Hollywood beckons? The stories of AFC Wimbledon and the Afghanistan cricket team

April 20, 2009

Tucked away in the smallest possible font in my Guardian this morning were two fascinating sporting results: Hampton & Richmond 1 AFC Wimbledon 1; Afghanistan 295-8 Scotland 206 all out. Understandably lost in a weekend of penalties, pit-stops and long pots, these are my sort of sport story.

I probably would have been a Wimbledon fan as a kid had they been in the football league, but by the time they made their debut in 1977, I was three years into my generally unfulfilling relationship with far-away Derby County. I’ve always followed the results of my more local team, however, and surely nothing in football compares with the tragicomedy of Wimbledon FC.

A brief reminder: from non-league to 1988 FA Cup winners in eleven years, fifteen years later one of the founder members of the Premier League was insolvent and franchised north of Watford, name retained only in passing as the Milton Keynes Dons.

From the ashes, AFC Wimbledon appeared, starting in the Premier Division of the Combined Counties League with a crowd over 4,000. After minor delays progressing through the Isthmian leagues (and a successful campaign culminating in a return of the replica FA Cup from MK Dons in 2007), on Saturday Jon Main’s late equaliser secured the point that means only mathematical ludicrousness will prevent promotion to the Blue Square Premier next weekend.

Thirty-two years later, a Wimbledon team returns to the top level of non-league football. Still averaging over 3,000 at their home games in Kingston, the club are approaching the level of football that their fan base deserves, and certainly expects. As a story about sport going back to its’ roots, surely Hollywood awaits. Maybe some of those fans, however, will be hoping the pace of continued success is gentle – to avoid a repeat, the lower tiers of the football league would probably be the place to settle.

The IPL may be upon us, but it is certainly not the most important cricket tournament that took place over the weekend – not even in South Africa. Since the beginning of April, the rainbow nation has been home to ICC World Cup Qualifying, of the almost forgotten 50-over variety. Ireland won the tournament, and secured a place in the 2011 World Cup alongside Canada, Kenya and the Netherlands.

The big story was the performance of the Afghanistan team. Even avoiding the hyperbole of war-torn clichés (most of the team play in Pakistan), their progress in a short space of time outdoes even the Dons. From Division 5 of the World Cricket League in Jersey in early 2008, their victory in Division 3 in January saw them qualify for the twelve-team ICC tournament. Defeats to Kenya and Denmark, and a costly loss against UAE saw them just scrape into the Super 8’s, but victories over first Ireland and then Namibia last Friday were enough to give the country official One Day International status for the next four years (as well as ICC High Performance Programme grant funding). Afghanistan v Pakistan? Now that’s a game worth waiting for.

The story may not yet be complete. With Pakistan recently withdrawn as a host of World Cup due to security fears, there is always a possibility that the team itself could withdraw (especially when forced to play in India). Victory over Scotland yesterday ensures that the reserve team for the 2011 tournament is, of course, Afghanistan. Even the Crazy Gang couldn’t make that up. Hollywood may just come calling here too.