THE HISTORY OF WIMBLEDON FOOTBALL CLUB
1971
1971-72

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 games.

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 impact.

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 season.

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 house.

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.