Ahead of Rovers and AFC Wimbledon’s first ever meeting on Saturday, we’ll look at the brilliant rise of the away side since their formation in 2002 over a three part series.
On Saturday September 16th, Blackburn Rovers will welcome AFC Wimbledon to Ewood Park for the very first time, fifteen years after our visitors were formed.
In this three part series of articles, I will cover each season with a timeline & write about every season of both clubs from 2002-2017 & how we got to this point of meeting for the very first time.
The second part of this three-part series will be released tomorrow, with the third part released on Saturday before our encounter.
Today’s article will cover from AFC Wimbledon’s formation in 2002 until the end of the 2006/07 season.
A mere few months after Rovers won the Worthington Cup, a new club was formed due fan unrest at Wimbledon F.C. (1889-2004) with supporters unhappy with the club relocating to Milton Keynes (MK Dons – who Rovers beat 4-1 in September at Ewood Park).
In the end, supporters broke away from the club & formed a phoenix club in May 2002, AFC Wimbledon. The club was founded in The Fox and Grapes Pub on Wimbledon Common, on the 30th May 2002.
Rovers continued were they left off the previous seasons League Cup success. This season also proved a fruitful one despite exiting Europe & the FA Cup in the early rounds, the Blue & Whites managed to secure another crack in the UEFA Cup (later renamed the Europa League) due to a 6th place finish in the Premier League, whilst also reaching the League Cup semi-finals – losing out to Manchester United over two legs.
AFC Wimbledon started their debut season in the ninth level of English football, the Combined Counties League Premier Division.
Their first ever game ended in a 4-0 pre-season defeat to Sutton United, they secured their first ever win in their final pre-season game 3-2 at Enfield Town. The opening day of the season saw 2,449 supporters, an impressive attendance at non-league. The fans witnessed the Dons secure their first ever competitive victory 2-1 away at Sandhurst Town.
Former Wimbledon player Terry Eames guided the Dons to a third place finish, missing out on promotion despite collecting 111 points.
Despite the sales of Damien Duff & local lad David Dunn, Rovers started the season with a fantastic 5-1 romp over Wolves with Brett Emerton & Lorenzo Amoruso helping themselves to a debut goal each.
The season however was a disappointment with Rovers fighting relegation for the most part while early exits from the cup competitions they were involved in. Rovers finishing 15th largely thanks to the goals of January recruit Jon Stead.
AFC Wimbledon achieved their 1st ever promotion that season despite a suspension to their manager Terry Eames.
The Dons managed to remain unbeaten in the league all season, even achieving a club record 9-0 win away at Chessington United in caretaker manager Nicky English’s first game in charge, as they won the Championship with 130 points.
Striker Kevin Cooper bagged 66 goals in all competitions, with 10 hat-tricks, as the club also won the Combined Counties League Premier Challenge Cup completing a League & Cup double, they also competed in the FA Vase for the only time in their history.
Rovers were rocked by the departure of Graeme Souness to Newcastle one month into the Premier League season but his replacement would prove just as successful, ex-Rovers player Mark Hughes.
Under Sparky, Rovers’ fortunes changed for the better after a bad start to the season, they moved out of the relegation places to ultimately finish 15th for the second successive season. The highlight of the season however proved to be in the FA Cup. where Rovers reached the semi-final of the competition where they lost to eventual winners Arsenal 3-0.
Wimbledon’s charge up the league ladder continued with another history making season, they completed another League & Cup double by winning both the Isthmian League Division One Championship & the Surrey Senior Cup.
The Dons also competed in the FA Cup for the first time reaching the 2nd qualifying round, and the FA Trophy for the first time as well, making it to the first round. Wimbledon also set a new record by going 78 games unbeaten between February 2003 & December 2004 before going down 2-0 at Cray Wanderers, the longest at any level in senior football.
Rovers entered the 2005/06 season with renewed optimism by Mark Hughes’ decision to sign his ex international colleague Craig Bellamy from Newcastle United, a decision to benefit both club & player as Bellamy produced some eye-catching displays & netting 17 times in his only season with the club.
Rovers weren’t a one man team though as players like Morten Gamst Pedersen, Robbie Savage, Steven Reid & David Bentley among others all shone in a memorable season which saw Rovers qualify for Europe finishing 6th & reach the League Cup Semi-Finals, once again losing out to Manchester United over two legs for the second time in four seasons. Rovers had much better fortune against United in the Premier League completing a 1st League double over the Red Devils in the Premier League.
Wimbledon competed in the Isthmian League Premier Division but it was a season of so near, so far as the Dons reached the playoffs but losing out to Fisher Athletic & losing out in the Surrey Senior Cup Final to Kingstonian. In other cup competitions, they reached the FA Cup 2nd qualifying round, the FA Trophy 1st round, the London Cup fourth round & the Isthmian League Cup fourth round.
Rovers carried on were they left off the previous season with South African International Benni McCarthy arriving to replace Craig Bellamy who left for Liverpool, Benni notched 24 goals in all competitions. David Dunn also returned home after an ill-fated spell at Birmingham City in the January transfer window.
Rovers finished 10th but applied to enter the Intertoto Cup for a shot at Europe next season, they also reached the FA Cup Semi-Final narrowly losing out to Chelsea 2-1 after extra time & reached the last 32 of the UEFA Cup, the furthest Rovers have ever been in the competition.
This season was a frustrating one for AFC Wimbledon as they were initially docked eighteen points for fielding a player without international clearance, the points deduction was reduced to three points thanks to an appeal. The Dons were also expelled from the FA Trophy for fielding an ineligible player but, despite the uphill task, the Dons still managed a play off place losing out to Bromley in the Semi-Final.
Thanks for reading, and make sure you see the second part tomorrow and the third part on Saturday!