TERRY BROWN holds a very special place in the evolution of AFC Wimbledon. Three promotions in four seasons, he transitioned the Dons from part-time non-league to full-time and crowned with the euphoric play-off promotion into the Football League. So many engaging tales in this extensive interview with Wombles Downunder.
(i) Let’s start with your playing days. You once described yourself as ‘tall, gangly, all elbows and knees kind of player who could score goals’, Steve Perryman and Robin Friday were one-time teammates. You spent spells mainly with Hayes and Slough Town. How did this all ground you for non-league football and prepare you for your managerial career?
Terry: Yep, tall, gangly, all elbows and knees and always moaning at refs. I also had the pleasure of playing under Brian Hall at Slough, playing alongside Kieron Somers and David Kemp. I had no pace, was very greedy but always scored goals. Finished my playing days at Wokingham with Paul Fishenden as a teammate and where I worked as a coach under Roy Merryweather, during a very successful period in the club’s history. I then applied for the manager’s role at my previous home town club Hayes FC. The initial task was to avoid relegation and having achieved that, to build up a very young side that could hold its own in a very strong Isthmian Premier League. My style of management in my early days was very high energy, direct football. They were once described as a team of ‘nightclub bouncers’. We eventually won promotion into the National Conference on the last day of the season winning 3-0 at a Carshalton side that contained a very nasty Simon Bassey! For Hayes to gain promotion over George Borg’s Enfield and Graham Roberts’ Yeovil is still one of my proudest footballing memories. We went on to achieve third place in the Conference behind Cheltenham — only one team was promoted in those days.
(ii) You were manager of Hayes for nine years from 1993 before taking charge of Aldershot in March 2002. You had a lot of success with the Shots and formed a productive and long-lasting partnership with Stuart Cash. What are your best memories of your time at the Recreation Ground and in what ways did it improve you as a manager?
Terry: Unfortunately, Hayes were unable to financially keep our key players and the likes of Stevenage hoovered up our best players including Jason Goodliffe. When Aldershot came calling the opportunity to move on was too good to turn down. My assistant manager at Hayes took over at Church Road and I embarked on my five-year journey with a new right-hand man in Stuart Cash, who was already at Aldershot and knew exactly who we needed to keep and who needed to go. This signalled the start of 10 fantastic years working together and enjoying success at both Aldershot and, of course, Wimbledon .We were so close to taking the Shots into the Football League, losing a play-off semi to Carlisle and a play-off final to Shrewsbury (both on penalties).
(iii) You resigned as Shots manager in March 2007 to take care of your ill wife, Susan. Less than two months later you were unveiled as the new gaffer of AFC Wimbledon. How did it all come about? You were inheriting a squad from Dave Anderson after two successive playoff defeats in the Isthmian League. What did you see as your immediate goals with the Dons?
Terry: Susan developed acute myeloid leukaemia during my last season at Aldershot and with the new team unable to push for promotion I felt the time had come to step down. Stuart and I had taken the Shots from the Isthmian League part-time into a full-time structure that came desperately close to returning Aldershot back into the league. A promotion they were subsequently able to achieve under the very successful Gary Waddock. I am one of the few managers who got the opportunity to say goodbye to the supporters of Aldershot. The fans and the East Bank, in particular, gave us a rousing send-off after five years of hard work, smiles and play-off heartache. Susan was undergoing chemotherapy at John Ratcliffe celebrating the Dons Trophy victory at the Rec, where Dave Anderson managed to conjure up a truly great win against a very strong Shots side. Stuart was aware of the similar nature of both clubs and the fact that we had taken the Shots from the Ryman League to the Conference play-offs put us in a strong position when Dave left the club after their play-off defeat. Stuart and I had done our homework and after meetings with Erik Samuelson and Ivor Heller we were announced as AFC Wimbledon’s new management team. We had a very similar demanding fan base, fantastic when you were winning, very critical when you lost.
(iv) Success came quickly. AFC Wimbledon earned promotion to the Conference South after a nervy 2-1 play-off win at Staines Town with Mark De Bolla ramming home a long-range free-kick five minutes from time. You brought De Bolla on as sub about 10 minutes beforehand and the substitution paid off spectacularly, it’s part of the club’s folklore. What was your thinking at the time. was it an all-or-nothing gamble by you to throw him into the game?
Terry: The first year at Kingsmeadow was really hard work, we assembled a strong experienced side that had to face ‘42 cup finals’ playing against teams that would never play in front of a bigger crowd in their lives . It was a nightmare to manage the expectancy level of supporters that had seen their team play in the Premier League and win the FA Cup. The play-off final against a very good Staines side was just a case of getting a win by hook or by crook. We hooked a couple off, put on Sammy Hatton and Mark De Bolla (A Simon Bass suggestion) and the journey was up and running.
(v) For the Conference South season you had a massive squad clear-out with eight of the promotion-winning team let go and as part of the rebuild you splashed out for strikers Jon Main and later Danny Kedwell, you describing them as the most potent attacking force in the division. The Dons amassed 86 goals in taking the title by three points, with Jason Goodliffe playing his last game for the club on the final day of the season. How good was that side, what was key that season?
