Crazy Gang | Part 7 | I Love You, Ricky-Jade Jones!

AFC Wimbledon came within 1 point of the Championship playoffs in 2025/26 led by the star strikeforce of Daniel Jebbison and Jamie Donley. However, it looked like neither would be allowed to return, leaving Trebor Mahtal with a big headache in the summer of 2026.

The summer also saw left-back Aaron Cresswell retire after racking up 15 league assists last season and Spurs also want to give midfielder Alfie Devine a chance in the first-team. Then a big blow saw captain Joel Latibeaudiere, who wouldn’t sign a new contract, move to Stoke for £2.5m just after the start of the season. Before backup goalkeeper Antoine Vidal, who signed on a free last summer and also had 12 months on his contract, moved to Wolves on deadline day for a massive £7m rising to £8m.

That meant we realistically needed at least two strikers, a left-back, a centre-back and a winger. However, the work permit situation made most of my targets impossible, plus we only had a transfer budget of £4m and £100k of spare wage budget.

Our first transfer of the summer was striker Mohamed Sankoh, who arrived on a free from Stuttgart. He’s scored 68 in 149 for Stuttgart II yet not been given a chance with their first team. But I think he looks decent despite a lack of pace and work rate and as long as he never has to tackle anyone.

Loan deals have been crucial to our progression, but this year our approach was slightly different. Spurs refused to allow Donley to return and Sheff U wanted to keep our record goalscorer Jebbison, so we had to look elsewhere. We managed to loan in an exciting prospect I’d been tracking for a while in Club Brugge midfielder Marvin Wattiau. We also loaned in Fulham’s Harvey Araujo to fill Cresswell’s boots, exciting right-winger Luca Sposato from Inter, and left-winger Antonius Duncan from Spurs. On deadline day we replaced Latibeaudiere by loaning new Liverpool signing Nasser Djiga, then later added former England international Jack Butland as an experienced backup.

The squad is now really young with an average age of 20.6. Before Butland’s arrival, new captain Filippo Tripi was the oldest player aged 24 and 16 of the 22-man squad are 21 or under. We also don’t pay any players more than £5.5k-per-week and spend just £67k-a-week on wages. However, I think the squad is looking in strong shape with 12 players of up to 4.5-star potential and, for the first time, all our starting 11 are considered to be of Championship quality.

Strong start to season 3 in the Championship

The media predict that we will finish 18th this season, again with odds of 50/1 for the title. And that’s not bad considering we have an annual salary of just £3.35m, which is 10-times less than Palace, Bournemouth, West Brom and Brentford.

The new season began at home to Charlton. We dominated the first hour only for the visitors to score an undeserved opener. But two youth products combined as Alphonso Cadogan pulled the ball back for 18-year-old striker Chris Passant to score his first Wimbledon league goal. And we didn’t have to wait long for a second as he doubled his tally from a Toni Carapina cross to claim all three points in injury-time.

Sankoh was the hero in our first away game as his 86th-minute strike downed Ipswich 1-0. And we kept the unbeaten start going with a 1-1 draw at home to Brentford, whose entire 24-man squad earns more than our highest earner, and a 1-0 win at Middlesbrough thanks to Passant. And that won me August Manager of the Month.

But we reached whole new levels as an amazing four-goal haul by the rapidly improving Ricky-Jade Jones and Sposato’s first for the club led a 5-2 thumping of Huddersfield. And that took us top of the Championship for the first time! However, we came crashing back to earth with a 3-0 loss at West Brom.

The good form continued led by the impressive Passant, who scored in three consecutive wins over Millwall, Wigan and Blackburn. We had a blip in October, losing three in a row, but bounced back with a 2-1 Halloween win over Reading through Sposato and Passant’s 10th of the season. Defeat at Bournemouth was followed by consecutive Jones braces in 2-1 wins over Peterborough and Blackpool.

We continued to beat struggling sides with a solid 2-0 win at Swansea, in which defender Sílvio José scored his first goal for the club. Then we showed our dirty side remains with 8 yellow cards as we drew 0-0 on Butland’s debut against former club Crystal Palace and 6 bookings in a 1-0 win over Bristol City. And the year ended with a 4-0 thumping of Wigan led by a Passant brace then a 4-1 loss at Blackburn two days later.

But a brilliant first half of the season saw us sitting top of a surprising Championship table heading into 2027! We led Ipswich by 2 points with Derby a further 2 points back and had a 10 point gap to 7th. Our 16 wins was more than any other side and 3 draws was fewer than anyone else, while only Huddersfield had scored more than our 44. As usual, we led the bookings table with 75, which is 16 more than any other team, but surprisingly don’t have a single red card. We also have the most fouls (499) and most possession wins (2,640). Jones was the second-top scorer with 15 goals, only behind Huddersfield’s Cameron Archer on 17, and Tripi had a league-high 10 bookings.

