THE HISTORY OF WIMBLEDON FOOTBALL CLUB
1972
1972-73

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 deserved success.

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 four-figure gate.

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."