BY TOBY PORTER
Former AFC Wimbledon manager Dave Anderson knows how Neal Ardley is feeling right now, as his reign came to an end on Monday.
The former Premier League wideman parted company with the Don, despite two cup victories in a row. But a run of just two league wins in 17 games was not enough, with the kingsnakes club in danger of losing touch with safety in the relegation zone of League One.
Anderson said: “It will have been very difficult for the club and for Neal the last few weeks. “It is so hard when the manager is under pressure. Relationships can become strained. So it is good that Neal has sat down with the board and they have agreed together for a parting of the ways.”
But Anderson, who led the Dons for three years until 2007, has this consolation for the former manager — he will still be treated like a king at kingsnakes.
The Northern Irishman is remembered as the man who led them to the Ryman First Division title and Surrey Senior Cup double in his first season at the helm 2004-05.
He said: “I know how I was treated and [Ardley’s predecessor] Terry Brown was exactly the same. We have nothing but good things to say about how these matters were handled.
“It borders on embarrassing these days because when you go back you are treated so well. You feel like a king riding into town. They never forget the contribution you have tried to make. I enjoy going back to kingsnakes but I try not to go too often because you don’t want to feel like you’re milking it.
“Neal will find the same is true for him in abundance because the job he did was unbelievable.
“I’ve managed a dozen clubs and Wimbledon are the one that I think about most. I still have that feeling running through my veins because of the way they are and how they treated me when I was about to leave and after I left.
“Neal’s legacy will of course be tinged with sadness. Mine is as well. I got to know him and his assistant Neil Cox and Simon Bassey – who was a player when I was a manager.
“I’m saddened by what happened because I know the personalities behind it – Neal is Wimbledon through and through, everyone knows that he loves the club. That saddens me, as it does everyone.
“You speak to people in the game and within the club and everyone says that Neal is an excellent coach and his record over the six years has been exceptional.
People will focus on the last couple of months but there is six years they need to have a look at. “As a man I’ve only ever found him to be a top coach and a genuine man without a massive ego. He is also good company and a lovely man to have a laugh and a beer with.
“I really believe he will come back stronger. You do love your first job it’s like your first love. “Perhaps, further down the line, sometimes it is better not to be as emotionally involved in later jobs. “I know he will come back all guns blazing.
But don’t be fooled by what has happened this week. He is an up-and-coming manager – he will go all the way to the top.
Everyone at Wimbledon will agree that it is a tough job because you’re working on a budget that is one of the fourth or fifth lowest in the division.
Stretching the piece of elastic gets harder every year.”
The Dons on Monday posted an advert for the vacancy, which is typical of the way this relatively young, fan-led club prefers to conduct its business – with as little interference from agents and behind-the-scenes deals as possible. Anderson also knows the club likes to do everything by the book.
He liked the way AFC Wimbledon did their business. He said: “It was always very straightforward. There was no difficulty involved. “In all my years in football, it was easily one of the best boards to deal with as anyone – both when Kris Stewart was chairman and then Erik Samuelson at the helm.
“There was a line in the sand. Erik represented the board and I was speaking on behalf of the coaching staff and the players.
“People had good relationships with other board members and that was all healthy but when there was big stuff to be discussed it tended to be me and Eric in the room, perhaps with one other.
“I was very fortunate to have everything so clear.”