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Catching up with Jason: The fans lifted me off the coach!

An extensive interview with former Dons defender

7 April 2020

With no games on at the moment, we thought it was good timing to catch up with one of our heroes from the past and Jason Goodliffe’s impact at AFC Wimbledon was a key part in the club’s rise through non league.

The no-nonsense defender today talked passionately about his two-year spell with Wimbledon that included successive promotions in 2008 and 2009. After finally helping us out of the Ryman League’s top-flight in 2008 – The Dons had spent three seasons there – Jason warmly recalled a promotion party at Staines Town and back at Kingsmeadow in the evening! We also asked Jason about his coaching career and how he is coping with the current situation, as the nation battles against Coronavirus. Jason joined Sutton United as Assistant Manager last summer, but he is currently on the furloughed list of staff at the National League club.

Below is the full Q&A with Jason.

What are the memories that stand-out from your time with us?

“I will never forget the whole day when we got promoted at Staines Town, including the fans on the pitch and lifting the trophy. Getting back to Kingsmeadow and coming around the corner on the coach is something I will always remember. Just seeing so many fans waiting for us was really special. We came back from Staines that evening and as we came into the main car park there were so many fans. I basically got lifted off the coach! It was a special night. In my first season I felt like I was on stage most weeks! Ivor always seemed to have me up there for the Man of the Match presentation.

“The timing for me was great in terms of my first season. Wimbledon fans probably saw the best of me in that first season. People behind the scenes including Ivor, Erik, and David Charles were proper Wimbledon people. It meant so much to them, just to have a football club, let alone for the club to push itself forward in the way that it did. Every time we went into the bar at the club, you could see how much it all meant to the fans. You got the sense that having a football club meant so much to them. It’s a unique club and though I haven’t been back in that capacity for a while now, I hope that people don’t forget where they’ve come from. It has taken a massive effort for the club to get where it is now and it’s important that people don’t forget the roots. It’s important that they don’t allow the club to face the issues that it did before.

“I have been back a couple of times with Stevenage and it’s always nice to see some friendly faces, people who I got to know well when I was at the club. The fact I’m involved in football makes it difficult to pop in as I have a lot of other commitments, such as watching other teams and games, but it will always be a special place for me.”

Why did you sign for Wimbledon?

“I had been at Stevenage for six years and had been on loan at York City, where I had a really good time for three months, but then I signed for Rushden & Diamonds at a time when they were going to the wall really. There were all sorts of issues about paying players what they were owed, so I left there with a bit of uncertainty. In 14 years I had played for two clubs – Hayes and Stevenage – and I had joined a club where it was difficult to know what to do next.

“I had a couple of offers to go full-time at other clubs, but as soon as I got the call from Terry saying that he had got the job at Wimbledon I couldn’t wait to come. I knew Warren Kelly and Dave Anderson and they had always spoken highly of what Wimbledon was about. I knew the history of Wimbledon from back in the days when the club won the FA Cup Final and the Crazy Gang era to the time when the club was taken away from the fans. I knew that those fans were desperate to get to a level of football where they deserved to be. It was great timing for me to drop down to that level, but be playing in front of bigger crowds than I had for the majority of my career before that.

“The day I signed for Wimbledon I took Sam Hatton with me, he was an 18-year-old kid, who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, but he played over 200 games for Wimbledon. He played a massive part in the club’s rise through the leagues, he helped Wimbledon to three promotions in his five years at the club. He’s another one who was a great player for the club and probably a bit of an unsung hero. People probably didn’t appreciate how good he was at the time.

“To be captain of the club is something that I will always be very proud of. At the time when I joined, the club had missed out on promotion for a couple of seasons. I think it was a really important time because if the club hadn’t got promoted in that first season I was there I think a lot of the momentum would have been lost. It was so important.”

What do you think was the key to success during your time at Wimbledon?

“Terry Brown and Stuart Cash instilled a great team spirit, but let’s not forget Simon Bassey as well. Bass was brilliant in building the bridge between the management and the players. He was good at identifying the players and I know that he was involved in a lot of the recruitment in terms of getting the right players into the club. He made people understand what Wimbledon was about. I think Terry, Stuart, and Bass made players realise what the club meant to the supporters. It didn’t need selling overly because at that level of football it was a big club with a big support base and people wanted to play for Wimbledon, but sometimes that can be a problem itself because you have too many players to choose from. You have to make sure you are picking the right players and the right characters. We had some big characters that were able to deal with the pressures that came with playing for Wimbledon at that level. I think the signing of Jon Main was massive because he pushed us towards promotion in his first season. Then he had another big season in our first campaign in Blue Square South. Danny Kedwell’s arrival was also a big factor for Wimbledon in the progress the club made.

