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Wally inspires WDON spirit

30 April 2015

Commentator's insight from behind the scenes

Saturday at home to Cheltenham Town will mark the end of another season for our WDON team and we today reproduce the interview commentator Rob Cornell gave for the latest issue of the Wombles Downunder newsletter.

Rob Cornell (pictured left with WDON colleague Mikey T) spoke to Rob Smith about how he got involved with media work, supporting Wimbledon, commentating on matches all around the country and on his work behind-the-scenes doing regular interviews for the club.

So where did your enthusiasm for the Dons begin? Can you recall the first game you saw them play and what are your enduring memories/favourite players of that time?

The "interviewer" becomes the "interviewee"! October 11, 1980, Plough Lane - Wimbledon 5, Hartlepool United 0 - was where it all started for me. It was a bit like the famous book and film "Fever Pitch". I was eight years old and playing at home with my sister on Saturdays when a friend of the family said: "Let's get him along to football!" She was a lovely lady called Joan Niziol, who originated from and supported Sunderland, but moved down south. I used to go with her and her son-in-law Malcolm for a few years to start off.

My father was a very successful journalist (Sports News Editor of the Daily Mirror) and he took an interest too as the club climbed the divisions in their unique way. It becomes a part of you. For many years (Wimbledon & AFC Wimbledon) I actually kept to myself when I went to games. Our little area, next to the home end and main stand, became the "Wally Downes Fan Club" and Joan used to tell me Malcolm would say: "Get that Bassett off! He's useless!" Then he became a rather decent manager! Obviously, Dave Beasant I remember and years later you try to remain professional when you speak to him for the first time. Joan loved Steve Galliers and shall we say his "battling qualities"! All that said, I think my first hero was Alan Cork.

hat is your work background? Was it media-related and if not did you also have a hankering to do some football media work?W

 As I said, Dad was a sports journalist (also a very key figure behind the scenes at BBC Sport on Grandstand, Match of the Day and Sportsnight) and I was brought up in that environment. I'd turn up for football practice in my Mileta replica Dons kit (yes, still got it!) and while I may have got some odd looks from those kids in Liverpool and Spurs kits, I didn't care because I'd actually go to see my heroes each week, unlike those hoping to stay up to watch Match of the Day for a glimpse of Rush, Dalglish and Hoddle! When it dawned (as it does for most of us) that I probably wasn't going to make it as a footballer, regardless of Dad's career actually too, I loved writing about and talking about sport - in particular football.

My first work experience week was at the local newspaper down the road from the family home - the News & Mail. The big storm occurred that week - so it was eventful! I basically pestered them to come back and help during my school holidays. The sports editor's position came up and I came straight out of my GCSEs and into my first job at 16. When I went to college, the second year was about radio. I wrote to the independent local radio station asking if I could come in and help make the tea for the Saturday sports programme. They treated sport a bit like a joke and the content was heavily reliant on IRN "rip n'read" material. With the local contacts I'd made, I gradually worked at transforming that. I also progressed to being an "on-air" voice - writing, constructing and reading bulletins and also doing feature-length interviews - Stirling Moss, Johnny Herbert, Barry McGuigan and Roger Black. I also managed to get Paul Fishenden and Francis Joseph to try and talk about their "Crazy Gang" days, when they appeared on the local non-league scene From there, I got snapped up by the larger opposition paper - the Surrey Herald and it all carried on from there.

So how did your relationship with WDON come about? Can you give us a sense of how things were with WDON when you first started out?

Tony Stenson used to cover Wimbledon a lot at Plough Lane and worked with Dad and I used to see him and his son a lot as a kid. When I got the News & Mail job, I met Tony at a game once and he introduced me to Laurence Lowne and recommended that I should do some writing for the club (as Laurence was very much involved with the supporters’ magazine). Well, it took a few years! Finally, in 2009 when I returned to journalism having had time away to look after some family matters, I saw Laurence was running the press area at AFC Wimbledon and approached him, asking if I could help out.

  Also there, in the press area, was Radio WDON. It was Mike, Geoff Hawley and Barry James. It was different to any radio I'd done before! I was used to scripting and preparation and fairly quickly they got that out of my system! More free-flowing and knowledge based. Described as TMS broadcasting - with the emphasis very heavily on cake! I started out doing the match reports for the programme.

