Mine was a long time ago, longer than I care to admit. It was late October, round 1am or so. I had just got to her house- it was about an hour and a half by train each way. We were still in that not-quite-friends-but-not-quite-dating space, that liminal space that’s brimming with possibility but no one’s done the thing yet. It was raining. She was behind her house, sitting on the stoop in the back yard. Just sitting there, soaking in the rain and waiting for me. I sat down next to her and we just stared off into the sky, a chocolate brown sky with no stars that was dropping a steady rain on our heads. She told me about an album she picked up earlier that day- Arctic Monkeys? Maybe?- and she was about halfway through it. She said she was glad I was there. We were quiet again for a while, just sat there, getting wet. I wish I could say I had some grand revelation that led me to lean in and kiss her then, or that I finally mustered enough courage, but it wasn’t quite that dramatic. She was just beautiful, and soaking wet, and it seemed right then. She giggled, scooched up towards the door a bit for some protection, and then took the lead on our second ever kiss. I don’t remember how long we were outside her house. But that’s when I knew I was in love.
At one point, not too long before we went inside to put on the kettle for some badly needed tea, she turned to me and said, “I can’t promise you it will get better than this.” At the time I wasn’t sure how to take that, and later I worried that maybe she was trying to warn me off. “Don’t get mixed up with me, kid, I’m no good.” Much, much later- long after we had broken up- I came to think she meant something else. We can’t ever promise each other much of a future. We can’t promise we’ll always love someone, or that we’ll always be there for them, or that we’ll never let go. We may have the right intentions, but life and time often intervene. The most we can ever promise is that we’ll try. She couldn’t promise me things would get better, and indeed we never got our Happily Ever After. But we did have that night in the rain.
There are no shortage of hack writers out there who compare supporting a football club to being in love, and I don’t quite intend to join their ranks today. There are similarities, but also profound divergences. As much as we may talk ourselves into believing otherwise, a football club can never, ever, love us back. But often our intentions, our commitment, our dizzying highs can come close to being in love. And the big thing, for me at least, is that your club can never really promise you it’ll ever get better. But sometimes you have magical nights in the rain.
It wasn’t raining at Wembley earlier today, in a stunning turn of events. But we did get one of the most magical days in the history of Wimbledon football.
The Dons have battered teams in the past, but this was probably the most comprehensive game we’ve ever played. All our goals came from gentlemen named John Green- including one that is, fair and away, the most spectacular goal since Lawrie Sanchez’ header against Liverpool. Blackburn probed early, but once we got our first goal (the product of a blundering miscommunication between the goalkeeper and one of his defenders), they knew it was over. The scoreline margin was thin heading into halftime, but they must’ve known it wasn’t their day. For all their struggles to get to this point, Wimbledon sailed through the playoffs, their whole latter end of the season a leisurely stroll to the steps of the Royal Box. Twice.
This wasn’t just a coronation. This was the culmination of years, decades Wimbledon football. So much was done by so many to get us to this point that we can’t possibly remember them all, but the Dons did give it a try. The post-match team photo on the pitch included not just the first team but a host of former Wimbledon players. Former Wimbly Wombly skipper Alan Bennett. Jack Midson, given special leave to attend from his new club. Dave Beasant, goalkeeper and captain for the Wimbledon team that won the FA Cup in 1988. Vinnie Jones. John Fashanu. Robbie Earle. Neal Ardley. Seeing them all standing side by side with the likes of Bald John Green and Other John Green and Ryan Gauld and Callum Kennedy. Three or four surviving generations of Wimbledon footballers, all there to help escort our club back to the Premiership.
So. Here we are. 15 years after tryouts on Wimbledon Common and playing in the Combined Counties, AFC Wimbledon will find themselves plying their trade in the Barclay’s Premier League, with all the money and global broadcast rights and corporate partnerships that entails. It’s a monumental task for a club with no money and a thin squad, but Wimbledon have become football’s equivalent of Pascal’s Wager- which is to say, doubting them is probably more trouble than it’s worth. By way of their Cup win, they’re also back in Europe next season. How they will manage all this is remains an open question. But it’s one we can, perhaps, wait to worry about tomorrow.
For now, I want you to remember today. I want you to go home and stash some memento of what you saw today. Maybe write down some pertinent details somewhere you’re sure you’ll find again on some far off afternoon in the future. Days like this in football are rare, especially for clubs like ours. This is special. This is important. Go somewhere quiet- or very loud, if that’s more your speed- and be present and mindful of today as one of the good days. Soak it in. Remember.
Because I can’t promise you it will get better than this.
AFC Wimbledon 3-0 Blackburn Rovers
Scoreline: Other Green (WIM) 37’, Bald Green (WIM) 64’, Bald Green (WIM) 79’