French/Wimbledon double still the ultimate challenge
LONDON A lot has changed since tennis turned professional in 1968, from the colour of the balls to players’ hairstyles and advances in racket and string technology.
LONDON A stoppage-time winner from Jon Otsemobor earned MK Dons a 2-1 home victory against AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup second round on Sunday in a tie loaded with historical significance.
MK Dons, as they have been known since 2004 after the original 1988 FA Cup winners Wimbledon were moved 60 miles north to Milton Keynes from their south west London home, took the lead on the stroke of halftime through Stephen Gleeson.
AFC Wimbledon, the London club formed in 2002 by disgruntled Wimbledon fans and who have since gained five promotions to return to the Football League, equalised on the hour through Jack Midson and came close to earning a late victory in the first ever match between the two clubs.
The fourth-tier side, backed by a large travelling contingent despite many who boycotted the match in protest at the way MK Dons effectively took Wimbledon's place in the Football League, seemed set for victory when Steven Gregory went through in the last minute but his shot crept agonisingly wide.
In a thrilling finale MK Dons, who play in League One (third division), then snatched a place in the third round when Otsemobor's clever flick sent the ball past Neil Sullivan - the former Scotland goalkeeper who began his career at the original Wimbledon.
MK Dons will visit second-tier side Sheffield Wednesday in the third round next month.
"It was a remarkable Cup tie, that was English football at its best with two teams putting everything into it," MK Dons manager Karl Robinson told reporters.
"It is two young clubs and both sets of fans showed just how much it means to them."
A FEW SCUFFLES
As soon as the second round draw was made, the prospect of MK Dons facing AFC Wimbledon assumed major significance.
Unfashionable Wimbledon, forever remembered as "the Crazy Gang" and for an unlikely FA Cup final giant-killing against Liverpool at Wembley in 1988, looked like being consigned to the history books when proposals to move the club to Milton Keynes were first outlined by former chairman Charles Koppel in 2001.
Despite bitter opposition by the club's die-hard fans in south west London, the Football Association allowed the unprecedented re-location to go ahead in 2003 and in 2004 Wimbledon morphed into MK Dons.
They have since thrived in a new stadium although many football fans remain uncomfortable with how they came to be.
The rise of AFC Wimbledon, a club owned by a supporters' trust, from the minor leagues to the Football League in eight years has been an inspirational story of fan power.
AFC Wimbledon chief executive Erik Samuelson said in the build-up to the game that many fans had expressed no desire to attend the match while the usual boardroom handshakes were dispensed with on Sunday.
The atmosphere between the two sets of fans was boisterous and while there were a few scuffles when fans spilled on to the pitch to celebrate goals, the match passed off without any major incidents given a large police presence.
At one point a plane, chartered by AFC supporters, flew over the stadium towing a banner reading "We are Wimbledon".
Home fans displayed placards declaring "We are the real Dons", a reference to the Dons nickname by which the former Wimbledon used to be known.
MK Dons, owned by music entrepreneur Pete Winkelman, handed back Wimbledon's history including trophies and memorabilia to the London Borough of Merton in 2007, including the replica of the FA Cup which Wimbledon won in memorable fashion in 1988.
AFC Wimbledon, currently sharing a ground in Kingston upon Thames on the edge of London, are hoping to return to a stadium close to the original Wimbledon's now-demolished Plough Lane home.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Mark Meadows)
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