I know the commentary veered to talking about Sally James and lingerie at one stage - and so the tone was set! As for the match, we won 3-2 and went top of the league for the first time. "Can you come back next week?" said Geoff afterwards. My audition and first broadcast was August 28, Bank Holiday Weekend, away at Eastbourne Borough, in the Conference. Mike said, off air, in an imaginative summing-up, half hour before kick-off, "So Rob, what a day for the Dons as Sam Hatton scores five goals, three of them penalties, what did you make of it?!" (or something like that) I can't remember what I said, but it must have impressed him as he let me on air!

You sound like you have a great rapport on-air with Mike Taliadoros. What is it like working with Mike and what were the aspects you had to adjust to after those early days of on-air broadcasting? Mike has often referred to you as the 'housewive's choice' and what's behind that?

Mike said a while back we seem to have a good combination on air of me knowing when to drop in on his commentary naturally. As for "Housewives Choice” he's called a few people that over the years to be fair! Maybe it originated from the early broadcasts when Geoff used to call my voice "Mr Smooth"! I think having an appreciation of the same types of comedy and music helps with Mike and Geoff. Plus, we're all about the same age and have similar memories, although technically I am the youngest, thinnest and possibly most attractive (which is not saying a lot!!)

You travel the country with Mike covering the away games. Tell us about some of the eventful away journeys that didn't go to plan (for instance, the Newport trilogy last season. Also, are there any others that stand out?

  Leigh Delamere became a constant source of frustration after our aborted first attempt on South Wales back in December, finding out the news of a postponement, and being forced to turn back from there. Second time out I didn’t even get out my front door, as the Newport’s “domed” failed to get the fixture on at the second time of asking. Yes, Leigh Delamere had a final sting in the tail for us on our return across the border as a broken exhaust box saw us scrape back on a replacement supporters’ coach in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Late goals from Charlie Sheringham and a landmark 1000th league goal for the Dons from the ever-smiling Kevin Sainte-Luce at least kept our spirits high as waited for a replacement bus to turn up in the wee small hours. I put together a blog for the official website about the Newport episode and how Leigh Delamere service station taunted me!

Getting back from Fleetwood, shortly after, was another rather memorable trip! We would have got home earlier if it wasn’t for being sold some serious train misinformation on our journey back, after collecting our post-match Dons Player interviews. However, in adversity we formed an unlikely band of brothers, which also consisted of a Brazilian TV camera crew who had been covering Bolton against Blackburn and a Blackpool fan due to get down south to leave for a holiday in Egypt early Sunday morning! That got us back into London, via a slow train from Birmingham, as we finally set foot through our respective front doors at around 1.30 am in the morning!

I understand you and Mike have had varying levels of press facilities and welcomes in your travels. Can you enlighten us on some of the memorable ones and why?

I can't really name and shame, but one club could do with sweeping away several years of dust from its "press area", even offer us a cup of tea after a long journey, and not stop visiting officials from setting up our equipment while their stewards hold a meeting in a separate block! Mike has invented the "Sports Breakfast" for trips where access to the "basics" is a little sparse shall we say. It involves no broadcast, but consuming a large full English breakfast to get us through!

One thing you appear to have mastered well are the player interviews on Dons Player on the official site. Who are the interview subjects that stick in your mind? Who are the enjoyable ones and perhaps the more difficult ones? What about the one with Jake Reeves when he joined on loan two seasons ago?

  "Benno" was probably the player I've interviewed the most. He is a great guy, who knows how modern media works with his degree and experience. I enjoyed getting him on to commentate for WDON too at Brentford in the JPT when he was out injured. Thanks! I love doing the extended ones. In recent times, interview subjects have included Stewart Castledine, John Scales (Bring the Dons Home), Alan Bennett (going home to Cork), Will Nightingale (new deal) and Andy Frampton (very emotional - retiring).

