Go Away: AFC Wimbledon

Two men sit in an unfinished Plough Lane stadium looking at the pitch ahead of AFC Wimbledon's first game in the stadium against Doncaster Rovers

Underground, overground, the 163; all of these lead you to Wimbledon in south west London where a settlement has existed since the Iron Age, prior to which the land had been seen as too creased to inhabit.

The original hamlet of Wimbledon was located on Wimbledon Common, but over the years the centre has moved a mile or so to the south east; presumably after residents got freaked out by the weird three-foot tall furry hoarders that sounded remarkably like the popular actor Bernard Cribbins, rustling about in the Common’s undergrowth 

Outside of farming, Wimbledon has no traditional industry of its own and by the 1800s had already become established as a commuter town, with regular horse buses running into London. In the middle of that century the London & South West Railway began operating trains through WImbledon, and so the horses caught those to the city instead.

In the 1980s Wimbledon’s football team became known as ‘The Crazy Gang’, partly because of the squad’s notorious new player initiations that stretched from having your belongings set on fire to being tied to the roof of a car and driven down the A3, and party because ‘The Fucking Mentalists’ was deemed unprintable.

What’s it famous for?

Wimbledon is best known as the home of the All England Lawn Tennis Club and its Wimbledon Championships. The oldest of tennis’ Grand Slams, Wimbledon proudly maintains many long-standing traditions such as a strict all-white rule, although in more recent years this has been scaled back to apply only to the players’ dress code. Some of the championships most iconic moments have been etched into British sporting history, including Pat Cash inventing parkour in 1987, Cliff Richard overstaying his welcome whilst serenading a tent in 1996 and John McEnroe loudly reminding an umpire of the first rule of Clown School in 1981.

How to blend in

Go out of your way to pick up rubbish, try not to baulk at the price of a pint, and beyond that, well, you’ve watched the tennis. Laugh uproariously because a pigeon has landed on the touchline, or because a match official has a slightly deeper voice than you expected; applaud routine announcements or basic mechanical functionality like the closing of a roof designed to close; sprint after any ball that comes into the stands and then hand it back to the players as if you’re a mime with no functioning elbows; and the moment you feel a spot of rain haul a tarpaulin over the pitch.

Doncaster Rovers take on AFC Wimbledon during the first match staged at the latter's new Plough Lane stadium

What’s the stadium like?

After thirty years away, Wimbledon returned to their spiritual home of Plough Lane in 2020. The new incarnation of the ground is around 200 yards from their original home and on the site of the old (non-football) Wimbledon Stadium. Once a venue for speedway racing, in its later years the stadium hosted greyhound and stock car races, though the stock cars usually won.

Like everything in 21st Century London, Wimbledon’s new stadium is surrounded by towering complexes of new-build apartments which will be marketed as ‘affordable living’ presumably because irony doesn’t exist south of Northampton. Despite the fact that no-one you know could ever afford to live in such flats, they will inevitably appear to be fully inhabited. Maybe they’re all actors, employed to make it look like the housing crisis isn’t real, or maybe we’ve just spent too long reading David Cotterill’s Twitter feed.

Anyway, away fans are housed in the North Stand of the ground, from which you’ll see a huge brick wall that towers high above the stand opposite. Not part of the surrounding housing complex, the wall was erected after watching Jon Taylor’s shooting in the pre-season friendly at Armthorpe so as not to see a succession of matchballs sail off into Lambeth Cemetery.

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