Q&A With AFC Wimbledon

  • August 12, 2016 | By Chris Mann
  • URL Short URL: http://b-ac.es/aaaab

Robert Dunford, reporter for WWA Sport and AFC Wimbledon ticket holder, discusses contrasing fortunes ahead of a first-ever meeting with Bolton.

14 years since their formation, a time when Wanderers were mixing it in the Premier League, the Dons prepare to host Phil Parkinson's side in the third-tier of the English football pyramid.

In our latest Q&A, we have got the views of Robert (@repd1975).

Q: Saturday sees AFC Wimbledon and Bolton meet for the very first time. Nine seasons ago, Wanderers were mixing it with the likes of Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid while the Dons were winning promotion out of the Isthmian League. Describe your meteoric rise, and what do you make of our fall from grace?

A: I suppose our rise could be described as 'remarkable', although looking at it more closely, that's probably too much of an understatement. Although it was pretty much inevitable we'd rise through the footballing backwaters of South East England, to get not only into the Football League but League One within 14 years really does defy belief.

Why did it happen? A mixture of good fortune, taking our opportunities when we did - winning play-offs, for example - and a determination to get back to what we were in the Wimbledon FC days has driven much of that. Never underestimate anger and a point to prove as motivation.

As for Bolton's demise, it seems like you went down to the Championship, never really adapted to it, and then the smelly brown stuff hit the fan. While I don't confess to know all the ins-and-outs off the field, having things like transfer embargoes doesn't help matters.

The important thing now is simply to stabilise and don't do a Portsmouth, or even worse Luton Town. League One is a good division to rebuild a club, as Manchester City, Leicester City and Southampton will testify.

Q: You've met in cup competition, but this campaign will see the first league meeting between yourselves and MK Dons. Knowing the history behind your club, just how much does it mean to be on a level playing field just 14 years after your formation?

A: This will surprise many, if not most people, outside AFCW, but we find it a bit of a nuisance nowadays. We've played them three times, the last time we actually won, and it's now being treated like having to visit a relative you cannot stand - you grit your teeth and just get it over and done with, but you'd happily not do it if offered.

The first game was cathartic, as you can well imagine, and the game at Kingsmeadow later this season will be another psychological hurdle to vault over. A lot of the time though, they are simply irrelevant - playing Bolton, or Charlton Athletic, or Coventry City, or Sheffield United is far more exciting.

That said, there are still moments when the old hatred comes to the fore. I had to cover a game between them and Fulham last season, and it was a deeply surreal - and not particularly pleasant - experience. Especially when you saw 50+ year olds wearing their scarves and you knew they were supporting somebody else before 28th May 2002.

As much as I simply ignore them the bulk of the time, I would happily never set eyes on them again, even if I'm getting paid for it.

Q: AFC have had a difficult start, losing twice on the road, but now face back-to-back home games against Bolton and then Scunthorpe United. What are the expectations in terms of league position this term?

A: Survival, basically. Getting promoted to League One was a surprise in one regard, as we were quite ordinary before Christmas, but equally we put in the kind of form after then that promoted teams always have. We had the momentum, and we carried it off brilliantly in the end.

We've already found League One sharper in some regards, you can't waste your chances because the opposition are a bit better and will punish you for it. Being rubbish at set-pieces doesn't help, that's how we lost to Peterborough United in the League Cup this week, and we did end up with a shortened pre-season which has probably affected the match sharpness a bit.

That said, although the day job prevented me from being at Walsall last Saturday, there is some promise - especially with our forwards. We need to keep them fit, on form and preferably not sell them by the end of this month, but it feels a bit more a case of us simply finding our feet rather than anything more fundamental. Hopefully, anyway.

Q: Bolton find themselves at this level for the first time since 1993. After beating a strong Sheffield United side on the opening day, we were then dumped out of the EFL Cup at Blackpool. Such contrasting results make it difficult to gauge how Wanderers will cope between now and May, but how do you see our season panning out?

A: I was going to put down that I have absolutely no idea, then thought it was a bit of a cop-out saying that. But then reading some previews of Bolton fans for this season, I'm going to stick with that after all.

Basically, it's going to be how quickly Wanderers stabilise. I was working at Craven Cottage at the last game of last season, and it felt that everyone was glad the season was over. A good start this time around, and just a feeling that you're moving forward. This season will do wonders to the confidence.

Just about everyone would expect Bolton to be up challenging for promotion, though of course it doesn't always work like that. And teams like us will always want to claim BWFC as a big scalp. Having Phil Parkinson as manager will help matters though.

Q: Looking at our squad, are there any names familiar to you that you think will pose a major threat at the weekend?

A: Having seen how many players got released, and how many of the starting XI at Fulham are still at the Macron, you would think they have a point to prove. Though any player who a) knows how to deliver from a set-piece, and b) knows how to get on the end of it, will inevitably do well.

Q: Finally, what is your score prediction for Saturday's game?

A: I'll still keep the pre-season optimism alive, so will go for a credible 2-2 draw.

Oh, and Bolton fans should be prepared for the worst away end in the Football League. Seriously, it's embarrassing - the banking on the terrace is so shallow that you can't see half the pitch. It was badly built by Kingstonian to begin with, and was clearly designed not to have more than thirty people standing on it at any one time. We can't even blame putting a Normid on it, like away fans had at Burnden Park.

Still, with Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, now looking at giving plans to return to Plough Lane back to the London Borough of Merton, hopefully that won't be an issue for too many more years.

Burnden Aces would like to thank Robert for taking the time to answer our questions. You can read more from him on Twitter - @repd1975.

Sky Bet League One Standings

Pos Team Pld Pts
7 Plymouth Argyle 46 80
8 Oxford United 46 76
9 Bolton Wanderers 46 73
10 Portsmouth 46 73
11 Ipswich Town 46 70
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