THE HISTORY OF WIMBLEDON FOOTBALL CLUB
1973
1973-74

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 their conduct.

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 Wealdstone.

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 Fulham.

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 evening.

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 least, survival.

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.