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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 26/12/01
Everbody needs good neighbours
By Matt Rowson

Football supporters are quite a varied bunch, contrary to Thatcherite stereotypes. Some common purpose and interest is generated once or twice a week by the pulling on of the same colours, but there are very different faces, characters and backgrounds in the mass of supporters in a single stand. However much your support of your football club (Watford, for sake of argument) defines your personality, there are a lot of other things going on in your life, other perspectives, other motivations that the woman sitting behind you or the bloke who squeezes past you down the row with his coffee at half time don't ever see.

In awareness of this, it shouldn't have come as any great surprise that before the Dons game at Vicarage Road, our attempts to help out the visiting support with their anti-MK protests met with disinterest, scorn and annoyance from a considerable minority of those heading into the Rookery. But the selfishness, not to mention short-sightedness, of these people really stunned and depressed me. It's safe to say that I've rarely felt as divorced from the Watford throng. (With one or two general exceptions, such as when you see the sort of twonk that turns up at away fixtures and tries to conduct the crowd, antagonise opposing supporters or provoke the stewards, but I digress).

I'm not going to rehash the minutiae of the Wimbledon-to-Milton Keynes saga here at any length. My brother went through the arguments more eloquently and concisely than I could hope to in the home match preview earlier in the season. But consider this: even if your view of what's important in the world is so self-centred that it doesn't stretch to sympathising with supporters of another club, self-interest is also served by the avoidance of a precedent being set here.

Consider the possibility that over the next couple of years Aston Villa are relegated to the Nationwide League, and Watford simultaneously promoted to the Premiership. Improbable, but not impossible. If Charles Koppel is permitted to relocate Wimbledon to Milton Keynes in the meantime, there would be nothing anyone could do to prevent, for example, Watford being shifted up the M6 to take advantage of the large enough minority of the Birmingham public who would abandon their Nationwide clubs to watch Premiership football. (It goes without saying that the Blues will still be poncing around the play-offs in Division One).

The question is not whether it would happen. The point is that it could, and in the absence of Koppel having been refused permission to rape and pillage Wimbledon for his own ends despite unequivocal objection from the fanbase, nobody would be able to do anything to prevent it. I don't wish to cast any unfair aspersions at our current board, but Watford fans should have long enough memories to recall a chairman whose own interests weren't necessarily the same as the club's.

Since the home game, little appears to have changed as far as the Dons' move is concerned. Koppel has still been refused permission to move by the Football League, persists in viewing MK as the club's preferred option, continues to pay lip-service to relocating in Merton (at odds with Council assertions of a lack of interest in pursuing this possibility). A chink of light opened up when Safeways, current owners of the old Plough Lane site, were refused permission to build a new supermarket there; it seems unlikely that this option will be pursued whilst Koppel remains at the helm, however.

If Wimbledon move to Milton Keynes the club effectively dies, to be replaced by another whose chances of survival seem fanciful at best. In recognition of this and in no small desperation, Wimbledon fans are staging a commercial boycott of the club which has extended to the matchday programme. A rival matchday magazine, the "Yellow and Blue" is produced by supporters and sold outside the ground, forcing the official publication into the ground where it appears to be targeted primarily at the visiting support. Contrary to the sycophantic statement in our own match programme at the weekend, the "Yellow and Blue" seems an all-round better bet being cheaper, more-informative, and altogether less reprehensible than its official rival.

On the other hand, if you're the sort of person who shuts their door and turns the TV volume up when your next-door neighbour's house is burning down, feel free to do whatever the hell you like. Just don't expect sympathy from anyone else next time you want to borrow a cup of sugar.

The Dons' season on the pitch has been as disappointingly half-baked as our own so far, impressive mini-runs of form jolted with regular disappointments (although unlike ourselves, it doesn't appear that Terry Burton takes remedial action to correct any run of good results by changing the team's shape and personnel). Thus the Dons lurk indecisively just below us in mid-table when their early expectations might have been slightly higher.

In goal will be old chum Kelvin Davis, conceder of four goals at Kenilworth Road on 4/10/97. Davis received a red card at Norwich for throwing the ball at David Nielsen, a Dons player on loan at Carrow Road at the behest of Koppel. More than meets the eye going on there, perhaps. Davis' cover is another ex-Luton stopper the gruesome Ian Feuer.

At the back, the long-term absences of Dean Blackwell and particularly broken-leg victim Mark Williams have been a major hindrance. Wayne Brown was loaned from Ipswich Town but he has now returned to Portman Road and Chris Willmott, another ex-Hatter, has a wrist injury. This means that Kenny Cunningham is likely to be partnered by Trond Andersen at the back. Cunningham is a hugely important influence in the back four, where he is now a regular in the centre as he is for the Irish Republic having previously been the default right-back. Andersen is a Norwegian International, more regularly a midfielder. With Mikele Leigertwood on loan at Leyton Orient, Rob Gier is the only cover at the back.

Since Cunningham's move to the centre, former Sunderland man Darren Holloway has established himself at right-back. Scot Duncan Jupp is also still at the club, but when a website reports that the best thing about Cunningham's excellent form over the last few years has been Jupp's lack of opportunity you draw your own conclusions. On the left, the energetic Jermaine Darlington was a summer recruit from QPR. Peter Hawkins, who has had a number of really bad performances against the Hornets, and veteran clogger Alan Kimble wait in the wings.

With Andersen playing at the back, the central midfield is likely to feature two of Damien Francis, Michael Hughes and Hakan Mild. The dynamic Francis has been labeled as one to watch for a few years at Wimbledon and finally appears to be establishing himself. Michael Hughes is more conventionally a wide player and doubts remain about his suitability for a central role despite impressing recently. Mild, a Swedish International, appears to be a fine capture by Burton; he should play if he recovers from a hamstring problem that has kept him out of the last few games.

The Dons have plenty of options in wide positions, but Neal Ardley and Kevin Cooper are likely to be the two featuring on Tuesday. Ardley has been at Wimbledon for ever, and continues to belt crosses haphazardly in from the right much as he ever did. Cooper arrived from Stockport last season and appears to be as popular here as he was at Edgeley Park. Other wide options include the gangly but talented Jobi McAnuff, the precocious Lionel Morgan, and Swede Per Karlsson, but the unpredictable Gareth Ainsworth is unlikely to have recovered from his latest injury in time to feature.

Up front, centre-stage is taken by our very own poison dwarf David Connolly, impressing greatly since his return from Holland and once again attracting the attention of Peter Reid at Sunderland. Reid first enquired about Connolly, famously, when he was at Watford, before being pointed in out-of-contract Kevin Phillips' direction by Graham Taylor. Reid appears to need to learn about Connolly the hard way.

Connolly has been partnered by Neil Shipperley, who scored for the Hornets on Boxing Day seven years ago but is now without a goal since September. In the absence of Norwich-bound Nielsen, competition comes from the lightning-quick Patrick Agyemang.

Boxing Day, then. Not the most productive of dates for the Hornets over recent years and, with public services buggering around, a fun-packed trip to South London is in store. If stuck waiting for a train somewhere, you might consider amusing yourself by guessing exactly how many degrees below zero it is or, more challengingly, which position Heidar will end up playing in. Oh Joy.

Merry Christmas anyway.

Koppel Out.

Come on You Orns.