Ask any Wimbledon fan and they will tell you that they love nothing more than overcoming a challenge.
They did it in 1988 when they defied the odds to beat Liverpool to win the FA Cup; they did it in 2002 when they reformed as AFC Wimbledon after their club was moved to Milton Keynes; and they did it a year ago when a crowdfunding campaign helped raise the money needed to secure their return to their spiritual home of Plough Lane.
So, it comes as little surprise that when Covid-19 struck, Dons fans rallied together to help the community. What started as a 100-person WhatsApp group, involving the drivers of the Plough Lane bond scheme that helped Wimbledon finish their new stadium, transformed overnight from a fundraising machine to the Covid response team of Dons Local Action Group.
They now boast an army of 2,000 volunteers, who have delivered 160,000 one-week food boxes to the local community across Wandsworth, Merton and Kingston.
On top of that, 1,950 laptops and tablets have been given to those who need them, while 200 households have been supplied with furniture.
It has led to the Dons, along with Arsenal and Chelsea, being nominated for Community Project of the Year at this year’s London Football Awards.
“It just grew exponentially,” says Xavier Wiggins, one of the key drivers behind Dons Local Action Group.
“It was crazy, in terms of the number of people really thinking about how they could get involved and help for all manner of reasons. That’s just the Wimbledon DNA.
“I have always said to be a Wimbledon fan means something and this very quickly took on a life of its own.”
The growth of Dons Local Action Group has been incredible and they have now become part of the AFC Wimbledon Foundation.
They work to tackle poverty in the local community, in whatever form, with their focus no longer just centred around issues caused by the pandemic.
“The interesting thing is this is no longer exclusive to Wimbledon fans,” says Wiggins. “Other people have bought in - be it mums, teachers, other sports clubs.
“Everyone has bought into the spirit and what started as an AFC Wimbledon project is now very much a community one.”
Through their work, Dons Local Action Group have witnessed incredible acts of generosity at a time when the whole country has been struggling.
Their core work has always been around standing outside supermarkets, asking shoppers to donate any spare supplies for food boxes. Wiggins can remember one woman - who used to rely on food banks herself - donated two shopping trolleys full of goods.
“We get those amazing stories nearly daily,” he says. “I remember we had a kid recently who sold some of his toys, raising £50. He took that and bought food for Dons Local Action Group to distribute to people.”
The whole work of Dons Local Action Group has left Wimbledon supporters feeling immensely proud. Many of them were involved in the reformation of the club in 2002, after they were left homeless and the team was moved to Milton Keynes.
The supporters fought back, forming AFC Wimbledon, and now they are back home at Plough Lane and once again working in the community.
“It almost feels like we have come full circle,” says Wiggins. “We are back at Plough Lane, we’ve got fantastic community work from the Foundation and Dons Local Action - and we’ve got a head coach in Mark Robinson who totally gets it.
“He was a volunteer for Dons Local Action Group on day one back in March. He was there with his wife, his daughters helped.
“He has carried on volunteering since then, the players have been involved, the women’s team and the academy too. This runs right the way through the club.
“There’s a myth out there that a fan-owned club can’t be successful. Well, we are smashing that myth and will continue to smash it as we progress through the years.
“Dons Local Action Group are here to stay for as long as there is poverty in our community. Wherever we are most needed, we will be there.”