Our series of interviews focusing on our club sponsors continues with BTPL Editor Chris Thorpe this time speaking to Andrew Harding from Your Golf Travel to discuss the businesses involvement with the Dons and more…
Andrew, thank you for taking the time out to talk to us. How did Your Golf Travel first become involved with the club and where did your passion for golf stem from?
In January 2013, the business had got to a stage when it was doing well and at that stage AFC Wimbledon had got back into the league and so as a result of that I sort of thought that I should get involved and sponsor a player and see how I can help out the club.
So, I called up and one thing led to another and the next thing you know we were sponsoring the back of the player’s shirts and it all came about from Ivor (Heller) selling me the dream that if we signed on a certain day, we’d get our logo on the back of the shirt for a game that was live on Sky Sports.
We had our logo on the back of the shirts for that home game against Port Vale back in 2013 and I remember it ending 2-2 and the weather was absolutely awful.
I remember giving Jack Midson the man of the match award after the game and it was all very surreal really.
We then got a phone call the next day from the global head of TV rights for the PGA Tour and he sort of called me up and said he wanted to introduce himself – at this point I thought it was a wind up – and he just happened to be a Wimbledon fan called Thierry and he mentioned he’d seen our logo on TV during the game and he wanted to know if he could help out and that was the start of the journey.
It’s been such a great journey to be part of, there’s been some tremendous highs during the period between 2013 to now and it’s crazy how much of a love affair we have with football as a sport.
So many people that I work with, whether it be hotels, clients or football fans etc know about our story and about the passion we have as a club and about the fact that we’re back at Plough Lane.
With regards to the golf connection, I was brought up on Kenilworth Avenue, that’s where my childhood home was, I could see the away terrace at the old Plough Lane from the top of my house and Wimbledon Park Golf Club was literally just a stones throw away from where I lived, so as a kid I watched the Ryder Cup and thought “ah, that looks like fun” and then I ended up just wanting to play golf.
Fast forward to being an adult and I went to an exhibition and that gave me the idea to set up a golf travel business.
We never had a business plan as such, we just wanted to sell golf holidays and then we sold 10 and then randomly we sold a lot more and then we had an accountant called Brian (he’s an adopted Wimbledon fan now) that came into see us and he sort of came on board and then the next thing you know the business was doing well and then we were able to combine both the business of golf and AFC Wimbledon to create a really successful partnership that has been part of the journey back to Plough Lane.
What is it like to be a lifelong Wimbledon supporter that now has an invested interest in the club from a business perspective?
It’s been incredible to have played a part in the club. I’ve always been very conscious of it because my involvement in the club as a sponsor means that I see all of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes from both paid staff and volunteers.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have the privilege to get close to the club, you know one of the great things the club does for it’s sponsors is the end of season sponsorship dinner, it’s great to meet the players and chat to them and I think that’s one of the most important parts of understanding the psychology of football.
I think when you’re just purely a fan, you don’t realise how difficult it is to run a football club, it’s so much more complicated than many people would begin to imagine.
AFC Wimbledon is a big business with a lot of obligations, and I think realising that is one of the most important parts of being a sponsor of this club.
Football is the hardest business in the world to get into and for that matter what Wimbledon has achieved in that landscape is ridiculous.
How has the relationship between Your Golf Travel and the club evolved over time?
Not a lot has changed because I’ve enjoyed the journey every step of the way.
I think one of the most difficult things with COVID is that some people have probably forgotten how much fun it is to support a football team, and that probably goes across all of the 92 clubs.
I think the fact that the fans are detached from football right now probably affects AFC Wimbledon more than any other club.
That’s one of the things I miss – being connected to it all. Everyone has their own story about how they got involved with Wimbledon and I don’t think we would be where we are right now if it hadn’t had been for the fans getting us over the line in certain moments.
I can’t wait to see all of the characters down there again, you know Marc Jones saying the players should be smashing into the other team, Ivor saying we’ve still got a chance when we’re 3-0 down that sort of thing (laughs).
I understand you were involved in organising the club’s pre-season trips to La Manga. How did you find that experience and what do you think makes the ideal golfing holiday package?
We organised three and they were eventful to say the least (laughs).
La Manga is a fantastic place, and they did a lot of the organisation for us, they’ve got a football coordinator there who puts a lot of things in place.
Seeing how hard the players worked up close was a real eye opener and there’s a lot of effort that goes into making a professional football team tick.
The first one we did was great, it was the team that got us promoted to League One, they were a pretty crazy bunch, you know you had so many big characters there like (Adebayo) Akinfenwa, Lyle Taylor had his own unique personality traits, he was very competitive and then you had people like Darius (Charles) and Jake Reeves who made up this great group.
We sell so many different holidays, personally I love the Algarve, I’ve done some great trips down there for both personal and corporate purposes.
I’m a very relaxed golfer, I enjoy the banter you have on the golf course, for example I’ve played with Dickie Guy and it always makes me laugh about how competitive he is, it was like a cup final (laughs)!
I think chilling out and playing golf overseas is so relaxing, especially with a couple of beers and that for me makes an ideal golfing holiday.
We’ve had plenty of players book with us over the years, I even spoke to Joe Pigott the other day about him going back out to Portugal to play again as he loved it so much during the last time he went there.
Who are the best and worst golfers you’ve come across at the club from either the past or present?
I wouldn’t want to spend too much time on a golf course with Mitch Pinnock, I played behind him after the great escape at the Celtic Manor and he was all over the place (laughs).
I would say George Francomb was probably the best I’ve come across although Neil Cox was ridiculously good at golf and was far ahead of pretty much everyone, he could’ve played at a very, very high level if he had chosen it over playing football.
As we all know, the club has now returned home to Plough Lane. How big an impact will this have for you guys as a business going forwards and are there any things you are planning for the future with the club?
Pound for pound, what’s been delivered back at Plough Lane is fantastic, there will be a unique atmosphere created by the enclosed space which has been made by the flats around the outside of the ground, it’ll be an amphitheatre, a massive buzz.
It’s going to have a massive impact for us because we’ll be able to invite more people down to entertain them at Plough Lane, more and more people are going to want to come down to the ground.
Wimbledon is one of the best places in the world to live, it’s an amazing town and it will welcome back the club with open arms and have a massive effect on the matchday experience for games.
The fact that you can walk from both the tube and train stations to the ground helps to connect the club so well in addition to all the great pubs and restaurants that fans can go to after the game.
AFC Wimbledon is what it is today because of its brand and its journey, it’s ridiculous to see where it is today.
Interest in golf has gone up during the pandemic due to people wanting to stay active, I’m hoping that coming out of it will be that sort of Tiger Woods moment for golf but 20 years later.
There are so many people that I know who are back playing golf and I’m hoping that post pandemic, we’ll be one of the winners after what has been a terrible 12 months for everyone.
Since the announcement by the government, we’ve seen an unprecedented amount of interest and in the same way that Wimbledon as a club has done, we will go again.
We’re looking forward to the challenge and that would be my message to Robbo and the players, keep going, work hard and you will get the results from that.