In-depth interview with experienced Dons wide-man
Chris Whelpdale finally became an AFC Wimbledon player in the summer after playing against the club several times and indeed scoring against us almost a decade ago.
After making the switch, Chris believes he’s starting to get towards the form that made him a key part of promotions with Peterborough United and Gillingham.
For those who may have missed our interview with Chris in Saturday’s match day programme, this is republished below.
Having scored for Billericay Town against us almost 10 years ago, Chris Whelpdale knew all about the amazing AFC Wimbledon story when Neal Ardley came calling in the summer. Now, at the age of 29 and with three Football League promotions under his belt, Chris would love to play a part in creating more club history with the Dons. In his view, a successful team is built essentially on a sense of togetherness – and he sees that in our current squad.
By his own acknowledgement, it’s been rather a slow start to life at Wimbledon, but Chris showed the eye for goal that has been his hallmark over the years in the 5–1 win against Bury – and he believes there’s plenty more to come.
Ever since he was released by Ipswich Town as a teenager, Chris has had a steely determination to prove people wrong. He began the resurrection of his career at Billericay – and that included scoring against AFC Wimbledon in a 3–0 Ryman League Premier Division win on 9 December 2006.
“It was nice to play against Wimbledon back then, because you knew there would be a good atmosphere. Playing in non-league, it was rare to get good crowds, and you knew that if you were playing Wimbledon they would bring plenty of fans. I remember playing against Wimbledon too when we went up with Gillingham, and it’s great that the club are also now in League One. The story of AFC Wimbledon’s rise is brilliant, and it’s great for me to be a part of it. Hopefully, I can help to create some more history here as well.
“A key reason for me coming here was that this is an ambitious club. Other clubs were interested in me during the summer, but you could sense the togetherness of the team here by the run they went on at the end of last season. I watched the play-off final, and the chance to get back playing in League One was another reason I signed here.”
Chris talked enthusiastically about recapturing the impressive form that made him a key part of the promotion-winning squads at Peterborough United and Gillingham. “I had a slow start here because I was suffering from a groin injury at the end of last season. It’s taken me some time to get back to where I want to be. I’ve been training hard, and I think my fitness has come back together now. Hopefully, I can show that in the coming games.
“Wimbledon play a bit different to other clubs I’ve been at. We play with a high press, and it took time for me to adapt and get used to what was required. But I’ve played as part of a ‘three up top’ at Gillingham and Stevenage. I’ve had quite a lot of experience playing there, and I enjoy it. A highlight of my career was being a part of back-to-back promotions at Peterborough, but I want to get as many promotions as I can – I’m still ambitious!”
Chris showed plenty of determination to reignite a career that hit the buffers at Ipswich Town, following spells with Norwich City and Arsenal. “I attended a satellite training camp at Potters Bar run by Norwich City when I was 10. At the time I was playing for Brentwood Boys, and Norwich offered me a chance. I was at Arsenal for a year or two, and then Ipswich for four years, but Ipswich didn’t offer me a scholarship. I had to drop down to non-league with Maldon Town and Billericay before I signed for Peterborough.
“When you are that age, rejection can be quite hard because it’s easy to think that the dream is over. I still enjoyed playing football, though, and I wanted to prove people wrong. I wasn’t one of those who thought, ‘The chance has gone, so I’ll go and get another job.’ Playing non-league football toughened me up. It got me used to playing men’s football, and I pushed on from there. My mum and dad were a massive help to me. They gave me lifts to Maldon Town so that I could keep playing after I left Ipswich.
“At Ipswich I’d been playing as a right-back, but I became more of a right-winger or midfielder in non-league. I started scoring goals, and it all went on from there. There were a few clubs interested in me when I was at Billericay, including Southend United and Swansea City, but I decided to join Peterborough.
“After you’ve had setbacks, it means a lot when you finally make it. A lot of people who got scholarships when I missed out at Ipswich have since faded out of the game. It wasn’t meant to be for me at that time. I’m still in touch with Josh Simpson, who was at Ipswich when I was there. He joined me at Peterborough for a brief spell, and he’s since gone on to Crawley and Plymouth Argyle.”
Chris says that a special togetherness among the squad at Peterborough helped Posh to two successive promotions, from League Two to the Championship. Though the circumstances at the two clubs are completely different, he believes that a similar team spirit exists at AFC Wimbledon.
“The togetherness of the squad at Peterborough was so important. We were all young, and quite a few of us had stepped up from non-league at around the same time. About seven or eight of us all lived down the same street! Everyone had moved to Peterborough and we all spent so much time with one another. After training, we would all meet up and go out for dinner and things like that. It all really helped us to bond as a group, and it was a factor in our success.
“When I was at Gillingham we didn’t live in the same street or anything like that, but we had success too. It’s the same here – you just need the right mix of people to have that togetherness. We have a lot of experience at Wimbledon, but we also have youngsters coming through who really want to make a name for themselves. It’s a really good mix of players, and hopefully we can go on to more success here.”