If this is the "big time", it was not immediately obvious as I stepped into Terry Brown's "office" at AFC Wimbledon's training ground. Not only is it tiny, there cannot be another Football League manager who works amid electrical fuse boxes, a paint-splattered ladder and whose desk is a minuscule occasional table parked between three old chairs on a patch of bare, concrete floor. Only the tactics board and an incongruously new fax machine on a dusty chest give any indication of Brown's vocation.
Not that Brown is complaining. On Friday he is 59; the following day he gets the best birthday present of his life as he sits in the dugout as a Football League manager for the first time when Wimbledon return to the League against Bristol Rovers. It is a long-awaited step for Brown after a lifetime in non-League.
He played semi-professionally for 20 years, with Hayes, Sutton, Slough and Wokingham. He began his coaching career at the latter, then managed Hayes and Aldershot Town before taking over at AFC Wimbledon four years ago.
During this time he was thrice on the brink of the League, coming third in the Conference with Hayes, and twice losing promotion play-offs on penalties with Aldershot. He left Aldershot the following year, in part to nurse his wife during a long battle with leukaemia which, though won, took its toll on the family, with Brown's son, who has learning difficulties, having to go into care.
Then Wimbledon offered him a last stab at glory, and all those years of experience finally bore fruit. After successive promotions, as they sought to climb the five tiers from the Combined Counties League back into the Football League, Wimbledon had stuttered, twice failing to escape the Ryman Premier Division. Brown knew what was required.
"I'd learnt enough to know you have to kick yourself out of the Ryman League, only then can you look to play a more expansive game," he said. Wimbledon scrambled out via a play-off, and Brown set to work remodelling the team. The modern Dons may be the heirs of the Crazy Gang, but their football is utterly different. "It is total football, throw the ball out from the keeper and play from the back under all circumstances," said Brown. "We play attractive, attacking football."
Brown has lost Danny Kedwell (to Gillingham) and Steven Gregory (to Bournemouth) of his promotion-winners but added a quartet of players with League experience.
Gesturing around the "office", he added: "We intend to paint this, and put some carpet in, but I've asked Eric to invest first in playing facilities, pitches, scouts, medical treatment. The team are the priority."Reuse content