Dons' dreams carried on young shoulders
AFC Wimbledon’s League Two hopes rest on the shoulders of youngsters hungry to drag themselves off the Football League breadline.
Boss Terry Brown has assembled a 22-man first team squad with an average age of 23 for the coming campaign – with three Dons Centre of Excellence graduates among them.
Teenagers such as Jim Fenlon, 18, Frankie Merrifield, 18, Louis Harris, 19 and Brendan Kiernan, 19, will be expected to more than cut it in League Two next year as Brown’s men bid to better last season’s 17th place
It is a similar philosophy to the one that helped rugby union side Harlequins be crowned Premiership champions in May, as some of their youngest stars established themselves in the top flight.
And the Kingsmeadow chief is banking on the harsh financial realities of life in the lower leagues to inspire his young guns to great things.
“We have invested a lot of time, effort and money in the youth set up here,” Brown said.
“These boys get the best coaching, but what they also get here and that they don’t get at any other club is the opportunity to get into the first team.
“If you’re at Chelsea or Fulham, the chances of getting in the first team is virtually zero.
“But I can tell my boys that three of my current first team came through last year and they are playing in my first team.
“They are not squad members who don’t get a game, they’re boys who will play lots of league games this year.
“Some of the boys come from one-parent families and they have every opportunity to shine in the same way as the richer boys.
“But most of them will only have a car if they have affluent parents. Most are lucky to even have a car.
“I don’t want any of the young players in the first team to think they have made it. I don’t want anyone who is established in the first team to think they have made it either.”
Former Stevenage star Stacy Long, who is expected to start against Chesterfield tomorrow, is one of the older heads in Brown’s posse.
And the 27-year-old has warned the likes of Premier League loanee Angus MacDonald they are in for rude awakening if they think they are in for an easy ride.
“A lot of Premier League players have been there from day one of their careers and they don’t get to see what it is like at a lower level and how tough it can be going to Accrington on a Tuesday night,” he said.
“When you’re shown the other side of football it gives you a real appreciation of the game and at the same time it gives you that ambition to get and stay higher.
“That’s what the young players here will learn and they are in the right place to learn it.”