off, three from each side,
with Aitken, Rice and Leslie going for Wimbledon.
Despite the happiness generated by a League and Cup
double, all was not well off the pitch. A debt of £20,000 was announced for the
season and the entire board resigned to be taken over by a Management
Committee. Majority shareholder Bernie Coleman was anxious to stress that no
more than a "reshuffling of responsibility" had taken place, but the irony was
that the club could not meet the high price of success.
It was disclosed that of the £80,000 a year it cost to run
the club, almost half went towards wages and bonuses, while Coleman announced
that £10,000 would have to be pruned from the players' wage bill.
Coach Brian Hall, left Plough Lane for Slough Town, ending
a two-year partnership with Batsford and Owen Harris, probably the best
physiotherapist in non-league football, went with him. As an indication of their
financial plight, Dons' involvement in the close season Anglo-Italian
Tournament, was sponsored to the tune of £4,000 by the Supporters Club.
The disciplinary problems that the Dons had experienced
during the season were highlighted in this tournament and although the team
reached the final, losing 1-0 to Monza, the general consensus of opinion was
that they would be unlikely to compete again, Batsford himself remarking that
they had been: "Kicked from one end of Italy to the other."
To close the season, the club polled only three votes at
the Football League's annual meeting, far fewer than Kettering, 14 and Yeovil,
on 18, who polled only three fewer than Workington.
In the summer of 1976, Bernie Coleman introduced a new
supremo to the Wimbledon Committee, who would take over from himself in
effective charge at the Club. Coleman had stressed that he took charge to help
the Club through a sticky patch rather than on a permanent basis and the new man
was former Southall Chairman, Ron Noades.
His first action was to form a working party of 13 people
to help carry out his plans for the Cub. Noades declared that he wanted a strong
board and committee and called for a massive 'public relations' effort to give
the Club a chance of entry to the Football League.
One immediate result of the cutbacks necessary was the
departure to Slough Town of popular striker Keiron Somers, one of four players
to leave the club. Winger Mick Mahon, Tommy Vansitart and Harry Falconer also
left and in their place Batsford brought full back Kevin Tilley and made an
unsuccessful £2,000 bid for Southall winger Alan Devonshire, later to play for
The disciplinary problems experienced towards the end of
the previous season were to hinder the Cub's start to the season, with six first
teamers missing the opening game, a Southern League Cup tie at Romford which was
lost 2-0 and the problems became even worse when Billy Holmes was sent off in
Fortunately, this was only the first leg and the scoreline
was reversed in the second, leading to a third game in September which Wimbledon
eventually won. However, it was an unsettling start to the season and League
form followed suit with a home draw against newly promoted A. P. Leamington and
defeats away to Gravesend and Kettering.
Further purchases followed, striker Ricky Marlowe coming
from Brighton on a free transfer and Leo Markham, a midfield player from Bedford
joining the squad and the team at last began to click, with successive
victories over Wealdstone, Chelmsford and Burton.
Disciplinary problems continued to plague the team as Dave
Bassett and Selwyn Rice were both sent off at Maidstone and although the results
were coming, the team never looked consistently at ease as they scraped past
Walthamstow after a replay in the London Senior Cup and lost their Southern
League Cup after a 3-2 home defeat, again in a replay against Barnet.
Five successive League wins were the ideal preparation for
the Trophy game against Chorley but after being 2-0 down at half-time, Wimbledon
were relieved to snatch a 2-2 draw to earn a replay against their doughty
opponents. Over 6,000 watched the replay, an indication of the huge interest
Wimbledon were arousing and again the Dons almost lost, an injury-time equaliser
earning another 2-2 draw.
The third bite of the cherry at neutral Walsall ended the
interest in the FA Trophy, as Chorley completed a giant-killing of their own by
Some solace for Wimbledon was they eventually signed
Chorley's impressive Steve Galliers and he became a vital piece in their
midfield jigsaw for years. Despite this bitter disappointment, the team kept on
picking up enough points to move them to the top of the table with games in
The tide was virtually secured with a 2-0 win over
Kettering in April, before a 4,000 plus crowd, after which Kettering Manager
Derek Dougan conceded defeat. The final margin of victory was five points over
second placed Minehead and, for good measure, the club also picked up the London
Senior Cup again after a hard earned win over Staines in a replay.
