THE HISTORY OF WIMBLEDON FOOTBALL CLUB
1978
1978-79

But now at the helm of an in form side, Gradi took Wimbledon into their second season in the Fourth Division in much better heart. Within 10 games, they were top of the table, unbeaten in the League and with a 100 per cent record at home. Gradi's young babes, most were either in their teens or very early 20's were then drawn away at Everton in the League Cup.

Bang in form, were the Dons about to produce another of their infamous Cup exploits? The answer? An 8-0 defeat and the realizations that this was a different type of Wimbledon from the non-league side that shocked the likes of Leeds, Burnley and Middlesbrough. "The simple answer was that this was a different side doing a different job," said Gradi.

Consistency and application were Gradi's key words. "The results we get that way won't make as many headlines," said Gradi, "but they will be to the greater benefit of Wimbledon Football Club." Headlines or not, Wimbledon remained unbeaten in the League until the end of October. "We cannot claim to have the colour and romance of the Wimbledon side that came out of the Southern League to take on the big clubs in the FA Cup. "Our job is to do well over 46 matches in Division Four and that demands different qualities."

Leslie and Cork were rattling them in; Parsons' skills were flowing in midfield and Goddard had marshaled his defence superbly. But Goddard's guile was one man's misery. Guy, hero of so many fine hours, was out in the cold and that October he left to sign for Maidstone.

Wimbledon were going great guns. A Boxing Day defeat against Portsmouth was their first reverse at home, while Grimsby Town, eventual runners-up, were the only others to record a win at Plough Lane. The FA Cup brought with it the bonus of a 9,000 crowd for a third round home tie against Southampton. That was secured with a last gasp replay win at Bournemouth, with Cork equalising in the closing seconds and Parsons scoring the extra time winner direct from a comer.

There was no joy against Southampton, however, as the Saints marched in 2-0. But Wimbledon were well on the march themselves in the League, striding towards a promotion place. It was all nail-biting stuff. One minute leaders, the next fighting to get back among the promotion pack.

Gradi was busy in the transfer market. The long serving Donaldson, Bryant and Connell were all destined for free transfers, and in their place Gradi snapped up Paul Haverson, Steve Perkins, Phil Driver, Mark Dziadulewicz, Lee Harwood and Paul Bowgett.

Then, right on the transfer deadline, Gradi moved in for QPR central defender Tommy Cunningham, who, at £45,000, was a club record signing. A shrewd buy for Gradi, but a mighty gamble for Noades' shoestring operation.

It was a gamble that paid off and when Cork hit the winner against York, Wimbledon were virtually assured of promotion, making absolutely certain when a young 17 year-old Wally Downes, nephew of boxer Terry, scored his first for the club in a 1-1 draw with Barnsley. Cork's 25 League and Cup goals, in his first full season, had been vital to Wimbledon's campaign.

But he was pipped in the Player of the Year stakes by the emerging Galliers who had established himself as the midfield powerhouse, in place of the injured Briley. Free scoring Wimbledon had secured promotion in some style. Cork, the first Wimbledon player to score a League hat trick, went one better with four in the 6-1 win at Torquay, and that winning margin was matched when the seasiders visited Plough Lane towards the end of the season.

It was goals galore and the champagne was flowing. Wimbledon were the capital's top scorers, with a total of 78 League goals, winning them the Evening News 'Champagne for Goals' competition and earning six magnums of bubbly for each of their 21 first teamers.

Progress was proving costly, however. Ground renovations looked likely to top £55,000 and plans for a youth club and nursery were around the £13,000 mark. Gradi's final push for promotion had cost a cool £60,000 in transfer market dealings. "I don't want a Fourth Division side," he said, as the new faces arrived in the closing months of the campaign. "I want a Third Division one."

But as had been the case decades before, Wimbledon's prowess on the park was not matched through the turnstiles. Gates below the 3,000 mark were commonplace and even the lure of vital promotion games saw only a 3,897 attendance for the visit of York and just 2,000 more for rivals Barnsley and most of them were from Yorkshire.

Conversely, Barnsley's promotion winning match attracted a 21,000 crowd to the Oakwell Ground. Wimbledon were having to look to other fund raising schemes, just as they had in the past and Noades was a master of fresh ideas. For £120, for example, spectators could join the Directors Box Club. That would buy a season ticket, plus a match day buffet and use of a private bar.

There was the Vice Presidents Club to join, or, for £50 a season, the Centre Block Club. There were lotteries, there were promotions. And there was hope that the future would bring more success, this time in Division Three.