Former Wimbledon boot boy relishing return to where it began

Damien Francis, left, and Patrick Agyemang celebrate a goal during their days at Wimbledon
Damien Francis, left, and Patrick Agyemang celebrate a goal during their days at Wimbledon

Patrick Agyemang used to scrub Vinny Jones’ boots and watch the first-teamers set ablaze the clothes of new signings.

Life amid the infamous Crazy Gang was a priceless football education as he grew up at Wimbledon.

Then came the trainee’s first-team breakthrough and later forced sale as the club slumped into administration ahead of it metamorphosing into the MK Dons.

By the time Agyemang left for Gillingham in a £150,000 deal in January 2004, he had made 136 appearances and scored 22 goals.

Now aged 33, tomorrow will see the Pompey striker head back to Kingsmeadow – the venue where he played many reserve games for Wimbledon.

Only this time the opposition will be AFC Wimbledon – a club which rose from the ashes of his former employers.

And their manager is Neal Ardley – a team-mate when he made his Dons debut against Tranmere back in August 2000.

He said: ‘I came through the ranks at Wimbledon, and in the first team it was the Crazy Gang – the likes of Vinny Jones, Robbie Earle, Carl Cort, John Hartson and Jason Euell.

‘I used to clean Vinny’s boots sometimes. Back then as a youth-team player you had to do loads of jobs. I had to do maybe eight to 10 pairs of boots, staff boots and we had to clean balls, too.

‘You had to use the dubbin, now you just use water and that is it!

‘We would see their initiations for new players who arrived. They were setting fire to things and there was a lot of stuff I can’t really say!

‘It wasn’t done to the young players as we were already at the club, but you couldn’t really back-chat them because there would be three or four coming on to you, not trying to hurt you deliberately but you would be scared to mess around.

‘In my youth team there was Jobi McAnuff, Nigel Reo-Coker, Mikele Leigertwood and Damien Francis, and we ended up having to play in the first team because there was no money so we had to – and we did quite well.

‘It was a youth team playing in the first team and it was enjoyable.

‘The only downside was they were in administration and we didn’t get paid for three months. At that stage, when you are 20 or 21 and you have bought cars and a house, everyone has got bills to pay so it ended up everyone jumping ship, which wasn’t nice but what we had to do.’

AFC Wimbledon were formed in June 2002 following the FA’s decision to allow the club to relocate 56 miles away to Milton Keynes.

Almost nine years later, they reached the Football League after beating Luton in a play-off final penalty shootout.

Now in their second season in League Two, the Dons are just one place above Pompey in the table and Agyemang clearly retains affection for them.

He added: ‘It saddens me what happened there. It was like a family there to us, the same as it is here.

‘We came through the ranks together, we travelled together. From 16 we grew up together and are still close now.

‘I always loved playing for Wimbledon and it was a very happy time in my career and I am happy they are back.

‘But tomorrow is a game I want to win.’