Tag Archives: AFC Wimbledon

From jumpers for goalposts to League One: Ivor Heller interview

Elephant Sport visits Kingsmeadow to interview AFC Wimbledon’s commercial director Ivor Heller.

Ivor was determined to help resurrect his beloved Dons in south-west London following the original Wimbledon FC’s controversial move to Milton Keynes in 2003.

He was there when the newly-formed AFC Wimbledon held open trials for players on Wimbledon Common, and is working hard as the club plans to relocate to a new stadium at its spiritual home in Plough Lane SW17.

Presenter/interviewer – Joe McKay; cameras and editing – Aina Villares-Vila and Jean Verdon.

But can the Dons do it on a rainy Friday night in Haringey?

An FA Cup clash on White Hart Lane? Not at Spurs, surely, because their new stadium remains unfinished, and it’s too soon in the competition.

Instead, the first-round action in N17’s best-known street took place at Haringey Borough FC as they hosted AFC Wimbledon on a filthy Friday night in November.

Being squashed in alongside 3,000 other spectators at The Borough’s compact Coles Park epitomises the gritty appeal of the Cup’s early rounds.

Of course, the famous trophy isn’t alien to north London, with fierce rivals Arsenal and Tottenham having won it 21 times between them.

However, in its first capital derby of the season, the competition was visiting the home of the team sitting in 18th place, in English football’s seventh tier.

Haringey were in the first round proper for the first time in their relatively short history.  Founded in 1973, the club is a year younger than Wimbledon manager Neal Ardley.

Fireworks

As that most English of footballing double acts, wind and rain, went through their paces, the question was: could the League One strugglers do it on a wet night in Haringey?

‘A hoofed clearance into someone’s back garden raised the possibility of a delighted youngster waking up to find a brand new FA Cup ball sitting on their trampoline’

Most of those in a new club record attendance of 2,710 were standing up and getting drenched, while the lucky 250 in the stand stayed nice and dry.

Many fans didn’t even hear the referee’s whistle to start the game over the rumble of buses behind the stadium and racket from a nearby firework display.

As the contest unfolded, it was difficult to tell who was the non-league team and who was the professional outfit unless you were familiar with the home and away colours.

It wasn’t exactly Man City v Liverpool, but the two teams compensated for a lack of quality with plenty of competitive spirit.

However, the shortage of skills on show made for a pretty lifeless first half, and the atmosphere suffered accordingly.

With very little to sing, chant, cheer or even swear about, at one point you could hear construction noise from Tottenham’s new ground half a mile down the road.

Excited

Haringey continued to threaten on the counter attack and could have had a penalty when winger Charley Barker was seemingly tripped in the box at the end of the first half.

Unfortunately, for the majority of the crowd, the ref though otherwise, triggering a Neil Warnock-like protest from Borough boss Tom Loizou.

It was goalless at half-time with neither team really doing anything to excite the fans, although a hoofed clearance into someone’s back garden raised the possibility of a delighted youngster waking up to find a brand new FA Cup ball sitting on their trampoline.

The second half was more of the same, although the fireworks eventually fizzled out. Whoever was putting on the display clearly realised that there wasn’t a lot to celebrate.

Despite a difference between the two teams of around 90 places in the football pyramid, there wasn’t a massive gap in quality, and a fairytale ending was looked to be on the cards as Haringey scored an amazingly well-worked goal in the 70th minute.

Maybe the Wimbledon players had seen the flag anyway, with Joe Staunton in an offside position when he received the ball, but not even a miracle ‘goal’ out of nowhere roused the crowd.

Magical

Haringey will eventually make over £100,000 from this cup tie, which can be used to improve several things to at the club.

‘Mitchell Pinnock’s winner sent Wimbledon to through to the next round and Haringey back to reality’

One thing that doesn’t need improving is their goalkeeper, Douglas Pajetat, who saved several quality shots that would have beaten many goalkeepers at the highest level.

Maybe Hugo Lloris’ understudy Michel Vorm isn’t the second best ‘keeper in White Hart Lane after all…

It looked as if it was going to take something magical to beat Haringey’s No.1 and, for Wimbledon’s travelling fans, nothing was more magical than an off-target shot deflecting past Pajetat in last minute.

If the stadium had felt quiet before, it was as if the home fans fell into a meditative silence as Mitchell Pinnock’s lucky winner sent Wimbledon through to the next round and Haringey back to reality.

One to watch – Osaze Urhoghide

Hull City goalkeeper Will Mannion and Stoke defender Ryan Sweeney are prized products of AFC Wimbledon’s acclaimed academy.

Another prospect hoping to join the ranks of those successful graduates is 16-year-old Osaze Urhoghide.

A first-year scholar formerly of CB Hounslow United, the tall and nimble centre-back was discovered at a tournament where he was representing his former club.

“We were at a tournament in the summer and there was an AFC Wimbledon scout who approached me afterwards. I went on trial for five months and then I got signed on a two-year scholarship deal,” Urhoghide said.

Since his arrival at AFC Wimbledon, Urhoghide has seen drastic improvements in his game.

He said: “How I see the game tactically, the way I play, I have to do more things now. My positioning and what I do with my first touch, plus talking and communication are emphasised at our club.”

Competitive

AFC may be categorised as third in the pecking order under the Premier League’s controversial Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) introduced in 2011, but in recent years they have often punched above their weight at academy level.

A good example is this year’s FA Youth Cup run that saw them finish just outside the quarter-final places after a defeat to Preston North End.

Being in London makes a place at AFC’s academy a prized possession. Many of the players released by the top London clubs, still young and wanting to stay in the capital, find themselves fighting for scholarships at clubs like AFC.

As a result of this, Urhoghide admits himself that this makes things “quite competitive”.

 Main focus

To add to that, featuring for under-21s against more physically developed opponents adds more fuel to his desire to succeed.

“Height-wise it’s not much of a difference. They may be bigger, but once we’re playing, I feel like I can handle it,” he said.

“Football is my main focus, so I hope that the hard work pays off”

Despite his shy and calm demeanour off the pitch, once on it Urhoghide enjoys making things difficult for opponents no matter what their size or level of talent and experience.

With his first year as a scholar almost completed, attention will soon start to turn towards life after the academy.

Players will usually know their fate at their academy clubs a few months into their second year as scholars, with the offer or lack thereof, a professional contract.

“I’ve been thinking about that quite a lot lately. My aim is to work harder going into my second year so I can get a professional contract. Football is my main focus, so I hope that the hard work pays off.”

AFC Wimbledon Under-18s have nine games left in their current campaign. It will not be long before Urhoghide begins the most important season of his life.

The flipside to AFC Wimbledon’s success story: Kingstonian FC

Elephant Sport reporters Daniel Racheter and Shan Gambling visit Kingsmeadow Stadium – home of both non-league Kingstonian FC and League One side AFC Wimbledon.

Ryman Premier outfit Kingstonian originally took Wimbledon in, but the Dons are now their landlords and have sold the ground to Chelsea, who want to stage youth and women’s fixtures there.

Wimbledon have plans for a new stadium near the site of their old home in Plough Lane, while the Ks have been left looking for a groundshare for next season.

News on that is imminent as Daniel and Shan gauge the mood around the club during a match against Tonbridge Angels.

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