Young defender Jack Madelin was thrust into the first-team at the age of 17 earlier this season and he talked about his whirlwind rise in an interview for the Oxford programme.
For those supporters that missed the in-depth interview with Jack, it is reproduced in full below.
Though his elevation to first-team duty came as something of a surprise to Jack Madelin, there has been no sign of stage fright - as was very clear when he performed his initiation song in a Blackpool hotel! The defender’s whirlwind rise this season, his sixth with the Dons, has seen him make his debut at Burton Albion and sign his first professional deal – reward for the great progress he has made.
Jack believes that the grounding he has received in our Academy has prepared him well to take his opportunities. And he was not even fazed by the prospect of following his old manager, Mark Robinson, in stepping up to the mic. With Robbo having also taken the step to first-team duty this season, both were requested to sing in front of the squad on the away trip to Blackpool.
“We actually sang our initiation songs on the same night, which was at Blackpool away,” Jack told us. “The lads stitched us up a bit. We didn’t do a duet, but Robbo went first and it was a tough act to follow. The lads were joining in, and when I grabbed the mic I still wasn’t really sure what I was going to sing. I decided to go for a bit of Justin Bieber, with ‘Love Yourself”. I’m not the best of singers, but I’ve sung a number of times at this club now. I wasn’t too scared!”
As part of our U18 squad, Jack’s summer featured a pre-season trip to Seville, the Richmond Run and Camp KCL, a week-long exercise for our young talents in which they had to sleep over at the training ground and fend for themselves, doing their own cooking and cleaning, It was a week that Jack believes was good preparation for the season ahead – and it included winning a quiz all about AFC Wimbledon.
“Our team was Zach Robinson, Elliott Bolton, who was the first ever mascot for AFC Wimbledon, and one of our supporters. She helped us with a few questions from back in the day. Marc Jones helped to organise it. All the players at this club, especially in the Academy, are made aware of the club’s story, so interacting with the supporters and doing a quiz was great for the boys. It was particularly useful for the ones who’d joined more recently as they could get a feel for the club and what the fans had been through when Wimbledon had to start again.
“This is one of the events that Robbo introduced over the years to bring us closer together as a squad, and also to test us to make sure we’re mentally strong as players. Camp KCL was great because although we usually spend a lot of time together, this was a whole week at the training ground. We really got to know each other during that time. We also went on a pre-season tour to Seville, where we played in matches of a good standard – and there was also singing and dancing! That was great for team spirit. We’ve carried that into the season as we’ve had a great start, and hopefully we can keep it up.”
Jack feels that a unique bond has been created between a crop of Wimbledon’s young talents aiming to be a part of the club’s future. “I’m into my sixth season now. What’s been good is that there’s been a bunch of lads who’ve come through together during that time. We’ve done well as an age group to push each other, to make sure each one of us keeps getting better. There are six or seven of us in the U18s who’ve been here for five or six years.
“As a squad, we’re quite good at celebrating each other’s success. Football is a tough business because even though you are team-mates, you are essentially competing against each other for places on a match day. But we’ve been together for so long now that when there’s something worth celebrating we congratulate each other on the achievement. When Zach and Huseyin Biler made the bench for the first team against Doncaster, we all congratulated them – and it was the same for me when I made my debut.”
That big moment for Jack came at Burton Albion when he came off the bench as a substitute after Ryan Delaney was injured. “It’s been amazing. It’s all happened really fast – it’s been a bit of a whirlwind experience. I’ve progressed a lot quicker than I thought I would. It’s always been my goal to play for the first team, but the fact that it’s happened before Christmas was a bit surprising for me. I’ve been given a great opportunity, and hopefully I’ll get more chances in the future.
“I wasn’t really expecting to come on at Burton. It was a big league game, and we were 1–0 down at the time, but the manager had already used two substitutes and Ryan went down with a head injury. I found myself thinking, ‘I might actually come on here.’ I was told to warm up, and about 30 seconds later I was told, ‘Meds, you’re coming on.’ It’s all a bit of a blur, looking back, but I know I was ready for the moment. I’d been on the bench the previous week, so I’d been preparing myself mentally, just in case I had to come on. I made sure I was prepared for my debut and I did the best I could for the team.
“The senior players have been on the same journey that I’m starting on now, and they’re always there to give advice. I always listen to anything the senior players have to say to me. They were good when I was first in the matchday squads, making sure I was properly warmed up in case I needed to come on and offering me advice. Thankfully at Burton I did come on for my debut, and I was warmed up, ready to go.”
Brought up in Richmond, Jack started playing football with Barnes Eagles, before Ben Fosuhene, now AFC Wimbledon’s Head of Recruitment, took him to Aldershot Town. “I started playing football when I was very young, with my older brother. The first club I played for was Barnes Eagles – I joined them when I was seven. My coach there was Ben Fosuhene, who now works at Wimbledon, and he got me a trial at Aldershot. I signed there and played for Aldershot for a couple of seasons until they got relegated from League Two, and the academy folded. After that I had a trial here and signed for the U13s.
“It’s always been football for me. My parents made sure I worked to get good GCSE grades in case things didn’t work out. Alongside training, all of us U18s are also doing a B. Tech in sport as a fall-back option. I enjoy playing golf in my spare time, but that’s just for fun – I enjoy a round with my brother and my mates.”
During his rise through the ranks, Jack has been made fully aware of the AFC Wimbledon story by his manager Rob Tuvey, who grew up as a Dons supporter. Jack remembers a significant conversation with one of our promotion heroes, Paul Robinson whose boots he was cleaning his a few years ago.
“Rob is great – he sums up everything this club is about. He’s a Wimbledon supporter, and he’s grown up with the club. He’s come up through the Academy coaching ranks at the same rate as we’ve come up to the U18s – he was the U12 coach for the same group of players. For him to be up there now is great for us, and he’s a top coach.
“It’s hard for the story to not grab you when you hear it. Rob always says to us that it’s the greatest story in football. What the club has been through and where we’ve got to now is amazing, but our aim as young players is to make sure that for us this is just the start. Hopefully, we can take the club onwards and upwards.
“All the scholars have to clean boots. Normally it’s for the first-team players, so it was a bit strange that I got the manager’s boots to clean! I previously cleaned Deji’s boots and also Paul Robinson’s. I was a bit younger then, but it was a week when the U18s were not in, so the U15s and U16s had to step in. I remember speaking to Paul and he gave me some advice, just telling me to keep working hard. Obviously, he had a great time at the club, helping the team to promotion, so it was good to hear from him.”
Jack has been capped for Wales, at U16 and U17 levels, being eligible as his mother, Jane, was born in Neath. Representing Wales is something that makes Jack very proud, and he hopes there will be more caps to come. “It was an extremely proud moment when I made my debut, and I’ve also been lucky enough to captain Wales twice at U17 level. It was an extremely proud moment for my mum and her family. My grandmother Mavis, who isn’t with us any more, would have been extremely proud as well – that’s something my mum always tells me when I play for Wales. I want to continue to represent Wales if I get the opportunity.”
Despite having made such rapid progress this season, Jack is keeping his feet on the ground – and he knows that this is just the start for him. “I need to get up to speed with the men’s game, to get used to moving up from youth football, but I believe it will come once I get more minutes. I just have to keep working hard in training. I’m looking for different ways to improve. Whether I’m playing at centre-back or right-back, or even in midfield, there are a lot of things I can work on that will help me to play in a number of positions.”