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NLP Column 3rd January 2017

Show of hands. Whose most memorable match was a pre-season friendly, a game when your team were given a bit of a lesson? Mine was. I’ll never forget Wednesday July 10, 2002. It’s just a shame the TV executives have.

I grew up supporting Wimbledon in their Premier League years. School was challenging, flying solo just 13 miles from the town, but I was the only one who went to see his team play on a regular basis. You could always get a ticket to see the Dons.

But that summer of 14 years ago I was faced with something no football fan should ever have to go through.

willenhalltownfc-nlp2My football club was being taken away, bundled in the back of a van and transported up the M1. All because Milton Keynes wanted a place in the Football League, and a club they couldn’t be bothered to grow themselves.

I was lost for a few days when the announcement came. You may remember the news was delivered with England’s World Cup campaign a day or two away. Timing the Swiss would have been proud of, but what next for a football mad teen? Bite an acidic bullet and actually buy into MK ‘saving’ Wimbledon, or find a new club to support. My pals had dragged me to Reading earlier that year. Nice ground, good side. Decent option.

A few days later I received a delayed text message after getting my phone back for doing something wrong and it read ‘we’re starting again’. And boy, did we. Time was of the essence, so we packed into Wimbledon Community Centre. Dons Trust chair Kris Stewart said: ‘I just want to watch football’. No more fighting, his words became a motto.

I remember heading to Burger King with my brother Tim, behind us a group of lads were singing songs about our brand new but big rivals, Raynes Park Vale. We’re coming for you!

Love affair

A day or two later came a career-making decision. The working party of a hundred were told to pick a room where this new clubcould utilise your skills. I was 17 and had precious few, but I was studying media so I pushed open the door to the press and communications group. Before I knew it I was given the job of getting the newspapers onside.

One of my prime targets? The Non-League Paper. Writing news and reports, I managed to wriggle my way in for some work experience after finishing college. I never did leave.

Sutton United got in touch with one of the new club’s decision makers. Now we had a name, and they wanted to help. They suggesting a first match a month or so down the line, once we had found some players. Game on.

I turned up early to help that warm night. Just after 6pm, not knowing what to expect. I soon found out; hundreds were already snaking round Gander Green Lane. As kick-off drew nearer, a predicted ground of a 1,000 was five times that.

It was only at that point, on the pitch before a game holding up some kind of banner, that I knew actually everything was going to be alright. At full-time, a 4-0 defeat, a pitch invasion came. Power to the people, my love affair with the Non-League was born at the same time as my club was reborn.

This is where my annoyance stems from regarding the television picks for the FA Cup third round. In an era of Premier League reserve sides, history is one of the only things the competition still has left. The two clubs miss out on over £300,000 between them as the top-flight clubs again hit the jackpot. I hope it’s a game next weekend which makes them regret their decision.

Written by Sam Elliott

Published by Russell Eynon