16 October ~ Such has been the volume of articles in the nationals recently, all trumpeting that AFC Wimbledon are "on the brink of a Football League return" (that's right, in October), you might be mistaken for thinking they've been promoted by now. The Dons actually occupy a still highly-creditable second spot behind big-spending Crawley. It's as if editorial departments have pieces about the "fairytale return" queued up ready, just as may have happened with the obituaries of Bob Hope or George Best.
The Guardian, Reuters and the Evening Standard have all been down in the past month, worrying Dons chairman Erik Samuelson that a few too many League scouts might be following them in. This season's Wimbledon team is a young one for their first season as a professional club (average age 22), with manager Terry Brown frankly admitting that the club has targeted players still living at home, with the club unable to "pay married men a living wage".
Today's opponents Gateshead are another team that went full-time in the summer, though the circumstances are very different. Ian Bogie's team finished 20th in 2009-10, only staying up courtesy of a 1-0 win over the Dons at the International Stadium on the season's final day. It was imperative that the club avoided relegation, with ambitions plans for the future based around turning pro and the building of a 9,000-capacity stadium in the centre of town, on a site opposite Gateshead Civic Centre. Wimbledon would give their eye teeth for something similar. If all goes to plan, Gateshead could be in it by the start of next season.
Chairman Graham Wood said at the time that speculating to accumulate was entirely necessary, but it is a huge punt in what is essentially a one-club area. The stadium's usefulness is also heavily tied to the Newcastle-Gateshead bid to be a World Cup host city, when it would be used as a national team's training facility. With the football heritage of the area and St James' Park being the third-biggest stadium in England, there's little doubt the bid will form part of the ticket should the country get the nod for 2018.
But if Russia is awarded the tournament instead, where does that leave Gateshead's stadium project? Even if England does get the go-ahead, there has to be a question or two about the stadium's long-term reusability in a country where sustainability is the least of the bid's concerns. The eight home games so far this season have seen only two four-figure crowds at the International, despite welcoming visitors including Grimsby and Luton. Last season's late escape was only the first furlong in an uphill course for the Heed. Andy Brassell