DAVE ANDERSON is credited with taking AFC Wimbledon from pub team status to a semi-professional outfit in his three years as manager. In this extensive interview with WDSA Dave tells of the shock he found taking over the club, the pressure of the record 78-game unbeaten run, the best players he signed, THAT flying tray of sandwiches at Walton, the Jermaine Darlington points-deduction saga, his play-off heartaches and how it led to his exit from AFC Wimbledon, his thoughts on Neal Ardley, Simon Bassey and Erik Samuelson, his role in James Shea coming to Kingsmeadow, his decision to retire from the dug-out at age 52 and what he does with himself in ‘retirement.’

i) Can you give us some background on your playing days as a goalkeeper with the youth teams at Wolves and Sheffield United and going on to your senior career at Northern Ireland clubs Glentoran and Bangor and your selection at Northern Ireland B level?

Dave: I made the Northern Ireland Schoolboys side and played for the count which got me profiled. From that I went to Wolves and played in their Youth team with Wayne Clarke, Bob Hazell and George Berry – they went on to play at the highest level… and I was released! I went to Sheffield United, but wasn’t really successful there. I came home and signed for Glentoran and got in the first team, I played 14 games when I was 16 or 17 and we qualified for Europe. I remember going to Iceland and being the youngest player to travel in Europe back then . From there I went to Bangor for two or three seasons. Injuries finished me around then. And it was a natural process to go into coaching.

ii) What took you into club management, your early influences, how did you start out at Enfield?

Dave: I moved to Manchester because a mate of mine Norman Whiteside had got into the Manchester United first team. I was looking to do something different because back home Northern Ireland was at the height of the troubles at the time. My real mentor would have to be Bob Dowie, who I worked with at Harrow. Bob actually talked me into leaving Enfield, who were a big non-league side back then,  taking a pay cut and coming back to work at Harrow for him. It was something I never regretted. People think I started at Enfield, but actually I was at Harrow first and I also managed North Greenford in the Spartan League.

iii) You got the AFC Wimbledon job from Hendon. Can you recount how the approach came about, the interview process, what were your initial expectations?

Dave:  I had a really good five years at Hendon and everybody was talking about AFC Wimbledon and non-league, it was quite well known. I wasn’t initially that sure and I thought I would go and watch a game at Kingsmeadow. I took John Morris along with me, who would subsequently manage the reserves,  and I forget who we were playing, but we snuck into the Tempest End and went right tucked up into the corner and with my coat collar up trying not to be recognised. The funny thing was that no one recognised me and about five or six people knew Johnny Morris because he was quite well known in one-league football!! The kick-off was delayed because of the size of the crowd, over 3,000 on a Tuesday night. Realistically, I said to John ‘we’ve really got to try and get this, it’s only going to come around once’ and from that moment as soon as I walked out of the ground I knew that I wanted to apply for the job. I wasn’t approached, I applied for the job. I remember having an initial interview in a Little Chef somewhere in Surrey. I remember I was working so I got into the back of my van and changed from my tracksuit into a suit and went in and met Kris Stewart and two others and we had a long chat about what was expected and where they thought the club was and what I felt I could do there to move it forward. It was a really good positive interview and then I got the second interview. There were four people on the panel – Erik Samuelson, Ian Cooke, Kris Stewart and I think Ivor Heller – and I was in there for over two hours, I remember coming out with a sore head, but I gave it everything and was hopeful. The expectations were spelt out clearly right from the start; I had to get promotion in the first season and then get a second promotion within two more seasons. That was never a secret, it was something I knew about it, we sorted that out from minute one and I think everyone, myself included, thought it was the only way forward for the club, it had to keep moving in the right direction because of its size.

iv) Many Dons fans believe one of your greatest strengths was turning AFCW into a semi-professional non-league team from a ‘pub team’. How did you and the Hendon players you brought with you feel when they first joined, given the unruly reputation at the club (trashing coaches for away games, for instance)?

Dave: I think that is the best and most honest  description of the team when I took over. I was shocked and stunned as were John Turner and Warren Kelly when we arrived at the fitness and the organisation of the group, it was just like the tail was wagging the dog for me, there had been problems booking coaches and realistically I immediately realised that it had to change. That was the easiest job for me because it’s not something I’ve ever shied away from so it was going to annoy some supporters because there were going to be people who were going to leave the club who were heroes in a short period, but, believe me, for the progress of the club it was essential that there was massive change for that summer. I brought in five or six of Hendon players, who would still have a few beers on the coach on the way back with a bit of a laugh and joke when we done well, but the coach was cleaned. Every time we got off the coach someone was nominated with a black bag who would put the empties in it and I would then inspected it. What I thought was shocking at the time was that some directors wouldn’t travel  on the coach and it was an assurance that I would give the club that I wanted them on there and to see the difference. That was stuff from behind the scenes that we felt wouldn’t benefit anyone from that to be made public, but obviously in years later it’s fine to expose that and let people know what was going on, but it really was poor, the discipline within the dressing room was poor and I have to say that. I don’t really care what people feel about it because that was the absolute truth. That was a massive change around that summer.      

