AFC Wimbledon’s record goalscorer reckons FA Cup repeat of first ever game with Sutton United was fate

AFC Wimbledon’s record goalscorer remembers all too well the first time the Dons played Sutton United – it was their first ever game and he was on the opposition.

Kevin Cooper lined up for Sutton in July 2002 hoping to earn a contract with them and impress against a side less than two months old.

But two goals, 5000 fans and one phone call later, Cooper found himself signing for the Dons in a move that would make him a living legend – scoring 107 goals in 97 appearances.

So when Sutton and AFC Wimbledon were drawn together in the third round of the FA Cup this weekend, it brought back emotional memories for him.

He said: “As soon as I saw the draw – it hit me like a brick.

“In football things happen for a reason – this was meant to happen.

“You can’t beat the story of the first ever game and for this to happen when Wimbledon are in League One and above MK Dons is perfect timing.”

FOND MEMORIES: Kevin Cooper in action for AFC Wimbledon

It will be an emotional day for Dons fans returning to Gander Green Lane, the location of AFC Wimbledon’s birth after the FA’s decision to allow Wimbledon FC to move to Milton Keynes.

AFC Wimbledon lost 4-0 that day, but the result was irrelevant as nearly 5000 fans poured into the terraces to support the phoenix club’s first outing.

It caused a delay to kick-off and Cooper remembers initially feeling uneasy about the large crowd, but admits it inspired his performance.

He said: “Sutton were saying they were expecting about a thousand people so when I turned up to the players car park and saw the crowd I thought ‘oh god!’

“I remember looking out of the little window in Sutton’s dressing room and seeing the huge queue growing.

“As much as it was a pain being delayed – that’s what gave me the extra 30% in the game.

“The atmosphere was all about them, pretty much every single fan there was a Wimbledon fan.

“They were making songs for the new players. You could see they were creating something special with the fans straight away.”

It was to be the start of something special for Cooper too as he scored what would be the first goal against AFC Wimbledon before adding to it late in the game.

Wimbledon were to start the season five leagues below Sutton but the atmosphere generated by Dons fans was enough to convince Cooper it was a drop worth taking.

SHARP-SHOOTER: Kevin Cooper scored 107 goals in 97 appearances for AFC Wimbledon

He said: “I remember at the end of the game imagining playing in front of that crowd that every week.

“The next day I got a call from Wimbledon and signed within 48 hours. If it wasn’t for the game I wouldn’t have signed for Wimbledon.

“I remember every single game and goal that there was in the two years I was with them – that’s how special it was.

“The fans would be singing in the bar with you after the game after you got a man-of-the-match award.

“Everyone you came across backed us and wanted the club to do well.

“There were those who were negative from the start saying that the bubble would burst but this FA Cup draw and the story behind it really proves how far the club has come.”

Cooper expects AFC Wimbledon to come through the tie with Sutton and make the fourth round for the first time in the club’s short history, as long as manager Neal Ardley picks a strong side.

National League Sutton however will have their eyes on another upset after knocking out League Two side Cheltenham in the second round.

With a Hollywood film being made on the rise of AFC Wimbledon, Dons fans will hope this is another blockbuster moment in the club’s history.

Cooper’s only condition – that he is played by Brad Pitt.

Images courtesy of Kevin Cooper, with thanks

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