Mark Beard only had one season at AFC Wimbledon, but it ended in a landmark promotion and he believes The Dons have a real chance of making more club history on Saturday.
A full-back during Wimbledon’s 2007/08 promotion season from the Ryman League Premier Division, Mark also played for Saturday’s opponents Millwall and he scored a famous FA Cup goal against Arsenal that is still talked about today.
Back in 2007, Wimbledon’s surge through the leagues had hit the buffers for a couple of years, before Terry Brown finally guided Wimbledon out of the Ryman League, via a memorable play-off final at Staines Town.
“I had one season at AFC Wimbledon and we managed to get promoted," said Mark. "It was a great season and we had a great squad. I still keep in touch with Simon Bassey and I get down when I can. I would love to go on Saturday, but we have a game with Brighton. It’s a fantastic club with fantastic supporters. People behind the scenes, including Erik and Ivor, have been absolutely brilliant. I have really good memories from the time I spent at Wimbledon.
“We should have gone up automatically, but we managed to do it the hard way through the play-offs. We deserved to go up after two or three seasons in that league. That year was tough, but we finally did it. After that we just went up every year. It was just a case of getting out of that division in the first place. During my time at Wimbledon, we also played against Corinthian Casuals at Wembley, which was a fantastic experience. I loved my time at Wimbledon, it’s a great club.”
On Saturday’s last-16 Emirates FA Cup tie, Mark added: “It will be a tough game, especially for Millwall. Wimbledon showed against West Ham that when you are the underdog there is less pressure on you. The team not expected to win play with a little more freedom. It’s been very up and down for Millwall in the league this season, they are also in a relegation scrap, so it will be a tough game for them. The key thing will be how the game goes early on. The longer it goes on with the score level, the more chance Wimbledon have got. If Millwall score quite early on, it could be a different story.”
Of course, Millwall is also a club close to Mark’s heart. His goal for The Lions at Arsenal in January 1995 helped cause a big FA Cup upset – and it’s still talked about to this day.
“I am constantly reminded about it! That was one of Millwall’s most famous wins, so to score in it and be involved in that game was just unbelievable. I was only 20 at the time as well, so that made it even more special for all my family and friends. It was an experience I will never forget.
“I knew at the time that it was important because the next day it was on the back page of every newspaper in the country, but I didn’t think it would stand this long in people’s memories. Even young kids that wouldn’t have been alive at the time know about it because it’s on BT Sport and the BBC every year as a cup classic. People still get a chance to see it, which is great.
“I was predominantly a right-back, especially for Millwall, but for that game there was an injury, and I’d played right wing against Sheffield United on the Saturday before, so the manager kept me there. I didn’t score many, but I scored two in a week!”
“I get down to Millwall as much as I can, they still involve all of the ex-players, which is really good. Millwall is my club as well. I go along and do a few talks before games in pre-match hospitality. It’s great because it keeps you involved. People love hearing the old stories, including about Mick McCarthy, the manager from my time there, and it’s fantastic.”
Now aged 44, Mark took up coaching during his playing days and he is now youth team manager at Brighton & Hove Albion. This season he guided Brighton’s youngsters into the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup, before they were knocked out by Everton in midweek.
“It is fantastic to be involved at Brighton, the club has done brilliantly to get into the Premier League and stay there. It’s been tough for the first-team in the last month. In terms of my job, it’s going well. We beat Man United in the FA Youth Cup this season after beating West Ham in the third round. We have some good, talented players. I started coaching during my playing days and I really enjoy it.”