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Road trips with the Dons

18 November 2014

A behind the scenes blog from Rob Cornell

It’s been an encouraging season so far for young talent coming through at AFC Wimbledon and commentator Rob Cornell reports that there’s plenty of that old Dons spirit providing motivation for them to make the grade.

As a lifelong fan and WDON commentator, Rob thoroughly enjoyed travelling with the Under-18s and development squad for recent matches and reporting on their progress for the website.

In another of his behind-the-scenes blogs, Rob listened to young players singing Wimbledon songs on the team coach and there’s evidence that Neal Ardley, Alan Reeves, Mark Robinson and Ashley Bayes are preserving some of those Dons traditions that served the club well.

For starters, there is more leg room on the team coach, nicer seats and a kitchen up the back - but you probably guessed that already! Rob first joined Wimbledon’s development squad for an alternative view of motorway travel with the young Dons - starting with the Development League game at Cambridge United.

- Ade Azeez is the last player on, before the gaffer - that’s Alan Reeves on this occasion - boards the coach. Alan has an accomplice who looks rather familiar. He’s decked out in in an Admiral tracksuit and has come to cast an eye over proceedings. “How are you, Rob?” says Neal Ardley. Optimistic estimates are an hour and a half journey time, but Under-18s coach Mark Robinson has sensibly brought his pillow. We’re off and a couple of minutes ahead of schedule!8.58 am

- The young Dons are suspiciously quiet at the back. Defender Neset Bellikli steps forward to offer his manager ‘Reevesy’ a hot drink, but ‘we’re out of tea’ is the response when I put my order in!9.50 am

We arrive and it’s a splendid day weather wise for this time of year. The coach has made it down a tight, countryside lane to Cambridge United’s training ground, but how it gets out again is another matter!11.01 am -

A chance to have a cup of tea at last for me! I'm joined by our goalkeeper coach Ashley Bayes, who has driven all the way up from North London to check on Joe McDonnell’s development and he certainly livens up the clubhouse with his usual array of banter. “Bayzo” would certainly not have been out of place in the old Wimbledon Crazy Gang! I then sit outside talking youth football with Mark Robinson and Neal Ardley is having a chat with Cambridge first-team manager Richard Money. The first-team have been training on another pitch, including former Dons loanee Kwesi Appiah.12.13 pm –

- I get out on the pitch with the boys and coaching staff and while they train, I take some photographs. Alan Reeves is noticeably eager for the game to start.12.20 pm

- Game time and a hugely impressive first-half is spoilt by a disappointing second-half. The final result is a 3-2 defeat after Wimbledon squandered a 2-0 half-time lead. I manage to get a quick two-minute interview with Alan afterwards and he pulls no punches. “We don’t play football for 45 minutes, we play for 90,” he emphasises. Thankfully, a 3-0 victory at Milton Keynes in the next game followed with midfielder Dan Gallagher (pictured) stepping up from the Under-18s.1.00 pm - 2.45pm

- One memory I’ll take from this day was the sight of Neal Ardley picking up a large crate of rolls for everyone and carrying it all the way back up the main road to the coach. It showed me, yet again, that we’re all in this together. Skipper Will Nightingale limps away on crutches with a swollen foot and we all feel the pain of the M25, which puts an extra hour on the journey back to the Cherry Red Records Stadium.3.30pm - 6.30pm

Seven days later and Rob Cornell was clocking up the miles again by joining the Under-18s for their FA Cup Youth tie at Fakenham, Norfolk:

- All the squad set out, again on the first team bus, including Louie Cockle, who is making good progress after a long-term injury suffered in the summer. Defender Callum Wilson locates the DVD player and everyone settles down for “Remember the Titans” (2000, Denzel Washington), which is based on a true story of how an American Football team comes together and integrates during testing times at school.12.28 pm

- The toaster is on in the kitchen - smells good from down the front! The weather outside is decent again for the time of year, but could get colder later and Mark Robinson has left his thick jacket behind! Operations Director David Charles is with us and soon after plots a route with coach driver Andy, who has a secret stash of tea in case I find myself in crisis!12.30 pm

With the film finishing, it‘s been good relaxing. The boys have had the curtains shut and been immersed in the interesting story. Good choice Callum!2.10 pm -

- A nice little stop off organised by David. We eat good food (just the chicken, pasta, beans, scrambled egg, toast and a cup of tea for me!) and the boys stretch and get final, important instructions from “Robbo” before we get to the ground. Leading goal scorer Daniel Agyei is last back on the coach and we can’t leave him behind! Singing breaks out on the coach as we edge even closer to Fakenham - the boys know all the regular songs from the ChemFlow End - and a few chart hits and classics too! They’re in good spirits.4.00 pm

- We’re here! Fakenham Town FC are really good to us and all evening we are made to feel very welcome. The clubhouse is spotlessly clean and food and drink is provided before kick-off, at half-time and after. Our hosts also produce an excellent programme for the occasion. For one night only, David is joined in hospitality by driver Andy and myself! For the Under-18s though, it’s warm-up time as the temperature drops.5.50 pm

- Game time. After struggling to find their rhythm for the opening 25 minutes or so, Wimbledon open up a three-goal half-time lead. By full-time it’s 7-0 and job done. However, Mark can still find room for improvement in his post-match video interview.7.30-9.15 pm

- After an excellent dinner of pie, roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy, we’re back on board and time to unwind with a Hollywood blockbuster on DVD.10.20 pm

- We pull in to the Cherry Red Records Stadium car park. The troops are tired, but in victorious mood as the coach is unloaded and packed away. Assistant manager James Oliver-Pearce kindly drops me home.1.26 am

Less than four days later and I’m back on the supporters’ coach for trip to Bootham Crescent for the FA Cup tie at York City. With less numbers on this occasion, regulars get to travel on the executive coach and I’m pleased to sign off by revealing that Andy finally made me a decent cuppa!

.Mark's updateThe Under-18s are in FA Youth Cup action tonight and you can read a preview of this game versus Gillingham by clicking on  

Rob Cornell will be commentating as part of the WDON team for tonight's FA Cup tie at home to York City.

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