Double Arsenal cup clashes

In the previous 5 seasons, we’d never gone past the Carabao Cup 3rd round. But easy wins over Sutton and Leyton Orient then defeats of Bristol City and Derby, on penalties after an exciting 3-3 draw, led us to the quarter-finals. And that teed up a huge trip to Arsenal, who obviously dominated but the exciting Pasant and Cadogan twice equalised to have us level just before the hour mark. But the game swung on a dodgy penalty and Arsenal went on to win 4-2.

In the FA Cup, a 2-0 win at Luton resulted in… a trip to Arsenal in round 4, which again proved to be a cracker. Arsenal got another stupid penalty decision and doubled their lead through Martinelli after half an hour. But we improved after time as Jones chipped the keeper, Reiss Nelson restored the 2-goal lead only for Sankoh to go down the other end and score. Djiga then immediately crashed a header against the bar and we played so well after the break, but it wasn’t to be. And we fell to a narrow 3-2 loss, but I’m so proud of the boys! Plus we bagged £400k in gate receipts…

Can we maintain promotion form?

Slightly worryingly, we didn’t sign a single player during the January transfer window despite having £8.5m to spend. That was partly because I couldn’t find anyone worth spending money on, I wanted to continue to develop our youngsters, and I wasn’t sure where we’ll be in the summer.

But 2027 began with a strong 3-0 win over Barnsley. Passant opened the scoring on 15 minutes and fellow academy product Cadogan bagged a brace before half-time, both assisted by Sposato, then Tripi led by example with our first red card of the season late on. A second followed next time out at Oxford as Araujo was given his marching orders after 17 minutes when we were already 1-0 down. But Jones put in another amazing performance as he bagged a hat-trick while Filip Stankovic made 10 saves and got an assist in a 7.8 performance to nick an unlikely 3-2 win.

We had a dip in form from late January into February, losing 3 in a row then had Jones to thank for rescuing a 2-2 at Millwall. But we got back to winning ways at home to QPR. Jones got things started by taking advantage of some shocking defending and a Sankoh brace wrapped up a 3-0 win. We backed that up with a solid 1-1 at home to fellow promotion hopefuls Bournemouth – who, just to reiterate, spend 11x more than us on wages! – before losing at relegation-threatened Blackpool.

8 games from the Premier League?!

Unbelievably, with 8 games of the 2026/27 campaign remaining AFC Wimbledon, with by far the lowest wage spend in the Championship, were in contention to reach the Premier League. We trailed Ipswich, who had a game in hand, by 1 point and were 3 points clear of Bristol City. There were only 8 points between 1st and 6th and 7 points between 5th and 11th. And our run-in was fairly tricky.

Game 1 – Ipswich (1st, home): The title run-in began with a huge, very unlikely 2nd vs. 1st clash with Ipswich. The first half was dreadful. The second wasn’t much better. But we had the only moment of quality as homegrown midfielder Mike Robertson whipped a free-kick to the back post and Sankoh rose highest to head home the winner. And that sent us back to the top!

Game 2 – Charlton (24th, away): Surely having beaten the leaders we could beat the team bottom of the league? Right? Oh yes. Jones got us started on 25 minutes, Charlton’s centre-back got sent off 3 minutes later and Wattiau doubled the lead just before the break. And we ran riot after it with centre-back Anders Frandsen Kroll’s first of the season then a Sankoh brace to thump our South London rivals 5-0. Bristol lost at home to Barnsley, moving us 7 points clear of 3rd place.

Game 3 – West Brom (3rd, home): We’d lost all 5 previous meetings with West Brom, who were unbeaten in 7 league games. We started brightly only for West Brom to score after half an hour. But we responded immediately as Tripi’s outrageous outside of the right foot pass threaded Jones through to tuck home. 6 minutes later we turned the game on its head as Wattiau smacked a 30-yarder against the post and Passant tapped in the rebound. West Brom offered little and we made them pay as Cadogan lifted a cross in and Passant smashed a header into the back of the net. What a huge win!

Game 4 – Crustal Palace (15th, away): We’d also never beaten underperforming Palace in 4 previous meetings, so could we do it again? Nope, they nicked a tight game 1-0.

Game 5 – Brentford (10th, away): Another London derby followed against another of the top 4 wage spenders in the league. And, guess what, we’d never beaten them in 3 previous league games. But this time we were the team to nick a tight game as Passant came off the bench to score the only goal in the 90th-minute. Massive!

