The Dons Trust AFC Wimbledon Club OwnersA fans’ owned club – where do we stand?

Dons Trust Board Chair, Mark Davis, writes:

“It’s no secret that the events of late 2019, when selling a 30% stake in AFCW
PLC was mooted, provoked controversy and concern among Dons Trust members.

“The subsequent success of the Plough Lane Bond and the injection of a further
£2.5 million of equity on terms that do not jeopardise Dons Trust control have
reduced the prospect of needing to dilute below 75% voting control, at least in
the near term. Nonetheless, it is clear that a number of members still have
concerns about the stance of Dons Trust Board members on the issue of fan
ownership.

“Following a question asked on Proboard, I have therefore asked all my board
colleagues to set out where they stand, for you all to see. The question and the
answer from each board member are set out below, in alphabetical order by
surname.”

The question on Proboards:

“What I would like to know, starting with every current member of the current Dons
Trust Board, is which of them is unequivocally in favour of AFCW remaining a fans owned
Club (no ifs, no buts), as there is a growing perception that there are some board
members who would be willing to sell the Club. Please can such a list be produced? I
believe we have a right to know as DT members; I cannot recall any board members,
when they stood, having the latter in their supporting statements)”

Alastair Brown

I am a co-opted member of the Dons Trust Board so it is important that I make my
position clear on this subject as I do not have a published manifesto.

I unequivocally believe that AFC Wimbledon should remain a fans’ owned club. This is
the principle that we were founded on. This has been the driving force that brings us
together. This is what defines who we are. To change this would destroy everything that
we have fought for.

It does, however, mean that we have to make hard choices. If we accept that the club
should remain fans-owned, we also have to accept that there are downsides to the
model. For example, this may mean that we cannot take on money to buy short term
success on the pitch if that means that the fans no longer have a majority holding.

I believe we should look at ways that we can protect fans’ ownership structurally and
permanently so that we can refocus our collective energy on how we can become
sustainable financially whilst meeting our short, medium and long term ambitions on and
off the pitch.

Ultimately, it isn’t what I believe that’s important. The DTB is here to represent the
owners. So what is important is for the DTB to get a mandate from the owners on
ownership and for us to safeguard and act on that.

Mark Davis

I am in favour of the Dons Trust retaining majority control of AFC Wimbledon.

When we got members’ permission to sell shares as part of the stadium financing, it was
on the understanding that we would retain at least 75% voting control of AFCW PLC. So,
when our efforts proved unsuccessful, last year, in raising the financing to complete the
stadium, the proposal to sell a stake in the club that would dilute us below that level was
driven by necessity, not desire. I am glad that, with the help of the Plough Lane Bond
and then Nick Robertson, we found another way forward.I believe a debate is needed, once we can pause for breath, on whether diluting below
75% (but still with majority control) is a price worth paying for reducing the club’s
borrowings and/or expanding the stadium. I think we need to work out what that would
look like, even if it’s only as a break-glass-in-emergency option. It would be a big
decision, and I am hoping lots of you will step forward to help write the next chapter of
the AFC Wimbledon story.

As Chair, I welcome the presence of board members who are prepared to ask
challenging questions on this subject. Diversity of ideas and the courage to challenge
accepted thinking are vital ingredients of a successful organisation. We have
constitutional mechanisms that keep this issue within the control of members rather
than the board, and I know that all board members respect those mechanisms.

Tim Hillyer

My involvement with supporter ownership began in the early days of Supporters Direct,
which happily was formed just a couple of years before the formation of The Dons Trust.
As an alternative to ownership by a single wealthy individual or a small group of
investors, the added attraction for me is the democratic model, which allows fans to
organise and create a structure with objectives more aligned to community purposes. In
the case of AFC Wimbledon there was the additional impetus of righting a terrible wrong
and proving that The FA and the Football League had made an awful mistake in allowing
our club to be taken away from us.

There are good reasons for supporters trusts emerging at clubs during difficult times;
perhaps when a benefactor runs out of funds, loses interest or an extreme situation such
as a pandemic occurs. Relegation should not cause existential problems. Sustainable
planning should incorporate foreseeable events such as a poor run of form or even
demotion.

When hard times arrive at a club, it is all too common that supporters are expected to
generate funds by fundraising – bucket collections, auctions, events etc. Frustratingly,
that effort is often taken for granted. Until the advent of supporter trusts, there was no
quid pro quo for such input. Future defining investment of passion, time, energy and
money was not reciprocated with even a say in the running of their club, let alone
meaningful consultation or a seat on the board.