Terry: The plan for the Conference South was to build a young hungry side that could grow into a full-time squad by the time we reached the National Conference. Replacing senior players of the calibre of Marcus Gayle was always going to be an impossible task. We were also looking to change the manner in which the team played. Stuart, Simon and myself spent hours running through patterns of play: 3-5-2 4-3-3 and various diamond formations (my favourite). We were looking for technical ability, character and pace. Staines had given us a couple of years to mould our young team together (or so we thought!). The make up of the team changed dramatically, losing eight of the team, but retaining some of our younger players and, of course, our skipper Jason Goodliffe. The first game of the season was against one of the favourites Newport County. What a game, Johnny Main absolutely destroyed them with a perfect hat-trick on a wet and windy day in Wales. The coach journey home had us all dreaming of what the future might hold for this young and hungry squad. Getting money out of Erik was never an easy task, so I am pleased to say that asking Erik to come along and watch a Sunday game at Grays was one of my best decisions. We went to watch Danny Kedwell. He didn’t play that great but every time he got the ball the Grays supporters were screaming. Every supporter would pick a different team to the manager (especially after the game!) but every home supporter knows who their danger man is, and Erik and I stole their best player later that month. Sometimes things are just meant to be. Kedwell and Main, the most potent strike force I have had the pleasure to work with. A strike force good enough to take the Dons back into the Football League. Winning the Conference South in our first season with a great young side gave Stuart and I the belief that we could fulfil the dreams of every Wimbledon supporter and stuff it up the FA.
(vi) Back-to-back promotions hoisted the Dons into the National Conference. How did you approach that new challenge, what adjustments did you make to cope with tougher opponents? Eighth in that first season and then that magnificent climax to the 2010-11 season. Crawley Town were the runaway winners, but you brought the team along nicely in second spot setting up for a fantastic two-legged semi-final with Fleetwood Town. Your thoughts looking back on how you prepared the team for their big appointment in Manchester?
Terry: Back-to-back promotions in our first two seasons came as a very pleasant surprise and allowed us some much needed breathing space. Stuart and I had emphasised that to gain promotion from the National Conference we would need to change our young side from part-time to full-time. The aim was to consolidate in the Conference and recruit more young players who wanted to take the leap into full-time training. Having made the transition at Aldershot we knew the pitfalls that lay ahead. Improved training facilities, full-time physio, full-time coaches, catering to feed the players, heart monitors, video equipment and analysis, etc. At Aldershot we were so keen we managed to injure eight of our new first team squad during preseason training! That wasn’t going to happen at the Dons. The first game of the season emphasised the task ahead. Luton Town at home in front of a packed Kingsmeadow. Our first season in the Conference saw us achieve a respectable 8th position and allowed us to pester the board and turn the club into a professional football club. I look back now and wonder at the incredible speed at which the club had grown from that first game at Sutton to the League One side, playing back in our own wonderful stadium at Plough Lane. The second season started with Crawley flying out of the box, having signed up an experienced talented squad that deservedly won the league. We had our early win against them at home in one of my favourite games, trailing 1-0 at half-time to the Steve Evans side. We managed to score two late goals from Sam Hatton and Danny (The T-Shirt!) Kedwell. What a night with a back four of young kids playing out of their skins. A fantastic wall of noise coming from our fans and Steve Evans doing a ‘Donald Trump’ at the end. You cannot buy those special moments, which Stuart and I will always share with the fantastic Wimbledon supporters.
(vii) Danny Kedwell became a Wimbledon hero with his clinching penalty in the play-off final shootout win over Luton Town to reach the Football League. How were you feeling when Keds lined it up and is it your greatest football management achievement? Did we try to keep Kedwell after that momentous day, or had he made his mind to leave the Dons?
Terry: After conceding the title to Crawley at their place, we slowly grew in confidence and started to play some lovely football with Cambridge away being a milestone as to how much the team had grown in such a limited time span. Going into the play-offs is always a nervous experience, the whole year’s work encapsulated into three games. I can remember looking at the great Dickie Guy before our first game at Fleetwood. He looked like a nervous wreck, sneaking a red wine without Josie finding out. A legend who was willing to take on the whole of Bromley only two years before. What the play-offs meant to Dickie, Ian Cooke, their families and every player who was lucky enough to pull on that blue shirt. What it meant to my good friend Russell and his fantastic dad Charlie, who has supported Wimbledon for over 60 years. What it meant to those unknown warriors who travelled up and down the country, Selhurst Park – Sutton – Sandhurst – Debenham – Heybridge Swifts and East Thurrock (ouch!!). The supporters who would not let the FA win, who would not let their club die. The job of Stuart, myself, Simon and all the management team was to take that pressure off the players. The demolition of Fleetwood and the manner in which we reached the final gave all the players the confidence necessary to take on the Orange Army. Having since watched the final at least 10 times in my front room I will never tire of seeing Seb’s saves or Danny’s winner. Yes, Luton could have won it, but we also missed numerous chances that we should have scored. The margins were small, we finished well above them in the table and fully deserved to take our place in the Football League. The speed in which we won promotion back into the League, three promotions in four seasons was a fantastic achievement. An achievement in which we could hardly catch our breath. The preseason prior to our kick-off with Bristol Rovers proved to be a very short and frustrating one. The loss of our skipper and leading goalscorer Danny Kedwell to his home town club Gillingham was a massive blow to our club. We tried desperately to keep him, but it was more than money, it was his home town club. We also lost our midfield general Steven Gregory to Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth.