The most important thing I did for the club was to retire Simon Bassey

v) You signed a lot of good players for the Dons – among them Rob Ursell, Richard and Steve Butler, Frankie Howard. Who would you rate as your best signing and why. Anyone you particularly missed out on signing who would have made an impression at Wimbledon?

Dave: The most important thing I did for the club was to retire Simon Bassey and put him on the coaching staff. I am very proud of that. I saw his potential, well, Stevie Wonder could see his potential, and he was going to be promoted the next season if I was there or not. He’s absolutely deserves to be where he is today. Mike Rayner was also a big signing because he took the medical side of things on leaps and bounds, he is a very dedicated man. Player-wide, Rob Ursell comes to mind. I nick-named him the Wizard and we used to travel together and we’d argue about everything in life, he’s a good lad and still someone I’m in touch with today. He was a special signing. Jon-Barrie Bates didn’t get the credit he deserved because he was a real solid influence behind the scenes with the players as was Stevie Butler, Frankie Howard and even Martin Randall in the dressing room. The ones who got away – I tried to sign Jermaine Beckford before I signed Richard Jolly. The big one that got away from me, but thankfully made his way to the club, was Jon Main. Mainy always rips me to pieces. We were aware of him in the second season and signed Richard Butler and when we went back to sign Jon Main he had already gone. Out of all of them he was the one that got away from me.

vi) You had a reputation of enjoying a good shout! One who was there remembers Walton away on Bank Holiday Monday when the Dons could’ve won the Ryman League One title but just ‘didn’t show up’. You were said to be fuming and the sarnies went everywhere! Care to elaborate Dave?  

Dave: I think my accent and the strength of my voice sometimes….. my nick-name when I lived in Manchester was ‘Too Loud’ because I just struggled to be quiet. The game at Walton and Hersham, that’s all true. I was disgusted with our performance that day, I found it bordering on embarrassing because Sky were there and it was great publicity for the club and we were battered really. This is something I never did again or before but there was a tray of sandwiches and the tip of the tray was just sitting off the table and during my rant I kicked it and caught it absolutely perfect and the sandwiches went everywhere. In fact there was a bit of egg mayonnaise sitting on Paul Smith’s head and he was too scared to move to clean it off! We had to address what happened that day, but to be fair to the players and what people have probably forgotten is the next game was the semi-final of the Surrey Cup away at Sutton mid-week and we went there with a load of injuries and won 1-0, great header from Frankie Howard, delivery from Rob Ursell, and Frankie spent the last few minutes in goal because of Paul Smith had a shoulder injury. I remember the Walton game and I remember what happened after and a short time after that we got over the line and won the league.

 vii) Talk to us about the pressure of maintaining that record unbeaten run of matches which you inherited and which ended at 78 against Cray Wanderers on December 4 2004? Sadness or relief? 

The brilliance of breaking a British record, I’m very proud of it. My Twitter handle is @DaveAnderson78, that tells you all you need to know.

Dave: Was it sadness or relief when we got beat? A bit of both because you don’t want to give something like that up but it was becoming a noose around our neck and we became very defensive and understandably so when you’re protecting something as big as that. The funny thing about the Cray Wanderers but Bromley. Bromley is one of those places where in my own career it’s always stuck out for some reason. I remember I got sent off there for the first time when I was at Harrow, I remember we broke the record at Bromley and the play-off game, which was my last game in charge, was at Bromley, so it’s one of those grounds where it flags up in my career for some obscure reason. I’ve really good memories and really poor memories of the place. It’s a real bitter-sweet because brilliance of breaking a British record, I’m very proud of it. My Twitter handle is @DaveAnderson78, that tells you all you need to know.

viii) One of the low points of your time at Kingsmeadow was the Jermaine Darlington ‘international clearance’ saga, the club was docked 18 points and then had it reduced to three points on appeal. What pressures did it all put on you and the team in your efforts to get promoted in that 2006-07 season?

The Jermaine Darlington points deduction … ‘I’m sure it will be fine, Trev, don’t worry about it’ but it turned out to be a big blow to us.’