“We had big characters. In the first season I was there we had Rob Quinn, who did a lot of work that went unnoticed, and Jake Leberl made a big difference. In my second season there we had Ben Judge, Alan Inns, and Elliott Godfrey – all good characters in the squad. Mickey Haswell was a great player for Wimbledon, I loved playing in the same team as him. The players liked spending time together collectively after matches. It certainly helps a team to be successful when there’s that bond between the players.”

What does the club still mean to you?

“When I look at the scores on a Saturday, I always keep an eye out for Wimbledon’s result. It’s been tough for the club in the last couple of seasons, but the end of last season was fantastic, and the club managed to stay up. I think this season has been every bit as tough and hopefully Wimbledon will manage to stay in League One again. At the moment, it’s probably the level that’s right for the club.

“It will be great to see the club eventually move back to Plough Lane. Once that happens, it will be like Wimbledon have properly come home. I would be delighted to get over to Plough Lane and see everyone when the new stadium happens. It’s great to have seen how far the club has come, starting from holding trials in the park all those years ago. To be back at their own stadium in Wimbledon will be a massive success for the club. Hopefully, it will be a springboard for the club to progress again.”

How is your coaching career going at Sutton?

“The disappointment is that we felt that we could push on and finish in the top half this season. We are hoping that we will get the opportunity to finish the season, but obviously at the moment everything is up in the air at the moment. I am currently on the list of furloughed staff.

“I had been really enjoying it at Sutton. It’s been great working with Matt Gray, it’s his first managerial job, but you wouldn’t know it because he’s taken to it like a duck to water. We had a bit of a sticky period leading up to November. We didn’t quite feel we were getting the results we deserved, but we had a great win at Torquay, who were second in the league and top of the form table at the time. Since that win we’ve been on a good run, and we’ve only lost two out of our last 16 league games. We’ve been on a great run and got ourselves into mid-table.

“My son Ben plays for us. He is 20 years of age and a centre-back like me. He was with us at Borehamwood and then we sold him to Wolves. He had two seasons at Wolves and last season he spent on loan at Dagenham & Redbridge. Last summer he got released by Wolves, and we signed him for Sutton. He’s had a decent season and I’m hoping he can progress in the game.”

What was the experience like of working with Dave Anderson at Harrow Borough? 

“When I finished playing at Sutton I went to Borehamwood for half a season in the Conference South. I worked with Ian Allinson and we managed to get the team up to mid-table with a good end to the season after being near the bottom at one stage. That was quite a big achievement in my first coaching role. I left there, but I got an opportunity to work with Dave at Harrow Borough. I spent around two-and-a-half years with Dave and he was absolutely brilliant. He has great knowledge of the game and great experience. He’s completely honest in everything that he says to his players. They all knew exactly where they stood, whether it was good or bad. One thing you always get with Dave is that he tells people the truth. Players enjoyed playing for him because they knew that he would tell them when they had played well. They were also prepared for what he would say when they hadn’t played well. I learned loads working with Dave. He gave me the freedom and opportunity to express myself, to say exactly what I wanted to say, and I thoroughly enjoyed working with him. We still keep in touch now.”

How are you coping at this difficult time?

“I work freelance for a magazine company called My Local News during my spare time. They publish 16 magazines. I'm unable to work there currently though as not many companies are looking to advertise at the moment. 

“I have my wife, two children, and my son’s girlfriend, at home, so there are five of us living together. There’s enough interaction during the day, a couple of us are working from home. We’ve had a few games nights, where we try to get everyone interacting, but I’ve just been doing stuff around the house and tidying up the garden. They are things you wouldn’t normally do. It’s not been the most exciting of times I must admit! I’m someone who loves being outside not inside. I’ve been going out for walks and stuff to try and keep myself active, but it’s not quite the same as being out with the lads on the training pitch and having banter. That’s probably the thing you miss the most.”

Look out later this week for more on Jason’s favourite moments in a Dons shirt and why he didn’t get off to the best of starts with his team-mate Jon Main!

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