AFC Wimbledon 2 Plymouth Argyle 0, League Two Play-off Final (30th May 2016)
Just a brief recap, as I’ve been to Wembley for play-off finals etc, several times before, this time to see probably one of the more popular play-off wins for neutrals.
I actually wasn’t too fussed who won. Partly because I have a slight, only slight, soft spot for Plymouth, mainly due to playing Subbuteo as a child. I loved the game, despite have no interest in football at that age. As a result, when all my friends were buying Liverpool, Man Utd, Nottingham Forest and QPR as their teams of choice (this being the late 70s) I opted for Plymouth Argyle as I liked the fact that they played in green and had a strange name. An 8 year old supporter of the European Champions really doesn’t like being knocked out of the “friend’s house living room carpet Subbuteo Cup” by Plymouth Argyle, I can tell you.
I’ve also rather uncharitably found AFC Wimbledon to be a bit of a footballing Jade Goody, mocked and loathed by all until death, only to take on saintly status afterwards. And as much as I fully understand why every AFC Wimbledon fan will loathe MK Dons with an everburning passion, I’ve never liked the football fan fundamentalism you get these days, one aspect of which is that every football fan must also bitterly hate the Dons too, or they aren’t a proper fan. I’ve no love for MK at all, and I certainly think the way they got their league place was appalling, but I don’t hate them any more than I hate the crooked chairmen who almost drove other clubs to the wall. I wouldn’t expect Wimbledon fans to hate Robert Maxwell because he almost killed Reading.
That aside, there is no doubt at all that Wimbledon’s rise is a definite “feel good” story. It doesn’t seem that long ago that they were taking the field not too far from me at Sandhurst Town, in their first ever Combined Counties match. The Football League must have seemed a very long way away then, but here they are, not only back in the league, but gaining their first promotion too.
In truth, despite the near 58000 crowd, the game wasn’t a great advert for League Two. I’ll be charitable and say nerves affected the players, as it’d be hard to see how either were challenging for promotion based on the composure on display.
The first half is probably better forgotten, but the second did improve a bit, and it was Wimbledon who always looked more dangerous. Plymouth, despite their 35000 fans supporting them, just didn’t turn up on the day.
It looked like a game that would be settled by a single goal, and when Wimbledon’s Lyle Taylor glanced in a cross from the right, it was hard to see Plymouth coming back. They pushed forward, but were creating nothing. All they did do was leave gaps at the back, which Wimbledon really should have exploited far more than they did. Clear runs at goal somehow failed to produce telling shots, and a header was tipped over the bar from close range.
Just as the fans’ whistles were getting louder, and Wimbledon seemed to be wanting to play all their football near the corner flag, a burst towards goal bought a weary challenge and a penalty.
Already in the 7th minute of seven added on minutes, it looked to be the clincher, regardless of whether it was scored or not. The game would be over, surely. That was probably part of the reasoning behind letting Adebayo Akinfenwa take the kick. “Beast”, as he is known, due to his considerable bulk, was playing in his last ever Dons game, and was clearly keen to sign off in style.
If there’s ever a player you’d think would put his weight behind a shot, it’s Akinfenwa, but instead he calmly sent the Argyle keeper the wrong way, stroking the ball in to his right. Game over, and cue the celebration, with “Beast” taking off his shirt to reveal a t-shirt bearing the “Beast Mode” logo of his clothing brand, as he ran, or at least jogged, round the edge of the pitch taking the applause.
The only surprise was that the game hadn’t actually finished, and the ref called everyone back for a rather pointless 90 seconds, before blowing the whistle, and then the party really could begin.