With the Dons' volunteer base of around 300 fans, it's certainly a challenge for new Volunteer Liaison Officer Rick Thomas to get to know everyone. But he hopes his role will become even harder when the club moves to a new stadium.
For those who may have missed it in Tuesday's match day programme, we interviewed Rick all about his new role and this is reproduced in full below.
As a lifelong Wimbledon supporter who grew up in Wimbledon and attended his first game at Plough Lane back in 1972, Rick Thomas's motivation for answering the call for someone to act as a Volunteer Liaison Officer is that he wants to use his experience to give something back to the club he loves. A key challenge, he believes, is to help recruit more volunteers, particularly younger supporters who can assist the club when it moves back to Plough Lane.
"We are unique as a club with the volunteer base that we have here, and it's something that we can promote more," said Rick when we spoke with him last week. "I regularly read in the programme about the volunteers and the work they are doing – it's brilliant. But we want to get new volunteers in. I know from speaking with the volunteer team leaders I've met with so far that this is something they would like to do. A lot of the volunteers here started with us when the club was re-formed, and that's great, but we also want to bring younger ones on board. Preparing for the move to a new stadium gives us a fantastic opportunity to take things to a new level and get even more people helping out. We're looking to start a campaign to recruit more volunteers ready for when we start off in the new stadium – especially as we may lose some of the current volunteers at that time because it's no longer convenient for them, or they feel it's time to stop.
"In the long term, we want our volunteers to keep giving up their time to support their club, but we also want to get everything properly co-ordinated so that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. We want the areas that can be developed to be recognised, both by the club and the supporters. We can be more cohesive. Everyone who volunteers here does so because of their passion for the club.
"My initial aim is to meet with all the team leaders, but maybe we can also arrange an event where everyone meets up together. I know we have the Volunteers' Away Day, which is brilliant. I'm hoping to get along to it this year so that I can meet more people, but I also want to be a recognisable face at games. I'm a season ticket holder in the Paul Strank Stand, and I've always been a bit of an anorak – I get in as soon as the door opens to walk around and watch the warm-up.
"I want to meet people, and I've been going up to programme sellers and other volunteers just to introduce myself. I want people to know that I'm approachable. I'm not the best person in the world with names, but I want to be someone who the volunteers are comfortable chatting to."
Rick feels that he can make a difference at the club because of his experience of working in the community, which began in a volunteer capacity.
"I was unemployed, and a vacancy came up for a position with London Employment training, which had links with London Youth Clubs," said Rick. "I'd been working with young offenders in Battersea, and a vacancy came up for a community worker. I did that for five years. I've done a lot of community work, supporting volunteers in developing their roles within teams. When I was part of a government community programme in South-East London, I worked with volunteers in nurseries, people working with animals in farms, and with young offenders who were doing community work. I'd make sure that their work was recognised and help them to get vocational qualifications that could lead to paid work.
"I currently work for the teaching union NASUWT. I go into schools every day, encouraging union members in their roles and supporting them. I've been doing that for ten years now. I'm also an organiser for the union, supporting its activists. The main reason I wanted to get involved with the club is because I'm a lifelong supporter. As a season ticket holder, I've seen all the hard work that the volunteers put in. When the role of Volunteer Liaison Officer was advertised, it was something that appealed to me with all the work that I do."
Rick, who has been a volunteer at AFC Wimbledon himself over the years, attended the 1988 FA Cup final at Wembley – and even proposed to his girlfriend Marilyn during the celebrations a day later!
"That was the ultimate day! I announced my engagement to Marilyn, and the whole family were there when the FA Cup was being paraded through Wimbledon. If we'd lost, I might never have got married! Marilyn comes to a few games with me, and when the club had a pre-season tour in La Manga she organised my 50th birthday celebration there. Also, last year when a Wimbledon match coincided with Valentine's Day, we had our meal in hospitality.
"I've been a volunteer myself at the club, and it's something I'm passionate about. I've helped the club shop team when they had kit launches in Centre Court, doing the shelving and a bit of selling. I've also helped out at stadium clean-up weekends and assisted with the pitch. But in my new role I feel I can give something back with the skills I've picked up over the years."
Look out in the next programme for an interview with another one of our dedicated volunteers.