Will Nightingale says that AFC Wimbledon’s 25-game winless run and position in League One is “hurting him massively”.
The Dons head into the penultimate game of the League One season at Fleetwood Town tomorrow in dire straits. They are four points adrift from safety and need a victory to stand any chance of staying up.
Nightingale joined the club at the age of eight and graduated through Wimbledon’s academy. He is closing in on 200 appearances and captained the Dons in their first game back at Plough Lane in 2020 against Doncaster.
When asked how much Wimbledon’s precarious position has affected him due to his 18-year history with the club, Nightingale told the South London Press: “It is all I think about – it is massively hurting me.
“When I wake up, when I go to sleep, when I get home from training and when I’m at training, that pressure is there.
“I do feel that burden on my shoulders because I do feel responsible for the position that we’re in. Unless you look at yourself, how are you ever going to get better as a player or person in any aspect of life?
“I am the first to criticise myself and where I can do better. I am always going to give 100 per cent, because it is not in my nature not to give 100 per cent.
“I have seen the rise of the club, and whatever has happened or whatever happens to this club, it has always bounced back.
“We have had a lot of opportunities and a lot of chances, and those chances are running out, but we’re lucky that we still have that opportunity and chance to turn things around.
“I am going to do absolutely everything in my power. I know a lot of people at this club, and how much it means to them, so I’m going to try and use that to my advantage.”
Nightingale scored four goals in his first eight starts of the season in all competitions, a crucial factor in the early success that saw Wimbledon flying high in the table.
“I started the season really strongly,” said the Wandsworth-born centre-back. “It does always help when you are scoring that the rest of your game is at its peak as well. Confidence is everything. There is a massive difference between a player that has confidence and a player who isn’t confident, even though they are the exact same player.
“It is part of the process of being a footballer, and it is part of having that mental strength to deal with all of the different obstacles that you are being given in this role.
“I have learnt a lot from my playing experiences, and I am still learning now. I know what I have to do to be at the top of my game, and it is just about reminding myself and having that consistency to do that.
“I want the best for this club. At the minute, things at this club aren’t good enough, so I need to raise the standards of myself, the people around me and the football club in any way I can.
“I am going to do everything I can in these final two games because I believe that we’re good enough to win these games. But being good enough and showing that you’re good enough are two different things, we have to prove a point.”
The 26-year-old penned a new three-and-a-half-year deal with the club last month and still believes he has a lot to achieve and give to the South Londoners as he enters the prime stage of his career.
“It was a straightforward decision in terms of the fact that I have a lot of love for the football club and I have always said to myself that I want to have success and make my mark with Wimbledon,” said Nightingale.
“I have a lot more potential than what I am showing. I am showing glimpses of what I am capable of, but I know how much more I can bring, and I know how much better I can be. The biggest thing for me was that I have not made my stamp on this football club – I am not happy with what I have brought to it.
“Until I have brought success to Wimbledon, I won’t be happy, and I won’t rest. I am looking forward to giving absolutely everything to a club I have absolutely loved from a young age.”
With the emergence of the club’s academy products throughout the season and players tied down to long-term contracts,
Nightingale believes Wimbledon are in a strong position going forward – no matter what league it will be playing in next season.
“This club has bounced back from the worst thing possible,” begins Nightingale.
“No matter what happens to this club, it will always still be alive, and it will always keep going, because it has come back from nothing.
“If it can come back from that, it can overcome anything.
“You have to use those tough times to reflect and realise how lucky we are. But, at the same time, we also have to be annoyed with the situation we’re in because this club does not deserve that.
“We have to use that as fuel to want better for ourselves and to be better.”
PICTURES: KEITH GILLARD