It’s job done for club secretary David Charles who is stepping down after 14 years of guiding AFC Wimbledon from behind the scenes.
Having taken over the role in 2007 he’s seen the club rise from the Ryman League to our glorious new stadium, making things work for managers from Terry Brown to Mark Robinson, taking in Neal Ardley, Wally Downes, Glyn Hodges and Simon Bassey’s two stand-in spells.
“Now it’s retirement time,” he says. “I wanted to get to the new stadium and enjoy a year seeing our fans make use of the wonderful facilities. Unfortunately, Covid put a stop to that, so this seems the time to retire.”
David, Wimbledon born and bred, watched Wimbledon as a child. “My first game was in 1963, with my dad, we’d stand behind the goal at the Plough Lane end watching Mike Kelly in goal. Then away games followed including a memorable draw at Stevenage, when players such as the late Tommy McCready, and Ian Cooke, played for us. And now I regularly go to games with Ian.”
The family love affair continues. “My two sons’ first football matches were Wimbledon games at Plough Lane and my eldest, Richard, is a season ticket holder – when the decision was made to relocate the club he joined the many other fans who protested. He and his wife have just had their first child, Rhys, he’s five months old and already has a Wimbledon kit.”
David has been in charge of football administration including player contracts, match arrangements and the daily task of informing the FA’s Anti-doping team about players’ whereabouts. “Until I took on the role, I was unaware how much was required. It’s all those things in the background that people don’t think about, organising travel and arranging hotels, representing the club at League meetings etc. It’s getting to know how different managers work, what they want, like when and how they will travel and what time they’ll arrive at the ground. The last thing you want is a manager worrying about all the little but essential details, his focus has got to be on how to beat the opposition.
“Meeting deadlines are one of the main things. In Neal’s reign we’d been looking for a player on the last day of the transfer window and it didn’t look as though we’d get him. Erik Samuelson said ‘stand down’, then about half past nine at night I had a phone call saying it was back on. Neal was there with the player, I was there, and Erik, and it was all sent to the FA and the League about five minutes before deadline. It was a challenge!”
A major task last year was masterminding the move out of Kingsmeadow, with a tight timetable and Covid restrictions in place. “Eighteen years of paperwork, kit and memorabilia had to be moved!” he says. “It took some doing, thanks to the hard work of several staff and volunteers.”
David’s first club role was matchday secretary for the reserves in 2003. “When Trevor Williams told me in 2007 he was leaving the first team secretary role, and they were looking for a replacement I thought it was an opportunity to leave the Civil Service after 35 years and work for the Dons.”
Wimbledon highlights? “The Cup Final, 1988. And the comeback at Curzon Ashton in the FA Cup, 3-0 down and we scored four in the last 15 minutes. We stole it – we didn’t know what to say to their officials, they’d been so hospitable.
“Then the play-off finals. Perhaps the first was most important, 2008, when we beat Staines Town - 1-0 down with 10 minutes to go. We had been beaten in the two previous play-off finals. If we hadn’t gone up then, it would have meant a fourth year in the Ryman Premier League, who knows what might have happened.
“But the biggest moment was getting back into the Football League – we should never have had to leave it as we did. That’s got to be the best day. Luton were the favourites, but the penalties, the save by Seb Brown, that stands out.”
What next? “A lot more cricket, I’m a member at Surrey. Also horse racing. I’ll be able to go out without the phone constantly ringing! I’d be at a Test match, or away on holiday, and I’d get a call, people wanting this, wanting that. My wife Sharon likes sport, fortunately – she’s a Dons and Arsenal supporter, which always makes it interesting twice a year when they play my second team, Tottenham. I’ve also been told I’ll be on babysitting duties. And, of course, I’ll still be coming to matches – Sharon has already planned which away matches we can make a weekend of.”
David, who led a top backroom team, feels he’s leaving a club in great shape. “I’m so looking forward to next season because Robbo has a plan, the players have all bought into it and I’m really hopeful of us finishing in at least the top half of the table which will be fitting because the crowds are really going to come in.”
But David’s not leaving just yet. “Joe Palmer has handcuffed me until the end of the transfer window!” he says. “So I’ll still be here in August for the first few games. I can’t wait to hear the crowd in the new stadium.”