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First team

Rambo reflects on Dons' survival mission

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Such was Aaron Ramsdale’s popularity during his loan spell at AFC Wimbledon, he was forced to rethink his nickname.

A central figure in the Dons’ remarkable escape from relegation from League One, the young goalkeeper won a host of awards for his exploits.

He kept six clean sheets in the final 12 games of the season as they stayed up against the odds, having been marooned at the foot of the table when he joined in January.

The survival mission was accomplished thanks to a 0-0 draw at already-relegated Bradford on the last day, with goal difference proving crucial for AFC Wimbledon.

Following the stalemate at Valley Parade, Ramsdale was carried aloft by jubilant supporters who saw their club formed and start out in the Combined Counties League in 2002.

“My nickname used to be Rammers,” he told afcb.co.uk. “But when 4,000 people are chanting ‘Rambo’ at you, that takes over so I’m going to go for Rambo now!

“When I went there, a lot of people had already written us off. We were 10 points adrift in mid-February so it was a huge achievement to stay up.

“It all went down to goal difference and that showed how tight it was and how well we did in the final few weeks of the season.

“We showed unbelievable character, passion and fight. I didn’t see much of them in the first half of the season but people said they conceded sloppy goals and were naive.

“The manager, Wally Downes, was the founder of the Crazy Gang (the Wimbledon team of the 1980s and 90s) and that helped.

“Although he wasn’t as crazy as he used to be, we always knew what it was like to play for Wimbledon and in one of his teams. We brought the fight to people and showed experience in a very young team.

“We performed well above our age in the last few weeks of the season and, thankfully, we came out of it the other side.”

Agony turned to ecstasy for Ramsdale, the goalkeeper having experienced the bitter taste of relegation to the National League during a loan spell with Chesterfield just 12 months previously.

Ramsdale, who joined the Cherries from Sheffield United in January 2017, joined the Spireites in January 2018 and made 19 appearances as their 97-year stay in the Football League came to an end.

It came just months after he had played all five games and kept three clean sheets as England won the European Under-19 Championship in the summer of 2017.

“That was the main thing hanging over my head this season,” said Ramsdale. “I knew the position they were in when I went there and I’m never going to shy away from a challenge.

“Knowing I could have had back-to-back relegations at my age gave me even more fight than some of the other players because I had experienced it so recently.

“It was devastating when Chesterfield were relegated last year. We saw staff members leaving the training ground with their belongings because they had lost their jobs.

“I certainly didn’t want another relegation on my CV. I didn’t speak to anyone for about a week after we had gone down.

“I can’t really compare the feelings because there were so many this time around and I still can’t really put into words what we did. The difference was monumental.

“This time, I had fans kissing me and trying to take my clothes, my shirt and my shorts. The camaraderie in the dressing room was amazing.

"We had a volunteer kitman who has been at the club for six years and to see his face was brilliant. It’s not quite as good as winning the Euros with England but it’s not far behind.”

Ramsdale, who turned 21 earlier this month, was named League One fans’ player of the month for April and also won two clubs awards – the Natalie Callow Memorial Trophy for young player of the year and the WDON player of the year.

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