When I was younger I used to support a football team that no longer exists, called Wimbledon FC. They played at Plough Lane, a small, ramshackle ground in an ugly bit of South London (some way off from the Wimbledon where the tennis happens), and they played a rough, rumbustious style of football that didn't endear them to outsiders but warmed the hearts of their fans, especially when it enabled them to turn over fancier, more fastidious teams, who often seemed to perform at Plough Lane as though they had clothes-pegs on their noses. I didn't choose Wimbledon because of any local connection (I grew up in North London) but because I had seen them on TV in the mid-1970s, where they featured as non-league FA Cup giant-killers, or at least giant-stunners, holding the mighty Leeds United to a goalless draw before losing 1-0 in the replay. When Wimbledon were invited to join the Football League in 1977 as part of the old Fourth Division - this was when teams had to wait to be asked into the league rather than being promoted automatically - I started to count myself a fan, and to make the long journey to the end of the District Line to watch them play against sides like Rochdale and Darlington. After only two seasons in the Fourth Division they managed to win promotion to the Third, but the next season they were relegated back down. The same thing happened over the following two seasons, a promotion immediately followed by a relegation. By the early 1980s, Wimbledon, with regular crowds of just a few thousand and a team of solid but unspectacular players, seemed to have found their level, about two and a half divisions below the summit of English football.
LRB 23 October 2008 | PDF Download