Aaron Ramsdale has already followed in the footsteps of Wimbledon’s goalkeeping giants by making his mark in the FA Cup, but just five years ago he was released by Bolton Wanderers for being too small!
For those supporters that may have missed it in the Burton programme, Aaron told us that he knows all about Wimbledon's FA Cup heroes from the past and he would love to follow in their footsteps.
The full interview is reproduced in full below:
The 20-year-old, who joined us on loan from Premier League club AFC Bournemouth, made a couple of brilliant saves to deny Michail Antonio from edging West Ham back into last month’s game. It was another impressive demonstration of goalkeeping that once again highlighted the England youth goalkeeper’s rich promise – and it’s all a far cry from the days when he was deemed not good enough by Bolton.
“I was 15 years old and playing in the Under-16s,” recalled Aaron. “The two reasons they gave me was that I was too small and I couldn’t kick. That was tough at the time, they didn’t give me the opportunity to grow. You don’t want your career to be decided by what one person thinks. I always knew I was going to grow, I was never going to stay the same height and I’m 6ft 3 inches now! I was never too concerned, but you want to prove people wrong. It’s good that the people who did turn me down have since said that they made a mistake. I played against Bolton once for Sheffield United. It was my second ever game as a professional and it was in the FA Cup against Bolton away. I did really well, but the academy manager at the time didn’t even speak to me! That’s the way it is in football and you move on. There’s always motivation to prove people wrong, but it’s never the main factor.”
Bouncing back from adversity certainly fits in well at a club that has risen from the ashes. As well as communicating regularly with our supporters on social media, Aaron has immersed himself in the club’s history, including watching The Crazy Gang documentary on BT Sport. The goalkeeping exploits of Dave Beasant and Dickie Guy will never be forgotten, but what does Aaron think about the prospect of creating his own piece of Wimbledon history?
“I have a good record of saving penalties, to be fair! I’ve saved a few, but we don’t need to get to penalties! If it’s needed, then I’m backing myself. It’s 70/30 in the striker’s favour, but if I can come up with a penalty save, then it’s great for the team.
“It was a special moment for the club and for Dave Beasant, but those are the moments we get paid for! We are not really supposed to save them, so when we do so we are the heroes. If you don’t save them, you are not the villain. For Dave Beasant to do that on such a big occasion was really special.
“I replied to a few fans on Twitter after my first game in the FA Cup at Fleetwood and they assured me that we are The Dons. This is Wimbledon and I know a lot about that. I read up about the history of the club. I watched the Crazy Gang documentary and I’m getting to know everything about the club. It’s a pleasure to be a part of it. The fans appear to have taken to me and they were singing my name in the Fleetwood FA Cup game, so that meant a lot.”
The feel-good factor created by that magical night against the Hammers is still felt by everyone connected with AFC Wimbledon and Aaron felt privileged to be a part of it all. However, he acknowledges that the fight for League One survival now takes priority.
“We deserved to beat West Ham for the way we played that night and the way we conducted ourselves. We had 4,000 people pushing us on and to do it in front of the TV cameras was special. It’s a part of AFC Wimbledon history now. There is a big game coming up against Millwall and we have a good chance to go through, but there are two important matches before that in the league.
“My aim is to help the team and get us out of the position we are in, to keep us in the league. From a selfish perspective, I’m here to develop. I am a Bournemouth player, but I’m in total awe of this club. I am here for the fight and the only way for me to become a better player is to work hard every day with Bayzo. It’s been excellent working with Bayzo and Macca and Nik are pushing me. There’s no let-up in the goalkeeping department and I’m getting used to Saturday and Tuesday games. The physicality of men’s football is at another level.
“On a personal note, I’ve loved it here. The fans have taken to me as if I’ve been here for five years and I can’t thank them enough. It started well with the FA Cup run and I think the performances overall are getting better. We are showing more desire to defend and attack. Apart from the Fleetwood game, I think the performances have been good. There are a lot of positive signs that we can improve, but we just need to start picking up points. I could play my worst 16 games of football, but it wouldn’t matter too much if we stayed up.”
After being released by Bolton Wanderers in 2013, Aaron joined Sheffield United, where he got to know former Dons loanee George Long. Both earned England youth honours and for Aaron it was extra special as he was twice a part of national squads that earned silverware.
“I was doing well at Sheffield United and I managed to get myself into the England Under-18s squad. Since then, I’ve been in the squad for every age group, mostly as a number one. I was part of the squad that won the Under-19 European Championships: I played 14 out of 15 times in the qualifying stage, getting eight clean sheets, and on the back of that I got the chance to go with the Under-21s to the Toulon tournament. I made my debut for the Under-21s and we ended up winning the tournament. Some of the players had come away from playing in the Premier League and I was playing in League 2 with Chesterfield! It was a great confidence boost for me.
