By Chris Slavin
Neil Sullivan will definitely be keeping a close eye on Saturday's result between two clubs close to his heart – and he is excited by the prospect of watching Wimbledon at Plough Lane in future.
During two memorable spells with Wimbledon, Neil was a real favourite with our fans – and he joked he would probably know half the supporters in Plough Lane at a future game!
Having also spent seven years with Doncaster Rovers – including helping the Yorkshire outfit into the Championship – it will be a special game on Saturday for the goalkeeper who served both clubs.
Speaking to the official website ahead of Saturday's game, Neil (pictured above right with Dave Beasant and the FA Cup in 2012) said that he cannot attend due to his commitments as academy goalkeeper coach at Leeds United. However, watching the return at the Keepmoat Stadium could be a possibility.
"Wimbledon is my club," Neil declared. "After leaving school at 16 I joined Wimbledon and I left when I was 29. I grew up at the club and to come back towards the end of my career and play for Neal, who I roomed with on away trips as a player, was great. It meant a lot to me that the club stayed up and that I played a small part in that. There was a lot of pressure on Neal because the club had only been used to going up and up since it reformed. Neal deserved a lot of credit for keeping Wimbledon up, but so too did his staff.
"When I left Leeds, I joined Doncaster and we won the Johnstone's Paint Trophy (now Checktrade Trophy) and we also got promoted. Doncaster then spent a lot of time in the Championship and it was a big part of my career. Both Wimbledon and Doncaster are great clubs.
"It will be massive for Wimbledon to get back to Plough Lane. I played one game at Belle Vue before Doncaster moved ground. It does make a big difference to move to a bright, new, shiny ground. It will be special for Wimbledon to move back to Merton. People may not realise how big it is until the first game is played there with all the press attention that will come with it. It would be fantastic for me to attend a game there, if invited! It would be great to come back – I would probably know half the supporters in there!"
Wimbledon and Doncaster have had contrasting starts to the season, but the former Scottish international goalkeeper expects Neal to turn it around – and he added that it was a great experience to play for his close friend.
"I had not been playing at Doncaster and when I got the call from Wimbledon it was a no-brainer," added Neil. "When I walked in I called Neal 'gaffer' and treated him with the respect he deserved. It's not a surprise to me that Neal has gone onto achieve things as a manager because I knew what he wanted to do. It was great to see how he interacted with the players at training.
"Neal is great on the training pitch with the players and he has a real desire to achieve. It was nice to see that he kept the club up as you don't want a young manager to go down and get lost in non league. When Wimbledon got promoted at Wembley I was in Dubai with my family, Jason Euell, and his family. We watched the final and then the next morning Neal was there to join us! We had a great time.
"This season Wimbledon have had tough fixtures to start with. You only have to look at the positions of Fleetwood and Scunthorpe in the table. I think that Neal and the staff can use the experiences of that first season when the club stayed up. It's still early days, but I don't see it being a problem and I think we will be okay. Doncaster have had a very good start and they are scoring a lot of goals. They beat Hull City the other night, which was a great result for them."
Neil is enjoying his current role at Leeds United, but he hopes his commitments will allow him to attend the Doncaster versus Wimbledon match on 2 April.
"I am goalkeeper coach for the Under-18s and Under-23s," said Neil. "The Under-18s have got Bristol City on Saturday, but I will be keeping an eye on the Wimbledon v Doncaster match. Hopefully, I can get to the return match as Doncaster is not too far away."
It's fair to say that Neil will be warmly received by any Dons fans he bumps into – and certainly back at Plough Lane in the future.
Tickets are still available to watch the Dons v Doncaster on Saturday. Visit our online ticket shop to buy or pay on the day.