What a result that was, says Monsieur Salut. But why does it always seem to happen like this? A player goes months without scoring, a club keeps losing as if for fun, a manager is sacked … and then we come along. The variation of the theme this time is that Wimbledon,rock bottom of League One, suddenly hit a flash of form and dispatched Premier League opposition in the FA Cup. I heard a Hammers fan on TalkSport yesterday and he was apoplectic that his team – otherwise going nowhere special, upwards or downwards – couldn’t muster the spirit and quality to overcome such a modest obstacle to progress in one competition where glory might just be possible.
Our first of possibly two Wombling Who are You? interviewees, Mark Sturges*, answered the Salut! Sunderland questions before the FA cup tie, but his additional thoughts were invited. It’s fair to say there was an air of grim resignation about his original replies but he now adds ths: “The team played very well- surprising as we’d lost 0-3 at home to Fleetwood on the Tuesday. This team has proved we can compete so must start showing that in the league IF we are to have a chance of survival before it’s too late’ …
Salut! Sunderland: two Sunderland-supporting friends who live in London are also season ticket holders at Wimbledon. One of them saw you dismantled by Barnsley: were they, as one or two others have said, the best you’ve seen this season?
Mark Sturges: I was not able to get to the game but from the match reports it suggested they were. Our manager Wally Downes alluded to the fact Barnsley were very good. I was at the Portsmouth game on New Year’s day and they could have easily been three up by half time. They just seemed to be complacent. After we scored in the 2nd half they suddenly stepped up a gear and scored again (within five minutes!). I know their recent run of form suggests that they are in for their first wobble!
The Who are You? interviewee for our first game, Ray Armfield (who is heavily involved in your matchday programme) was fairly upbeat after a decent start to the season (a win and a draw, like us). If not already dealt with, what went wrong?
That is a question which has many different answers! From a personal point of view I felt it was down to the previous management. We cleared out a lot of players last season and the ones we have bought in are simply not good enough or are injury prone. Our previous management played the same players in the same way each week and we are easy to scout against.
And here you – despite that marvellous cup win against West Ham – in deep trouble at the bottom. Was it inevitable, however sad, Wimbledon would get rid of a club hero, Neal Ardley, as manager and can Wally Downes hope to get you out of the relegation zone?
Neal was a very likeable person and will hopefully always be remembered for keeping us up in the 2012/2013 season and for the playoff final victory in 2016. However things were becoming stale. I felt he should have walked away at the beginning of the season.
I think the task is too great for Wally. He can only work with what we have got and they are quite simply not good enough!
A few players are out of contract end of season and I also think we should be terminating deals for the above mentioned players to free up wages in preparation for League Two.
Would relegation affect hopes of a move to a new stadium close to your old stamping ground, Plough Lane?
No. The stadium will be happening whatever. It would be nice to have started it in League One but I do not think this will be the case
How distant it must all seem to the days of the Crazy Gang, top flight football and, as many as 30,000 in the ground for a match. Are you old enough to have experienced that time?
Yes, I seems like a lifetime ago. I started to support Wimbledon in 1986/1987 season so I didn’t really understand what was happening at the time but I look back now and see that I played a small part in this as a supporter.
Who are the best players you have seen in Wimbledon colours?
(I have not included loans).
From the Wimbledon FC era : Robbie Earle, Alan Kimble, Kenny Cunningham.
From the AFC Wimbledon era: Danny Kedwell, Sammy Moore, Allan Bennett.
And who should never have been allowed to wear them?
I’m not answering that! I’ll get into more trouble that I’m in already!
Your best moments as a supporter?
This year taking my son to his first few games. We beat Portsmouth and Wycombe 2-1. To hear him sing and see him in his replica shirt was a special moment as I used to do this with my grandad and it’s how I got to support the Dons in the first place!
And the lowest?
Being relegated in 2000 and the prospect of ceasing to exist with regards to Koppel and Winkleman.
And in a poor season so far, who has at least shown some sign of being able to inspire the others? Deji Oshilaja was mentioned by Ray Armfield as the jewel in your crown.
Will Nightingale. He is a Wimbledon youth player and a natural successor to Deji. Deji’s form has dropped off a bit and we seem to play better without him.
What about us – were you surprised at our sharp decline?
No. If the club’s finances are in disarray then it will always happen. Look at us playing in the 9th tier of English football!
Any other thoughts on Sunderland: the club, the fans, the city and region, Jack Ross, the game at our place?
For the modern day Wimbledon fan it will be unlike any other stadium we have visited a true spectacle.
Hand on heart, where will the two clubs finish?
AFC Wimbledon 23rd
I have often given names to our diving question (Eduardo and Neymar, for example, and I suppose it could be Bale or, now, Salah). But will cheating ever be defeated or is to with us to stay?
It’s part of the modern game now I’m afraid, just look at Wycombe……! (joke)
Will you get to our game? If so, as a there-and-back or will you make a weekend of it?
Were looking at flights and aim to do within a day.
And the scoreline?
3-1 to Sunderland
* Mark Sturges on himself: I’m the co-founder of the Southern Womble supporter’s group for Wombles based in the south coast. We have a banner (which you can see in the photo). I’m on the right. We are on social media as @Swsg19 on Twitter. Look up the same abbreciation on Instagram and our Facebook page is called Southern Wombles Supporters Group. I have supported Wimbledon since 1986 through my grandfather and now my six-year-old son is coming to games.
Interview: Colin Randall