The River Wandle, a tributary of the Thames, meanders up from Croydon to Wandsworth, via Plough Lane in Wimbledon. Alongside the river is the ‘Wandle Trail’, a pleasing and well-kept path that follows it more or less all the way. I’ve walked along part of the trail many times, although mostly just the three miles between Carshalton and Morden Hall Park. It makes for a pleasing wander on a Sunday afternoon, especially when followed by tea and cakes in the park.
My favoured rugby league* team, The London Broncos, have also done some wandering in their time.
They started out at Fulham F.C.’s Craven Cottage in 1980, but that wasn’t their home for long. Thus began their travels around London. They’ve played at: Crystal Palace National Sports Centre, Chiswick Polytechnic Sports Ground, Crystal Palace National Sports Centre (again), Barnet F.C.’s Copthall Arena, Harlequins’ Stoop Memorial Ground, Charlton Athletic’s Valley ground, The Harlequins’ Stoop (again), The Valley (again), Brentford F.C.’s Griffin Park, The Harlequins’ Stoop (again, again), Barnet F.C. (again, but this time Barnet’s new ground, just for a change of scene) and finally, and the most awkward to get to, West Ealing.
As of this season, and after forty years of me following them around London, they are now the closest they have ever been to where I actually live. This is because their latest home is AFC Wimbledon’s new ground in Plough Lane, Wimbledon.
AFC Wimbledon have also moved around a bit, but that’s another story. We’re both nomads.
So, to celebrate this new proximity, I thought it a good idea to walk the Wandle Trail the six miles from my home all the way to Plough Lane in Wimbledon. It was twice as far as I’ve ever walked the trail before, but I had convinced myself that my team was now within walking distance…even if I only ever did it the once.
It started out well enough, a lovely early spring day, warm sunshine, trees blossoming and clouds of midges a plenty. The birds were singing and all was well with the world, apart from the midges. Then I came across the carnage caused by the recent Storm Eunice.
Fallen trees blocked my path causing numerous detours, then I got lost, then my toenail hurt, then I started sweating in the heat and then I slipped over in some fresh dog-shit before being harangued by the likely depositor of the said steaming mess. I then realised that it had taken most of my allocated time just to get to Morden Hall Park, with still a couple of miles to go and thirty minutes before kick-off.
I sprinted across the park for a tram, leaping in just as the doors closed, breathlessly reminding myself of just how much weight I put on over lockdown. At Wimbledon station I tried to use an app to find a bus to Plough Lane. That was fine until I ran out of battery and I had to resort to asking the locals where to get a bus. Note to self: There are no locals in Wimbledon, or if there are then they travel around in Range Rovers and they’ve never heard of public transport.
I did eventually make it to the game, fifteen minutes after kick-off. Just in time to see our opponents, the Bradford Bulls, score the first of many tries. We haven’t won a game at our new ground yet.
Talking of which, I don’t mean to complain, and we are very grateful that AFC Wimbledon have taken us in (for as long as it lasts), but it is a ground I can’t really warm to yet, literally.
This is mostly because it is in the permanent shade of all the tall apartment blocks that hem it in on all sides, so it is somewhat chilly. In the middle of summer I won’t be complaining, but it does get a bit nippy on a February Sunday afternoon.
On the plus side they have a nice bar and they do sell Camden Hells, probably the best UK brewed lager there is. Full of Camden Hells, which masked the pain of third-degree frostbite, I thought it best to get the bus home…rather than walk.
p.s. If anybody finds a blackened toe and three rigid fingers on the terraces could they please post them back to me.
*For the benefit of overseas readers that may not have heard of it: Rugby League is a more exciting version of rugby.