Dave: I remember having a phone call from Trevor Williams saying ‘Dave, we’ve got a real problem’. I always had a laugh with Trevor and he was always very upbeat, but he sounded suicidal that particular morning. He tried to explain to me what had happened. I said ‘I’m sure it will be fine, Trev, don’t worry about it’ but it turned out to be a big blow to us. Initially, we had 18 points docked and although we were trying to press on because we knew it was going to the appeal hearing, it nearly eased pressure on me because I felt that there was no way that I could lose my job if the Club had been docked 18 points, it had nothing to do with me. So I was quietly thinking ‘Well, if worse comes to worse I’ll still be at this big Club next year’.  When it was then reduced to three points, it got a lot more serious then because in the end it cost us home advantage in the play-offs, which can prove costly. I don’t try to have any regrets or sour grapes about any of my experiences in football and this was no different. 

ix) Two play-off defeats against Fisher Athletic and Bromley in back-to-back seasons ultimately spelt the end of your time at Wimbledon in May 2007. Tell us about the background/emotions to your decision to quit and which ushered in the Terry Brown era?

I had known Terry Brown and I knew that he was the right man for the job and it proved to be.

Dave: We ended up going to Bromley and Wes Daly got sent off. I  thought he was a poor referee – he refereed us against Hampton & Richmond earlier in the season in a big game and it was just too big for him. I couldn’t argue with the Wes Daly sending-off, but at the same I felt he couldn’t wait to do it. It was a shame as I felt we had settled into the game well and if you look back at the footage of their goal it was a clear foul on Frankie Howard in the corner flag, but I thought the lads gave it their all and I felt the support that night was right up there with anything else. They backed us to the end and beyond, so as much as it is a bitter pill to swallow I’ve still got positive memories out of it. And back to the first game at Fisher  — we were never really lucky in play-offs as I can remember having four or five key players who were injured and also remember Justin Edinburgh bringing back their big centre-forwards Leroy Griffiths who had been on loan at Aldershot and that night he was unplayable and we lost 2-1 and we were well beaten. That’s football and play-offs are exciting, but for managers they are very hit or miss. Realistically, Erik Samuelson was going to make a change. I knew that, he knew that, we had spoken about that all the way through my reign, so I was one step ahead, I knew I was going to lose my job and I had no qualms with it because that was the agreement. I had no problem with it and I remember telling them to go get Terry Brown, I had known Terry and I knew that he was the right man for the job and it proved to be. 

x) One of your lasting legacies was getting Simon Bassey on to the Club’s coaching staff. How has he turned out as one of Neal Ardley’s lieutenants in your view, what are Bass’s strengths and can you see Bassey ending up managing the Dons one day?

Dave: He has a great knowledge of the game, he has a great hunger for the game, he sees it all, he’s not scared to give an opinion, which is essential when you’re on the staff as the manager needs you to be honest and he certainly is that. He can motivate yer, he doesn’t care how big or small you are, if he’s going to dig you out, then you’re getting dug out. His information is good and he’ll also be the first one to stay out on the training pitch and make you better. Chris Hussey will back me up on that.  Simon Bassey was a big part of Chris Hussey getting a move because he spent extra time with him working on his right foot and his variation of passes. Will he be manager of Wimbledon one day? Neal Ardley is a magnificent manager and I think he’s got a vision for the football club. But I would say if Neal eventually goes on to a Premier League job, if he doesn’t take the Club to the Premier League!, then I think the natural progression would be to give Simon the job and I think he would deserve that.

xi) You also are responsible for goalkeeper James Shea landing a contract with the Dons from your club at the time Harrow Borough. As a former goalkeeper what are your impressions of Shea? What do you make of his progress and did his spell out of the first team last season affect/change in your talks with him?

Loved him the minute I met James Shea, loved his attitude, his humbleness, off the field he is a quiet guy.

Dave: James Shea came to my attention through Tony Roberts, who was the goalkeeping coach at Arsenal and he phoned me up and said ‘I’ve got a goalkeeper for you’ and ‘whoever  you’ve got you’ve got to get rid of because this kid top drawer and you’ll sell him.’ I signed Sheazy on a contract at Harrow without seeing him kick a ball because of Tony Roberts recommendation. Loved him the minute I met James, loved his attitude, his humbleness, off the field he is a quiet guy. He’d been on the bench for Arsenal in the Champions League the season before and his first game for me at Harrow was away at Soham Rangers in the League Cup on a Tuesday night and he treated it as if he was playing at the Emirates. In every game he played for me from then until I sold him was exactly how his attitude was. Exceptional talent and I said to Ards ‘you need to sign my goalkeeper’ and he’s the first and only player that I’ve ever spoke to any Wimbledon manager about signing. I said you just need to come and see him and sign him. He  sent Bayzo to watch him a couple of times and I allowed him to go training with Wimbledon. Neal and I did the deal in five minutes. Harrow did okay out of it, Wimbledon did very well out of it and Sheazy’s burning ambition was to be a League goalkeeper and he is it. He lost his position last year and that will help him and he will come back from that. Second season syndrome some call it. But I expect him to hold down his position with the team. I think if he was three inches taller he’d play in the Premier League, but a top guy and delighted he’s at the Club and I still speak with him from time to time, drop him a text and have a quiet laugh with him so very proud of the fact that he went to the Dons.