Taking an active part in running a football club or, in our case, full control of AFC
Wimbledon, is not a political statement or a social project. It is football.

AFC Wimbledon is the highest ranked supporter owned club in English football. The story
of our resurrection is known around the world. Fans of other clubs recognise our
achievements. The story has resonance worldwide. The goodwill thus generated brings
support at matches with visitors from around the globe, increased merchandise sales
and maintains high profile in the media. It also underpins good relationships in the local
community. It could be said that fan ownership is our Unique Selling Factor.

Anna Kingsley

I am hugely proud that the club I support, which has grown so much since its conception
in 2002, is fans-owned and I want to see the Dons Trust continue to have a controlling
majority.

My time on the board, coinciding with the development of the new stadium and of
course, Coronavirus, has rammed home to me just how important it is for AFC
Wimbledon to be in a strong and clear financial position.

My hope is that the club does not need to further reduce its stake below 75% and that
our fans continue to work together to ensure there is a way to pay off the debt and have
a sustainable player’s budget so that the club can maintain its position in League One.
It’s a huge challenge, one that’s far from straightforward, and a discussion about future
funding may need to take place.

Nevertheless, I remain optimistic for AFC Wimbledon. The collaborative approach that
has developed between the brains behind the Plough Lane Bond, the club and the Dons
Trust Board, along with the incredible work by the Dons Local Action Group lead me to
believe anything is possible when it comes to our club.

Hannah Kitcher
I stood for the Dons Trust Board on a number of principles. Namely, they included:

  1. To share my passion and build our strength as a fan-owned club through growing
    the Dons Trust membership
  2. To promote the values upon which the club has been built

This remains. I am committed to ensuring the club remains fan-owned. And in upholding
the vision and values, you just need to look to the Club Charter which states the
following:

“AFC Wimbledon is a club collectively created, owned and run by its fans.

“In everything we do, we strive to provide the very best football club we can
possibly be – for our supporters, our visitors and our community. And, as a fansowned club, everything we do is for fans, and much of it is done by fans.

“Our club is built on, and depends on, the support of hundreds of volunteers, all
of whom are fans, who give freely of their time to help the club. This is central to
our club ethos, and we know that our supporters take great pride and enjoyment
from supporting such a uniquely run club.”

I also promised in my manifesto that I would seek to maintain and build our volunteer
capacity and fight for us not to lose our strong community ethos as we transition to the
new stadium.

I cannot stake any claim on the incredible fans who stepped up and delivered the Plough
Lane Bond. And then those who went further and conceived the Dons Local Action
Group. But what both initiatives do is serve to remind us all of the capacity of the
collective to pull together and innovate out of a difficult situation.

We’ve learned a lot in the past few years and we have more learning to do. This includes
ensuring the resources we have are nurtured and cherished.

Edward Leek

All things being equal I am absolutely in favour of our club being majority fan-owned.
But let’s remember that AFC Wimbledon is above all a Football League club that needs
good footballers, money and expertise to be able to compete and flourish. We are in the
middle of spending £30m on a stadium that represents a historic victory for the club and
will bring us back to Plough Lane. At the end of that process we will have up to £9-10m
of debt, £5m of which is owed to our fans thanks to the fantastic Plough Lane Bond
initiative, but nevertheless needs to be repaid, and the remainder of which will be
external. We will be operating in a very uncertain financial environment, at least for a
while.

Plough Lane could be a massive success, kickstarting growth in the fanbase and allowing
us to be a truly sustainable League One club. But we need to think very clearly about
the resources that will be required and I fear that some difficult choices that will need to
be made.

So in practical terms my views are:

  1. Ownership: I believe there is a strong argument to allow the Dons Trust to issue
    new shares until it has 50%+1 of the voting rights. This would provide a vital
    way of raising money if we had to (as the sale of shares to Seedrs and Nick
    Robertson has recently). In my opinion the practical differences between owning
    75% and 51% in terms of control of the club are relatively minor, and limited
    mostly to the ability to override or mistreat minority shareholders (which we
    would now never do, with 5,500 fans and other new shareholders holding
    investments through Seedrs).
  2. Management: the club and Dons Trust needs relevant business expertise. We
    cannot expect that this will always come from our elected DTB members, as we
    saw with the brilliant members initiative behind the Plough Lane Bond. We need
    to find a way to bring expertise into the club for the long term – this isn’t a threat
    to Dons Trust ownership but does require some flexibility in the way we think
    about member control of the club.

