Dons Trust Chair Matt Breach and Vice-Chair Mark Davis look back on the role that DT members and AFC Wimbledon supporters – plus one or two others – have played in bringing the Dons home.
This week’s news about the new stadium is a proud moment for us all. It really does look as if AFC Wimbledon, the fans-owned club formed from the ashes of Wimbledon FC, is going to pull off a coup that our predecessor and its multi-millionaire owners apparently tried and failed – by returning the club to its spiritual home in Merton.
One day, we might look back and say that this was always destined to happen – that, as soon as our new club got established, our attention would inevitably turn to Merton. And yes, there were signs along the way. The near-miss with Tooting & Mitcham at Imperial Fields, and the patient work, led by Tom Adam and the Stadium Working Group, to identify sites in the borough and feed into Merton’s local plan.
But the truth is more complicated. The strategy we initiated over ten years ago could have taken us in either of two directions: a return to Merton, or consolidating in Kingston and perhaps even redeveloping Kingsmeadow. To our credit – and in contrast to our predecessor club – we talked to our fans about our strategy. And when, in 2009, we had something ready to present to Dons Trust members, you told us loud and clear, at a “lively” SGM discussion, that this was not the strategy you wanted.
So we went back and started afresh. We engaged the New Economics Foundation to build a new strategy with you. And that showed that your clear preference was to be a fans-owned club in Wimbledon.
That decision has set the direction we have followed ever since. And you have backed us with practical action at every step of the way. Thousands of you wrote – numerous times – to Merton as part of the planning process. First, to get the need for a football stadium reflected in the local plan, and in support of sporting intensification at the site of the greyhound stadium. And later, as part of the planning consultation and application. And again, when the application was called in by the Mayor of London, and yet again, when there was a proposal to list the greyhound stadium as being of historic interest. You also put a lot of faith in us, in backing our proposals to sell Kingsmeadow to Chelsea FC.
Thank you for your determination, persistence and patience. It has paid off. But your participation in this venture won’t end here: we will honour our commitment to involve you in decisions on stadium design over the coming months.
And, perhaps more important still, it is you, the supporters, who will turn a shiny new stadium into the new home of AFC Wimbledon. You will give it your own songs and matchday rituals that no stadium designer can plan in advance, and that will give our new home its unique feel.
Who said football supporters can’t run a football club?
As ever with projects such as this – even in the most democratic of organisations – the work falls disproportionately on a small number of shoulders. Erik has rightly thanked a few people on his page in this programme. But I want to pay particular tribute to Erik for the huge amount of work he has put into turning the stadium from an idea to reality, and keeping faith all along.
Thank you, too, to the London Borough of Merton for backing our plans. We look forward not only to helping to regenerate a run-down corner of the borough, but also to making Merton the home of a thriving football club that will serve the community.
I hope this week’s announcements will have re-energised your enthusiasm for everything we have achieved as a club and Trust over the past 15 years. Please come along to the AGM this Thursday, 21 December, to hear more about the latest news and to let us know your thoughts. Perhaps your contributions will be as telling as they were at that SGM back in 2009!