AFC WIMBLEDON is one of the smallest clubs in the Football League — but it is having a massive impact in the fight against coronavirus.
The fan-owned League One team is showing what people power can achieve in a remarkable humanitarian effort reaching out to the most vulnerable in the community during lockdown.
Wimbledon — also the home of The Wombles, the Seventies children’s TV recycling warriors — averages 4,500 crowds yet they have mobilised an army of 600 volunteers who have put their lives on hold to help others.
Vast rooms are stacked with food parcels, piles of essential supplies, thousands of fresh meals cooked for NHS staff, laptops for vulnerable children, cut off from the outside world even in the heart of south-west London.
This is not about how much you donate to charity. Not a single penny changes hands.
It is about time and commitment to the cause seven days a week.
These are the new heroes of the original Wimbledon Crazy Gang, who shook the football world by beating Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final.
SunSport spent a day witnessing first hand how the 21st Century Dons are just as effective as a team off the pitch.
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We arrive as 11,000 cans of sugar-free lemonade are offloaded from a lorry in the car park of Old Ruts Sports Club in Merton Park.
It is one of three sorting ‘hubs’ commandeered by the Dons Local Action Group and used to sort the huge variety of groceries constantly arriving. The white-tiled bath is a makeshift store for fresh fruit because it is slightly cooler in there. The beer cellar is a ‘dairy’ stacked with fresh milk.
Volunteer collectors stand dutifully outside 17 supermarkets across the area pleading with customers to add a little to their shopping then hand it over as they leave.
The system is so advanced they can cater for vegetarian and gluten-free diets. Parcels are tailored for single people, large families and the elderly.
Masterminding it all is Xavier Wiggins, a property dealer in normal times.
He said: “We are trying to redefine success. In League One, if success is only about winning promotion then 21 out of 24 teams are going to be disappointed.
“It’s about people who can, helping the people who can’t. My dream is that this wakes up other sports clubs to the power of the fanbase.
“The other day I got a text message out of the blue. It simply read ‘would you like a ton of muffin mix?’ And they meant it literally.
“We don’t turn anything away but we waste nothing either. Any spare food goes to a street kitchen in Brixton.
“On average 80 per cent of the people we ask in the supermarket queues give us something. It’s astonishing.”
A retired fireman, furloughed sales administrator, a redundant seat salesman and a turnstile operator from Wimbledon’s home ground are just a few of those chipping in. Former Wimbledon midfielder Peter Fear has volunteered — along with first-team coach Mark Robinson.
Primary school teacher Dom Kelly is no IT specialist but heads up the team for Keep Kids Connected.
They have secured 240 laptops and other devices for children cut adrift at home, even in 2020.
Celia Dawson, head teacher of Cricket Green Special School in Mitcham, said: “Coronavirus merely confirms that such inequalities still exist.”
Eighty-three-year-old Bridie Fagan, from Raynes Park, could not attend the funeral of her ex-husband last week.
She has become friends with Lilly McConnell, 29, who performs the street drops and promised to take her for an ice cream when “this is all over”.
At the locally-renowned Alexandra pub in Wimbledon town centre, deputy manager Nobby Radcliffe, emerges from a side door having finished preparing 70 vegetable curries, 60 spaghetti bolognese and 80 tuna pasta salads.
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