Used in several circumstances, to describe a new signing, a long-serving squad player or a homegrown academy product, the term ‘fan favourite’ is often overused.
When Ali Al-Hamadi arrived at Plough Lane in January, he would become the sole bright light after a torrid end to the 2022/23 campaign for AFC Wimbledon.
Almost a year on and 23 goals later, the ‘Iraqi Scouser’ has become a true fan favourite amongst the Dons faithful.
Iraq flags adorn the South Stand on Saturday afternoons, while the 21-year-old’s name rings around the stadium in song as regularly as the striker is firing the ball into the back of the net.
“The fans here adore me, and I adore them,” Ali Al-Hamadi told London Football Scene.
“Being at this club is like a match made in heaven for me. It’s a club that took me in at a time when I needed a club and a manager to put their faith in me.
“Being a striker is like a dual personality – when the goals are flowing everyone loves you, but when they aren’t it’s all your fault.
“That’s something I’ve learnt quickly and thankfully here I’ve been scoring regularly so the fans embraced me.”
The trust Johnnie Jackson initially placed in Al-Hamadi has clearly paid off with the Dons boss now claiming he wouldn’t swap his star striker for any other player in the league.
“He’s as good as it gets at this level,” Johnnie Jackson said. “It’s probably not reflected in the numbers in terms of goals at the start of the season, but I think he’s shown all year he’s such a threat.
Goals are coming now – we always knew they would and there’s no player I would rather have than Ali. We’re lucky to have him.”
Al-Hamadi has a professionalism that beguiles his age with much of it down to his upbringing.
His parents, Ibrahim and Asseel, sought asylum from Iraq when he was just one, moving to Liverpool after his father was imprisoned and tortured during Saddam Hussein’s reign for taking part in a peaceful protest against the dictator.
“He’s an unbelievable lad. He’s a tough boy, a tough upbringing which has been well documented,” Jackson added.
“Having to flee Baghdad, grow up in Liverpool – he’s a tough scouse lad and a joy to work with.”
Al-Hamadi’s Wimbledon form has also enhanced his international reputation, seeing him go on to score his first Iraq goal in a 5-1 World Cup Qualifying victory over Indonesia in front of 64,000 fans last month.
When asked about his international involvement, Al-Hamadi’s eyes light up: “Yeah, it’s been unbelievable.
“Not many people can say they have scored for their country and to get my first goal on home soil was incredible.
“I can’t really describe how much that means for me and my family.
“But I’m ambitious. I don’t want to just be another player for the national team, I want to be one of the star players and scoring goals.
Even before his breakthrough into the national side, attention from his homeland was nothing new for the striker.
Thousands of Iraqi fans have followed his progress throughout his early career, proven by his 250,000 Instagram followers.
Helped by his success, Wimbledon and Iraq fans have created a unique bond, with a group of Dons fans even travelling to Vietnam to watch Al-Hamadi play during the last international break.
Naturally, Al-Hamadi’s success is a double edged sword for Wimbledon with 10 league goals and five assists so far this season (including a hat-trick against Tranmere and braces against Doncaster, Notts County and Swindon) meaning interest from clubs higher up the Football League pyramid.
Since the start of 2023, only eight players across the top four divisions have been involved in 30+ goals across all domestic competitions with Al-Hamadi joining this exclusive club following his double against Swindon.
Al-Hamadi also made it another double in November, collecting his second PFA League Two Fans’ Player of the Month award of the season after previously winning the same accolade back in September.
As a result, the Wimbledon hierarchy will undoubtedly have a task on their hands to keep hold of their top goalscorer in the upcoming January window.
For now though, Al-Hamadi is loving his football and where he is playing it.
“Wherever my career goes, this will be one of my favourite places to ever play football because of the special connection I have with the fans, players and staff.
“It’s a special club and I hope that this support can continue until the end of the season because we want to get promoted.
“I wanted to come here and show what I am capable of and the fans and the gaffer have been amazing in helping me do that. Long may it continue.”