Wally Downes is fondly remembered as Wimbledon’s first apprentice back in the late 1970s, but things could have been very different as our manager may have ended up at Dulwich Hamlet!
Alan Smith, who was Wimbledon’s reserve team coach when Allen Batsford was manager, recalled: “I went to watch Wally play for West London Schoolboys at Craven Cottage. We had spotted Wally and we took him back to Plough Lane to introduce him to Allen Batsford. Wally trained with us a couple of times and Allen was very impressed. He became our first apprentice, which I loved, but by that time I had left Wimbledon. The club had been voted into the Football League, so I went to be manager of Dulwich Hamlet for a few years. I actually tried to nick Wally to come with me! Allen was quite firm on signing him up though and that led to a great career at Wimbledon.
“Wally was always bright with a brilliant football brain. He saw through people and whatever level they were at he wouldn’t suffer fools gladly. He has a great sense of humour, but when football is about he is a serious person. He’s also worked with some serious coaches and managers, including Terry Venables, Steve Coppell, Sam Allardyce, and Harry Redknapp. All of those rated him highly.”
Alan, who had two spells at Crystal Palace manager, including guiding the Eagles to the Division One title (now the Championship) back in 1994, has kept a close eye on his old club Wimbledon. He has backed Wally Downes to take Wimbledon forward after leading the Great Escape last season.
“It was an incredible achievement by Wally. I’m not embarrassed to say that I voted for Wally as one of my LMA managers of the year. I thought he got rather overlooked, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing because it may have put more pressure on him this year.
“When you look at League One next season with clubs like Bolton, Ipswich, and Sunderland involved, it’s a tough division. We know our resources here are limited, but we’ve got the new ground coming up, which is incredibly exciting. It’s just a case of balancing everything, keeping the ship running this year, moving into the new ground, and then trying to push on with the club.
“It’s difficult, but Wally handled it all well last year. Nothing can be harder than last year after he came in and to keep the club up was a magnificent achievement. I think he has now got the benefit of starting the season, taking pre-season with Glyn Hodges, and getting to grips with the players to let them know what’s expected of them.
“Wally came through the youth system at Wimbledon so he understands what’s required for young players to progress. I’ve followed the careers of Wally, Glyn, and Dario Gradi. I know for a fact that they understand coaching. They are realists, but also hard men who will make sure that players are living in what I consider to be the real world.”
Take a look below at the full interview with Alan, which was filmed after he attended the AFC Wimbledon Business Club’s fixture release breakfast last Thursday. Alan, who in recent years has been a mentor to Gareth Southgate, recalled working with the current England manager as a 16-year-old when he joined Crystal Palace after being released by Southampton.