Former AFC Wimbledon boss reflects on club’s non-league rise

Few football clubs have enjoyed a rise like AFC Wimbledon.

Founded only 18 years ago, the south west London side began life in the ninth tier of English football after the demise of the original club.

The Dons have since risen through the pyramid, reaching the Football League in 2011 and going on to play big FA Cup ties against Liverpool and Tottenham.

One man involved in navigating Wimbledon through the non-league wilderness was Dave Anderson, who managed the club for three years in the mid-2000s.

Anderson took the Wimbledon job in the summer of 2004, having been persuaded to apply by his late reserve team manager John Morris.

Anderson explained: “The odd thing was that I’d heard about Wimbledon but not a great deal, it was John who said to me: ‘Dave, you really need to come and have a look at this.’

“We went down to watch a game and it was incredible. I always remember it was a 7:45 kick off and it was delayed to eight o’clock to let the crowd in. There was like 3000 there on a Tuesday or a Wednesday night for a Combined Counties game.

“If you want to put it in context, I was managing Hendon who were in the top three or four two divisions above, effectively looking to go into the Conference, and we were getting crowds of 200 if we were lucky.

“Two divisions below Wimbledon were getting crowds of three, three-and-a-half thousand, and I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. Once I went in the door, I said to John: ‘We’ve got to apply for this, this is just too big not to have a go at’.”

In his first season Anderson won the Isthmian League Division One and Surrey Senior Cup, later steering AFC Wimbledon to two play-off finishes before leaving at the end of the 2006/07 campaign.

He added: “You effectively had 42 World Cup finals because every other team was motivated. That means you really have to try and be at your best, average isn’t good enough when you’re playing under those conditions.

“The most difficult thing was when you were signing players. Playing for any other team at the level around us they’d have been good players, but we never knew how they would react to full houses and we had nothing to judge that on.

“We had to get them in and then see how they performed in front of big crowds. Some people thrive on it, others can’t handle it, and you can never really judge.

“Within the dressing room we just tried to keep away from it, we treated crowds and the training like every club I’ve been at. We just tried not to get carried away.”

This is a philosophy Anderson follows when reflecting on his time with Wimbledon.

The club’s rise will be capped next month when they return to a new stadium at Plough Lane, their traditional home until 1991 and Anderson isn’t surprised AFC Wimbledon have gone full circle.

He said: “Listen there’s an awful lot of people involved in that success, I’m a small, small part of it. Yeah, I’m very proud of that part but it’s only small.

“It’s an incredible story when I look back at it now. I always remember I got invited to watch the game against Liverpool. They used to have a board when you drove into Kingsmeadow and it said the next fixture, I remember seeing Chipstead and all of a sudden it’s Liverpool.

“When you’re a part of it you never doubted this is where it’d all end up as a club, I could see that coming from the day I walked in the door.

“It’s an express train, they are people who are very driven, it’s their own club, it’s owned by them and that comes across massively when you’re around the place.”

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