Dons hero on what it meant to play for the club
Luke Garrard became a big favourite with AFC Wimbledon supporters as his committed displays helped to earn two promotions, but he had to experience disappointment first as the Dons just came up short in 2005/06.
As part of a series of features focusing on key games from each of AFC Wimbledon’s 13 seasons in the build-up to fixture release day on 17 June, we spoke to Luke about the first Ryman Premier campaign and his four years at the club.
Hendon (a) on 22 April, 2006 (won 1-0)
Victory cemented a play-off spot for AFC Wimbledon with a goal from Richard Butler edging a tense affair. The Dons had to do it with 10 men for 46 minutes as Scott Curley was sent off a minute before the break and the hard-fought win suggested that Dave Anderson’s men had the credentials for promotion.
“Everything was focused on going up through the play-offs and we had a good squad of players,” recalled Luke. “I thought at that stage we had enough about us to go up at the end of the season.”
Fisher Athletic (a) on 2 May, 2006 (lost 2-1)
The Dons suffered play-off agony with Fisher ending their hopes of a third successive promotion. A goal from Antony Howard came too late to turn it around and it was a tough defeat to take for AFC Wimbledon at the time.
“We had a few injuries and Fisher had a very good side at that level,” said Luke. “It was a tough game and they did a real number on us. It was a shame that we didn’t manage to go up that season.”
However, Luke was a part of Terry Brown’s team that did go one better when AFC Wimbledon beat Staines Town in a memorable play-off final at Wheatsheaf Park in 2008. He was also in the Conference South title-winning squad of 2009, but his season was ended prematurely due to injury.
Now assistant manager and academy director at newly promoted Conference National club Boreham Wood, Garrard said that he would have signed for the Dons for a fiver!
“Every non league player knew about AFC Wimbledon and when Dave rang me my mind was made up,” said Luke. “I was due to play for Northwood on the Saturday, but I met Dave for talks before the Chelmsford match. I was not registered to play, but I sat on the bench. When I first came into the car park at the club and saw all the supporters it felt like a league club even back then.
“Dave could have offered me £5 and I would still have signed. It was never about the money and I just wanted to get out there and play in front of a big crowd at Wimbledon. Overall, it was amazing for me. There was obvious disappointment that we did not get out of the Ryman League under Dave, but being part of the promotion-winning squad at Staines made it all worthwhile.
“It was a massive game for the club as we needed to move forward. Terry’s achievements were unbelievable, but you could tell the club would progress because of the way it was run by people behind the scenes."
Luke still looks out for AFC Wimbledon’s results and he will be managing an academy side in a pre-season match against our Under-18s next month. However, his busy role at Boreham Wood dictates that he cannot get back to watch the club as much as he would like.
“AFC Wimbledon deserves to be a league club and hopefully they can go on again under Neal Ardley’s management,” added Luke. “I have been back, but it is tough these days as I have so much on at Boreham Wood with watching matches and managing our academy scholarship programme. I will try to get back when I can.”