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Ryan Sandford opens up on Millwall exit and aims for Wimbledon contract stay


Ryan Sandford has admitted he felt like his time at Millwall had come to a natural conclusion with the keeper setting his sights on earning a further contract extension with his new side AFC Wimbledon.

The 24-year-old spent more than a decade with the Lions – initially joining at U13 level –  but was released in the summer.

Sandford left The Den without making a senior appearance.

He was named on the bench on a handful of occasions but his predominant role during his time with Millwall was acting as number three.

“It was tough, but I half expected it,” Sandford told the South London Press of his release.

“The main thing that was tough is that you grow from a boy to a man there, and that was all I was used to. My whole life, growing up, was going to the academy to train on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

“Then becoming a full-time footballer at Millwall – it was all I knew.

“Being released has some benefits – it has taken me out of my comfort zone.

“That challenge helps shape and mould you as a person. It was the right time for me to go. I had been there a very long time, and there was no clear pathway into the first-team for me – I knew that.

“It was the correct decision for them to release me at the end of the season.

“I was stuck there doing the number three role for the past four years. It was great – you’re around the first-team and travelling to every game – but you need to be playing in modern-day football to have a chance of getting into these teams.

“While it’s great being around the first-team, you’re never going to get a look in unless you have played the games at each level and ticked them off.”

Sandford was very highly-rated coming through the ranks and was capped by England at U16, U17 and U18 level. He penned his first professional deal with the Lions as a 17-year-old.

He experienced a number of short loans – joining Maidstone United, Dorking Wanderers, Weymouth and Dover Athletic.

Despite those spells in non-league he has made just 23 appearances, seven of those in the National League and the other 16 in National League South.

“You needed a better plan in place to help you kick on,” admitted Sandford, when asked about the direction of his career at senior level. “I haven’t played nearly enough as much football as I should have done.

“That’s the key reason why I am where I am now – being a free agent in the summer and finding it hard to find a club.

“Getting released and being a free agent for as long as I was, maybe was a little bit of a surprise. But that was more naivety on my side.

“I have always had that bit between my teeth – I would never throw the towel in or give up.

“I’m not the only person who has been in this position. But my advice to any young goalkeeper coming through the academy set-up is that as soon as you can get out on loan and start playing, that has to be your academy.

“It’s not regret. I just feel as though there was no clear plan in place for me coming through in terms of: ‘What are we going to do with Ryan?’

“That’s not me digging anyone out. You need three goalkeepers around the place but if I had played games as a youngster, I would have kicked on a lot further than what I have done.

“Everything happens for a reason. At this moment in time, I have ended up in a great place at Wimbledon for myself and my development.”

Sandford spent the summer without a professional deal for the first time in his career, training with Wimbledon from July onwards in a bid to stay fit and match-ready ahead of a fresh start.

He was offered a one-month deal by Wimbledon ahead of the 1-0 defeat to Bradford, with back-up stopper Nik Tzanev away on international duty with New Zealand and Sunderland loanee Alex Bass the only recognised first-team goalkeeper available.

“I was really pleased to get offered something in the end,” he added.

“The situation with Nik being away left them a bit short, so once the opportunity arose to sign something, I was more than happy to take it and be involved.

“I have loved my time here with Bayzo and the other keepers. The goalkeeping department is fantastic – it’s the best I have worked with.

Sutton United v AFC Wimbledon SkyBet League Two, Gander Green Lane, 19 August 2023
Picture : Keith Gillard

“Bayzo is incredible. He got me up to speed and you’ll just keep getting better and better working under him. He’s one of the best, if not the best, I have worked with.

“He makes you feel good and is so enthusiastic. I have improved under him in this short space of time. You only have to look at the previous goalkeepers he has had and how well they have done – it’s a credit to him.

“I love the club. I hope my time here gets extended.”


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