By Chris Slavin
Sports Interactive's staff showed their qualities away from the office by getting the better of an AFC Wimbledon XI that included Neal Ardley and his coaching staff.
SI Brand Manager Kamal Miah led the way by striking the opener in a match played at the Cherry Red Records Stadium earlier this week and there was no way back for the Dons. The Wimbledon XI included a selection of the club's others sponsors and they were delighted to play alongside Neal Ardley, Neil Cox, Alan Reeves, and Simon Bassey.
Even a rousing pre-match team-talk from Wimbledon XI player/manager Ivor Heller and Neal's impressive substitute appearance could not prevent a 3-1 defeat!
The match celebrated one of the longest running sponsorship partnerships in football with Sports Interactive having been involved with AFC Wimbledon since the very first match after the club's reformation back in 2002 at Sutton United. Of course, Sports Interactive's flagship title is Football Manager and AFC Wimbledon are proud to be so closely associated with the famous computer game.
It's a link that SI also still value very highly. "This is a long-standing sponsorship that we are very proud of," said Kamal. "It means that we are embraced in football culture with a true community club. We work with the club throughout the year and we have quite a few Wimbledon fans among our team. I've got a soft spot for the club too and I'm glad that Wimbledon managed to stay up this season. I've scored in matches at Watford and Villa Park, but now I've scored at AFC Wimbledon and that is the most important one! People come and go at our company, but we've built a long-lasting relationship with AFC Wimbledon and hopefully it continues for longer with the club progressing higher up the leagues."
RyGas Managing Director Ryan O'Sullivan, who played for the Wimbledon and AFC Wimbledon academy teams, starred in his first annual sponsorship match after putting his injury problems behind him. Ryan, who played for the AFC Wimbledon XI, was delighted to get back out there and cement a sponsorship link with the club that started three years ago.
"It's good to be playing again because I missed last year after injuring my ankle ligaments," said Ryan. "I played at the academy for Wimbledon between the age of 11 and 14, before going to Brentford, but then I came back to join the youth set-up at AFC Wimbledon. I played for the reserves, but when I couldn't get into the first-team I went to play for Tooting, Sutton, and Woking. I enjoyed it, but I couldn't do the training because of work.
"I spoke to Ivor 10 years ago about our business, but at the time we could not commit to sponsorship. When the business grew we were able to get involved three years ago. The partnership with AFC Wimbledon has really helped us. We've had lots of work on the back of it as the link has spread the word about us locally. We will have a new office opening soon in New Malden, so that will help us grow too. It's great to be involved in this match. Something like this brings all the sponsors together, you make friends, and it's important at a time when the club is trying to attract more sponsors for moving to a new ground."
Moorad Choudhry, who has sponsored the AFC Wimbledon match day programme for 12 successive seasons, enjoyed being back at the heart of the Dons defence, but it did mean an ear-bashing from Alan Reeves!
Moorad joked: "I played at centre-back, but maybe I got too far forward for Alan Reeves's liking! It's fantastic to play alongside him, even though he was shouting at me! I've played twice before in these games, but not for four or five years, so it's great to be back involved. There can't be many clubs out there that put on this type of event and it's enjoyable to play alongside Neal Ardley, Neil Cox, and Bayzo. I started sponsoring the programme back in the Ryman League days, and I've just continued with it because I love the club. I want to keep it going when we get to a new stadium and hopefully with the club in a higher league too."
All at AFC Wimbledon hope that is the case and the possibility of running out at Plough Lane in years to come will certainly be a bonus for all involved in the annual sponsors match.