25 February 2015

Wimbledon away: Those 90, odd minutes

Chunky raindrops fell light as a feather. One at a time they twinkled past floodlights untimely lit, through searing sunshine and marbling cloud, and evaporated onto the heads and hats of late-coming Lutonians wincing at those 90, odd minutes.

I say 90 odd minutes: Odd because, due to that horrible festering infection in Milton Keynes, AFC Wimbledon games come with a little speck of solidarity mixed in amongst the fleeting match day hate flung across the stands at the tiny blokes you may never know. Any good feeling is difficult to keep in mind though, once they start repeatedly hitting the post instead of capitulating like a club with a 5 step away terrace should.

Their ground is odd. Odd, not only because to see one end from the other you need a step ladder and the neck muscles of Mick Harford, such is the gentle gradient of the terrace in this gentle outpost of south London.

It’s odd because it says Kingstonian on the top; odd because there’s no roof on the bit at the end where those who’d venture a song into the bitter sky would see it escape towards the sun before the choir could join in; odd because the pitch looks like moss.

The game itself didn't help. Our ever-healthy list of sidelined talent meant that in many cases the players and partnerships treading that heavy turf were new. They were new and the 820-odd of us who stood in the cold with those Diamond tickets were decidedly not. We were old. Old enough to know that we probably weren't getting any daytime fireworks to go with daytime floodlights that afternoon.

The 90 odd minutes were split into two by the juddering engine of a Luke warm Guttridge slowly beginning to fire. The first saw us pegged-back and nervy, while the second saw us grow and flicker occasionally into life via knock-downs from a Jayden Stockley relishing the battle and beginning to repay the faith John Still has shown in him.

If the unexpected Stockley show wasn't odd enough, at one point Rob Lee’s son scored. If the slightly flat Luton congregation weren't feeling old already, they were now.

The oddest of the 90-odd however, happened to Stockley during the second half. On a scale of “Yeah he dived” to “I'm staying up to watch the Football League show to see Claridge tear this ref a new... oh they've ignored it”, this was the definition of heavy-eyelid late night fury.

From where I was swearing, the moment improbably named Jayden tumbled into the top corner of the box came with a certainty that felt out of place on this most uncertain of days. Sure as Barron Knight follows Mervyn Day this was a penalty. The yellow card that followed sapped what sanity remained from my day out to the extent that I later paid £8 for a single Jack Daniels and Coke without batting an eyelid.

But back into it we eventually got. And there was good among the bad and familiarity among the weird as Lawless, McGeehan and Guttridge pulled midfield strings that had been bypassed time and again in the first half, beneath looping hope from defence to attack.

As the clock ticked over into the 90th odd minute however, and as the Town net rustled for a final thudding time I knew, looking into the tiny jubilant Wimbledon faces who long to make their home elsewhere soon, that neither of us ever wanted to come here again.

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