By Chris Slavin
Andy Barcham is already making plans for a second career when his playing days come to an end, but he believes it will be quite a few years yet before he hangs up his boots.
For those supporters who missed it in the Fleetwood programme, we published an in-depth interview with Andy, and this is reproduced in full below.
Having passed the 100 appearances mark for AFC Wimbledon earlier this season, Andy would love to be still wearing the yellow and blue when the Dons run out at Plough Lane again. Having spent so long in the game – he signed for his beloved Tottenham Hotspur at the age of seven – Andy feels fortunate to be plying his trade for Wimbledon.
"I'm extremely lucky," said Andy. "Every kid dreams of being a professional footballer, and I've been playing the game for a long time," said the 31-year-old. "And when you get towards the back end of your career, you realise you have to make plans for something else. You want it to be something that can meet your expectations, to provide a similar enjoyment in your life. That's always going to be difficult. In your playing days you want to make the most of it, and I'm very grateful for what I've experienced in my career.
"I'm hopeful that I have a few more years in me yet before I have to worry about doing something else. At the PFA, they are massive on making you think about it now, so that it doesn't hit you all of a sudden. You don't want to be retiring and then wondering what you're going to do. So I've started my coaching badges. I'm up to level two, and I'm hoping to do my UEFA B when I get a chance in the summer. I'm trying to get as high as a I can with my coaching, but I'm also a qualified personal trainer, which I've done through the PFA as well. I'm trying to get as many things in my favour for when my playing days come to an end."
Judging by his consistent performances this season – Andy has been a virtual ever-present – that time appears to be some way in the future. Having already made more appearances for Wimbledon than at any other club in his career, here feels like home, and he is extremely proud that his children, Jacob and Evelyn, attend home games, wearing No.17 shirts!
"It seems like only yesterday that I signed here, but when you look through the squad and see the length of time other players have been at the club, you realise how long it's been. I feel at home here – I feel happy, and comfortable. I'm honoured to play for this club. You can't help but fall in love with the club – everyone knows the history and the story of where it came from. From day one, I've tried to listen and understand about the club. I've seen what it means to the volunteers and people behind the scenes. It doesn't take long before it affects you. Everyone is together and working hard to take this club forward. Everyone has that common goal to help this unique club progress.
"My wife and kids come to watch every home game, and that's great. When I've played for a club further away, it was difficult for my family to come and watch me. For them to come and see me play every week is fantastic. My children love coming here, they've got the full kit, and it makes me proud to see my kids wearing the Wimbledon shirt with my name and number on. My boy is four and he's only just started playing football. He's very much into it, and I'm sure he'll start progressing with that. My little girl loves it as well – and sometimes you can hear them at the game!"
Andy has kept a close eye on the biggest AFC Wimbledon news off the pitch this season – approval being given for a new stadium at Plough Lane and the start of demolition work to clear the site. His performances on the pitch this season suggest he is still going strong, and the idea of still being at Wimbledon when the move happens really appeals to him.
"It's great news that the club can finally start work on the new stadium. It means so much to the volunteers, the fans, the board and the people who work at the club. It's fantastic for everyone to have that to look forward to. It's such a massive achievement for the club to be going back home. For me personally, it's up to me to keep my performances going so that I can hopefully be here for when the move happens. It will be massive for the club and something I want to be a part of. I have to keep working hard to still be here. The first match at the new stadium will be a fantastic occasion, and I'm delighted that it will reward all those people who have worked so hard for it.
"The way the manager looks after his players has helped me. He gives you that recovery time. He is very good at man management, and with me I know he's always concerned about the amount of work I get through in games. He's always keen to check on stats with Dougy and the sports science team. They look at how hard we are working in training and in games – the manager is very big on that. He's very meticulous and looks at the distance you are covering. If he sees a dip in training, he'll try to keep you fresh by managing your workload so that you're fit for the games. I've found that to be a real positive during my time here, and I'm really benefiting from it this season."
