Sunday 06 December 2009
With an away trip to Ash United on Tuesday in the Surrey Senior Cup, we thought we’d catch up with Dons legend Matt Everard, now the assistant manager back at Ash, where we first came across him. It was Wimbledon’s fourth ever competitive league game and Ash United were the early front runners. Two second half goals by Kevin Cooper set up the Dons for what looked like a comfortable win, until Matt was sent forward to join the attack.
Things usually happen when the Dons play Ash and, sure enough, they happened that day. First Keith Ward was sent off for handball on the line with Ash’s current manager, Dave Bonner, converting the penalty kick. Then Matt rose at the far post to equalise, before the third and winning goal a minute later consigned the Dons to defeat. Even the late dismissal of pantomime villain Tony Calvert didn’t give the travelling fans any sense of satisfaction.
The season had started with high expectations but two defeats in the first four games, shortly to be followed by a 2-0 away loss to Withdean 2000 (remember them?), meant that the team was never able to make up the lost ground. And so the Dons were to spend another season in the Cherry Red Combined Counties League.
But in one way, the defeat at Ash laid the foundations for subsequent success as it led directly to Matt joining the Dons six month later, in February 2003. We asked him if it was true that he was recruited by fans on the ‘Weird and Wonderful’ chat site. “Yes. I didn’t do much work at the office, so I used to post on it now and then. AFC Wimbledon was something massive in our league and I was curious – that’s why I went on the chat site. It was an easy decision to accept when the unofficial chats turned into an approach to join the club.”
One of the first things Matt did was score against his former team mates in a 5-3 win in the return game at Kingsmeadow, where only two late goals for Ash (“I’d been subbed by then!”) made the score respectable.
Scoring goals was always a feature of Matt’s game. We asked him if he knew how many. “Yes, I was always a bit of a statto. It was 37.” And how many games? “It was 88 I think.” He remembers correctly. Matt started 87 times and made one appearance from the bench in competitive games. That is a very good scoring record for a striker, let alone a centre back.
The Dons won all three games against Ash the following season, including a last minute winner from Ryan Gray in the Surrey Senior Cup at Ash, a 5-3 win at Ash in the league only four days later, and a 2-0 home win later in the season, which included another Everard header. Even more memorably, that was the game when Danny Oakins took over in goal after Lee Carroll was sent off just before half time.
During his time at the club, Matt was tempted to leave and join Aldershot, then managed by one Terry Brown (whatever happened to him?). “I was very flattered. They offered me a year and a half contract but I was 30. Maybe five years earlier I’d have taken it, but I loved it at Wimbledon and it was probably too late in my career, so I wasn’t really persuaded.” We asked him if he thought he would have made the step up from Combined Counties to the Conference. “Yes, I think I would. I mean if you asked me if I think I’d have cut it as a Premier League footballer, I’d say ‘yes’, although Drogba might have been a bit of a handful! Seriously though, every footballer thinks he can cut it at a higher level - you have to believe in yourself, don’t you?”
But then came his long term injury. “I went up for a header at Bashley and as I came down, my knee twisted. I played on (Matt got the equaliser, before Martin Randall hit a last minute winner) but had to be subbed near the end. "I didn’t think too much of it, but Mike Rayner said it might be a problem.” And it was. Matt had a ruptured cruciate.
Worse was to follow. Following an operation he was in rehabilitation for eight months only to have the knee give way again in a warm up. In all, he has had nearly a dozen operations on the knee. “Now there is nothing in there at all. They cleared out all the cartilage. My quality of life is OK. I’ve been a tiler for the last five years and you’d think that wouldn’t be good for my knee, but it is all right; I get by and don’t feel it very often.”
So does he still play? “Oddly enough I played my first two games in five years this season when we had an injury crisis. I think it is fair to say ‘never again’, although I still play vets’ football – I’m not sure if I’m supposed to.”
So there is a chance of seeing him turning out on Tuesday? “No. I’m suspended!” Matt was sent off from the bench a little while ago and so he will have to offer his wisdom to his team from the sidelines. “I’m afraid I am a bit of a Mr Angry when I’m on the bench. It’s easy to say don’t be like that, but it is so frustrating when you can’t change things.”
What are his favourite memories of his time at Wimbledon? “No doubt, the most satisfying goal I scored was the one at Herne Bay. I went up and it sort of looped into the net, but it felt so good. Perhaps the one I scored in the cup final the previous April was more important, but the one at Herne Bay felt the best.”
We asked Matt if he has ambitions as a manager. “Yes, of course, although I am happy as an assistant. Dave is a very good manager and I couldn’t deal with all the things he does, phone calls and stuff, getting players to training and all that. We have a good group of young players and we’re fifth in the league, after a little dip in form earlier in the season. So I’m happy here with what we’ve been doing over the last 18 months.”
So will we be seeing Matt down at Kingsmeadow soon? “To be honest, if I didn’t have this role I’d be down more often. My in-laws still come and stand on the terrace and I’ve been once or twice. But I’ve also got a young family. We were expecting our son when I left - he can still, just, get into the ‘Everard, 5’ shirt I was given for him!”
Matt is looking forward to welcoming some old friends and team mates to Shawfield Road on Tuesday and, for those who make the journey, it will certainly be a trip down memory lane.