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Saturday, 10 August, 2002, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Wimbledon 0-1 Gillingham
Selhurst Park is practically deserted as Wimbledon take on Gillingham
The horizon looks dark for Wimbledon


Storm clouds gathered over a near-deserted Selhurst Park on a dark day for Wimbledon.

The 2,476 fans who turned up to see Gillingham win 1-0 could have been forgiven for thinking they were watching a funeral, so eerily silent was the stadium.

And for the several hundred Wimbledon supporters outside in the rain protesting against their club's impending relocation to Milton Keynes, that is exactly what it was.

Their boycott of the match had spectacular results and if ever Wimbledon chairman Charles Koppel needed proof his club must move, this was it.

The travelling Gillingham support dwarfed in noise and number the meagre 668 die-hards who trudged in to support the home side, with row after row of empty seats in all four stands.

And Guy Ipoua's second-half winner only added to Wimbledon's misery on Stuart Murdoch's managerial debut.

Dons fans claim Wimbledon are setting a precedent for other clubs to follow which will introduce to the English game the franchise system that operates in American sports.

And before kick-off they held a minute's silence for the death of the club they followed from its non-League days to its 1988 FA Cup triumph.

Wimbledon enraged their supporters when they were granted permission to leave south London, and could be playing at the Milton Keynes Bowl by Christmas.

Gillingham goalkeeper Jason Brown retrieves the ball from the vacant stands
Jason Brown doubles up as a ballboy
Angry demonstrators greeted the arriving Wimbledon coach with chants of "scum" and "South London is wonderful".

One outraged supporter even hurled a placard against the coach windows.

The match itself descended into farce within minutes when Gills goalkeeper Jason Brown had to clamber up into the deserted family stand behind his goal to collect a misplaced shot.

And the comedy continued from his goal-kick, as Ipoua missed an empty net from eight yards after good work from Mamady Sidibe.

Ipoua did manage to test Dons keeper Kelvin Davis from an acute angle after 27 minutes, but he parried well, before tipping another Ipoua effort over his crossbar moments later.

Gillingham took the lead after 48 minutes when Davis could only parry a fierce Paul Shaw shot to Ipoua, who hit home the rebound from close range.

Shaw was then denied twice within seconds by Davis and then Mark Williams after 69 minutes.

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BBC Five Live's Steve May
"It was all very soul destroying"
Don's captain Neil Shipperley
"We tried to prepare for it"

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