The Non-League Football Paper - - NEWS - Sam EL­LIOTT

Show of hands. Whose most mem­o­rable match was a pre-sea­son friendly, a game when your team were given a bit of a les­son? Mine was. I’ll never for­get Wed­nes­day July 10, 2002. It’s just a shame the TV ex­ec­u­tives have.

I grew up sup­port­ing Wim­ble­don in their Pre­mier League years. School was chal­leng­ing, fly­ing solo just 13 miles from the town, but I was the only one who went to see his team play on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. You could al­ways get a ticket to see the Dons.

But that sum­mer of 14 years ago I was faced with some­thing no foot­ball fan should ever have to go through.

My foot­ball club was be­ing taken away, bun­dled in the back of a van and trans­ported up the M1. All be­cause Mil­ton Keynes wanted a place in the Foot­ball League, and a club they couldn’t be both­ered to grow them­selves.

I was lost for a few days when the an­nounce­ment came. You may re­mem­ber the news was de­liv­ered with England’s World Cup cam­paign a day or two away. Tim­ing the Swiss would have been proud of, but what next for a foot­ball mad teen? Bite an acidic bul­let and ac­tu­ally buy into MK ‘sav­ing’ Wim­ble­don, or find a new club to sup­port. My pals had dragged me to Read­ing ear­lier that year. Nice ground, good side. De­cent op­tion.

A few days later I re­ceived a de­layed text mes­sage af­ter get­ting my phone back for do­ing some­thing wrong and it read ‘we’re start­ing again’. And boy, did we. Time was of the essence, so we packed into Wim­ble­don Com­mu­nity Cen­tre. Dons Trust chair Kris Stewart said: ‘I just want to watch foot­ball’. No more fight­ing, his words be­came a motto.

I re­mem­ber head­ing to Burger King with my brother Tim, be­hind us a group of lads were singing songs about our brand new but big ri­vals, Raynes Park Vale. We’re com­ing for you!

Love af­fair

A day or two later came a ca­reer­mak­ing de­ci­sion. The work­ing party of a hun­dred were told to pick a room where this new club­could utilise your skills. I was 17 and had pre­cious few, but I was study­ing me­dia so I pushed open the door to the press and com­mu­ni­ca­tions group. Be­fore I knew it I was given the job of get­ting the news­pa­pers on­side. One of my prime tar­gets? The

Non-League Pa­per. Writ­ing news and re­ports, I man­aged to wrig­gle my way in for some work ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter fin­ish­ing col­lege. I never did leave.

Sut­ton United got in touch with one of the new club’s de­ci­sion mak­ers. Now we had a name, and they wanted to help. They sug­gest­ing a first match a month or so down the line, once we had found some play­ers. Game on.

I turned up early to help that warm night. Just af­ter 6pm, not know­ing what to ex­pect. I soon found out; hun­dreds were al­ready snaking round Gan­der Green Lane. As kick-off drew nearer, a pre­dicted ground of a 1,000 was five times that.

It was only at that point, on the pitch be­fore a game hold­ing up some kind of ban­ner, that I knew ac­tu­ally ev­ery­thing was go­ing to be al­right. At full-time, a 4-0 de­feat, a pitch in­va­sion came. Power to the peo­ple, my love af­fair with the Non-League was born at the same time as my club was re­born.

This is where my an­noy­ance stems from re­gard­ing the tele­vi­sion picks for the FA Cup third round. In an era of Pre­mier League re­serve sides, his­tory is one of the only things the com­pe­ti­tion still has left. The two clubs miss out on over £300,000 be­tween them as the top-flight clubs again hit the jack­pot. I hope it’s a game next weekend which makes them re­gret their de­ci­sion.

STRONG BOND: Sut­ton United, left, gave newly-reformed AFC Wim­ble­don a plat­form to build

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