As Stephanie Booth makes encouraging noises about a community-led venture, we were offered a wonderful glimpse at how well such a venture can turn out.
First and foremost, AFC Wimbledon are tenants. But, unlike the norm in that situation, they appear from this distance to be welcome tenants. The relationship between them and Kingstonian seems to be mutually beneficial, and it’s my understanding that, as the tenants’ status has overtaken that of the landlords, they have gone out of their way to ensure the switch in status doesn’t cause friction.
That sort of approach encapsulates what the club is about. By showing that sort of consideration, by being aware of the feelings of their neighbours, fans and business partners, they show themselves to be a proper, decent club run by proper, decent people. The sort of club that generates goodwill and positive PR naturally through its actions, rather than thinking that employing PR consultants and issuing rambling press statements means you’ll make a positive impression.
The whole matchday experience at Kingsmeadow on Tuesday was a pleasant one, and not merely because we played so well. I’d say it’s true in general that non-league clubs are more welcoming than those in the Football League; however, the high incidence of nice people I bumped into on Tuesday suggests there’s something particularly good going on in that corner of Surrey!
From the friendly apprentices joking with me about my camera, through the highly attentive press officer who couldn’t do enough to help, to the AFCW fans who applauded and laughed at Mathias Pogba’s comical goal celebration when most fans would have hured abuse at him, this was a club packed with warmth and dignity.
A couple of particular incidents really stood out for me though. Mike T – website commentator, PA announcer and all-round top bloke – made an announcement in support of the Wrexham supporters at half time on behalf of the Dons Trust. It was a typical gesture from a big-hearted club. Most clubs are part of the same, tired old boys club and wouldn’t dream of making such an announcement for fear of provoking an awkward atmosphere in the boardroom. The Wombles aren’t constrained by such concerns though; they follow their consciences. Imagine how good it would feel to follow a club which not only says what you feel, but reflects your wishes in its every action.
The other example of Wimbledon’s fundamental decency was a lot more mundane, but touching because of that. At half time there was a ceremony for a young Japanese lad who had contacted the club looking for a chance to develop his coaching skills. He was given that opportunity, but the time had come to say goodbye. The youth players formed a guard of honour for him and a genuinely touching ceremony unfolded in which he said his farewells, tears streaming down his face. When did you last go to a football match and feel the host club had enhanced someone’s life? When did you last feel touched by a halftime presentation? Come on, when did you last see a guy on the pitch with a microphone during the break and not think”What a goon”? It was…and here’s a word I don’t think I’ve ever used before about something I’ve seen in a football stadium….lovely!
AFC Wimbledon are a template we should look to follow. They have engaged their fanbase, and as a result they get excellent crowds and support.
Obviously, they have been given a sense of purpose by the fact that there is a common enemy: the repellant MK Dons. But haven’t Wrexham fans also got something pretty significant to share? Hasn’t going through the trauma of the last seven years or so given us strength? The crowds which gathered at The Racecourse to watch the dross served up during our last season in the Football League suggest we already have a committed core of support. After all, if you subtract the away supporters our home crowds actually went up that season!
There are other examples from AFC Wimbledon that we could do well to follow; just have a look at the Dons Trust section of the club website to see an example of transparancy in action, for example. But in recognising the good in something, you should resist the temptation to mimic. Therein lies the path to failure. Instead, we should aspire to the values the Dons represent, and think of how we can also come to stand for them, in our own unique way.
I genuinely believe that there is something special about Wrexham Football Club, forged from being the one large club in North Wales and having gone through a painful process which has politicised us. I see this special quality in the support the club gets, the remarkably active and informed contribution of Red Passion, a remarkable resource which fans of much larger clubs would be jealous of, and in the pockets of superb work which fans have already done, such as with the programme team of the recent past.
Now’s the time to crystallise those qualities. To make them integral to what our club stands for, not merely circumstantial pockets of excellence. To put our club at the heart of our community, and our community at the heart of our club.
And you know what? It doesn’t matter how the events of the next few weeks go really. Olly Hides might comically try to push Stephanie Booth on BBC Wales about how all Wrexham fans want is to go up, and if she can’t guarantee that then we’ll revolt! Too few people from that body bother to pop up here to see what’s actually going on; a lot of us would take a hit on the pitch in exchange for a club we can be proud of. After all, that’s what happened to AFC Wimbledon, and they didn’t turn out too badly, did they?