Manager; Neal Ardley
Neal Christopher Ardley was born September 1st, 1972 in Epsom, Surrey.
Ardley was signed to Wimbledon as a youngster whilst attending Carshalton Boys Sports College. He soon made his way up through the ranks at The Dons.
He played primarily as a right midfielder during his playing days. He made his debut for Wimbledon during the 1990-91 season. He made few appearances in 1991-92 but broke through into Wimbledon’s first team in 1992-93. He would go on to make his debut for England’s under-21 side in 1993.
In 1997/98 he would go on to make 34 appearances in the league for Wimbledon, the most he managed in a single season in his time there. His most prolific season was 2000/01, scoring 5 goals which included 3 in Division One and 2 in the FA Cup.
Ardley would spend over a decade at The Dons, well over 200 appearances. He stayed with them after their relegation from the Premier League. It would be at this time; he would start preparing for life as a manager in the future.
In the summer of 2002, he joined Watford and spent 3 seasons Vicarage Road, making over 100 appearances. During his time with The Hornets, the club made the semi-finals of both the League Cup and the FA Cup.
However, he would spend only two more seasons as a professional footballer, spending the 2005-06 season with Cardiff City and the 2006-07 season with Millwall. He would re-join Cardiff as their academy manager in the late 2000’s. He held this role for five years before finally venturing into the world of professional management.
Ardley took over from Terry Brown as boss of AFC Wimbledon in October 2012. The Dons were 21st in the table when he took over and he managed to keep them up on the final day with a 2-1 win over Fleetwood.
He improved the squad year on year, bringing in players who would be key in elevating the club’s league position. These included Adebayo Akinfenwa, Jake Reeves, Callum Kennedy, Barry Fuller, Lyle Taylor and Paul Robinson. Wimbledon finished 20th in 2013-14, 15th in 2014-15 and made the playoffs in 2015-16, finishing 7th.
In arguably his best achievement as Dons boss, he won promotion to League One in 2016 with a 2-0 win in the League Two play-off final against Plymouth Argyle. Lyle Taylor and Adebayo Akinfenwa scored the goals to take AFC up to the third tier, where they would get to play Milton Keynes in a league game for the first time.
In a Wimbledon’s first season in League One they finished quite comfortably in 15th, never really being threatened by relegation all season and even flirting with the playoffs around October and November time.
Under Ardley’s command, Wimbledon beat Milton Keynes in the return fixture at Kingsmeadow (this was also the first meeting between the two at AFC’s ground). Another one of Ardley’s recruits from Wimbledon’s League Two days, Tom Elliott, finished top scorer in the 16-17 season.
The next season and a half would be more testing and difficult for Ardley and Wimbledon. They stayed up by 3 points in 2017-18 but in November 2018 he resigned after a 1-0 win over Haringey Borough in the FA Cup. The Dons were sat 23rd in League One at that point, having lost their last 7 games.
Later that month, he was appointed boss of League Two side Notts County who were sat 23rd at the table. Ardley won his first home game in charge against Tranmere Rovers and went on to drastically change the team in the January transfer window.
He led Notts to a first derby victory against Mansfield in just over 13 years, however, he couldn’t prevent the club from slipping into non-league for the first time. He now has the task of leading Notts back to League Two after the chaos behind the scenes has ended.