Fans’ favourite Will Nightingale has spoken passionately about what it means to him that AFC Wimbledon will return to their spiritual Plough Lane home next season – even if it is in League Two.
Asked whether the return to SW17 is a motivation or pressure for players marooned seven points adrift of safety at the foot of League One, the youth team graduate said: “It depends who you are as a person. If you want to use that as an incentive then brilliant, do that – use any little detail you can if it’s going to improve you.
“For me it’s massive, because I’ve been at the club since I was eight years old, I’m a local boy. I’ve obviously come through the youth ranks and I know how much it means to the fans just as much as anyone.”
Nightingale joined the club as it was adjusting from winning the Combined Counties League and making the step up into the Isthmian League.
He has seen the Dons promoted another five times since.
“The club has done unbelievably to get where they are,” said Nightingale. “Everyone knows the story. But how far we’ve come, to be back in the Football League, is a tribute [to the club] and the fact we’re going to get our ground back is unbelievable.”
Nightingale insisted there is a turnaround in results on the way for the third tier’s basement side, despite suffering a 4-1 defeat to Barnsley on Saturday.
“It shows that we’ve got to improve, there’s no two ways about it,” said the Dons youth product. “But it’s coming, we all know it’s coming.”
The ball-playing centre-half, who has been deployed as a central midfielder by manager Wally Downes of late, said the form under the club’s new management team offers a ray of hope.
“We’re probably playing catch-up,” said Wandsworth-born Nightingale. “Earlier in the season we lost eight games on the spin. When you get zero points out of 24 you’re asking for trouble.
“Since Wally and Glyn [Hodges, assistant manager] have come in, all in all, I think we’ve done very well. We’ve lost three games – Charlton away, Portsmouth away and obviously Barnsley; they’re three of the top five sides.
“Including the cup games, we’ve won three, drawn three and lost three and if you have that record across the course of the season that’s not bottom-four statistics. Since Wally and Glyn have come in there’s definitely been improvements. You can’t dwell on the other teams around us and the position, because if you do your job, then other things shouldn’t matter.
“The way we’ve got to look at it is, there’s 18 [league] games to go – 54 points.”
Pic by Keith Gillard