Having won three consecutive Southern League tides, with a
Cup win in each of those seasons as well, the club were more than hopeful of
gaining Football League status this time round. All that FA Cup glory had kept
them in the National spotlight and their situation was helped by the decision to
nominate one club each from the Southern and Northern Leagues.
Behind the scenes Ron Noades and Jimmy Rose had been busy,
visiting all but five of the Division One and Two clubs in a campaign lasting
months and costing £3,000. The big day finally dawned in the luxurious setting
of London's Cafe Royal at the League's annual meeting on June 17, 1977. League
President, Lord Westwood, was to read the results and the countdown was more
nerve racking than any of the Cup ties against Leeds, Burnley and
Halifax, Hartlepool, Southport and Workington were all
seeking re-election, the latter club for the fourth time in a row. Altrincham
were in the hat as the Northern Premier League's nomination. Finally, Lord
Westwood rose to announce the voting figures and Wimbledon's representatives
in the audience held their breath in anticipation.
"Altrincham 12, Halifax 44, Hartlepool 43, Southport 37,
Workington 21. And Wimbledon? 'TWENTY SEVEN!' "
They were in, and the champagne corks were popping as
they celebrated one of the most significant days in the history of the club.
Workington were out, Altrincham's bid had failed and the Dons were in the
They had come of age, with a place now in the premier
league competition in the world.
So Wimbledon began gearing themselves for their Fourth
Division debut. The history making opener was set for Plough Lane on Saturday,
August 20, with Halifax Town their first opponents in Football League
competition. But there was plenty to be done before then.
Allen Batsford was busy in the transfer market, signing
new players in Galliers from Chorley, Leatherhead's Willie Smith, Paul Denny
from Southend, Richard Teale, a keeper with experience at QPR and Fulham, and
Dave Galvin from Gillingham. The total cost? Just £1,800.
Chairman Ron Noades was matching Batsford stride for
stride in the work rate stakes. He had already masterminded one recovery in the
club's finances, beginning the long haul back from the brink when he arrived at
Plough Lane the previous July. Wimbledon's liabilities were then running at
around the £37,000 mark, with an additional £200 a week to the borough for
Noades changed all that, employing a full time groundsman
and going into a period of cost cutting that saw the debt to the council reduced
by £1,000 and a further £3,000 slashed from other outstanding bills. At the same
time Wimbledon were able to embark on a £19,000 ground improvement scheme,
although, as the big day dawned, there was still a call for volunteers to help
spruce up the ground.
Noades was determined that Wimbledon would find a place on
the sporting map of the world "and not just for tennis, either" and Halifax
arrived to put them to their first test. It was, understandably, a shaky start.
The gate topped 4,600, but there was a long wait to the 51st minute for
Wimbledon's first League goal, with full back Jeff Bryant earning a place in the
club's history when he stabbed home following a free-kick.
That cancelled out an earlier Halifax effort and with
John Leslie and Roger Connell adding, honours finished even at 3-3. Batsford was
not impressed. "A disgraceful performance," he said. "I felt for the crowd."
Alan Ball senior, manager of Halifax, wasn't complimentary either. "They won't
set Division Four alight," he said.
It was another month and six games, before Wimbledon at
last made the breakthrough with their first League win, with Billy Holmes and
Phil Summerill scoring the goals in a 2-0 victory over Northampton Town at
Plough Lane. Summerill was making his debut after signing on a free transfer
from Millwall, while other changes saw Guy out and Teale laying claim to the
Wimbledon were striving to operate on a part time basis,
training four evenings a week and twice in the afternoons. Batsford was working
elsewhere in the mornings as an executive in the concrete industry. Consequently
the part timers were struggling. They were 90th in the League, just a point off
the bottom and their early billing as promotion candidates looked positively
"I warned then that that was not being realistic," said
Batsford. "Our aim is to consolidate and if we get halfway, I'll be most happy."
The players' training sessions were upped to every afternoon, but it was a long
hard slog and when Guy was reinstated towards the end of November, Wimbledon had
won just three games.
