My beloved Dons fans, today is a glorious day.
The visit of Chelsea this afternoon means that our stadium will be full for a football match for the first time since that glorious night 16 months ago against Manchester United. On that occasion, a plucky team who were hoping to push for promotion from League 1 showed the world that on our day, we were capable of taking on and beating one of the greatest club sides in the world.
When I look back on that night, it’s with feelings of immense pride. Walking into the stadium and seeing it full, actually ‘feeling’ it full, was truly wonderful to experience. It showed just how far we’ve come over the past 12 years and I feel great pride at everything that we’ve achieved together during that time.
What made me most proud on that night however, was the way that we played our football. We didn’t sit back and defend, hoping to snatch a goal on the break. We didn’t change our game in any way to counter the vast differences between the resources at the two clubs disposal. Instead, we played our game and we played it our way. We passed the ball as if we were playing another League 1 side, not Manchester United, and we kept doing that for 95 minutes. That took great courage for the players to play that way, and genuinely immense courage for Robbo to send them out to do that.
Looking back on the changes to our squad since that game, we have to accept that you can’t lose players like Dele, Will and Benik without leaving massive gaps, and so far, we’ve struggled to fill those gaps. This season we’re not a club hoping for promotion from league 1, we’re a club hoping to avoid relegation from the championship. When you factor in just how tough this season has been, the task today begins to look impossible. Looking at the vast differences between the resources at Chelsea’s disposal and ours, there should be no possibility that we could ever be a threat to them.
That could bring extreme pressure onto the team, but as fans, we need to do the opposite. We need to take the pressure off of the players, and take the pressure off of Robbo. They and he need to know that it is ok to go out and play our football, our way, win, lose or draw. They need to know that whatever happens on that pitch, they will be cheered, clapped and encouraged along, every step of the way.
The eyes of the footballing world will be on us this afternoon, some hoping that we’ll be able to repeat the Man Utd result and cause a cup shock, and some because for whatever reason, they’ll be hoping to see us lose. What’s undoubtedly true is that the former will massively outnumber the latter – we’ve won a lot of friends for the way we try to play and the players that we’ve brought through.
If you’re leading the singing today, keep it simple, keep it slow, and keep it going. Give people the opportunity and the time to join in, and they will. If you’re joining in, then stick your chest out with pride and sing louder than you’ve ever sung before. If you find yourself wishing that you had the courage to sing, then be bold and sing anyway – make some noise and make sure that the people around you know that they won’t be on their own if they sing.
Games like this genuinely do not come around very often – make sure that whatever the score, win, lose or draw, you enjoy every minute.
Come on you Dons!