Dons Trust Board chair Matthew Breach casts his eye over the main achievements (so far!) of AFC Wimbledon’s 2015/16 season, both on and off the pitch, and says “thank you” to the volunteers.
This season has already been one of the most successful in the history of our club, whatever happens in the last two – or hopefully three – games. And the success is not restricted to the obvious improvements on the pitch: we have made huge strides off the pitch as well, especially with the continuing progress towards finally returning home to Wimbledon.
Starting on the pitch with the first-team squad, the significant progress is reflected in our highest-ever league placing and points total. On a wage budget that puts us below mid-table compared with other League Two clubs, Neal Ardley has outperformed his target of a top-ten finish.
The effectiveness of his recruitment strategy has been evident in a second half of the season in which we gained more points than any club other than champions Northampton Town. At Christmas, when we were in 14th place, few fans would have thought we’d make the play-offs, but the squad gelled at the right time, and thanks to that marvellous recent run we reached the target with a game to go.
Away from the first team, there has been another huge plus in the performance of our Academy, with a dramatic run to the last 16 of the FA Youth Cup. The Academy has provided many of the players who helped our U21s to a second-place in the Final Third League.
A reliance on youth and a thriving Academy were always part of the old Wimbledon way, and it is tremendously pleasing to see the investment we have made in youth beginning to pay back in such style. With the significant restrictions on loans that will come in next season, the ability to call upon our talented youngsters will make Neal’s job far easier than for many managers at our level.
Elsewhere, our Ladies & Girls section – who receive a significant amount of funding directly from the Dons Trust – had a fantastic season, culminating with their first team winning the London & South East Regional Women’s Premier Division and finishing runners-up to Crystal Palace in the Surrey Women’s County Cup.
Things have been progressing well off the pitch, albeit with a few bumps in the road. The dream of our new stadium back in Wimbledon is still very much alive. The Back in 2 Ticks campaign took a great deal of time and planning, and required a fantastic team of volunteers to bring it all together, but it produced the desired result: our members authorised the potential sale of Kingsmeadow to Chelsea, which will generate a significant portion of the funds we need to finance the new stadium.
With planning permission granted by Merton Council and the main finances in place, it wouldn’t be typical of our story if there weren’t a few extra obstacles thrown in our way, so I suppose we should have half-expected Boris Johnson to “call in” the project.
Despite that, we remain confident that the new Mayor of London. Sadiq Khan, will agree with Merton and his own planning officials, and give the project the go-ahead sooner rather than later. Opening the new stadium will be a fitting tribute to all who have helped make our club what it is over the last 15 years.
As always, the Dons Trust Board is committed to ensuring that we stay successful and deliver what our members want, so please drop in and see us at the Trust’s kiosk, next to the car park’s entrance gates, and make your views known.
Finally, no end-of-season round-up would be complete without a huge “thank you” to the many volunteers who have given their time this season to help both the club and the Trust – it really is appreciated. See you next season!
This article originally appeared in the matchday programme for the play-off semi-final game against Accrington Stanley, played on May 14, 2016.