Will Nightingale said he’s determined to push AFC Wimbledon forward next season after turning down interest from elsewhere to stay with the club he joined at the age of eight.
After signing a new contract, our Player of the Year immediately set his sights on helping to make The Dons more competitive next season – and to avoid the League One relegation battles of the last two seasons. With a move to Plough Lane also on the horizon, Will was excited about being a part of Wimbledon’s future when he spoke to us shortly after signing on the dotted line.
Rob Cornell’s extensive chat with our home-grown defender can be viewed below, and you can also read the full transcript of the interview.
Q – It’s the news every AFC Wimbledon fan wanted to hear, you’ve signed a new deal, what’s your reaction?
It’s the news I wanted really. It’s been an ongoing process, I’ve had a lot of fans asking me about it for quite a while now because I was coming up to being out of contract. This is the third time that I’ve signed a professional contract at the club. I’ve been here for my whole career, I’ve spent most of my life here. It’s what I know, it’s what I’m about, and I’m over the moon to sign here again.
Q – Did you have other offers?
I don’t know if I’m allowed to actually say or not! There were a couple of other offers and bits of interest. I think everyone who knows me, knows that this is where I wanted to be. I joined at the age of eight, my Mum and Dad both love the club, I love the club, and the club has taken me in really as one of their own. I have used that to try and bring my own game on. I can’t put it into words. The manager and Joe Palmer have both been brilliant in getting this all together. Obviously, in the midst of trying to stay up due to our league position, it was hard to sort everything out, but they have both been brilliant in terms of communication and helping us get to this point. It’s a brilliant day for me.
Q – Obviously, you can’t go into too much detail about the negotiations, but what struck you most from speaking to Joe about what the future holds for Wimbledon?
I’m very honest about my own game and my standards. I think when I broke into the first-team I was getting a lot of hype, but I don’t think I’ve ever got back to the standards from that time. Maybe I took a dip in confidence along the way and the injuries played a part, but now I’ve been fit for the last two seasons. Last season was my most in terms of games, but I didn’t get as many games in the season before. I think I’m starting to progress. Since Wally came in as manager he has started to instil that confidence back in me. The manager has nailed down the basics and he’s been a big part of my improvement. I love this club and I wanted to stay here as it is, but I believe the manager can take me forward to the next level in my game. I want to play at the highest level possible, that’s always been my ambition and always been my dream, and now staying with Wimbledon is another part of my dream. I’ve grown up at this place and I’m hoping now that I can get back to my best. I’ve filled out and I’ve learned a lot in respect of the defensive side of the game, but I do want to get back to the level I was at. That’s my aim anyway.
Q – The best years are still to come for you and you’ve spoken about the influence of Wally Downes, but how much more do you think you can improve?
I played a good amount of games last season and I think that in the centre-back position you are only going to get better with matches. I would like to think that there is more improvement. No matter whether you are of World Cup standard, Champions League level, or a League One defender, I think you can always improve. I’m not the sort of person who is ever going to stop, I am always going to look at where I can improve. I am always going to analyse my game and criticise myself. I’m going to keep trying to improve and hopefully the fans will see that next season.
Q – In terms of the fans there has always been that vision of Will Nightingale leading out the team at Plough Lane. It’s getting closer now isn’t it?!
It’s a brilliant time for the club at the moment. We’ve had to clear hurdles during the last two seasons. We’ve cut it fine in terms of avoiding relegation, but the fact we’ve still not had that is a credit to everyone involved with this club: those who work behind the scenes, the players on the pitch, and the fans. We’re all in it together and that’s how it should be. I think Wally is starting to bring that more into the club as well, how it used to be, in that everyone is in it together. We want to try and involve the fans and involve everyone in the community as much as we can.
Q – You’ve had that break now and the dust has settled a little bit on staying up, so what are your reflections on last season?
I did the interview straight after the Bradford game and staying up was the biggest weight off my shoulders. It was literally my life for a good few months. We were down there for a while and to sneak out of it in the last few weeks of the season was brilliant. Now we’ve got to use that experience and the boys here next season have got to say to each other that we don’t want to be in that position again. We are here to win games of football and we are here to be up the top end of the table. This club has been on the rise since it was reformed and it’s going to keep on happening. We’ve got to get back to winning ways and I’m sure the manager will make sure we get off to a flying start.
Q – We will wait to see what other moves are going to happen this summer, but how keen are you to stop that (being down there) happening again?
I’ve always said it and it’s a cliché, but every time I cross that white line I go out to win the game of football. I’m not looking at it in terms of we have to get to a certain amount of points. When I go out to play a game I literally think ‘I want to win’. It’s that simple, I want to win every game. Obviously, if we do that, we will be flying! That’s the aim really.