Will Nightingale will suspend all community spirit to face his neighbour Declan Rice in AFC Wimbledon’s rematch with West Ham.
Centre-back Nightingale swapped shirts with friend Rice after AFC Wimbledon’s 3-1 Carabao Cup loss to the Hammers in August.
League One side Dons will host West Ham again in Saturday’s FA Cup fourth-round tie, with Nightingale adamant the Kingsmeadow men can scalp their Premier League foes.
Nightingale and fast-rising West Ham star Rice share the same New Malden postcode – and the AFC Wimbledon defender is out to prove they belong in the same footballing catchment.
“I live right by Declan Rice, I live a couple of roads away from him,” Nightingale told Football Paradise.
“We weren’t in the same age groups so we didn’t grow up playing against each other.
“But he’s a top player and he’s reaping the rewards now for how well he’s doing, a lot of people are talking about him and rightly so.
“But we’ve got to be ready for players like that, respect them for what they are but also get into them and try to ruffle a few feathers.
“We swapped shirts from the first match, and I’ve given that to my uncle who’s a West Ham fan.
“Declan’s a top player and if I come up against him, even though he’s a friend I’ll make sure I’m ready for that moment.
“Good luck to him for the rest of the season, apart from this match!
“We know how tough it will be, but we can’t go into our shells.
“We’ve got to prove we deserve to be in this fourth round.”
Original ‘Crazy Gang’ member Wally Downes is back as manager in the club’s new iteration, having taken over from Neal Ardley in December.
Downes has handed Nightingale his first taste of captaincy at his boyhood club, leaving the long-serving defender in buoyant mood.
“I’ve done everything at this club from ball boy to boot boy, and now I’ve been captain as well,” said Nightingale.
“I’ve been at this club 15 years and I’m 23, so I know all about the history.
“People tell me that the real Wimbledon spirit runs in my blood, and I’d like to think it does as well.
“Winning the FA Cup is the obvious highlight of all that, so hopefully we can use that spirit as an example and motivation.
“Wally (Downes) coming in gave me a new lease of life, and the whole place a lift.
“I never really expected the captaincy. When the gaffer gave it to me, he came into the dressing room and said ‘don’t mess it up’ – well, he didn’t put it so politely!
“I’d like to think I did all right with it. And if I’m given it again I’ll make sure I do it to the best of my ability.
“I’ll try to lead and help the boys regardless of whether I have the armband or not.
“But when I have worn it, that has given me an extra sense of pride.”
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