17 August 2014

AFC Wimbledon: The comeback gig

Far away from the big venues of the Premier League two stars of the 1980s took to the stage in the middle of our little local.

Saturday’s Kenilworth Road Football League opener against AFC Wimbledon was a heavyweight clash for division four eh, fans of #thebanter? HAHAHAHAHAHA. Alright, give over.

The occasion of our first home game back in the league and the match-up between the unusually proportioned Bayo Akinfenwa and our Steve McNulty is not the only reason the game had a gravitational pull of its own. Because we’re a bit the same, us and them.

Both sets of fans, over a certain vintage, have Wembley memories and press cuttings of their heroes clutching silverware and inspirational perms. They have the dog-eared VHS and the programmes. Both had fallen on hard times and are heading towards a restoration of the natural order of things.

Equally both teams have a certain reputation in the game for footballing style that was born in the 80s: one an intimidating and direct Crazy Gang of Vinnie Jones’ and John Fashanus the other a determinedly neat passing side with a magic synthetic carpet.

More than in previous meetings between us and them, Saturday’s game had the whiff of a comeback gig for a cult 80s band, or at least a tribute act.

For their reformation AFC Wimbledon had taken the usual administrative step of undergoing a subtle renaming due to a corporate wrangle with the record company, which had seen slimy marketing men make off with bits of their identity and history.

The fashion in which the Dons scored what turned out to be the winner absolutely stank of Crazy Gang nostalgia: A big hoof up-field was flicked on by the unfeasibly muscular AkinFashanu, while Tubbs had the composure to see off the attentions of an otherwise dominant McNulty to bury his strike past the helpless Mark Tyler.

Akinfenwa tried repeatedly to intimidate Luton players just as Fashanu had done in the time of tiny shorts and mullets: he stood threateningly over Tyler as his second half diving header failed to double the visitors’ advantage and later swatted away the wafer thin Ref who had the unenviable role of the ham in a McNulty/Bayo handbag sandwich.

Luton, for their part in the 80s nostalgia, had the better of the passing play for long periods with little glimpses of what is to come from Drury and Guttridge: who, in their own mini-comebacks, weren’t quite as good as the original Drury and Guttridge yet, but it was still great to see them both performing for us again.

Alex Wall will have cursed our return to real grass as Benson’s lay-off found the only bobble on what is a carpet of such flawless green that it could have been mistaken for plastic, his subsequent shot almost taking out easyJet flight 2161 to Amsterdam.

So we lost. As comeback gigs go, it was a bit like The Cure at Reading Festival. Competent, authentic stuff; but lacking that bit of magic.

It was nice to see John Still holding court on the Football League show when I got in after the game. His likeable but focused manner is the personification of what this club is becoming.

After hearing him hold his own talking music with the Roland Rat of Radio 6 Steve Lamacq on his programme recently, I reckon John’s pretty much the coolest manager we’ve had in any era too.

Never too high, never too low is his favourite tune. It’s the only one he knows.

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