Is nothing sacred?
By Will Rowson
Someone once innocently asked me what exactly it is that we support. I was, and still am, stumped.
Of course, this didn't stop me from opening my mouth at the time and allowing a cascade of ill-considered nonsense to spill forth. She was attacking us surely; casting mischievous doubt over our convictions. She had to be stopped before she did too much damage. She was dangerous. But only because it seemed she had a point.
Her point being one which Watford and Wimbledon fans are particularly aware of at the moment...everything can change. And if everything can change then what do we support, what makes it our club? Where's the mast to nail our colours to? Pick any one thing about our club and just change it. Have you still got our club? Change the personnel, change the stadium, change the fortunes, change the colours, change the customs, change the name, why don't you? (It's been done before and a Hornet by any other name would smell as sweet.) The chances are that whatever single alteration you make, however hideous to imagine, you are still left with our club, meaning that none of those things you altered could define our club. No one aspect seems essential to its identity; all appear to be individually disposable. But if nothing is essential then nothing is sacred, in which case why are we wasting our time?
Of course, you could change absolutely everything at once and then, granted, you would be left with a different club, but you'd have thrown the baby out with the bathwater and failed to pinpoint that one elusive entity.
This rational, methodical, mischief depressed me. If I can't even identify what I'm supporting, then why bother? Then came the events of recent months and a crisis of faith threatened to engulf me.
Things had changed before but in gentle, comparative moderation. The Vicarage Road Terrace, Gary Porter, half-time shoot-outs, Steve Talboys, all gone. But never before had I felt so wrenched by change as I did this summer. I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling dislocated so far this season; struggling to find my voice; to get a handle on things. But surely I've not been wasting my Saturdays (and Sundays, for Chrissake) up to now supporting modest conservatism and steady continuity per se. This is still our club and game by game that feeling is going to come back. I'm certain we haven't lost our identity yet.
At Wimbledon, though, the fans are being raped of theirs. The move to Milton Keynes has now been blocked twice by the league but Koppel, Dons chairman, persists. Probably knowing that he can take this to the European courts on the grounds of trade restrictions, he pays lip-service to investigating a move back to Merton whilst blundering on and ignoring the understandably vocal wishes of the supporters. As much as the move, it's these acts of alienation that really threaten to destroy the club's identity.
In the light of such events, a few league defeats and an early exit from the Worthington Cup will appear immaterial to Dons' fans. Wimbledon started well with an immensely popular victory over Birmingham. But when a draw with winless Preston is hailed as a great result, you may begin to feel that they've lost their way.
Covering for the injured Kelvin Davies between the sticks, Paul Heald has been preferred to the delightful Ian Feuer and looks set to deputise again on Sunday. Also sidelined for the match is former Hornet and last year's player of the season, Mark Williams, who is likely to be replaced by the promising Rob Gier at the back. Gier will be partnered in central defence by ex-Hatter (one more for 'good' measure), Chris Willmott. Willmott has been praised for his performances so far this season but still threatens to indulge in Page-like calamity once in a while. Perhaps explaining why Burton is reported to be chasing an unnamed Premiership centre back this week. Full-backs look like being England u21 cap Darren Holloway and long serving Alan Kimble. Meanwhile injury-plagued Dean Blackwell's absence is much lamented by the Wombles.
The midfield roles will probably be filled by Neal Ardley and the ever-pleasant Andy Roberts. Joel McAnuff and Marcus Gayle's replacement, Kevin Cooper, are likely to take the other two spots. The tricky David Nielsen and the seriously tricky Patrick Agyemang provide options on the bench. Michael Hughes is another long-term absentee.
Up front for the Dons, Neil Shipperley has netted twice since his summer move from Barnsley and then, of course, there's our beloved David Connolly, by all accounts a hero already amongst Wimbledon fans after two goals of his own and strong words of support for their cause. The poison-dwarf is a potent reminder that things change. Five years ago, his every move was cheered as he held our only hopes of avoiding relegation in his money-grabbing mittens. Now, after some financial speculation in the Netherlands and some futile speculation with Wolves, the Incredible Sulk returns a villain. Beware! For one senses that accomplished and accredited as David Connolly doubtless is, he may feel that even he has something to prove on this occasion. (Incidentally the description of money-grabbing, double-crossing venomous-viper is one which many Dons fans afford to a certain Marcus Gayle as vociferously as we afford it to dear David.)
Wimbledon fans have had to cope with more upheaval and change than most supporters in the past twenty years - some for better, some for worse. Yet they have still managed to carve themselves out an identity which puts so many other characterless clubs to shame.
Some changes we can allow, some are harder to swallow. Others would constitute such a hideous mutilation of our club that it would be unrecognisable. Clubs do have an identity, we do support something. And just because it sometimes gets obscured and becomes elusive, that doesn't mean it's not there.
Keep the faith.
Come on you 'orns.