That confirmed our first-ever Championship playoff campaign and yet another highest-ever league finish. But, more importantly, Bournemouth only drew their game in hand, which moved us 8 points clear with 3 games remaining. Surely, surely, we’re all but promoted?

Game 6 – Derby (6th, home): Our first chance to secure promotion came in another tough game against an in-form side. But we started well as Sposato bombed down the right and put in a low cross for Jones to tap in his 30th of the season on 15 minutes. Derby equalised after the break, and elsewhere Bournemouth and Bristol won and Ipswich drew, so we were now 6 points clear of 3rd and 4th.

Game 7 – Forest (13th, away): Another tricky game followed against a strong Forest side. We started fairly nervously but that man Jones latched onto a Stankovic clearance, broke through the backline and coolly tucked home the opener again. But Forest immediately curled home a delicious equaliser, had one disallowed then Tripi got himself sent off to leave us in the lurch. And Forest unsurprisingly nicked it all three points in injury-time.

However, as I checked LiveScore, I saw Bournemouth and Bristol both dropped points. So as the final whistle went, I channelled my inner David Pleat and ran wildly onto the pitch with my arms flailing all over the place headed directly for Ricky-Jade Jones. I leapt at him and screamed “I love you, Ricky-Jade Jones” before our players and the 1,516 travelling Dons fans jumped on us in the world’s biggest pile-on.

That was because AFC Wimbledon were promoted to the Premier League!

Game 8 – Stoke (24th, home): The streets of south-west London were more used to prim and proper, strawberries and cream-eating, Pimms-sipping tennis lovers than beer-guzzling football louts. But the latter was very much the case on the night of 1 May 2027 as AFC Wimbledon fans celebrated their unexpected promotion to the Premier League. That party continued all the way through the week ahead of a big promotion party at home to relegated Stoke.

The cries of “WE ARE PREMIER LEAGUE” echoed around the packed-out Plough Lane as our players took to the pitch to a carnival atmosphere. While we also had title hopes as we trailed Ipswich by just 1 point. The promotion party started in style as Frandsen Kroll scored a delicious free-kick after 17 minutes, but Ipswich also scored early on. Passant laid on a goal for Sposato 10 minutes after the break to wrap up an easy 2-0 win, but Ipswich won 1-0 at Millwall to claim the title.

That meant we finished 2nd in the Championship as the top scorers in the league (81). Pleasingly, we had the worst discipline with the most fouls (854), bookings (116) and second-most red cards (4). We also won the most possession (4,699), won the most headers (3588) and had the best shots on target ratio (48%).

Jones was the top scorer with 29 in 43. I repeat. Ricky-Jade Jones was the top scorer in the Championship! He also had a league-high 10 player of the match awards and his average rating of 7.35 was only bettered by Ipswich’s Kerr Smith. Sposato’s 11 assists was only bettered by Bristol City’s Jay Dasilva. Tripi had the worst discipline in the league with 14 bookings and 2 red cards but Cadogan won the most tackles (131). I won Manager of the Year and Stankovic, Sposato and Jones were named in Players’ Team of the Year.

Season Review

What a season! The star man this year was undoubtedly Rick-Jade Jones, who equalled Jebbison’s club record of 31 goals in a season with a 7.31 average rating. As a result, he won the fans’ player and young player of the season awards – I think I love him! His strike partners also impressed as academy product Passant got 19 goals and 10 assists in 46 appearances and Sankoh scored 15 in 41, of which just 16 were starts. Loanee Sposato led the way with 14 assists plus 8 goals, while Cadogan scored and assisted 7. And the likes of Luca Stanga, Frandsen Kroll and Sílvio José all averaged over 7.00.

This season saw job interview offers from Premier League sides Norwich, West Ham, Brighton and Leeds, which were all politely declined. And my loyalty was rewarded with a new three-year contract worth £6k-a-week, making me the highest-paid person at the club!

The board again committed to the future of the club by investing £6 million into new training and youth facilities, which will complete early next season, and raised the youth rating to Category 2. And they spent another £4.7 million to further extend Plough Lane to a 20,000-capacity. That was coupled with another strong youth intake led by exciting goalkeeper Enoch Kyere, striker Jimmy Black, winger Steve Paxman and left-back Renaldo Addison. They join Cadogan, who was named 22 on the NxGn 2027 list!

These are certainly exciting times at Wimbledon! However, the step up to the Premier League is going to be ridiculous when you consider we had by far the lowest wage spend in the Championship. It’s certainly likely to be an interesting summer!

Can we build a team capable of competing at the very top level? Join us next Wednesday for AFC Wimbledon’s first-ever season in the Premier League!


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