BY TOBY PORTER
Liam Trotter knows he has a responsibility at AFC Wimbledon this season.
The quietly-spoken 29-year-old midfielder bosses his midfield, winning the ball and making perceptive passes.
But he also knows now is the time to speak up. The Dons released two captains in the summer, in Barry Fuller and Paul Robinson, who had more than 1,100 games’ worth of experience between them.
They were important voices in the squad – shouting and pointing on the pitch, but also keeping the more unruly young elements in order off it. Trotter, though, is a born leader – he was given the armband for the first time almost seven years ago by his then-Millwall boss Kenny Jackett, within a few months of arriving at the club at the age of just 22.
So when Neal Ardley picks his captain in the next few weeks, Trotter will be a prime candidate, though he himself expects every player in the squad to fill the role of leader.
“We have lost two really good leaders who have been a big part of the changing room,” said Trotter.
“They will need to be replaced. It is down to everyone to take up the challenge of providing the leadership we need.
“There is no age limit to the people who can do that. It is up to the whole squad to step up to the plate and show the maturity and responsibility to take us to the next level.” Trotter himself scored twice in one of his first games as skipper, in a 3-2 win over Doncaster Rovers.
He was also at the head of the squad when they walked out at Upton Park in a game against the Lions’ big rivals West Ham – in which current England captain Harry Kane played for the Den side, on loan from Spurs.
It was a game remembered with some bitterness by Den fans, because Trotter equalised in the 66th minute, with the hosts down to 10 men – but then Carlton Cole barged into visiting keeper David Forde, battering the ball out of his hands. It fell to Winston Reid who smashed home the winner.
“Leading the squad out there was probably one of the proudest days of my career,” said Trotter. “It would have been even better if it had not been for a bad decision by the ref.”
Trotter will be trying to ensure Ardley’s side keep the momentum going from the end of last season, where they went unbeaten in the last seven games.
“We had tough games in that run,” said the midfielder. “That showed what we were capable of doing. We needed to stay calm, take every game as it came and see what happened, rather than looking too far ahead. It is not easy for a group to pull together like that.
“That got us the results we needed. The end of the campaign was a really big positive which we will now try to build on. It was more important to finish the season strong. But now it’s a new season. There has been a big overhaul in the squad. The ones here last season will learn from that experience. The management and the staff will look at what they did and assess what it was that worked and keep that going.”
Ardley’s reign of five years and 265 days means he is now the Football League’s third-longest serving manager, after his friend Gareth Ainsworth at Wycombe Wanderers (five years 283 days) and Morecambe’s Jim Bentley (seven years 53 days).
“This is the manager’s club,” said Trotter. “He played more than 200 games here and has done brilliantly as a manager, getting them to where they are now. He knows the club inside out and everyone trusts him. He gives us confidence with the big decisions and helps us believe in ourselves.”
The other advance is on the stadium front. “It is not something that comes particularly to mind at the moment,” said Trotter. “We are not there yet. I may never get to play there. All I can do is make sure we are in this league or better next summer and that we have done everything we could for the team.
“It will be a tough season. The Football League is tough. Sunderland have come down but they will not find it a breeze. It will be good to get the chance to go to the Stadium of Light, if I am picked. I have not played there yet. But we all just want to get started and get on it.
“We can only focus on ourselves, though. We all want to improve every season – we do not want to be in the position where we have to go seven games unbeaten to be safe again. But we must take heart from how close we came to being in contention. If you look at the table, it would only have taken four or five games going the other way for us to have come close to sneaking into the play-offs. We probably have the best pitch in the division. The only stick match was the defeat by Fleetwood and even our groundsman could not sort that out in the rainstorm – though thankfully, it did not matter.”