AFC Wimbledon 3 (Rudoni 24, Palmer 35, 44 pen)
Crewe Alexandra 2 (Long 11, Porter 89)
November 23rd 2021
So, the penultimate trip in this latest journey to complete and update my visits to the current 92 English football grounds led to me to Plough Lane, Wimbledon and their brand new stadium. The Dons were at Kingsmeadow, former home of Kingstonian FC when I originally completed the 92 some five years ago.
I say new, but it was opened just over 12 months ago in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, so this was, bearing in mind my commitments with Leeds United home and away, my first real chance to get to see it in the flesh.
The game I chose was against one of my local teams, Crewe Alexandra, who were visiting Plough Lane for a Tuesday night League One encounter and the reason for that was it meant I could cadge a lift on the official Crewe Alex supporters coach. That made yet another long-distance motorway venture a little more bearable and, just as important, a lot cheaper!
So, I parked up in front of the Crewe Alex club shop at their Mornflake Stadium (The Mornflake factory is about two hundred yards down the road) in Gresty Road just before 1:30 pm and joined around 40 or so more Crewe fans on the big coach. It was the second time I’d used this modus operandi – I was also on their coach for a trip to Colchester back in 2015 when I completed the 92 first time round – and, once again, I was welcomed as if I was a long time member of the crew (or should that be Crewe?). There was even another Leeds fan onboard and we soon got chatting about the current form of the Mighty Whites and would Junior Firpo’s form ever improve! As far as I could establish there was only one ‘official coach’ leaving from the Crewe ground today but there was another ‘unofficial’ one too. I was alerted to that fact by an old buddy of mine who’d spotted a coach load of Crewe fans coming into his local pub in Roehampton, about five miles from Plough Lane and he was straight on the blower asking if I was with them! Clearly, I wasn’t and there was no pub stop for us, just a quick break at the services en route. The players and staff, by all accounts, had travelled by train to Euston and were being shuttled to the ground by coach from there.
The 200-mile journey down was pretty uneventful until we arrived in Wimbledon itself, where the traffic congestion around the streets of outer London was predictably static. The main problem came just half a mile or so away from Plough Lane as the police had blocked the road completely while an ambulance was dealing with some sort of emergency further up the road. There was a particularly comedic moment as we all decided, with time running out until kick-off, to leave the coach and walk the last half mile. No sooner had we all got off than the roadblock was removed and the coach started to move off again… hence we all dashed back and piled back on the bus, to the annoyance of the folk in the queue of cars behind us now being forced to wait yet longer to get home for dinner!
The Cherry Red Records Stadium, as the new arena has now been badged (as was Kingsmeadow when the Dons played there), is squeezed into a plot the size of a postage stamp on the edge of Wimbledon. One prominent website states: “The visiting supporters should also be able to reach the stadium quite comfortably due to its close proximity to the bus stops and London underground stations.” I’ve no doubt that is probably true; Tooting Broadway and Wimbledon Park tube stations are both nearby, as is a railway station we passed just before we got stuck behind the ambulance. However, for a 52-seater coach, this ground is a bit of a challenge to reach, and if there are ever more than the two Crewe brought tonight, I’m not sure where they’d park. Our driver had to negotiate three sides of the ground along narrow streets including a 90-degree left-hander outside the home fans pub, The Corner Pin. That proved to be the evening's entertainment for the Dons’ fans in that hostelry as we gradually inched back and forth trying to ensure we didn’t demolish the little pub.
Eventually, we were dropped off right outside the away entrance and we were ushered into a little courtyard a bit like the holding area outside the New Den at Millwall that Leeds fans will remember fondly… but this was way more friendly! Our tickets were scanned and we could then enjoy various facilities built specifically for the away fans but still technically outside the stadium. There was a decent bar with at least ten taps selling various lagers and Camden Pale Ale and a decent array of hot and cold food. Plenty of staff serving meant the queues were not too bad by normal awayday standards. We then entered the stadium at the other side of the courtyard and there were no further ticket checks and we could come and go as we wished during the game; a pretty good set up really.
Inside, the ground is functional if not aesthetically that pleasing! It was completed in November 2020 and occupies the site of the former Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium and is not far from the Dons’ original home that was also on Plough Lane. It has a current capacity of 9,300 (there was a decent crowd of around 6,000 in for the Crewe game with 250 travelling from Crewe) but is said to be easily expandable to 20,000 if things go well on the pitch. The away fans were housed in the North Stand, behind one goal, and it’s a single-tier all-seated affair with no pillars. That stand was replicated along the touchline to our left and at the far end where the main vocal section of the Dons’ support was housed, albeit that South Stand has safe standing rail seats allowing the home fans to stand. The main stand was to my right along the West touchline and that was a far more grand affair, three-tiers with a row of glass-fronted executive boxes running along the top tier. The roofline of that West Stand just goes slightly around the corner at the South end and it’s easy to see how the expansion of the ground will take place if it’s required as the whole ground could then be formed into a bowl with the same three-tier roofline. The sooner the better really as the view of the South Stand at the moment is spoiled by the fact that a huge block of flats behind that end rises into the sky and, at night, looks for all the world like someone has leaned a giant board against the back of the stand!
The game itself was a typical League One hurly-burly affair; Crewe took an 11th-minute lead with a powerful and low cross-shot from the right into the far corner and the visitors looked good for almost half an hour. Then their defensive frailties showed up and the Dons scored two quick goals after some dubious goalkeeping from Dave Richards and then a third as former Leeds man Luke Murphy stupidly tripped his man from behind in the area in front of us. Luke Murphy, the Crewe captain wearing ‘16’, looked a shadow of the player we once saw at Leeds and must be coming to the end of his career. Ollie Palmer buried the spot-kick and then proceeded to celebrate right in front of us which got the away fans a bit agitated and all hell broke loose for a few moments! It was pantomime season come early. Yep, just your typical League One encounter! Crewe pulled one back near the end but it was too late and Wimbledon deservedly won what was effectively an early-season ‘six-pointer’ with both sides struggling at the wrong end of the table.
So, that was that; ground 91 of 92 done and dusted and just a trip to Brentford now to look forward to. That will complete the set for a second time. All being well that will be on the last day of the current season when Leeds United are scheduled to complete the season there. Just to add that it was another long tedious journey home with several road closures meaning the return journey took all of four and a half hours! We football fans are mad you know!