 Bobby Gould was a pleasure too before the Dons v Coventry FA Cup tie. It appeared on the YouTube channel. Chris Slavin (Communications Executive at the club) said I should brief “The Gouldfather” on what type of questions I was thinking and Bobby said, "Nah, let's just wing it!" and we did and it was so relaxed I could have gone on forever! There's also some great ones I really enjoyed doing on the old "Heritage" site around the play-off semi 2nd leg and final. Dickie Guy (- passionate about club), Jon Main (re-living AFC Hornchurch and knowing it's coming to an end with AFC Wimbledon), Dave Anderson (telling off Mainy for larking around in the background!) and Terry Brown (requiring to be "bleeped" with the celebrations back at the club!)

As regards, Jake Reeves, it doesn't usually go wrong! 99.9 per cent of the time we're fine! When Jake first joined on-loan, he was due to get straight on the coach to go down to Exeter - so the opportunity was a tight window – and it didn’t quite go to plan! I ran down to the training ground and when we switched the camera on my mind went and with it my questions, which made for a very short interview! All parties still laugh about it since!

I hear that you have a good rapport with goalkeeping coach Ashley 'Bayzo' Bayes, who apparently roars out 'Bobby' whenever he comes in from training at New Malden as you await your interview subjects.

I am now greeted every week by “Bayzo” every week with "It's Bobby's Blog! How are ya?! That’s because he started reading my occasional blogs and he'll probably be reading this! He comments on my hair a lot - much to the amusement of the rest of the management Like a friendly "Sergeant Major" he serves as a reminder when it needs a trim! They say goalkeepers are mad and that seems to be true with our leader of morale at the training ground! Before "Bayzo" there was Sammy Moore and “Bass”, but “Bayzo” takes things to a new level! He makes me smile every Thursday lunchtime - no matter what mood I'm in. There's one story - involving Ross Worner and Seb Brown - which I really can't repeat here - but it makes myself and Mike (who knows it!) cry with laughter each time I recollect it!

How do you find Neal Ardley to deal with and how do prepared questions for new player signings, maybe at short notice?

On new signings I will usually get warning from Chris Slavin that something is very likely to happen and then I keep it a very closely guarded secret while I prepare for interview. If it's really short notice or little is known about a player, that's where your "journalistic instincts" come in to play! Neal Ardley is great to work with as he is very professional. He maps out a strategy and explains matters to you off camera really well. You can have a laugh with Neal, but at the end of the day he is the gaffer and is motivated and focused on bringing about what we all want - success for AFC Wimbledon.

From other club media set-ups you've encountered on your travels, how do you rate the one at AFC Wimbledon and your working relationship with Chris Slavin?

Again, professionally I get on very well with Chris. We like to "mix" the interview process up a bit for variety and I can have input of my own ideas. I'm very fortunate and grateful to the club for the trust and opportunities it gives me and to bring what I do to a wider and appreciative audience.

In my completely unbiased opinion, I actually think we provide the best welcome for the press in League 2 currently. Laurence Lowne serves all media with a programme, team sheet, tea or coffee made to your requirements and access to management and players after. I would say biscuits, but Gary Chivers (ex-Chelsea and Brighton, now working for PA Sport) takes care" of them!

A playoff spot looks tantalisingly out of reach this season. Where do you think the Dons need to strengthen to perhaps push on next season?

 I think it's great in modern day football we have a sensible CEO in Erik Samuelson and an enthusiastic, young manager in Neal Ardley with a vision of what he wants to achieve with a club very close to his heart. He's on course for his best finish yet. He'll have an idea on what areas need working on and how to go about it. We can scout well, use contacts well, and assemble a player database. The next window could be a key one as it involves possibly getting the right targets for the required positions and Neal will want to get the "right fit" again - not just anybody.

Neal will carefully plan how to continue introducing someone like Will Nightingale to regular first team life as the club aims to restore the old Wimbledon tradition of bringing through our own. What you have to remember as well is the "production line" from within has taken a big step this season and this is very important to Neal too. Mark Robinson has done great work with the Under-18s over the years and now there is an effective Under 21 set-up too with Alan Reeves overseeing that. They all work together in the same office at New Malden.

 .  The Wombles Downunder newsletter has been chronicling the highs and lows at Wimbledon since 1985 and has become a publication renowned for quality articles about the club over the years. For more information about the fanzine visit

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