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Dannie Bulman … ‘going to be a very big player for us this season.’

NEAL ARDLEY has tried to sign Dannie Bulman three times since he’s been AFC Wimbledon manager. This time he got his man and it could trigger a domino effect with his other off-season targets.

Bulman comes to Kingsmeadow as a veteran of 544 appearances with Crawley Town, Oxford United, Stevenage and Wycombe Wanderers and represents the hard-bitten midfield anchor the Dons have been yearning  to recruit. They now have him and Ardley is delighted.

“Dannie’s a very fit 35.  He tells me he has the body of a 25 year old but I’ve spoken to several people and I’ve seen it for myself. He’s a very fit, energetic player and I think he’s going to be a very big player for us this season,” Ardley purred.

It is some coup for Ardley and Wimbledon to snare Bulman, who rejected reduced terms with League One Crawley Town to drop down a league and sign for the Dons.

Bulman’s durability is borne out by his playing record. Over the last seven seasons he has averaged 40-plus appearances each campaign, he is rarely injured and holds legend status at Crawley.

So what kind of player has Ardley signed? This is what an Oxford fan says of former U’s player Bulman: “He was never box-to-box as such but had a great presence in and around the centre circle.  As a midfielder sitting deep just ahead of the centre backs then I guess there’d be few better that are attainable. He ticks virtually every box in that respect – tenacious in the tackle, passes it simply, great discipline, terrific injury-free record and cool under pressure.”

And maybe he’s just the kind of player who might coax others to join him at Wimbledon next season. Ardley certainly thinks so.

“I know there’s been no activity up to now, but relax and trust us. We are trying to go for quality and sometimes with quality you have to spend a bit more time selling the Club, what you are trying to achieve” he said.

“And sometimes they need to see one or two good signings coming over the line to start the process and I think we’re getting there.”

matt tubbs
Matt Tubbs … possible Bulman domino effect?

The Dons, chronically goal-shy last season, have been linked with Adebayo Akinfenwa and Matt Tubbs and Ardley has been hard at it trying to convince them to form a potent goalscoring double act. Maybe Bulman’s recruitment might be a factor: he played with Tubbs at Crawley last season.

“There’s one deal that I’ve been working on probably six weeks from the end of last season and I’m hoping it will come over the line in the next 10 days. That takes patience and perseverance and that takes a lot of conversations with agents,” Ardley said.

“Some positions are harder to fill with the right players, some we need to take more time on, but with others when you know straight away there’s a player that you want then you have to move quick, and Dannie was that player when we knew that Aaron Morris would be moving (to Gillingham).”

Ardley is in full swing with the recruitment phase and is pleased with how things are shaping up.

“We feel we’ve got another six players as far as proven first team-type players to bring in and we’re looking at another young lad that we might have a look at in pre-season,” he said.

“Certainly we will be strengthening the squad. We’ve had two meetings today (Tuesday), we’ve got another two tomorrow (Wednesday) and they are all progressing really well. One thing I can guarantee everyone is that we are working really hard behind the scenes.”

Crawley fans were upset when news came through of Bulman’s departure. While many saluted the midfield general’s time with the Reds, there was dismay (and daresay even revulsion) that he left them for ‘AFC Plastic’ in League Two. You could say it has stuck in their craw….

“Good luck Dannie,  Crawley legend/hero doesn’t do him justice. AFC probably don’t even realise how lucky they are! ….. Anyone but AFC Plastics. Our greatest player gone to our most recent of big rivals. Of course I wish Dannie well but this is a bit sickening…. Gutted by this. AFC Wimbledon have got a great League 1 player, shame we couldn’t keep him. The offer we put on the table must have been really, really poor .. No player is bigger than the Club – Dannie Bulman is. The end of an era for our Reds legend. Our loss and AFC Plastic’s gain. Good luck in your new venture, Dannie …  The really worrying part is that AFC are prudent with their spending, they don’t pay over the odds for anyone or anything. I would ask, was/is the AFC deal that much greater than what we offered? I would say yes it was, otherwise why else move on from a settled club. That’s the worrying part for me…. Maybe it’s not just about money, perhaps he was offered a longer term contract at Wimbledon which is a big factor for an older player like Bulman…. Most worrying,  Bulman to AFC Plastics – we can’t keep best player from last season who is 35 years old and he’s gone down a division to get a better deal … Dannie was our talisman, I am gutted that he has gone and where he has gone to…. We offered, at least as far as I heard, to renew at about half his salary. Nobody can afford a 50% pay cut at our level.”

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Dannie Bulman .. a legend at Crawley Town.

The symbolism cannot be lost:  prudent AFC Wimbledon sign a Crawley Town legend from League One and he even dropped down a division to get a better deal for himself.

“It’s a bit strange leaving Crawley because I’ve been there for many years, but it was a move that I thought would be good for me,” Bulman said.

“There was a contract offer made to me by John Gregory and the staff at Crawley, but I felt it was time for me to move on.

“When I spoke to Neal Ardley it reassured me that I wanted to come here and play some good football. It’s always nice when someone who has played at the highest level wants you and that was a big thing for me.”

So that’s Dannie Bulman and Oxford left winger Sean Rigg as Ardley’s signings so far with the promise of some exciting possible additions in the offing.

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WDSA’s season final Wombles Downunder #206 now out .. 14 writers, 27 pages, written by Dons’ fans for Dons fans … ‘it’s a really good read’..