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 West Ham.
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 this match.
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 winning 2-0.
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 hand.
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 Middlesbrough.
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 Football League.
They had come of age, with a place now in the premier league competition in the world.
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