“The players involved included Tammy Abraham, Tom Davies at Bournemouth, Jonjoe Kenny at Everton, Dael Fry at Middlesbrough and Adam Armstrong at Blackburn. They had all won things previously with England, including the Under-20 World Cup. They are playing at Premier League or Championship clubs, so they are very good players.
“It’s hard to explain the feeling you get winning a trophy with England. Winning the Under-19s European Championship was so much better for me personally because I was playing every game. I was a big part of qualifying and then we went all the way in the summer. If you could turn back time, I would go back to those two weeks. We were just immense and to have all my family over there and to win it was brilliant, no one can ever that away from me. The achievement is mentioned at St George’s Park, so it’s there in history.”
On deadline day of January 2017, AFC Bournemouth paid around £1 million for Aaron’s goalkeeping services. He has since made the first-team bench twice and also had a spell on loan at Chesterfield when they were in League 2. Though Aaron has yet to make his Premier League debut, he is prepared to be patient for his opportunity.
“I was a surprise that the move happened so quickly. I knew about the interest, but there had been talks that it may happen in the summer, rather than in January. I was very surprised that it happened the way it did, but without sounding big-headed, I knew it was coming. Bournemouth were put under a bit of pressure because other clubs were bidding for me on the last day. They ended up coming in for me in January, which probably helped because I had six months to fit in with the team during the rest of the season. I could hit the ground running in pre-season, rather than having six months of fitting in time after joining in the summer.
“I am 20 years of age and I’m one of the youngest keepers in all four leagues playing at the moment. I’ve been on the bench a couple of times for the first-team. The goalkeepers there now are a lot more experienced and older than me, so I have to bide my time. Goalkeepers don’t really start playing regularly at the highest level until they are 22.
“I have to keep working on my overall game, you can never stop learning about certain aspects of goalkeeping just because you are good at them. My kicking is one of my strengths, but you cannot just get away from it and slack away from working hard. Every part of my game, including my physicality, has to keep on improving. Goalkeeping is very mental as well, just to continue being consistent, and helping the team.”
Supporters may have seen a recent training ground video on our social media channels featuring Aaron diving around in the mud! They say that most goalkeepers are mad and Aaron said that he ignored his Dad’s advice to join the goalkeeping ranks! Certainly, Aaron says he is learning plenty from our goalkeeping coach Bayzo.
“I’d always wanted to be a goalkeeper, but my Dad never understood why! He used to laugh at me, but I played outfield at school and go asked to go on a few trials here and there. I never did though because I love diving around!
“I think Bazyo is top quality. He could easily be working at a Premier League club, he has that much ability. He has a real bond with the goalkeeping group, he galvanises us all, and is good for the outfield players as well. He is the life and soul of Wimbledon.”
Aaron admits that he’s often his own worst critic after games and reassurance from Bayzo has certainly helped him as a young goalkeeper with his best years ahead of him.
“League football is a lot different to playing Under-23s football, but it’s a natural progression for me. I feel comfortable and confident at this level. I go into every game feeling that I’m not going to get beaten. That’s the mindset you need as a goalkeeper. At the moment I’m in a good place: I talk with Bayzo every day, he knows everything about me now, and I’m in my groove. I’m in that mindset of playing every week or three days.
“In the week I can switch off easily, I speak to all my friends back home, play X-Box and PS4, or go out with the lads here. Come Friday night before a game or Saturday night and Sunday after a match, it’s all about the football. I’m always desperate to speak to someone after a game to evaluate my performance, but it’s not always the best thing to do. It is sometimes better to wait until the Monday and go through it with a clearer head. I’m very harsh on myself, that’s why straight after the game I want to know what Bayzo thinks and what Neil Moss (Goalkeeper Coach at AFC Bournemouth) thinks. Sometimes I’ve been told to relax a bit more and not be so harsh on myself. A few goals have gone in that I’m disappointed about, but Bayzo has said, ‘listen, you can’t do much about that’. You can be the most confident person in the world, but you need someone to give you that boost. You perhaps need people to tell you that you’re doing really well.”
Aaron’s Wimbledon debut came in that dramatic FA Cup victory at Fleetwood Town and the competition is one that certainly means a lot to him. Indeed, it was in the FA Cup that he made his debut for Sheffield United as a teenager.
“I made my professional debut for Sheffield United against Leyton Orient. That was my first taste of men’s football. I got thrown in for my debut by Chris Wilder in the first round against Leyton Orient and kept a clean sheet and then I played against my former club Bolton in the next round. I got the Man of the Match award from the Sheffield United fans. Coming here and getting through two big games to reach the fifth round, it’s been a kind competition to me.”
No one in blue and yellow will be complaining if Aaron experiences more FA Cup joy against Millwall in the last-16 of the competition on Saturday.