By Rob Cornell
Ricky Wellard is very clear when it comes to advice for any player subject to serious interest from Wimbledon this summer: 'you sign for them and you don't think twice'.
The midfielder enjoyed the ride with the Dons from Conference South into the Football League between 2009 and 2012 under Terry Brown and with a return to Plough Lane on the horizon, Ricky feels the club retains a strong attraction.
"You don't think about anything else, you go and sign," said Ricky, who joined from nearby Ashford Town in 2009. "For me growing up, watching them rise and going to play for them was a dream come true really. As soon as they come knocking, you sign for them and you don't think twice. I'm a local boy and in my area Wimbledon are a massive club – big following, great fan base and even when we used to play away from home, they'd travel in their hundreds.
"I watch the results quite closely. I'm really chuffed that they've kept their place in League One and they'll give it another crack next season. It'll be great for the fans to go back to Plough Lane. Even when I first signed, going back a few years ago, there was a really strong feeling amongst the fans that Plough Lane was always on the cards and I'm really pleased that they'll get to do that. Hopefully, the club can push on again in League One next season.
"The fans are the club. That was made very clear on day one from 'Browny'. For your first home game, you've got volunteers everywhere and you've got people making you feel welcome. It's a very friendly atmosphere around the club. From minute one you know that the fans are the driving force behind the club and that's what makes it successful."
An extensive interview with Ricky is available to watch in full, via a link to our official YouTube channel below.
Ricky, who was part of the Wimbledon squad that helped Wimbledon to promotion into the Football League seven years ago, still maintains a link with the Dons in his work as the full-time Head Coach for Sutton United's Academy. This can potentially be beneficial to young players released at this time of the year and it's also a link that could benefit Wimbledon in the future too, as Ricky explained:
"With AFC Wimbledon being down the road, I've got quite a good relationship with Mark Robinson (Academy Head of Football) and we speak every couple of weeks about players. If players aren't necessarily being kept on, I've signed five or six boys that have not been offered professionals deals at Wimbledon and I've managed to get them in with me and it's been really good. It's a relationship which works both ways."
While a career in coaching is the next goal for Ricky, he just missed out on another big occasion as a player with Wealdstone recently. "I've just turned 30 and finished my second season at Wealdstone," Ricky added. "We got beaten by Brackley (the eventual winners) over two legs in the FA Trophy semi-final.
"It was good to go that far in the competition, but it was a bit gut-wrenching being one place from Wembley as it's hard to take. Overall it was an okay season, but I'm looking to push on next year and I'm definitely still looking to play."
Ricky has now left Wealdstone and he's looking for a fresh challenge to keep playing. Despite his career having long moved on since the glory of 2011, Ricky still keeps in contact with his team-mates from that season.
He added: "We've got a 'WhatsApp promotion group'. There's Mainy, Keds, Brett Johnson, Ed Harris, Seb, Lee Minshull – they're all in there," revealed Ricky. "We keep trying to organise a date for a catch-up, but everyone has always got something on and it's difficult to arrange.
"We still stay in contact. I speak to Sam Hatton and I see Seb (Goalkeeping coach at Sutton United) most days, but it was a real close-knit group that year and that's something that stuck with me and I'm trying to emulate with my dressing room as I progress with my coaching career. We were all there for one common goal and that was to win and we enjoyed it."