Wally Downes has urged his players to grasp the big opportunity that awaits against Premier League West Ham on Saturday night.
The Dons came through earlier rounds in the Emirates FA Cup against lower ranked teams, but it’s a completely different scenario tomorrow.
“I’m sure our fans will sing up, but we’ve got to give them a reason to make noise. We’ve got to show them that we’re passionate about winning the game and we are giving our all and then I’m sure they will support us right the way through until the end. You want to test yourselves as a club and see how far you can go. In our league now, it’s happening as we are playing next week against Sunderland, who were in the Premier League two years ago. It's a big test on Saturday and we have another big test next week. It’s a sequence of games that’s going to test us after the bad result the other night.
“You are moulded by your experiences. Without harping on about what we did in past years, all that you can pass on is the experiences that can help the players in this situation. The players know from recent experiences, from the two cup experiences prior to Fleetwood, what it feels like to be the giant waiting to be killed. The cameras are here and there is more media attention because they want West Ham to lose. They want the story for the next day to be about us beating them. Clearly, that’s what they wanted in the previous rounds involving us. They wanted us to be beaten on TV. The boys know the pressure and how much you need to perform. If West Ham don’t perform, we’ve got to be in a position to take advantage.”
Of course, Wally was a part of West Ham’s coaching staff when the club got promoted back to the Premier League in 2012 and he has fond memories of his time there.
“Being in the Championship, we knew that we had a year to get out of it, and it was going to be an all-out attack on going up. When I was at Reading and we wanted to go back up, coming eighth and making a fist of it was okay with the fans. When you are West Ham playing in the Championship, you’ve got to be in top-four minimum and luckily we were in the top four all year. We were not too often in the automatic places, but going to Wembley and winning it in the 85th minute was a brilliant day for the fans. Obviously, it was a euphoric moment as a member of staff.”
Wally also recalled his past meetings against West Ham as a Wimbledon player, in particular a 1-1 draw at Plough Lane back in 1985. Though our manager had left Wimbledon before FA Cup glory was clinched in 1988, it meant a lot to him after playing a major part in the club’s rise.
“I remember the manager picking Glyn in front of me, which I thought was an absolutely fundamental managerial mistake! On I came at 1-0 down after 70 or so minutes and saved the day by crossing the ball for Stewart Evans to score. Then Dave Bassett made another fundamental managerial mistake by playing me in the replay and we got beat 5-1. But I remember Paul Fishenden and me being in on ‘Parkesy’ for our goal and the equaliser just trickled over the line. We ran into the net to make sure it went over and we celebrated a bit too enthusiastically in front of the North Stand. That meant we got booed for the next 78 minutes in a 5-1 drubbing. It wasn’t a pleasant experience!
“I was concentrating on a play-off game for Sheffield United (on Cup Final Day in 1988), but it was like a closure for me. We had gone through all the divisions into the top-flight and it was a case of ‘what now?’ Win the FA Cup. We had reached the quarter-final the year before and got beaten by Spurs. We had finished sixth in the league that year and we had a good chance of winning the cup, but Harry has said since that he shouldn’t have taken us away, we should have stayed in the same environment. We went and did some warm weather training. It was great to see the boys win it in 1988, it was like a closure for me. They had won the FA Cup and then it was just about surviving and staying in the division because they had done more than expected. There wasn’t much else to do, other than staying in the division.”
The full interview with Wally is available to watch on our iFollow channel.