Two goals from Leslie secured the win over York City, but
spirits, temporarily raised, were sagging again seven days later as Wimbledon,
past masters of FA Cup giant killing, were giant killed themselves, 3-0 at
Enfield. Ian Cooke, 14 years at the club, was not prepared to give up a
promising banking career to go full time and quit for Slough Town, while Holmes
moved onto Hereford United.
It was a bleak midwinter. Too bleak for Batsford.
Of six League games played in December, Wimbledon drew three and lost three. A
3-0 defeat at Swansea on January 2, 1978, saw Batsford resign, signaling the end
of the 'Batsford Era'. The man who had masterminded the big step up was a victim
of his own earlier successes.
Batsford's number two, Dario Gradi, took charge, naming
Bassett his assistant, and there was an almost immediate upturn in fortunes. Ten
games were won in the second half of the season as Wimbledon surged up the table
to finish a comfortable 13th, beaten just five times in their last 21 league
Gradi made his mark with some astute signings. 'Keeper Ray
Goddard, a £4,500 buy from Millwall, shored up the back division and provided
much needed League experience. Les Briley, a record signing at £16,000 from
Hereford, dominated midfield with a series of outstanding performances. And in
came striker Alan Cork, popping them in from the start. He and Steve Ketteridge
signed from Derby, while there were other new young faces in Terry Eames and
Gradi had had a chequered career. Sacked from Chelsea in
October, 1976, where he had worked as youth, reserve and first team coach, he
had a brief spell as manager of Sutton United, where he played as an amateur,
before linking up with Colin Murphy at Derby. He had joined Wimbledon at the
start of the season.
But now at the helm of an in form side, Gradi took
Wimbledon into their second season in the Fourth Division in much better heart.
Within 10 games, they were top of the table, unbeaten in the League and with a
100 per cent record at home. Gradi's young babes, most were either in their
teens or very early 20's were then drawn away at Everton in the League Cup.
Bang in form, were the Dons about to produce another of
their infamous Cup exploits? The answer? An 8-0 defeat and the realizations that
this was a different type of Wimbledon from the non-league side that shocked the
likes of Leeds, Burnley and Middlesbrough. "The simple answer was that this was
a different side doing a different job," said Gradi.
Consistency and application were Gradi's key words. "The
results we get that way won't make as many headlines," said Gradi, "but they
will be to the greater benefit of Wimbledon Football Club." Headlines or not,
Wimbledon remained unbeaten in the League until the end of October. "We cannot
claim to have the colour and romance of the Wimbledon side that came out of the
Southern League to take on the big clubs in the FA Cup. "Our job is to do well
over 46 matches in Division Four and that demands different qualities."
Leslie and Cork were rattling them in; Parsons' skills
were flowing in midfield and Goddard had marshaled his defence superbly. But
Goddard's guile was one man's misery. Guy, hero of so many fine hours, was out
in the cold and that October he left to sign for Maidstone.
Wimbledon were going great guns. A Boxing Day defeat
against Portsmouth was their first reverse at home, while Grimsby Town, eventual
runners-up, were the only others to record a win at Plough Lane. The FA Cup
brought with it the bonus of a 9,000 crowd for a third round home tie against
Southampton. That was secured with a last gasp replay win at Bournemouth, with
Cork equalising in the closing seconds and Parsons scoring the extra time winner
direct from a comer.
There was no joy against Southampton, however, as the
Saints marched in 2-0. But Wimbledon were well on the march themselves in the
League, striding towards a promotion place. It was all nail-biting stuff. One
minute leaders, the next fighting to get back among the promotion pack.
Gradi was busy in the transfer market. The long serving
Donaldson, Bryant and Connell were all destined for free transfers, and in their
place Gradi snapped up Paul Haverson, Steve Perkins, Phil Driver, Mark
Dziadulewicz, Lee Harwood and Paul Bowgett.
