Andy Barcham believes he is edging closer to the bright light of a playing return after emerging from the dark tunnel of a difficult 12 months since leaving AFC Wimbledon.
One of our promotion heroes from 2016, ‘Barchy’ was a real favourite with our supporters during a four-year spell that included 161 competitive appearances in blue and yellow. His highly successful stint here came to an end after playing a part in our Great Escape a year ago and he was all set to continue his career by joining another club, before a serious injury to his pelvis threatened retirement.
During a very testing year, our former winger has considered other career options, but he still has a burning desire to get out onto the pitch at the age of 33.
“Before I left Wimbledon I had my coaching badges and my personal training, but I wasn’t able to do any of the stuff that wasn’t in my rehabilitation programme," Barchy told us this week. "I would have risked damaging my pelvis, so I had to take out any sports activity. I made it my goal to play football again, but without being stupid because football can be a strange game. You never know what’s around the corner in this sport, so I got in touch with a company and I’ve been doing some Finance, looking at things I can do if football doesn’t work out for me. I have to make sure I’m in in a position to still provide for my family, which is obviously the most important thing.
“I’ve been doing my studying and there are different aspects of the course that can push you in a certain direction, for example offering financial advice, advising on mortgages. It will be up to me, once I’ve got that basic background, to decide what avenue I go down.
“I felt that I was in great fitness when I left Wimbledon and before the lockdown I showed the motivation to return to playing football. I was going to the gym at 5.30 am in the morning and back again in the night at 10.00 pm. I want a return to football so much. I’ve missed it a lot and I really want to be back out there. With what’s going on currently, it allowed me to take my time with it a bit more. Once the health and safety returns, I will be ready to come back, whether that’s for a club during the remainder of this season, or most likely, for next season, and the start of pre-season. I would love to get back playing. I had spoken to people at the club about my situation and they have been fantastic in providing encouragement to keep going. That gave me a boost when I needed it because it’s been tough at times to keep motivating myself.”
With a new dawn on the horizon for AFC Wimbledon at Plough Lane, Barchy has kept in touch with updates about the stadium and he still has a dream of running out at the club’s spiritual home in the future. Though playing at Wimbledon’s new stadium is the ultimate dream, Barchy is looking forward to attending a game in any capacity and he believes it will be a facility that everyone connected with the club will fully deserve after all the hard work since reformation.
“From the pictures I’ve seen, it looks amazing and I will be going there, that’s for sure,” added Barchy. “I would love to play at Plough Lane and I’ve not given up on that dream. It would be unbelievable for me. The club, the fans, and everyone to do with the club really deserve to be back home so much. I was proud to be a part of the AFC Wimbledon story, but I am a very small fraction of the hard work that has gone on at the club over the years. If you go back to the start: the people involved in setting the club up, the fans, and those who have stayed loyal and worked so hard, they deserve a beautiful stadium.
“It could be some atmosphere at the new stadium. You only have to recall what the atmosphere was like at Kingsmeadow. Can you imagine if we had another night, like the one against Accrington, at Plough Lane? It would be unbelievable.
“I was thinking about it the other day and what it would mean to have a game of that magnitude at Plough Lane. I was thinking of the great cup nights we had, or the game at home against the team we don’t want to talk about. Imagine a game of that magnitude back at Plough Lane. It would be unbelievable. The new stadium appears to be coming together, and it’s nice to see all the hard work pay off. You can already see how well it is coming together and it will be amazing when it’s up and running. Everyone who has been a part of the journey really deserves it.”
Asked what he’s been through during the past year since leaving Wimbledon, Barchy summed up a very difficult spell in his life. A serious injury put his 14-year professional career – his debut came for boyhood club Spurs in 2006 – in serious doubt.
“It has been terrible,” said Barchy. “After being told I was not part of the plans at Wimbledon, I made sure that I kept myself fit during the summer – something I always do – and I was looking at what move I would make next. I was in talks with a few clubs. While I was making my decision, I was keeping my fitness ticking over and I started to feel uncomfortable. I carried on and tried to stay fit, but it was getting more difficult as time went on, so I decided to get a scan. I was told I had damaged my pelvis. It was something that happened gradually throughout the previous season. It put me in a bad situation and I tried everything possible to get through it. I managed to avoid having an operation after having various scans to establish what was the best option.
“Initially, I was just going to play on, but I didn’t feel comfortable signing for a club and knowing that I wasn’t right. I told clubs interested in me that I couldn’t sign because I had picked up an injury. I tried to get it right as soon as I could, but after more scans the specialist told me it was quite serious and it wouldn’t be a quick fix, especially as I had avoided an operation. I’ve had injections to get myself into the position I’m in now. It has been a difficult road, and I had to shut down completely for three months. Once I had the injection, I was allowed to start doing the rehab, but going through this process was a lot different to when you are at a club, where you are looked after financially, and get a lot of support.
“In the early stages of my rehab I was trying to juggle my day around looking after my kids, doing school runs, and provide financially for my family. I was getting up at 5.30 am to go the gym, then going back in the evening. I was doing two sessions a day, every day, which was difficult. It’s hard to motivate yourself when you are in the gym on your own. I kept going and stuck with it through the ups and downs. Now I’m at a stage, which I have been for the past month or so, of doing running outside and I’ve got the balls back out. I’ve been getting a feel for the ball again, doing some quick feet, ball drills and cone work. Hopefully, when this horrible situation which we all find ourselves in is resolved – and it’s safe again – I can start to look for a club.
