Sixth promotion marks fairy tale for AFC Wimbledon

LONDON • Fourteen years to the day since the club were formed, AFC Wimbledon secured a sixth promotion, beating Plymouth Argyle 2-0 in Monday's League Two play-off final at Wembley, to extend a journey that began in the Combined Counties league and will now take in League One - the third tier of English football.

Lyle Taylor's second-half goal, his 23rd of the season, and Adebayo Akinfenwa's stoppage-time penalty ensured that the club, formed by supporters aggrieved at the decision to allow the old Wimbledon to move 90km north to Milton Keynes and that began by holding trials on park pitches, will meet MK Dons on equal terms next season.

A Hollywood film is already planned and Monday's victory, a win that triggered memories of Wimbledon's 1988 FA Cup final triumph over Liverpool, ensured that the director's cut just got longer.

It only added to the home-spun nature of the tale that success was overseen by Neal Ardley, who was signed as an apprentice by Bobby Gould, the Cup-winning manager, immediately after that success.

"It feels surreal at the moment; it hasn't sunk in," Ardley said. "The movie was going to end when they got into the Football League in 2011. But they have got to extend it to Wembley. I have got to try and get a part in it now.

"It's immense, what you dream of. We took it stage by stage, reaching the play-offs was the first goal, then it was about getting to Wembley. To stand there in front of 25,000 people who 14 years ago had their club ripped away from them, to be there in front of them as one of their own, having joined at the age of 11, it's unbelievable."

Hulking striker Akinfenwa, known as "The Beast", compared his team's achievement to Leicester City's historic Premier League title triumph.

"It's what dreams are made of. Scoring, winning. It's a beautiful feeling," he said. "We were the underdogs. It isn't only Leicester who can do it - we can do it too."

Ardley's players and staff will now celebrate with a six-day holiday in Las Vegas, funded by a £100,000 (S$201,000) donation from an anonymous supporter, and will receive a reminder of their new status when the fixture list comes out, the meetings with MK Dons inevitably attracting attention.

"I am just looking forward to playing in League One," Ardley said. "We will be in the bottom four in terms of budget but we have no doubt we can compete.

"The MK Dons games are two in a season and it was inevitable that if we continued being successful our paths would cross in league games. But there will be an edge to those games."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2016, with the headline 'Sixth promotion marks fairy tale for AFC Wimbledon'. Print Edition | Subscribe