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98/99: Reserves:

Avon Insurance Combination, 12/4/99
Wimbledon Res 3
Watford Res 2
Team: Day 3, *Gibbs 4*, Perpetuini 3, Ward 2, Pluck 2, Bonnot 3, Gudmundsson 3 (Brooker 3), Easton 2, Slater 2, Smith 3, Ngonge 3
Scorers: Ngonge, Smith
Reserves sink
Report by Pete Fincham

No self respecting team would be without a home ground....

Furthermore who on earth would inflict a journey like the one that took me to Sutton last night on their already long-suffering fans for reserve games? Well, Wimbledon, the Crazy Gang. And this fixture was a real Crazy event, played in the middle of nowhere, on a waterlogged pitch, watched by a bunch of carrot crunchers who were clearly confused by the concept of away fans....

Let me explain my journey, after all it was only about 13 miles. To get here it is best to get the train from one of the South London BR Stations. I was suggested Victoria, but the Circle and District lines were down. OK. Waterloo and City then to Waterloo. No problem. OK, managed to squeeze onto the third train that arrived. Got to Waterloo to find no trains went from here to Sutton, not West Sutton which was right by the ground. Train to Clapham Junction, where I searched for another train to Sutton. Finally found it on Platform 15 where the third train to arrive was the right one!

Struggled onto it, couldn't read paper as too busy... thank god for Snake on my Phone! Got to where I thought was Sutton at 7.15! Got off train to as it was still crowded so I could not see the signs but someone said that this was Sutton so I get out! Oh, mistake. This is not Sutton, in fact it is a place near Carshalton with one shop, no taxis and a lot of inbred looking people! I wait for another train to come through the Surrey equivalent of the Outback, and fortunately I didn't have to wait for the daily mile cart to come pick me up. A train staggered through about fifteen minutes later, one of the old ones with bars on the windows that let their doors open whatever speed the train is doing. It reminded me of the early 80's when I used to get those trains to school, and a kid called Matthew Rutledge got us all a detention for throwing all the bog roll on the train out the window every day! I think he also set fire to a seat, but that was public school for you!

Getting into Sutton station about five minutes later, just as kick off was taking place, the taxi ride to the ground took nearly as long as the 'twenty minute walk' that Richard of the Rous suggested it would take me to get there! A note of sterling lighter I arrived having missed the first ten minutes of the game, paid 4 to get into what is actually a nice old style ground. The pitch was waterlogged and indeed up until about 7pm, the game was in some doubt.

I was in the middle of the countryside, watching reserve team football in the rain on a Monday night. Very briefly my life did flash before me, and I struggled to gain a sense of perspective on it. What was I doing here, why, who were these spotty Dons fans who kept on about Graham Rix, children and the 'dangerous new prospect in the Youth team'? At that moment I prayed to God that I did not reach 35 like these men (if indeed they were men!).

So the game... cue disastrous first half, conditions orientated with Wimbledon not looking like a team that had only won seven reserve games all season, Watford not looking like a side who had lost only two all season and challenging for the Championship of the Avon Insurance League.

The first action of note came after twenty minutes, as a Wimbledon player (Hinds) was pushed over in the box by either Pluck or Ward, it was too difficult to see. In an instant Russ Barker, Rupe and myself were off, running with all our might to get behind the goal a la Fever Pitch. Unlike the last two Watford penalties, this one crept inside the post past the diving Chris Day, as the three of us realised what we looked like. The space behind the goal was as set back from the pitch as the old Rookery was, so picture this.... twenty-two players looking all serious, three subs looking keen, small crowd looking cold, and three blokes, two in suits and one in a nice beige ensemble (!), waiving and jumping around like idiots in the vain hope that they put off the Wimbledon player. No such luck, but Rupe did utter afterwards that if we need to put off a penalty taker again in order that we win the league, the trousers would be coming down! I concur Sir!