Then, right on the transfer deadline, Gradi moved in for
QPR central defender Tommy Cunningham, who, at £45,000, was a club record
signing. A shrewd buy for Gradi, but a mighty gamble for Noades' shoestring
It was a gamble that paid off and when Cork hit the winner
against York, Wimbledon were virtually assured of promotion, making absolutely
certain when a young 17 year-old Wally Downes, nephew of boxer Terry, scored his
first for the club in a 1-1 draw with Barnsley. Cork's 25 League and Cup goals,
in his first full season, had been vital to Wimbledon's campaign.
But he was pipped in the Player of the Year stakes by the
emerging Galliers who had established himself as the midfield powerhouse, in
place of the injured Briley. Free scoring Wimbledon had secured promotion in
some style. Cork, the first Wimbledon player to score a League hat trick, went
one better with four in the 6-1 win at Torquay, and that winning margin was
matched when the seasiders visited Plough Lane towards the end of the season.
It was goals galore and the champagne was flowing.
Wimbledon were the capital's top scorers, with a total of 78 League goals,
winning them the Evening News 'Champagne for Goals' competition and earning six
magnums of bubbly for each of their 21 first teamers.
Progress was proving costly, however. Ground renovations
looked likely to top £55,000 and plans for a youth club and nursery were around
the £13,000 mark. Gradi's final push for promotion had cost a cool £60,000 in
transfer market dealings. "I don't want a Fourth Division side," he said, as the
new faces arrived in the closing months of the campaign. "I want a Third
But as had been the case decades before, Wimbledon's
prowess on the park was not matched through the turnstiles. Gates below the
3,000 mark were commonplace and even the lure of vital promotion games saw only
a 3,897 attendance for the visit of York and just 2,000 more for rivals Barnsley
and most of them were from Yorkshire.
Conversely, Barnsley's promotion winning match attracted a
21,000 crowd to the Oakwell Ground. Wimbledon were having to look to other fund
raising schemes, just as they had in the past and Noades was a master of fresh
ideas. For £120, for example, spectators could join the Directors Box Club. That
would buy a season ticket, plus a match day buffet and use of a private bar.
There was the Vice Presidents Club to join, or, for £50 a
season, the Centre Block Club. There were lotteries, there were promotions. And
there was hope that the future would bring more success, this time in Division
But by the time former Chelsea star Ray Lewington made his
long awaited debut at the end of September, Wimbledon were rock bottom of the
Third Division and had won just twice. Lewington was a victim of a red tape
wrangle over his registration following a spell in the States. His arrival,
however, injected new steam into midfield and Dons went five games unbeaten as
they at last found some form.
But the fire blew out and Wimbledon didn't win again until
the last game of the year, a 3-1 success at Southend. And although they won
three in a row in February, they were always struggling to climb away from the
basement brigade. Only in the Cup competitions was there something to savour.
Aldershot were knocked out 6-2 on aggregate in the League Cup, with Orient
beaten 5-4 on penalties and Plymouth 1-0 after extra time.
Swindon eventually put an end to that progress in the
fourth round, while 35,000 fans saw Wimbledon's three FA Cup battles with
Portsmouth that finally finished in a 1-0 home defeat. There were big financial
problems to be endured as well and Gradi had some trimming to do.
Lewington, who Wimbledon had been endeavouring to sign on
a temporary transfer, left for Fulham; Parsons signed for Orient for £43,000 and
Briley left for Aldershot. Such were the problems Gradi was facing that he was
prepared to consider any reasonable offer for any of his players, prompting
"Dons For Sale" headlines in the national press. It was against this
backdrop of doom and gloom that Wimbledon were expected to climb to safety.
It was hardly surprising, therefore, that they didn't win
again until mid-April and by then they had no hope of survival. They were
eventually relegated back to the Fourth Division, finishing a sad bottom with
just 10 League wins all season. To describe Wimbledon's 100 year history as
'eventful' would be something of an understatement. After all, here they were
approaching just their fourth season in the Football League, and they had
already been promoted and demoted. But what was to follow put all the past
glory, failure, intrigue and controversy well and truly in the shade.
||Southern League Champions
||London Senior Cup winners
||F.A.Cup 4th Round
||Southern League Champions
||Southern League Cup winners
||Southern League Champions
||London Senior Cup winners
||FA Cup 3rd Round
||Joined Football League
||Promoted to Division Three