Callum Kennedy said that missing out on taking the penalty at Wembley is no longer a bone of contention for him as winning was all that mattered.
Today marks exactly four years since the Dons marched into League One with a 2-0 triumph against Plymouth Argyle. That victory was sealed deep into injury-time when Bayo Akinfenwa struck from the penalty spot after an argument on the pitch with Callum.
In an interview earlier this week, Callum spoke about what the victory at Wembley meant to him after the death of his father Barry, but the penalty-taking issue is not something that still grates.
“At the time, I wanted to take it,” Callum recalled. “I had my reasons for taking it and he had his reasons, but we are really good mates. It was just in the heat of the moment when we got a bit annoyed with each other, but in the grand scheme of things I’m much happier that we won. That was the main thing and when you look back it doesn’t really matter who took the penalty. The main thing was that we won at Wembley for Wimbledon.
“The team spirit we showed in the promotion season was reflected in the fans as well. Wimbledon is not a normal club because of the relationship the players have with the fans. It’s such a remarkable story of the club rising again through adversity. Considering all the trials and tribulations that the fans had been through, it meant so much for me to help put the icing on the cake with a win at Wembley.”
Callum delivered the assist for Lyle Taylor’s all-important opener, but he thought his big chance to set-up a goal at Wembley in front of his family and friends had passed him by.
“I took a terrible corner that got headed away by the first man,” Callum said. “My family were over in that corner, and as I jogged over to take it I was thinking ‘this is an opportunity here, let’s see if I can put a good ball in’. When I took the corner I caught it wrong and I was raging with myself, thinking ‘that was terrible’, but then it got headed out to Bullie, and I remember screaming at him to pass it back to me. I had run up the pitch a bit further and now I was right in front of my family! I took my first touch, crossed it, and then I saw Lyle get a touch on it and the ball go into the net. We all went crazy and I remember being so happy, but there was also a real serenity because I knew that was it. I knew they were not going to score.
“With about 10 minutes to go me and Darius were talking to each other, having proper conversations about what we had to do and what we had to focus on. Darius said ‘come on Cal, we have 10 minutes left and we have to concentrate’. I said to Darius, and it was in front of a couple of their players, ‘We could play for the next two days and they wouldn’t score, it’s over’. Darius said, ‘I don’t want to hear you talking like that’. I don’t know why, but I just knew we were going to be all right.”
The left-back added that the build-up to Wembley was like nothing he had experienced before – he was convinced that glory beckoned. The events of that season included a Christmas party widely spoken about as a turning point in the campaign by his team-mates and Callum shares that viewpoint.
“A lot of people dream of becoming a footballer and when I was a kid I would kick the ball against a garage and imagine I was playing at Wembley,” said Callum. “After the events of that season: losing my Dad, the way that we were as a team, the things we had gone through, including the Accrington play-off, it was the most surreal experience for me in the hotel the night before the game. Often before games I would be a bit nervous, but it was just complete calm for me before Wembley. I shared a room with ‘Riggy’ and everything was so calm. I had no nerves, but there was a bit of excitement. The feeling I got was, ‘we are here to do a job and this is ours’. When I say there was 100 per cent certainty that we would win that game, I don’t think I’ve ever had that feeling before and I don’t think I will ever have it again, but I had 100 per cent faith that we had the game wrapped up.
“Just before we left the hotel room me and Riggy had a little hug and said ‘let’s do this’. At the game I had 40-50 friends and family watching me at Wembley and we celebrated at the ground afterwards. I just felt super comfortable, all the fans were there, and it was just a great way to celebrate what we had achieved.
“When I look back at the game it was actually tight and you would think it was a nervy affair, but I think it was a case of us believing ‘when the time is right we know we’ve got this’. It was just a matter of when we scored, and I felt it was a foregone conclusion. It didn’t feel nervy and we felt comfortable. I had a shot in the first-half that the keeper saved and I think if that had gone in I may have wheeled off at Wembley and ran down the tunnel – you may not have seen me again!”