This season has also seen Andy filling an unfamiliar position as he's adapted to playing at wing-back. There are certainly no qualms from him about adapting to new roles in the team, and he's prepared to play in any position that will help keep the club in League One.
"I think you need that flexibility. This season we've experimented with formations, and one of those has been with wing-backs. You're seeing it more and more this season, especially in the Premier League with teams like Spurs and Chelsea playing with wing-backs. In the modern game you have to adapt to different formations, and it's something we've experimented with to try and get the best out of the squad of players here. The manager looks at our strengths and weaknesses to try the formation that suits. I've found myself playing wing-back this season, which is different for me as I've never played there in my career. It's great when you get to the age of 31 and you're still learning! It obviously means more defensive responsibility, which is why you have to work so hard in training on situations that arise from playing in a different position.
"If you don't have flexibility in terms of where you can play, you're going to find yourself out of the team. Versatility is good, and we have that right through the squad. It's a positive for professional footballers to have that versatility, so that you're not just designated a left-winger or a striker. As a footballer, you need to be someone who can play in different positions.
"It was a shame about Cody's injury. He'd kept going with that injury and worked hard for the cause. With the predicament we're in at the moment, we need all hands to the pump. Cody put his body on the line, so fair play to him, but he's going to be out for a little while now. We wish him a speedy recovery. Whatever the manager decides to do with the formation in his absence, we have to adapt to it. We've played with three up front sometimes this season, played with two up, and with wing-backs too. Whatever changes it could mean for me and the other players, we have to work on things in training and show that versatility."
Brought up in Basildon, Andy was spotted at the age of seven by Tottenham Hotspur. After progressing all the way up through the ranks, he made one League Cup appearance for Spurs, against Port Vale. At the age of 21, he made the difficult decision to leave his boyhood club for Gillingham, for whom he had played on loan previously and helped to promotion at Wembley in 2009. Looking back, Andy feels he should have left his beloved Spurs sooner.
"I was playing for my local team, Whitmore Rangers, at the age of seven when I was spotted by a scout who'd been there to watch another player. He asked me to go and train with Spurs. I was brought up as a Spurs fan, and my dad is a massive supporter, so it meant a lot to me to play for the club. I was there a long time and I enjoyed every minute of it. It was fantastic for me to play for Tottenham at White Hart Lane in the League Cup with all my family watching. It was a proud moment.
"It was a really difficult decision for me to leave Spurs. I was signing one-year or two-year deals as a young player, but it got to the stage where I could have signed to be at the club for longer. I was happy there – I was with a Premier League club – but when I got to 21 I felt I'd come to the crossroads in my career. I'd only played one game for the first team, and I really wanted to go out and start playing first-team football. It was difficult because I'd been at Spurs for so long and I loved it there.
"My first loan spell at Leyton Orient hit me quite hard. I wasn't used to certain aspects of what was required, including the demands of playing Saturdays and Tuesdays. I wasn't used to that workload – I'd got used to training all week and playing once a week for the reserves, on a Saturday. It was a difficult decision to leave Spurs, but when I look back now I can see it was the right one – and I wish I'd done it sooner. When I moved to Gillingham I met players like Barry Fuller, who'd clocked up loads of games. He had so much experience of playing compared to me. I realised I'd missed out on so much. I experienced the play-offs with Gillingham, which we won, and playing in the FA Cup on TV. I experienced a lot of new aspects of the game.
"For young players it's very underrated, going out and learning your trade, just playing the game. I tell all our young players that now. It doesn't matter what level you're playing at, you're getting that game-time in senior football. It's a learning process, and those experiences are invaluable for young players. It was a difficult decision for me to leave Spurs, but I've experienced promotions with Gillingham and Wimbledon. Winning in the play-off final at Wembley is a fantastic way to go up. It's a great buzz for the club and the community when you go up that way, as everyone here experienced two years ago."
If Andy is still flying down the left wing for the Dons at Plough Lane with the club in League One, no one at AFC Wimbledon will be complaining.