 xii) So what do you think of the current day AFC Wimbledon team and their progress under Neal Ardley? What impresses you about Ardley as a manager?

I feel Neal Ardley has a vision of where he wants to take the Club and wants to see that out.

Dave:  Very little doesn’t impress me about him. I met Neal before he was manager at a golf day at Celtic Manor when he was still at Cardiff City. Spoke for ages about different systems and coaching methods and he was really impressive and just a real nice guy. We and a few ex-players go down to the Cheltenham races each year on the club coach and last year Terry Brown came as well and Ards, Terry and me just had real good banter and genuine people the both of them. What impresses me about Neal is that he’s a quiet guy, conducts himself really well on the touchline, is a modern day manager and coach and speaking to Bass he said on the coaching field Neal is just top notch. When I managed Wimbledon they were the biggest team at that level. It would have to be said that Wimbledon aren’t the biggest team in the level they are at now, so he’s really stretching a piece of elastic to the Moon. But I think he’s got the Football Gods on his side, but he is a top, top manager and one of the bigger jobs for the Club in the next couple of years will be hanging on to him. But I feel Neal has a vision of where he wants to take the Club and wants to see that out. 

xiii) You retired from football management after your second spell at Harrow in 2015 at the relatively young age of 52? Why was that and is that really it,  might we see back in the dug-out one day?

Erik Samuelson is top of the tree and I still speak to him, he is just an intelligent guy who understands the game and understands where the Club is.,,replacing Erik is going to be a massive decision for the football Club.

Dave: Retiring at 52 people think that’s young, but I started at 22 and I did 30 years of it. I’ve been very fortunate and the pinnacle and the icing on the cake has always been AFC Wimbledon. It’s the biggest job in non-league football at the time and it’s the job I’ll always be remembered for and I’ve no qualms about that. I also had great times at Hendon and Harrow, it was hard work towards the end of my second spell at Harrow. The chairman there was good as gold to me. I’ve been very lucky with chairmen. I have worked with some great chairmen in football and Erik and Kris Stewart are right up there. Erik is top of the tree and I still speak to him, he is just an intelligent guy who understands the game and understands where the Club is. I spoke earlier about the difficulty in replacing Neal Ardley, well, replacing Erik Samuelson is going to be a massive decision for the football Club as well. Will you see me back in the dug-out? No, I don’t really think so. I’m concentrating on getting the golf handicap down and that’s going well. I haven’t been to see that many games and I haven’t really missed it. I still speak with people from week to week, including Simon Bassey about how things are going. But I’ve worked it out. It’s about 2,000 games, 150 pre-season friendlies so I’m happy and proud of what I’ve achieved within it.

xiv) So how do you occupy yourself these days? You were on the Non League Football Show until it finished on BBC Radio 5 in August. Is working in the media something which appeals to you?

I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career start to finish,  managerial-wise I’ve met and work with some fantastic people and managed some great football clubs, but Wimbledon is the top of tree to have three years of the big gates and the profile that we had.

Dave: I play golf up to five days a week. Enjoy that, it gets me out into the fresh air, trying to get my fitness up. The Non-League Show has left BBC Radio 5 after 10-11 years, you can still get it on a Podcast on I-Tunes or Audio-Boom, so we’re still doing it independently. It’s a big love of mine. I’ve a big mouth and a big ego so it fits me down to the ground to be on the radio. I genuinely enjoyed that side of it and that side would interest me if something else came up media-wise. Outside of that, very few people in football get to dictate when they finish and very few people finish and be happy to finish. Again I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career start to finish,  managerial-wise I’ve met and work with some fantastic people and managed some great football clubs, but Wimbledon is the top of tree to have three years of the big gates and the profile that we had.


****The Dave Anderson interview run over two parts was reproduced from WDSA’s Wombles Downunder fanzine (November-December 2016 and January-February 2017 issues). Details on how you can subscribe to Wombles Downunder.