1-0 turned to 2-0 as the ref missed a blatant offside to allow Wimbledon through. Day saved well and the ball was going out for a corner but stuck in a puddle, from the follow up it was put back in and I think it was O'Connor who put the ball in the net with a diving header on the line. Watford pressed forward and Smith, Gudmundsson and Gibbs all tested the keeper, but the best chance fell to Ngonge when Heald in the Wimbledon goal hit the ball straight at him. Unfortunately for the big centre forward, it bounced straight off him and into the keeper's arms.

Always interesting to note how the standard of food varies at non league grounds. At League grounds you get the generally terrible and over priced (Watford until recently fitted this perfectly) and the wonderful and reasonable (Birmingham and Wolves of late). AT SUTTON TOP MARKS FOR THE BURGERS, BUT AREN'T ONIONS NORMALLY COOKED AND NOT FRESHLEY DUG UP FROM THE PITCH PERIMETER ESPECIALLY FOR YOU? Had I have known I would have donned gardening gloves!

After Rupert spotted a girl at half time and got all embarrassed, we wandered out for the second half to a new fighting Watford. Ngonge and Smith again went close and Perpetuini was exploiting the slow pitch where the rain had been falling. The inspiration shown on the pitch rubbed off on the small but loyal gathering of Watford faithful. The chants went up, thoroughly confusing the couple of seventy year old stewards who bravely manned the players tunnel which doubled as the bar entrance. Imagine the scene:

Steward: No, Sir, you can't get to the players... leave them alone... Sir!
Fan: I'm going to get a beer!
Steward: Oh, that's OK then!

As the noise level rose, the players responded and a cross found Ngonge in the middle to head home from close range. An Ngonge header, surely not.

Fans: W...A...T...F...
Steward: Can you keep your language down please

Onward we sung, and even a third Wimbledon goal after catastrophic marking at the back post allowed an unmarked Don to shoot home low to Day's left. Brooker came on for Gudmundsson to add weight to the cause on the increasingly heavy pitch, and moments later Gibbsy swung in his umpteenth cross to produce a scramble which super Tommy Smith tapped home. Bonnot could have scored in the final moments, but despite the score, the crowd sang on and on and applauded the team off, much to the amusement of subs Lee Johnson and Matt Langston. A 3-2 loss has dented the hopes for the title, but watch out for Rupert's arse if needed in the final games of this memorable reserve season.

At least I didn't have to re-navigate the horrors of South London / Surrey Hicksville transport network, and was given a lift home where I was welcomed with no dinner, phone bill and Nationwide League Extra! At least I got one out of three! Life is fine......

However, on further examination of the bank balance and schedule tomorrow, Oxford is now a distinct improbability. Don't they realise that normal people in work land just cannot get time off work for reserves... unless of course you are a civil servant where madness is actively encouraged!

Rupert can run!
Report by Simon Devon

An interesting contest this. Firstly the match was almost called off as anyone in the London area will know that it was raining hard all day. The ref made a pitch inspection and said if there was another shower, the game was off. I'm not saying it was wet, but by kick off two ducks were swimming in the puddle behind Chris Day's goal!

Watford fielded a strong team including Bonnot, Gibbsy, Ngonge, Easton and Smith. Nothing really happened until Wimbledon were awarded a penalty when one of their attackers was felled in the area. Immediately, Pete, Rupert and Russ ran from where we were standing to behind Day's goal to try and distract the taker, I have never seen Rupe move so quickly. It didn't work. Wimbledon went two up soon after, a cross being headed powerfully past Day by a very offside Wimbledon forward.

Second half began well for Watford. Ngonge heading powerfully past Paul Heald. Fine work from WML Hero Gibbsy who put in a great cross (I think). The Wombles regained a two goal lead with Great Uncle Bulgaria tapping in after Day, Pluck and Ward made a right pig's ear of it. Wtaford pulled one back through a header by Tommy Smith. Ngonge was then booked for punching the ball into the net.

Honourable mentions to Gibbsy, Bonnot and Smith who looked up for it; honourable arse to Easton who, er, didn't. So, that leaves Charlton at the top of the Avon Insurance Combination. They won it last year and went up via the play offs. Hmmmm..... you never know....