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Thursday, 2 August, 2001, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
Too big for their roots
Wimbledon's 24-year timeline
Wimbledon's major milestones over the past 24 years
By BBC Sport Online's Stuart Roach

Wimbledon's rapid elevation from zeros to heroes is one of the great football fairytales.

But success came at a cost for the modest south London club as they quickly outgrew their Plough Lane home, plunging them into a nomadic football existence.

Ten years after moving out, Wimbledon are still looking for a permanent place to call home.

Finally, it seems as though they may have found it - 80 miles from where their treasure hunt first began.

The adventure began in 1977, when Wimbledon were elected to the Football League at the expense of Workington.

Since then, it has been a rollercoaster ride of emotions for Dons fans as huge climbs have been followed by gut-wrenching dips.

Here, BBC Sport Online charts the milestone years in Wimbledon's league history:

1977: On 20 August, the Dons share a 3-3 draw with Halifax at Plough Lane in their first Football League match as a modest mid-table finish marks a year of consolidation.

1979: The start of a yo-yo five-year spell for the Dons as they clinch promotion to Division Three, finishing third behind Reading and Grimsby.

1980: Wimbledon's joy is short-lived as Dario Gradi's side struggle to come to terms with life in a higher division and are relegated after finishing bottom.

One ray of sunshine is the 7-2 FA Cup first-round victory over Windsor and Eton, to this day the biggest cup win in the side's history.

Dave Bassett
Bassett did things his way

1981: Gradi is replaced by Dave Bassett on New Year's Day, starting one of the greatest chapters in the Dons' history.

Bassett wins promotion at the first attempt, guiding the side to fourth and sealing a return to Division Three.

1982: The up-and-down run goes on as Bassett's side are relegated once again on goal difference behind Walsall.

1983: Bassett inspires another resurgence from his side - and this time it is the start of something special. Dons win Division Four at a canter, clocking up 98 points to finish eight points clear of Hull.

1984: The climb continues. Dons secure a second-successive promotion by finishing runners-up in Division Three behind Oxford.

The season includes a 6-0 club-record league win over Newport County, Alan Cork claiming a hat-trick.

1986: After just one year of consolidation, Bassett's boys win promotion to football's top flight along with Division One champions Norwich and runners-up Charlton.

1987: A superb first season in Division One sees the Dons clinch a top-six place. Normally, that would have meant Uefa Cup football for Bassett's self-styled Crazy Gang, but the ban on English teams in Europe robbed them of their chance.

Bassett's love affair with the club is brought to an end as he is tempted away by Division One rivals and is replaced by Bobby Gould.

Wimbledon celebrate their FA Cup final win over Liverpool
Dons celebrate their famous cup final triumph in 1988
1988: No Wimbledon fan will ever forget this year. Dave Beasant's penalty save and Lawrie Sanchez's flicked header secure one of the biggest shocks in FA Cup final history as Gould and Don Howe mastermind a tactical victory over Liverpool.

The 1-0 Wembley win denies Liverpool the double and clinches a memorable year for Gould's Dons following a seventh-place finish in Division One, but Liverpool gain some revenge with a 2-1 win in the Charity Shield.

Planning permission is granted by Merton District Council for a 20,000 all-seater stadium on a disused sewage works at Wandle Valley.

1990: Control of Merton Council changes hands from Conservative to Labour and Wandle Valley is turned into a car park.

1991: As significant a year as '88 but for very different reasons. Dons' rapid rise means the club have effectively grown too big for their roots.

The Taylor Report, released in the wake of the Hillsborough tragedy, orders the rebuilding of grounds and the cost of replacing the Plough Lane terraces is too high.

With no room to expand, the club move out of Plough Lane and agree a temporary ground-share plan with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

With an already modest following, Wimbledon's gates are further hit by their move across London but Merton Council's recommendation of a move to a 2,000-acre site at Beddington Lane falls through.

Sam Hammam
Sam Hammam had plans for Wimbledon
1992 The search for a new home is well and truly on. Chairman Sam Hammam's persistent approaches to the council are continually rebuffed and Wimbledon are forced to come up with new ideas.

Hammam reveals plans for proposed moves to Tolworth and Brixton, but insists the club will be totally renamed in protest at the lack of council support.

1992: The Greyhound Racing Association offer to redevelop the Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium into a 15,000-seater venue for dogs and football.

1994: Wimbledon's eighth season in the top flight is their best-ever.

Now playing under the superstar-status banner of the Premier League, Dons secure another top six finish, ahead of Liverpool, Everton and Spurs.

But Merton Council reject proposals to sell Plough Lane for a 10m supermarket redevelopment and Hammam vows never to return to the ground.

1995: Proposed moves to Dublin and Cardiff face opposition from the Football Association of Ireland, the Welsh FA and, crucially, Fifa.

1997: Dons lose their first three games of the season and many pundits have already written their Premier League obituary. But seven successive victories equals the Premier League record and sends Dons to the top of the Premiership, where they remain until the new year.

2000: After 14 years of top-flight football, Dons' remarkable football timeline suffers its biggest setback.

Egil Olsen's side lose eight successive Premiership matches to stare relegation in the face. Olsen is sacked and Terry Burton brought in, but he fails to secure the two wins needed for survival and defeat at Southampton on the final day of the season secures the club's fate.

The club's future regarding a new home remains uncertain. Talk of a move to Sussex is not welcomed, while the club deny rumours linking them with a new 25,000-seater stadium in Basingstoke, Hampshire.

2001: Having already suffered relegation, Dons fans face more misery when reports connect them with a merger with Queens Park Rangers.

The plans are eventually scrapped and the latest greyhound stadium redevelopment is unrealistic, with chairman Charles Koppell insisting there is only one option left - a move to Milton Keynes.

The move first suggested by then-chairman Ron Noades in the early eighties is put on the table as Wimbledon call for the removal men to start their engines.

Links to more Wimbledon stories are at the foot of the page.


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