AFC Wimbledon are gearing up for the biggest day in their short but colourful history on Monday, when they face Plymouth Argyle in the League Two play-off final at Wembley.
It will be 16 years – almost to the day – since the seed of the club was sown after the FA granted Wimbledon FC permission to relocate to Milton Keynes and become MK Dons.
A group of supporters, outraged at having their club taken away from them, decided to form a new one which would continue Wimbledon’s 104-year history, and AFC Wimbledon was born.
Chief executive Erik Samuelson was among those involved in the club’s rebirth, and he hasn’t forgotten the emotions of that day in 2002 when the move to Milton Keynes was santioned.
“I remember sitting in a taxi and getting the news from the cab driver,” he said.
“I was absolutely devastated in a way that football fans would understand, and non-football fans never could.”
Within just six weeks, the anger felt by Mr Samuelson and many other Wimbledon fans like him was being channeled into the launch of the new club.
Progress since then has been nothing short of remarkable, climbing five leagues in their first nine years to become the first club formed in the 21st century to make it into the Football League.
The team has consolidated in the five years since their arrival in League Two, improving the squad and facilities to lay down the foundations from which they have built up to Monday’s final.
And Samuelson puts their success down to hard work and dedication.
“We’ve got absolutely dedicated – obsessive almost – people running the football club, determined to make it work. Fans to the core,” he said.
In spite of the club’s success, however, he does not believe its extreme example should necessarily be followed by others.
“People say, ‘Are you the model for the future?’” he said.
“Well, yes, if you want your club taken away from you and dumped 60 miles up the motorway and you start from scratch – yeah, we’re the model.
“But we shouldn’t be, should we? This should never have happened and we don’t want anybody else to have to do it.”
He feels though that their achievements can be an example to fans who want to get more involved in the running of their clubs.
“Fans can do more than paint fences and clean the toilets,” he said.
“They can actually run a football club as well as many clubs, and better than quite a few.”
It is clear Samuelson has never lacked in confidence when it comes to the club.
“I never believed we’d be anything other than a success,” he said.
“You could say that’s naïve, but I just thought we were going to succeed, and we have.”
Victory in the play-off final would see AFC Wimbledon cross paths with MK Dons in the league next season for the first time – a watershed moment, and one which few could have predicted would come so quickly.
The club has risen impressively, but Samuelson thinks the success is due to continue.
“I’m beginning to wonder what the limit of that success is,” he said.
“But we’re not there yet.”
Feature image of Erik Samuelson courtesy of Kick, via Youtube, with thanks