(viii) That was a remarkable three promotions in four seasons with Wimbledon. Looking back what were the highlights/milestones for you, who was the best player/s you signed during that period and perhaps which player/s didn’t work out so well as you had hoped?
Terry: The scouting network at the club was in keeping with a non-league team that had always signed local players from the Ryman or the Conference. In hindsight (a wonderful gift granted to all supporters and football pundits) we should have invested in a scouting and recruitment set-up. Between myself, Stuart and Simon we knew the non-league players inside out, our recruitment in the previous four years was bang on. Talking to players, now we were in the Football League, was a different ball game. The players we wanted to keep all asked for substantial pay rises and the prospective newcomers were talking telephone numbers. We were near capacity at Kingsmeadow so the revenue streams were not much greater than before. We managed to keep the nucleus of our successful squad and embarked on our first season back in the Football League. You asked who were my worst signings? I would never have pointed the finger at any individual as it was my fault if they didn’t work out. It’s fair to say not many of my signings in our second year in the league set the world on fire.
(ix) AFC Wimbledon’s first season in League Two was tough as expected, finishing in 16th place but a comfortable 10 points above the drop. How was the adjustment from non-league to the Football League? How did you find the recruiting of players for the task confronting the club?
Terry: After a nervous start we managed to pick up our first league win away to Dagenham, after which John Still told me they had half a dozen scouts out there every game looking for new young talented players. If only I had listened John. After ignoring John’s advise we went on a decent run culminating in a brilliant win at Morecambe that saw us sitting proudly in the top half of the league. This was followed up with a fantastic game at home against Crewe, a game in which we played some lovely football but were beaten by a beautiful goal, scored by a player they sold for millions. The remainder of the season we were struggling before finding our feet again and finishing 10 points from the drop in 16th position.
(x) Then seven games into the 2012-13 season it was all over after a 1-0 home defeat to Torquay. You walked around Kingsmeadow after full-time waving to the fans, you looked emotional. Did you know then that it was over? What were the circumstances leading up to your departure? Can you put your finger on what went wrong for you?
Terry: My relationship with Erik has always been a great one, he is a man I still go to for advice and the best chairman (CEO ) any manager could ask for. Seven games into the 2012-13 I asked how long would we be given to turn the results around. ‘Tonight’ I was told. We were at home to Torquay. I knew as soon as Seb Brown blasted the ball into the massive backside of the Torquay No.9 and it trickled into the net that our time was up. Five of the greatest years of my life, thousands of wonderful moments to be treasured by both my family and Stuart’s. Like at Aldershot, we once again had the opportunity to salute the wonderful supporters who we had joined on their amazing journey back home to Plough Lane.
(xi) Have a question for you from your old mucker Dave Anderson: ‘Ask him if he remembers the Monday night we spent in North Greenford? Me, him and Bass At one stage the NG Chairman was showing off his silk boxers. I got home about 3:00 and also ask him about the trip to the Isle of Man?’ Maybe, talk about your friendship with other AFCW managers like Dave and Neal Ardley, the days out at the Cheltenham races?
Terry: To Dave Anderson, I refuse to own up to anything I have done whilst in his company whether at Cheltenham, Isle of Man, Covent Garden or North Greenford United! There was a relationship between the past and present managers at Wimbledon. Meeting the supportive legend that was Allen Batsford who always encouraged me even when we played crap. Neal Ardley who kept us in the Football League and took us up at Wembley. Wally and Glyn, who not only ensured our survival last season but also gave me free Budweisers in their office!
(xii) These days you are chairman of Basingstoke FC in the Southern League. Do you look back and marvel of what you achieved and experienced at AFC Wimbledon as a non-league club and look at what it has become today, and that momentous return to the new stadium at Plough Lane? What are your abiding memories from your time at Wimbledon?
Terry: Our club is a very special one borne out by not just the bond between the supporters and the backroom staff, but the volunteers and the players. The success of our club is based upon loyalty and this is demonstrated by the players from every generation who are proud to call themselves Wimbledon supporters. When we as fans are finally allowed into Plough Lane I most look forward to seeing all our volunteers, Rocket and Trevor whose love for the club is always visible with Robbo whose coaching ability has seen him produce lads that not only play for us but also bring in much needed revenue to the club. A big thank you to Ivor Heller who has always been a positive driving force for the club, To all those people I have forgotten to mention I look forward to meeting up with you again and reminiscing old stories in our new home.
[The Terry Brown interview was first published in the November-December 2020 issue of the Wombles Downunder fanzine. Details on how you can subscribe to Wombles Downunder.]