Wombling Free

So, it’s Autumn, the time when rain and wind step up their game from Summer time, and the cold air homes in on your bones quicker than Ashley Cole on a blonde with a boob tube.

Any sensible race would spend a Saturday afternoon at this time of year indoors but, in this country, bad weather is an opportunity to stand freezing for two hours with horizontal rain driving in to your eyes and blurring the vision as you take in twenty two men who worry the rain is spoiling their hairdos as they kick a football around a field.

Because I spent so much time in Birmingham when I presented BBC1s Pebble Mill At One show, I often go to St Andrews to eat balti curry pies and watch Birmingham City play – you need a strong stomach for both by the way -  but my local home team is AFC Wimbledon, an outfit started by local subscriptions when the “big” team Wimbledon moved to Milton Keynes and became MK Dons.

AFC have now worked their way up from the Marigold Glove Conference through the Miracle Stick Oven Cleaner League, through the Mister Sheen Divisions and are now in with the big boys of the professional Leagues, in League Two.

I have to admit that this is small town football, about as close to what Christiano Ronaldo and David Beckham do as Oxford Street’s  January Sales scrums are to World Cup Rugby. But I like it.

AFC Wimbledon have a life sized mascot like most professional teams but, while other clubs have fierce dragons, snarling wolves or red devils to scare the opposition, we have a big, blue, cuddly Womble. He tried on Saturday to get the crowd whipped up in to a frenzy before the teams ran out but a tempest of rain made his fur heavier and wetter by the minute. This eventually impeded his enthusiasm and progress until he was so slow in moving he was in danger of getting a game.

The mascot would have felt very much at home on the pitch as some of the players performed like Great Uncle Bulgaria on crutches or Madame Cholet on rohipnol. One winger is so left footed he has a bright future in panto as the one legged Long John Silver.

Our supporters are very well behaved tho’. None of this flying banners that read No Surrender, or Faithful Till Death. The biggest banner that was unfurled simply read Kent Wombles, which could only scare a very jittery litter lout. Our crowd chants came from just one man who stood next to me looking like a self portrait by Van Gogh with his little pointy red beard and curly ginger top. He also smelled as if he had been too near the paint brush cleaner every time he opened his mouth to shout Who Are Ya? at the opposition supporters. I don’t think he was being aggressive, just confused as to who they were, what day of the week it was, and even who he himself was.

AFC Wimbledon’s ground is small but was packed. It’s situated in a small park area which means that if someone kicks the ball too hard it goes over the stand and disappears for ever as passing kids in the park steal it. After this happened three or four times, no one could find a ball to allow play to continue, leading to an irate lady in front of me shouting “Where’s the ball? Come on. Get on with it. It’s round and white. It rolls down hills. Find one”. Then, as we’re all so polite and posh, she apologised to everyone around her for getting carried away.

At the end, as I walked out after we had won 4-1, supporters of both teams mingled outside and the visitors were wished a safe journey home as they boarded the bus back to Cheltenham.

You wouldn’t get the Wombles and lost balls at Arsenal, Liverpool or Manchester United, but you wouldn’t get half the fun either.  

Now watch us go. We’re coming to play your team soon. As Van Gogh would say, “Who are ya?”.