Asked to explain the reasons for the squad’s impressive turnaround in form during the second half of the season, Callum said: “The Christmas Party! We went up north and at the time we had all got into watching Conor McGregor. On the night of our Christmas party he was fighting for the Championship. We were all so excited to watch the fight, Conor ended up winning, and we all partied like crazy! His mentality rubbed off on us, we took his mindset on as a group, and that weekend solidified our bond for life.
“When we got back it was like we had developed a brotherhood: we always looked out for each other and supported each other. When players thought they should have been in the team there were no grumbles when they were left out. No one got annoyed because they weren’t involved and it was all completely positive. It was a full-blown team effort from the whole squad to get us promoted that season. I don’t think other teams that season had that mentality. It was something special, that’s for sure.
“It was in the script for us, we carried out the hard work to try to achieve the target of promotion, and thankfully it happened. A lot of the things that I taught myself during that period of time are coming out today. If I’m not good at something: at an aspect of football, being a Dad, or anything outside of football, whatever it may be, I try to focus on those weaknesses and how I can improve. That’s how you get better and those lessons I learned at Wimbledon shaped how I am today. It was definitely the most poignant time in my career. I had some unbelievable relationships that are not just friendships in football. I made lifelong friendships at Wimbledon. I feel extremely blessed to be able to look back at the season we had when we got promoted because my career has got something amazing to show for it. To get that winners’ medal at Wembley meant so much to me.”
Now aged 30, Callum signed for Dorking Wanderers in March, just before lockdown, and he’s aiming to take the ambitious National League South side forward, alongside several players with Wimbledon connections.
“I went to Billericay after leaving Wimbledon and that was entertaining to say the least! It was good, I enjoyed my time there, and I haven’t got a bad word to say about the club. It didn’t end the way I would have liked it to because I was injured at the time. My time at Billericay ended abruptly, but Dorking contacted Billericay and they wanted to make something happen. I was asked by Billericay if I would be interested. I think they wanted to get me off the wage bill, so it seemed like the right option for both parties. I haven’t played a game yet, but when I looked at the set-up at Dorking and how they are doing things, it’s a real breath of fresh air and I’m really looking forward to it.
“It’s quite close to where I grew up and the club is showing a lot of ambition, so it has ended up being a really good option for me. I can’t wait to get back out there, so that I can show what I can do. I was injured for the back end of this season, but I feel good. Physically, I feel great and in my prime. I am looking forward to playing football again.
“Luke Moore is a former team-mate and Dan Gallagher was in the youth team at Wimbledon and as a first year professional. It’s a good vibe and I believe there’s a really good team spirit amongst the lads, so it will be good to get going there.”
Despite having plenty of football left in him, Callum has wasted no time looking at other career options for later in life.
“I’m working for a football agency alongside my football. I want to help young footballers coming through to develop the right mentality by giving them pointers and offering them advice about things that really helped me. I want to give a bit back to the game. It involves working for a football agency and includes mentoring some of the players that the company looks after. I try to give them the help I wish I’d received when I was coming through, including advice on the pitfalls of football. There were a lot of things I didn’t know about, and I had to help myself come through certain situations. I’m obviously helping players with contracts, but I want to help them become better versions of themselves, and to cope with the challenges presented by football. Through the experiences I’ve been through I feel I’m in a position to give young players pointers, to help them achieve what they are capable of in their careers.”
Whatever the future holds for Callum, he’s certain of one thing – and that’s visiting our new stadium at Plough Lane in the future.
“It will be amazing for the club to play in a new stadium at Plough Lane and I will definitely come along for a game. I am happy for everyone involved that the club is going back home, it will mean so much to the fans after starting Wimbledon again. I’ve talked about my time at the club being a journey for me, but what a journey the club has been on?
“It’s incredible what those involved with the club have achieved so far. Now it’s time for them to reap the rewards by having a new ground back in Plough Lane. At the time when the bad stuff happened all those years ago, if you had said there would be six promotions for Wimbledon and a move back to a new stadium, I’m sure any fan would have snapped your arm off! It’s a wonderful story.”
We will never tire of watching the best of the action from that day at Wembley! Take a look at the highlights below.