Former Dons midfielder Stewart Castledine has spoken about the ‘special bond’ that existed between Wimbledon players coming through the ranks in the early 1990s, ahead of tomorrow’s reunion at the Blackpool game.
It’s 30 years since Stewart first played in a Wimbledon youth team that also included Chris Perry, Peter Fear, Neal Ardley, and Justin Skinner – players that all went onto make the first-team. In 1992, Wimbledon were edged out by Crystal Palace in the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup of a competition won that season by Man United’s revered fledglings that included David Beckham and Paul Scholes.
On Saturday, Stewart (pictured fifth from right in the top row above) will be joined by 11 of Wimbledon’s FA Youth Cup squad from that year as they join us as special guests for the Blackpool game.
Speaking about the prospect of that reunion, Stewart said: “I am very proud of the fabulous team that we had all those years ago. It will be good to meet up with some of my old friends, but it might get slightly messy! Quite a lot of us do stay in touch anyway. As the PFA delegate I was always trying to keep the boys together and organise the Christmas parties! Some of the lads that played professional will be coming, including Peter Fear, Chris Perry, and Justin Skinner, but there was such a great camaraderie between all of the boys. A lot of the players from that successful team have stayed in touch. It’s going to be a lot of fun and a bit emotional after three decades! Some of us will have aged more than others, so it’s going to be interesting to see everyone!
Stewart added that it was a great time to be a Dons player coming through the ranks with a unique spirit having come together at the club after the achievements of the first-team in the 1980s.
“It was well documented that the first-team had a strong bond and camaraderie,” said Stewart. “That was replicated within the youth set-up and was shown by how many of us went onto play first-team football. We had a special bond and I think that was the reason why we were successful. We were all good mates on and off the pitch. We would all fight for each other on the pitch and socialise off the pitch. I think five of us went onto play for Wimbledon’s first-team, including me, Neal Ardley, Peter Fear, Chris Perry, and Justin Skinner. Some of the other lads also went into play elsewhere, including Tim Alexander, who played for Barnet, and Leighton Allen, who played for Colchester.
“I don’t think we lost a game in the league that season and in the FA Youth Cup it was so frustrating. We lost in the semi-final and that year our name should have been on the cup.
“I joined Wimbledon at the same time as Neal Ardley and Chris Perry. We were playing for the Surrey County Under-11s team. We were all just 10 years of age and we were asked to join Wimbledon’s Under-11s. I was at Wimbledon for 17 years and then I coached the ladies team for a year when my sister was playing. Now I’ve had seven years of being around the club because of Leo. In total, I’ve been involved with the club for over 25 years! I’m obviously a supporter too and I still come to the games.”
Stewart now spends a lot of his time watching his 14-year-old son Leo, who is a youth player here at Wimbledon and an England Under-15 international. However, he’s also a Director of a sports marketing company.
“Leo played for England Under-15s again last week. They lost 3-0 to Belgium, but Leo scored and it was disallowed. We’ve seen back the replays and Leo was never offside, so that was disappointing as it would have been his first England goal. He’s moving onwards and upwards though and he’s playing very well at the moment.”
“I am Director of a sports marketing company called Sports Revolution. I also do a bit of property on the side, I’ve always developed properties. We’ve just built our own house, so I think that’s wiped me out now! I’m getting back more into the Sports Business sector and generally following Leo all around the country.”
We look forward to welcoming our former youth players to the club as special guests tomorrow and the full list is as follows: Leighton Allen, Stewart Castledine, Peter Fear, Justin Skinner, Grant Payne, Paul Jennings, Michael Rootes, Marc Cable, Lee Fiori, Geoff Taylor, Chris Perry, Craig Oriss.