Andy Barcham has been a big fans’ favourite during the four years he’s been with the Dons, and no-one can question his commitment to the cause.
Having made 161 club appearances in almost four seasons and helped AFC Wimbledon to promotion to league One, he says that joining the Dons was the best move he’s ever made. However, the all-action winger is keen to look to the future, and even though he’s not been a regular starter recently, he is determined to do whatever he can to help the Dons to avoid the drop.
We published an extensive interview with our long-serving wide-man in the match day programme for Accrington Stanley and for those that missed it, this is reproduced in full below.
Though youthful exuberance throughout the team has helped to spark a determined charge for survival in recent weeks, Andy Barcham’s experience is likely to prove invaluable during the all-important final month of the season. In particular, the 32-year-old winger has been passing on advice to Academy product Toby Sibbick, who has been filling the wing-back role with real promise in recent months.
“When you’re one of the senior players you have to try and help the younger boys out, and I’ve been at the club a long time now,” Andy told us this week. “I’ve seen some of the lads come up through the Academy ranks and into the first team. That’s nice to see, and I try to give them any information I can to help them. I talk a lot with Toby. We do some work on the training field and talk about different aspects of his game. It’s nice for me when younger players ask you questions and want your advice.
“I’ve known what Toby’s going to be up against with certain defenders I’ve played against in the past. Defensively, he’ll know more than me, but for when he’s going forward as a wing-back I can give him some tips about things I’ve picked up throughout my career so that he can get at people. He has all the attributes to do that well. I try to help him so that he can use his athleticism to his advantage. That’s what all the senior boys are doing – we all try to help out the young lads and give them useful information.
“There are 11 players going out to start the game, but there are also the subs and those not in the matchday squad. Everyone is pushing in the same direction, everyone is trying to contribute. For me personally, it’s frustrating not to be involved as much I would like, but it’s much bigger than that. This club and everyone connected with it have been through so much to get to where we are now. We don’t want to take a backward step – we want to keep this club moving forward. And whether you’re in the matchday squad or not, you have to do whatever you can to contribute. You have to encourage the boys that are playing, helping out the younger lads with your experience and getting behind everyone in every game. We’re all pushing to keep this run going, so that we can keep climbing up the table.”
Andy scored the first goal of Wally Downes’ Wimbledon reign, a lovely strike to earn a point against Rochdale back in December. He believes that recent results have shown that the manager has got his message across to the players, the priority being to make his team hard to beat.
“It was very difficult at the start. Obviously, when the new manager came in he tried to implement his way of playing, strategically, and he wanted to move us forward. It took a few games to get there, but we can all now see the discipline he’s been trying to instil coming through. We’ve been hard to break down and hard to beat. We’ve been working a lot on set pieces, trying to score from them, and keeping them out at the other end. We’ve been getting rewards from that in games. Everyone knows what he demands from us. At this stage of the season it’s all to do with rolling your sleeves up and continuing to show the character we’ve been showing in games recently. We have to continue to show that we want the points more than the other teams do.”
As a player who has made his name with his committed displays up and down the flank, Andy is thankful for the help he’s received behind the scenes from Wimbledon’s staff at the training ground.
“The staff here are very big on prehab and stuff that you do away from training. Everyone has their individual programmes to keep themselves fit, and the aim is to keep us all at peak fitness. As players here in the past have shown, including Robbo and Barry Fuller, you can play until your mid to late thirties. It’s all about how you look after yourself. I want to play this game for as long as possible. It’s a fantastic way of earning a living, it’s what most boys dream of doing. I’m living my dream of playing football, and it’s a pleasure to be playing here.
“To come to AFC Wimbledon was the best decision I ever made. That season when we were promoted was very special, and the bond there is with the fans here means that everyone is close. You feel that everyone is together in wanting to achieve something and push forward. It’s not just about the football, it’s about the community, and everyone connected with the club that has helped it rise again. It’s a very special place, and you just want to succeed here.
“Ever since I first came here in 2015, the squad has shared the ambition to take the club forward. We knew what the club had been through and what it meant to everyone. We wanted to buy into that and share that feeling. Four years later, I’ve still got that strong connection and it still means so much. It’s good to know I’ve played a part – a very small part, of course – in the club’s history, and hopefully there’s still more history to be made.”
