A night out in Benidorm is a lesser-spotted item on pre-season agendas, but AFC Wimbledon have never been afraid to do things differently.
On a sunny July evening, the aptly named 12th Man Sports Bar played host to an event that set the tone for the new campaign.
The Wimbledon players and staff mingled with supporters over the course of two hours, as the club’s unfortunate new signings were presented with a lively crowd for their initiation songs. Boss Johnnie Jackson is keen to ensure occasions like that are not a one-off.
“It used to happen a lot and we went away from it,” Jackson tells Standard Sport.
“It’s about getting that connection back with the fans and understanding what Wimbledon is all about. We want a team that represents that: hard-working, against the odds, up and at ‘em. Tapping into the Crazy Gang spirit.”
After a few seconds of contemplation, he qualifies that somewhat: “Maybe not as crazy as those boys used to be!”
A summer return to Benidorm might have to become an annual tradition if Wimbledon maintain what has been a superb start to the League Two campaign, with the club fourth in the table after losing just one game.
Wimbledon won only two of their final 23 league matches last season as an injury crisis hit, but that is now firmly in the rear-view mirror.
“Our aim should be to get promoted,” Jackson insists. “I feel we’re able to compete with anyone, the start has given us a lot of belief. We’re up against it in terms of resources, but in terms of history and stature we have a lot in our favour.”
Few in the current squad know that more than captain Jake Reeves, who has returned to the club for a third spell as one of 12 summer arrivals.
The midfielder played a key role last term as Stevenage earned automatic promotion from League Two, and an early sense of déjà vu is growing.
“We did exactly the same thing at Stevenage,” Reeves says. “Big turnover of players in the summer and then hit the ground running. You got a feeling in pre-season that we were cooking already.”
Stevenage sustained that good start and he is confident Wimbledon can do likewise.
“Togetherness is key,” he says. “We’re lucky in our group with the senior lads talking to everyone, allowing the younger boys to be themselves and bringing out their personalities.”
Whether a promotion bid remains on track deep into the New Year could be defined by the January transfer window, which last season resulted in the sale of Ayoub Assal and the recalling of key players to parent clubs.
“We’ve learned lessons,” Jackson says. “If we want to do anything significant this season, we can’t come out of the window weaker.
“That obviously wasn’t the case last January. The conversations I’ve been having, there isn’t pressure to do anything with player sales.
“If there’s ridiculous offers that come in, I won’t be the one with the ultimate answer. But I’ve made my feelings very clear.”
If we can go to Chelsea and give them a game, we can give anyone a game.
Jackson was serenaded at Stamford Bridge last month, as he and his players received a huge ovation from the away end following a narrow Carabao Cup defeat.
“If we can go to Chelsea and give them a game, we can give anyone a game,” was one of Jackson’s main takeaways from that night.
The other is that the fans and team are firmly together on the road they hope leads to League One, via Benidorm.
“Fans singing my name, there wasn’t too much of that last season,” he says.
“I got emotional. Seeing them happy is all I want to deliver. If you give them a team they can be proud of, they’ll give you everything back.”