THE HISTORY OF WIMBLEDON FOOTBALL CLUB
1968
1968-69

Wimbledon began the new season with 16 professionals, and were again grateful that the Supporters Club donated £2,250. But it was Blacks to the rescue again. Sir Cyril Black, the club President and elder brother of the late Chairman, gave the club a £20,000 interest-free loan to help with the finances.

It was essential that some money-spinning revenue was obtained in the cup competitions, but this was not to be. In the Southern League Cup, Wimble­don crashed out 6-3 on aggregate against Chelmsford and then played embarras­singly poorly at home to Sutton United in the London Challenge Cup.

Wimbledon started off inconsistently in the League, too and soon found themselves mid-table. One week they played brilliantly, winning 3-1 at Cheltenham, where the home side had been undefeated in 10 months, and the next they were losing 2-0 at home to Romford.

The need for a good FA Cup run was paramount and they seemed lucky in the draw, as Woking had to visit Plough Lane in the fourth qualifying round. But here Wimbledon reached their lowest point since turning professional. Leading 1-0 at half-time, Woking swept into the attack at the start of the second-half and scored a match winning second before Wimbledon had even touched the ball.

Smith was dropped and Guy recalled to give an almost faultless display at Worcester City. Smith found he couldn't get back in the side and asked for a transfer. Wimbledon, however, were beginning to improve. The Dons won at Margate to move within one point of leaders Yeovil, al­though it was all very close at the top, while they then beat Champions Chelmsford 1-0 at home.

But Wimbledon's crowds were down in the Southern League. They were finding it difficult to score goals and the entertainment value was not as high as before. But matters were even worse in the Metropolitan League. With virtually all the players amateurs, the standard was low, and gates of 800-900 had now dwindled alarmingly.

The home match against Bletchley, for instance, had attracted just 51 people, giving receipts of £4.10 shillings, and Wimble­don consequently announced their intention to resign from the Metropolitan and ditch their reserves.

With no cup commitments, Wimbledon could concentrate on the League and they put together a fine run of eight straight victories - the straight eight concluding with a 2-0 win over Rugby Town to move six points clear.

There were stormy scenes off the pitch. At a heated meeting in March it was officially decided to drop the reserves, against the advice of Henley. A 500 name petition was drawn up asking for their retention, pointing out that the £1,500 a year saved would be recouped if one player a season was found for the first team. But the vote had been taken and the reserves were dissolved.

Once again, the Easter period was to prove vital. Wimbledon lost at Dover, but recovered to draw 2-2 at Romford and beat Dover at Plough Lane to leave them joint top with Hillingdon and one point ahead of Cambridge. Wimbledon's next match was at home to Burton Albion, Guy had played very well all season, but in the 24th minute, he made a dreadful mistake, fumbling a long clearance from the Burton goalkeeper into his own net.

Wimbledon just could not equa1ise and Burton added a second goal five minutes from time before Hodges pulled one back. Wimbledon's title hopes, now very slim, effectively vanished at Kettering, where Bailham put the Dons ahead in the fourth minute before Kettering took charge, 3-1.

Wimbledon finished third behind Cam­bridge, who had pipped Hillingdon to take the title. But hooliganism was to raise its ugly head at Plough Lane after a testimonial match against Chelsea. A bumper crowd of 5,250 turned out and after the match, visiting thugs broke down two admission gates, snapped the crossbar of one of the goals and uprooted some of the railings around the pitch. Damage was estimated at nearly £500.

More problems with the finances as well. Wimbledon's crowds were dramatically down, with their Southern League gates av­eraging just under 1,950. This, allied to the fewer number of Cup games, meant that re­ceipts were down by roughly 30 per cent and the £3,000 deficit virtually nullified all the savings made.

New signings in the close season included Peter Shreeve and Graham Roope, the Sur­rey and England cricketer and Wimbledon began the season promisingly, taking five points from the first three games. They also beat Dunstable 5-1 on aggre­gate in the Southern League Cup to move beyond the first round for the first time in three years.

But if Wimbledon's League Cup record was not that good, their London Challenge Cup record was positively disastrous. Wimbledon hadn't won a LCC match in five years and were given a tough tie in the preliminary round, drawn at Athenian League leaders Dagenham. A hostile crowd, allied with an uncompromising home side, proved a daunting challenge, but Cooke scored the only goal in the 14th minute to break the voodoo and earn a home tie with Orient.

Orient fielded three first teamers, but were no match for Wimbledon, who turned on their best display of the season to win 3-0. And in the next round Dons played even better, with visitors Millwall decidedly lucky only to lose out 3-2, Bailham's winning goal coming 12 minutes from time.

Barking had fought their way through to the London Challenge Cup Semi-Final, but at Plough Lane they made an appalling start, falling 2-0 down after just six minutes. A Law own goal helped them back into the game and there were some anxious mo­ments in the closing stages before O'Rourke scored a killer third to set up a Plough Lane final against Arsenal.

Wimbledon were drawn against fellow Southern League Premier Division side Crawley Town in the FA Cup fourth qualifying round and after two goalless draws, two goal Bailham eventually saw Dons through.

Wimbledon were then drawn away at Hillingdon Borough, missed four easy chances in the first 30 minutes and paid a heavy price. Hillingdon took the lead in the 63rd minute and defended magnificently, going further ahead 10 minutes from time to win 2-0.

Two days later, Arsenal came to Plough Lane in the London Challenge Cup Final, a match attracting 4,494 fans, the highest of the season, with the future Dons boss, Bobby Gould, leading the Arsenal attack.

Wimbledon were immediately on the rack and it was no surprise when Gould put the Gunners one up in the 11th mi­nute. Wimbledon eventually got on top, but Arsenal held out until the 78th minute, when McLeish equalised. It looked as if a Highbury replay would be needed, but in the 88th minute, Gould scored the winner.