“It was the hardest thing ever for me to see people I know gearing up for pre-season and preparing for the first league game of the season – all the things I’ve done for so many years. I found it very difficult not being able to do that. I was in a very bad place mentally when all of that was going on. It was very hard to get my head around that and I wasn’t the best person to be around. Luckily, I’m feeling a lot better and I have a bit more confidence in it. I’m just working on my fitness and ball skills after being away from it for so long. Hopefully, I can get fixed up with a club. I was told that the injury could retire me, but I’ve put in so much hard work to put myself in a position to play again.
“It has been great spending time with my family, doing things like spending the whole of Christmas with them, something you don’t get to do as a footballer. You have time to go to sports days and school plays, which are things you miss out on as a footballer. That’s all great, but I believe I’ve still got something to offer as a player.”
Barchy’s swashbuckling wing play quickly made him a hit with Wimbledon supporters after his arrival in 2015. An impressive start to his first season with his new club ended with Wimbledon glory, but the Dons were languishing in the bottom half of the table before Christmas. A defeat at home to Stevenage in December was followed by a Christmas party up north that seemed to be ill-judged at the time with a section of our support starting to question the squad’s commitment.
Barchy recalled: “In recent interviews there has been things said about how things changed in the second half of the season. How the Christmas party came about was not the best of circumstances. Things like that are often a tradition in workplaces around the country and it was organised a long time before. Our party happened after a game when we didn’t get the result we wanted and we were not in the best position in the table. Things hadn’t happened the way we wanted them to in the first half of the season. For the Christmas party, we were struggling to get the train up there, so we were probably missing things after the game that we had obligations to do, and rightly so. We took those things seriously and we should have been there.
“It was probably not the best planned, but the effect it had on our season was there for everyone to see. We knew we could do better and we had a lot more to give. Meetings and discussions happened with the gaffer at around that time. I think that period, before and after Christmas, made a big difference. Maybe the criticism that we came under made a difference. That’s not what ‘Planet Wimbledon’ was about and it wasn’t what we wanted at all. The events of that time galvanised us as a squad and brought us closer together. We worked hard to earn the respect back from the supporters, especially in the games that followed. That ultimately led us to go on a run that marched us into the play-offs.
“In our squad we had a lot of ‘old-school’ players. We had a great mix of youth and experience, but there was a bit of an old-school thing in that we all got together because of what we had been through. The gaffer was massive on that because he was part of the Crazy Gang! We managed to bring everyone together during the second half of the season: the fans, the players, and staff at the club. We became more of a unit and because of that we marched together all the way to Wembley.”
Barchy feels privileged to have played a part in the AFC Wimbledon story and he’s very grateful to Neal Ardley for bringing him to the club after choosing a move to Portsmouth initially.
“I always wanted to play for the gaffer because he had tried to sign me a few times,” he added. “One of those occasions was before I signed for Portsmouth, it was quite late on, and I had already been speaking to Portsmouth. I am not one of those guys who goes back on my word and I was quite far down the line, in terms of talks with Portsmouth. That was a shame because I could have signed for Wimbledon sooner.
“A couple of years later I realised that my time at Portsmouth was coming to an end, it was a similar situation to what Robbo talked about recently. A new manager came in and he made his plans known. I didn’t really leave on great terms because he made it so clear that I wasn’t a part of his plans. It was pretty much a mutual decision and once I became available I spoke to the gaffer. He talked to me about the club and its history, which I already knew about, and I wanted to play for a club with a unique story. There was also the added bonus of having played with loads of people that were already at the club! Callum was there and Bayo, Barry Fuller had been my captain at Gillingham, and there were a lot of players that I had previously played with in the past. It just felt like the right move for me and my family.
“As soon as I walked through the door on the first day I had that feeling that I wished I had come here sooner. It felt so right: how we played, how the gaffer coached and managed us, the training regimes we had and how he adapted them to certain players. Everything was spot-on.
“The players have a unique relationship with the fans and I wanted to play my part in taking the club further. That was a really big thing and that oozed out from day one. It was something that I bought into straight away. Something that me and Robbo both said when we got there was that we were joining a club that had earned a lot of promotions in a short space of time, climbing up the leagues, and we didn’t want that progress to halt with us. We wanted to carry on that tradition and be a part of something special. It was really hard to achieve that and we had to put a lot of work in to do it. Promotion was something we really wanted to achieve with Wimbledon and we both said that when we left. We wanted to leave the club in a better position that when we joined, to carry on all the hard work that had gone on long before we arrived. I’m proud to say that we did that.
“Right from the first whistle in my first game I had great support from the fans. They were really good to me and they took to me straight away, which was nice. It gave me the confidence to play and I always tried to work hard and get at the opposition. There was no better feeling than getting the ball on the wing and hearing the crowd urge me on to try and create something. I always tried my best to do that and I think they appreciated it.
"I appreciated the support the fans gave me and when I left I felt I should write something to them. I’m not on social media, but I felt it was important to write something to the fans, especially at a club like Wimbledon, where the relationship with the fans is so close and unique. We had some great times together, providing memories that will live with me forever and I was always appreciative of the reception that they gave me. I wanted to write something, just to let them know that I was thankful for my time at Wimbledon. I will always be grateful to the people who brought me to the club and allowed me to play a small part of the journey we’ve been on.”