By Chris Slavin
It only took eight years! No, that’s not an alternative version of the famous AFC Wimbledon song, but the length of time that Dons supporters had to wait to celebrate the annual Volunteers’ Away Day with another victory!
For those supporters that missed it in our programme, we published a full feature on the event at Walsall and this is reproduced in full below. You can also see if you made it onto our picture gallery (photographs by Simon Davies, Pro Sports Images).
Dean Parrett’s last-gasp penalty at Walsall provided the fitting finale for 108 volunteers of all ages who fulfil a variety of matchday roles and carry out a wide range of jobs behind the scenes. Some of those in attendance, including nine-year-old turnstile operator Felix Drake, who was born a day after the Volunteers’ Away Day at Weston-super-Mare, are too young to remember the last time AFC Wimbledon marked the occasion with a win – the 3–1 victory at Histon in 2010. Others who were there, including Roger and Linda Dennis, have served as volunteers ever since the re-formation of AFC Wimbledon, helping to raise thousands of pounds for the club through the sale of Golden Goals tickets. But for volunteers of all ages in attendance last weekend, one thing summed it all up: a collective commitment to serve Wimbledon’s football club.
“We formed the Dons Trust in 2001, when we got told the club was moving to Milton Keynes,” said Felix’s father, Martin. “We all started AFC Wimbledon the following year, and there were about a hundred of us doing most of the work. I was on the Finance Working Group with Erik Samuelson for quite a while. We had a share issue to buy Kingsmeadow, the Dons Trust Bond, five-year season tickets. We bought the ground, improved the ground, went up the leagues – it’s been amazing.
“Volunteers have given up 16 years of their lives since the club re-formed and are still coming here and doing jobs all the time. What I love about the club is that, though we could go down, but hopefully we’ll get a couple more wins and stay up, whatever happens, we’re still going to be here. The same people will be doing the turnstiles and other jobs on a match day. The club is the people, it’s not about league position. As Iain McNay said, for us to get back into the Football League, doing it the right way, is a great thing. That means a lot to many of the supporters. We just started helping at the turnstiles this year, and Felix is just tall enough now to be able to do it. It’s a nice thing for him to be involved in.”
“It’s great fun,” said Felix. “I like tearing the bits out of the books! I put them in a pile and then say to supporters, ‘Enjoy the match’ before they go through.”
All sorts of volunteers, including Golden Goals ticket sellers, stretcher-bearers, turnstile operators, stewards, programme sellers and proofreaders, and fans who attend the summer work weekends were in attendance. As in previous years, the event was sponsored by Cherry Red Records, and all the volunteers received free travel and match tickets, plus pre-match hospitality at the Calderfields Golf Club in Walsall.
Cherry Red Records founder and club vice-president Iain McNay confidently predicted that the Dons would finally mark Volunteers’ Away Day with a victory. In his speech to volunteers at the golf club, Iain said: “We must have got something wrong in recent years, as the last time we won on the Volunteers’ Away Day was when the club was in the Conference South – but I think we are actually going to win today! Thanks to all of you from Cherry Red Records. We love sponsoring this because you all do so much for the club. We love sponsoring the stadium, it’s so special. The number of people who come up to me and say that we’re their second club – it’s amazing.”
Mark Davis, chairman of the Dons Trust Board, told the volunteers: “On behalf of the Dons Trust, I want to say a huge thank-you to all of you for another tremendous season, helping to get games played and making the stadium look great. Without your efforts we would have to pay more people to do more work, reducing the playing budget. The volunteers are important to us, and they will remain important to us when we go to a new stadium.”
Mark singled out Roger and Linda Dennis and Neil Messenbird for their efforts, with all three about to step down from lengthy spells in volunteer fundraising roles. Roger and Linda started up the Golden Goals initiative 16 years ago, and have helped to raise over £200,000 for the club, but they have decided to step down from leading the team, and also from organising the Junior Dons.
“We have a team of volunteers that I can’t praise highly enough,” said Roger. “We’ve enjoyed it, but we’ve been doing it since the very beginning of the club. It’s been a long time, and with the move to a new stadium coming we’ve taken the opportunity to pause and have a look at what we do. Some new people may come in with new ideas, both for the Golden Goals and the Junior Dons. We feel it’s the right time to move aside from both those aspects of our volunteering work. I hope to continue as a seller of Golden Goals or whatever may take its place, and I’ll be involved in the transition – I’m not just saying goodbye and that’s it. I want to make sure it’s all in good hands. There are so many volunteers doing a variety of roles for the club, and it’s great to have them all in the same room today.
“My idea to do Golden Goals stemmed from the Plough Lane days of Wimbledon FC. I used to go with my son, and we’d buy Golden Goals tickets. We even won once, just the once! When ideas were being floated for what we could do to raise funds, I just thought, ‘Golden Goals!’ I had the idea, and Linda designed the tickets that we still use. Though it was my idea, we always did it as a joint enterprise. I print them, Linda cuts them, we fold them together.”
Linda added that it was very much a combined team effort to run the Golden Goals so successfully, and it was a joint decision to finally call time on their roles. She also wished to thank the dedicated team of 12 regular Golden Goals sellers, in particular for braving the stormy conditions outside the stadium at the recent Fleetwood game!
Roger Edmonds-Brown, one of the proofreaders for the matchday programme, got involved with volunteering in the last couple of years, and it’s a role he is delighted to have taken on.
“Today’s event shows how unique our club is. There can’t be too many clubs who go out of their way to recognise volunteers in this way. I’ve been a supporter for many years now – second generation, my dad was a supporter before I was. He was born in Wimbledon, and although we lived in Sutton for many years and I watched them when I was young, I moved to Wimbledon, got married in Wimbledon, and my children were born in Wimbledon.
“I’ve loved the progress the club has made, and being a stats man I’ve enjoyed watching us play against all the teams. Wimbledon have probably played against more teams than any other club in English football. I saw the advert for proofreaders at the back end of the season two years ago, and I thought, ‘Well, I do like words.’ I’m not very good with my own words, but I like looking at other people’s! I love English and reading, but I like stats too and there’s a lot of that in the programme. I’m semi-retired now, and that was another reason I wanted to do it – to keep me occupied. It’s not just the grammar, it’s looking at the background of the club and its history.”
While Wimbledon’s heritage is truly remarkable, looking ahead to the future and the next generation of supporters is just as important. Tom Lewis, who celebrated his 11th birthday just a day before the event, sells programmes with his father Mark on a match day. Tom’s twin brother Ben has also volunteered at summer work weekends, but he was elsewhere on this occasion.
“I got very wet selling programmes at the Fleetwood game,” said Tom, “but you’re going to get wet anyway on days like that! I’ve been doing the volunteers’ clean-up weekends for a couple of years now, but this season my mum and dad decided to go back to programme-selling, and I decided I’d help. If there’s a massive rush I tend to sell more because Dad spends too long fiddling in his pockets looking for change! The weirdest sale was when there were a couple of people driving up on motorbikes! I feel when you come here that you get to know a lot of people and you feel a part of the club. If you go to Chelsea, even if you’ve been going in the pouring rain for 50 years, no-one recognises you! Supporting one club is bad-natured and costs a lot, the other is good-natured and costs a lot less. Can you guess which club is AFC Wimbledon and which one is Chelsea?”
Wise words from Tom, for one so young. The Volunteers’ Away Day certainly sums up why AFC Wimbledon is so special.