Andy’s children, Jacob and Evelyn, are regular spectators at games at the Cherry Red Records Stadium, and that’s made it more special for him. He rates his strike against Doncaster back in August 2017 as his favourite goal in a Wimbledon shirt, because it’s still well remembered in the Barcham family home!
“A goal I scored against Doncaster at home is my favourite because it was one of the first games that my kids came to watch me play in. It was great for them to see their daddy score a goal! My wife Hannah brings them along to pretty much every game. They’re at an age when they can remember games they’ve seen, and they still talk about that goal now. They’ve both got the full Wimbledon kits with “Daddy 17” on the back!”
The Wimbledon squad has changed considerably from the one that won promotion at the end of 2015/16. Indeed, Will Nightingale is the only other player from the current squad who played a part during that season. Andy says he’s remained in contact with a lot of the players from that victorious squad, and former Dons captain Barry Fuller was quick to offer advice about staying up after helping the Gills to victory at the Cherry Red Records Stadium two weeks ago.
“Everyone knows how much the club still means to Baz, and he was the first after the game to come up and say, ‘Keep going, there are still a lot of games left for you to get the points on the board.’ I’m one of the last remaining from that promotion-winning squad, but we all still keep in touch. We have a messaging group on WhatsApp. We kept the group together because it was such a special achievement. We catch up socially whenever we can. George Francomb lives near me, so it’s been easy to stay in touch with him.
“Putting that run together to get promoted was similar to what we’re trying to do now. Many people wrote us off, but we believed in ourselves. We knew how ambitious we were as a team, similar to how it feels now. The staff, the boys, the fans, everyone was pushing for us to succeed. Once we went on that run it felt that we were going to go all the way. I don’t think anyone doubted it for a second, even in the game at Wembley. Even when we were behind in the semi-final, it still felt like it was our time. It’s fantastic when you have that belief, and we kept the momentum going, which was fantastic.”
Andy felt a real connection with the club shortly after arriving – and he wished that he had joined Wimbledon sooner! “I’d spoken to Neal Ardley some time before I signed. I always kept in contact with him and I knew there was interest. Baz, who I’d played with before, was here, and others I’d been team-mates with in the past, including Callum Kennedy and Bayo, so I was very interested in coming. I spoke to Neal Ardley when there had been a managerial change at my club at the time, Portsmouth, and no-one there knew quite what was happening. I spoke to the manager and the boys that were here and I knew it was the club I wanted to play for. I said after I signed that I wished I’d come earlier because it’s a fantastic club to play for. You feel that connection with the fans.”
Andy started his career by coming through the ranks at Tottenham Hotspur, where he made one first-team appearance in the League Cup, and he went on to play for Gillingham and Scunthorpe before joining Portsmouth. He has taken plenty from all those experiences, and he says he’s still learning even now.
“In my early years, when I was around the first team at Spurs, Martin Jol was a big influence, and Clive Allen helped me when I was in the reserves there. The facilities and the coaching techniques at a club like that put you on the right path, and I learned a lot to help me in my career. I developed through various loans before my spells at Gillingham and Portsmouth. I really enjoyed playing for Neal Ardley. I think you take what you can from each manager, and everyone I’ve played under I’ve tried to learn from.
Though Andy is now focusing a little more on what he will do when his playing days are over, he believes there is plenty of football left in him yet. “I’ve got my coaching badges, but I don’t know yet whether that will be the route I’ll take. The PFA are very good, with all their different courses. If there’s something that takes my fancy I go and do it. I’ve done coaching and a personal training course. You can’t play football for ever, and you have to plan for life after it. I’m thinking about it more as I get older, but I’ve got plenty more years left in me yet. I’m only 32!
“It would be fantastic to still be in League One when we get to the new stadium. The news that we will be moving back to Wimbledon was terrific to hear for all of us. With everything the club’s had to go through to start up again, it’s the last tick in the box to go back home. We want everyone to be going into the new stadium buzzing, and we need to keep working hard and keep doing what we’re doing so that the club can keep moving forward.”