The special bond between our fans and the players was reinforced ahead of the big game at Bradford City, following a record-breaking evening at our annual kit sponsors’ dinner.
A bumper turn-out of 180 people dined with the whole first-team squad, management and backroom staff. For some players, it was their first experience of this kind of event at the club - and it provided an opportunity to boost their Wimbledon educations!
Anthony Wordsworth, who played for Wimbledon FC’s academy, said: “It’s been brilliant, but a few of my sponsors couldn’t be here, including ‘The SweDons’. Unfortunately, they went back home after the game on Saturday. I think the rest of my table are going in fancy dress to Bradford, so I gave them a few ideas! It was a friendly atmosphere. I was on a great table, talking football. I’ve been filled in about all things Wimbledon in the 70s and 80s, all the way through until now”.
“I’ve experienced this at other clubs, but it’s nice and chilled here. Everyone had a good time and the football was on the big screen, we have a few drinks and it’s a good environment. There’s a special connection. I had my kids at the game and they were running around on the pitch before the match and in the dressing room as well, it’s just that kind of club.”
Aaron Ramsdale added: “It’s been a great evening. Getting to meet the fans is always a special moment. You get to see fans you’ve seen week in, week out, and you get to meet people you’ve not met previously. You learn about what they do for the club, week in, and week out.
“One of my sponsors has been doing this for years and they sponsor a goalkeeper and a striker every year. They had me and Kwesi on their table. It’s been a great night overall. AFC Wimbledon being a fans club was in my mind, from the second week I was here when we went to Coventry. This event just reinforces it.”
Commercial Director Ivor Heller said: “Having 180 people here is the most we’ve ever had for a kits sponsors’ dinner. Raising £900 from a raffle for the We Are Wimbledon Fund is also a record for this event. We’re delighted and everyone has had a really good time. It’s such a great event.
“The connection between fans and players is totally evident. You can see it, it’s palpable. You can see it on a match day when the team scores and nights like this just reinforce that. It was a wonderful evening. I was absolutely gobsmacked that we still had seven or eight players here mingling after the event, talking to people, and having a laugh with everyone.
“It’s always been a really important thing for me, since day one of the club, that we look after our shirt sponsors. We don’t make it too expensive or onerous on them, but it gives everyone this wonderful night. They get to feel a part of it and for me, this is one of the mega events that we do. It just feels great every single time that we do it and long may it continue.”
Ivor thanked Commercial Executive Pietro Palladino and the Commercial Department for organising another successful evening at The Cherry Red Records Stadium.
Manager Wally Downes was also fully appreciative of the commitment made by our fans in sponsoring a player and related it to the time he played for Wimbledon.
“Kit sponsors are very important to have,” said Wally. “I can tell you from back when I was playing it was really good to get it done as it was a real fillip to us as players.
“Supporters have a real allegiance to players and I know it was important to us when we had a shirt sponsor and I hope the players now appreciate it. It’s a testament to our fans. There are a fair few kit sponsors who are also volunteers, which is a real big thing for me, because I know how this club was born. I appreciate it.”
Derek Goodhew helps with repairs around the stadium on Thursdays and is also one of young centre-back Paul Kalambayi’s shirt sponsors.
“I enjoy these evenings very much,” said Derek “I’ve been doing it for years and years and we’ll never stop coming to these events because they are so good. The players are always so friendly and they have a laugh and a joke with you. I’d recommend it to anybody – splash out on a bit of kit and meet the players!
“We’ve been sponsoring Paul for three years now and we’ve also sponsored Andy Barcham for four years. I just like sponsoring a player! It’s money towards the club and that only be a good thing. We need to keep doing these sort of events. It keeps everybody interested and wherever you are in the league. It’s a fans’ club and it’s a great way of supporting.”
Nick Brickell and his daughter Sophie also regularly volunteer for the club, as part of our stretcher crew on match days.
“We’re actually on our third sponsorship for this season,” said Nick. “Unfortunately, Jon Meades retired, then we had Ben Purrington who returned from his loan, and now we’re backing Glyn Hodges! I’m part of a group, the Womble Underground Press, who do it. You get drawn out for who gets to go to the sponsors’ meal and I won! I’m here with my daughter Sophie and it’s fun!
“When we’ve struggled with that connection between the players and supporters, events like this are really important. I think the management realise how it important it is too, as it’s been fixed. It’s good fun, especially as we’ve had a decent end to the season. It could have been a different story if we’d not picked up since last December, but it’s been brilliant! Everyone has enjoyed it and it’s good for the players to see how much we care.”
Alex Mitchell helps the club out as a member of the Blue and Yellow Club, which raises funds for the first-team playing budget. However, Alex has also become a dedicated shirt sponsor for The Dons over the years.
“The turnout from the players, the fans and the staff is incredible,” said Alex. “I just think it’s a really good thing that we do and it’s incredible. It’s always great to have the players down here. I think I’ve been sponsoring players for five or six years. It’s always a good night at the dinner for everyone to mix together, have a chat and for everyone to enjoy themselves a bit really.
“This year I’ve sponsored Nik Tzanev and Mitch Pinnock, previously I’ve sponsored Bayo Akinfenwa and Ryan Sweeney. I’ve backed Nik for a couple of years now and hopefully I’ll do so again next season.
“I think one of the really good things about this is that it pulls the players and the fans together. We’re good at this as a club anyway, but events like this give us a chance to have a proper chat with the players, get to know them a bit and hear some of the stories and anecdotes! Chatting to Mitch, Nik and Shane McLoughlin their other clubs didn’t do these kind of events. Not only do you get to meet the players, you get to meet the other people who sponsor the players whose names you see in the programme at every home game.”
Steve Seddon, a loan player who has become a real favourite with Dons supporters, added: “It’s really nice. It’s a family feel to the club. It’s good to get to know the supporters who sponsor your shirt and get everyone involved. It’s nice for me to get to know my sponsors and for others to get to know the players. You get a good appreciation for the club and it’s different to any other club. Nights like this show that.”
Dylan Connolly added: “I was on table where there was a good bit of banter! I’ve not really had this at other clubs before, so it was a new experience for me and I enjoyed it.
“It’s good to give back to the fans and get to know their insight, what they think of us, and to meet up with them. It’s a special night for them and for us. They get to know more about what we do on a day-to-day basis. They ask questions about training and what we do, what we eat, the work we do in the gym, and how we prepare for a match day. It’s good to give back to them in that kind of way.”