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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 19/02/02
By Matt Rowson

If there's one good thing about having a fifty mile drive to work every day, it's the cordoning off of a couple of hours for listening to music. Whilst it never really fitted into the schedule before, I'm now pillaging a back-catalogue of CDs and enjoying not only the nostalgia trip of each but also the tumbling, soaring and crashing of guitars, and the elegance of emotion put to verse.

Music is wonderful in that it stimulates emotion, be it excitement, or joy, or sadness, or pity, or anger... and all the more so because it has a personality to it. The knowledge that someone somewhere, a composer, has poured their soul into a song. It's real (man), it means something.

"Popstars", then, was complete bollocks. The music industry has long since turned the world round to the idea of a factory band...strangers, roped together for their individual suitability rather than any common cause, attitude or background, performing songs manufactured for them by a team of professional writers.

But to turn the whole charade into a TV show, to make yet more money out of showing people how completely phony the whole thing is, just smacks of taking the piss. For whilst a professional writer is as entitled as anyone else to pour his or her emotion into a song, that it's someone else's face we see, someone's face chosen to sell the record, makes the whole thing tantamount to a lie. We're not listening to something that's come out of someone's heart, or fear, or anger. We're listening to some artificial sounds performed by someone aesthetically pleasing enough to persuade us to part with our money. This has nothing to do with music, and everything to do with defining a fashion and then bleeding it dry. In what marketeers might call the hockey-stick principle, the next fresh-faced band will roll off the line just as Hear'say's image starts to wane. Cynical.

So does football work in the same way? Are the football-consuming public as utterly gullible as so many of the CD-buying populace ?

Probably not. Not really. Supporters of all clubs, even the biggest clubs, have a significant hardcore of support based on geographical or family connections. And whilst many are wooed by the glamour, success and star-value of the Premiership, the whole thing is less transient. Manchester United supporters from Surrey will for the most part, it's safe to assume, remain Manchester United supporters even if and when the club's fortunes take a bit of a slump. Infrastructure considerations, let alone league rules, mean that it's just infeasible to magic a club out of nothing, sell it to a star-struck public for a couple of years and then dump it to start again.

So what on earth does Charles Koppel think he can achieve by dragging Wimbledon kicking and screaming up to Milton Keynes? If the move goes through and with the club having severed itself, astonishingly, from its fanbase (even high-street banks were never as disdainful of their customers) it's not clear how Wimbledon can hope to survive as a First Division club. People will pick up the latest boy-band CD, they won't just pick up a local club because it's new and shiny. Not enough of them, anyhow. As for the prospect of a massive push for the Premiership - which people probably will pay to see - if a number of clubs, who shall remain nameless, are failing to achieve this despite considerable investment, a high-profile manager, a solid infrastructure and a fair-sized local fanbase, the MK Dons cannot by any stretch count on success.

Charles Koppel has this week reiterated that Milton Keynes is seen as "the only viable and deliverable solution" for a club reputed to be losing 20,000 a day. Merton Council, evidently as aggravated as anyone else by the dishonesty of the charade, have called Koppel's bluff by announcing that Plough Lane will be redeveloped as a football ground / hotel complex with or without Wimbledon. Koppel, with all the charm of projectile vomit in an antigravity chamber, has always insisted that this is infeasible. The next move will be interesting.

Like Watford, Wimbledon have bumbled around unconvincingly in mid-table for most of the campaign, despite having higher ambitions at the start of the season. However, whilst the Hornets have tended to beat struggling opposition but folded against anyone from the top half of the table, Wimbledon have beaten the bigger clubs, including Manchester City at Selhurst Park two weeks ago, whilst dropping points against teams below them.

In goal for the Dons will be ex-Hatter Kelvin Davis. Paul Heald, controversially red-carded in the home fixture, is on loan at Sheffield Wednesday so youngster Shane Gore is on the bench as cover.

Former Sunderland man Darren Holloway has begun to impress at right-back; at left-back, Peter Hawkins has played the last couple of games with veteran clogger Alan Kimble in reserve, however first-choice left-back Jermaine Darlington is one of several injured players close to a return.

In the centre, Irish international Kenny Cunningham and Norwegian international Trond Andersen form a decent partnership; they could soon face competition from former Hornet Mark Williams, finally close to contention after two serious injuries wrecked his start to the season. Dean Blackwell, dismissed in our first Premiership fixture, is close to a return to fitness, whilst another ex-Luton man Chris Willmott is also an option.

In midfield, Damien Francis has been doing the fetching and carrying for Michael Hughes, who has impressed greatly in recent games. Long-serving Neal Ardley and former Stockport winger Kevin Cooper are first choice on the flanks. Selection questions are posed by the imminent return of Swedish international Hakan Mild, whilst youngsters Jobi McAnuff and Lionel Morgan were on the bench last weekend. The latter, thought to be out of contract at the end of the season, is reportedly attracting interest from both Arsenal and Spurs. Other midfield options include the wholehearted Gareth Ainsworth, returning from yet another injury, and Swede Per Karlsson, but Ian Selley has moved on loan to Southend, a move that somehow seemed destined since his Arsenal debut.

Up front, the regular Shipperley / Connolly partnership was recently disturbed by an ankle injury to the Irish international, but he should be back for Tuesday meaning that Patrick Agyemang will probably drop back to the bench. Former Blackpool striker Adam Nowland has also made the squad for recent games, meaning that former Newcastle man Paul Robinson is still further down the pecking order.

The Dons' alternative match programme, the "Yellow and Blue" will be on sale around the outside of the ground on Tuesday, so look out for that. Even if you're of the slightly narrow view that this "isn't our problem", it's better value and more informative than the official number.

Even if you do get a free Hear'say promotional CD with the latter.