I think that these changes will improve our chances of turning our club into a sustainable
and competitive League club. We need to give ourselves the best chance to:

  • have more success on the pitch
  • keep developing our own players through the academy
  • keep the link to our Wimbledon community in the widest sense possible
  • and above all make the most of the opportunity at Plough Lane that so many
    people have worked tirelessly for.

All of these things need money and expertise. Thanks to the combined efforts of the
club, the trust the Plough Lane Bond team, and everybody that invested through the
Seedrs campaign and bought bonds, the immediate danger has passed. But the club
cannot afford to be complacent or to think small. Our club needs to be in a financially
strong position so it can cover its debts and still grow, if it is to reap the huge benefits
the stadium brings us.

Jane Lonsdale

I want us to remain fan owned and retain the protections we have. My view has not
changed (Manifestos 2019).

I have heard members debate whether to go below 75% and potentially adopt eg
50.1%. We aren’t like other countries where there is regulation in place to protect them
so we can’t be compared to them easily. 75% protects us and whilst it might make it
difficult to raise money as “easily”, whenever the members have wanted to do
something protected by a restricted action in the past it has been possible with members
voting in favour. The plc Articles of Association cover:

  1. Issuing new shares
  2. borrowing over £100k
  3. creating a mortgage or charge
  4. selling KM or a group company
  5. selling a substantial part of the business

and then of course there are statutory requirements. If the DT has less than 75% it
couldn’t do those without the approval of minority shareholders. We would lose some
protection we have.

My job as a DTB member is to represent the members views. Members have consistently
put fan ownership as a priority. Most recently, in the fans survey in 2017, 74.67%
responded “owning the club” in answer to “What do you see as the most important
benefit of being a Dons Trust member?” This was consistent with the strategy sessions
last Summer and the NEF strategy in 2011. We need to ask our members again as our
other aims have all (nearly) been met – A league club, playing back in Wimbledon.

Luke Mackenzie

On the 16th October 2019, I sat in a joint DTB and PLC board meeting and stated my
position that I would not put my name to any recommendation to dilute fan ownership
below 75%. Why? Because I believe in our model and in our fans. And I never want to
lose my football club again.

At the time of that meeting, I believed that we hadn’t explored all the options and that
the boards were underestimating the membership and fanbase.
My position hasn’t changed. In fact, it has probably strengthened even more due to the
success of the Dons Trust Bond and the amazing work of the Dons Local Action Group.
Our fans can make a massive difference.

But make no mistakes, massive challenges lie ahead. There is no getting away from the
fact that our playing budget is one of the lowest in the league and that the stadium has
massively impacted us and will do for some time. Some will seek to reduce fan
ownership – next stop will be 50%+1. But then where do we go?

And if that discussion must be had, let it be membership led. Let it happen at a point
where time isn’t an issue and a metaphorical gun isn’t pointed at our head. I personally
don’t shy away from that debate because I firmly believe that the membership will make
the right choices.

Graham Stacey

I believe in fan ownership and I absolutely believe in our fans.

Every time this club has needed something, fans have stepped up to the plate.

I know it hasn’t always felt like the fans are in charge. But it’s changing. The DT board is
engaging more with members, fans are being consulted on serious issues – pricing and
debentures just recently.

There’ll be more consultations to come – on matchday experience in the new stadium,
and more. This is our new dawn and we’re getting to have a real say in how our club is
run. It’s not perfect, but we’re heading in the right direction.

Why give that up now?

Yes, mistakes have been made – but members and fans have made things right.
Members keep the board in line when it gets things wrong. It was fans who devised the
bond to fix the mess we were in last December, and fans who found £5m to make it a
success.

Our rules protect us – a “Restricted Action” keeps at least 75% of votes with the Dons
Trust. That keeps us in full control. There’s talk of “the German model” – 50%+1 – but
the Bundesliga has protections in place the EFL doesn’t. It’s not a valid comparison.

Say we sold out to 51%, perhaps to build an East Stand. What happens next when we
want to build a South Stand? Or when we encounter another crisis like C19? There’ll
always be people who want to sell more, always pressure on us to give up more control.
But we don’t want someone else making our decisions for us. We’ve been there before.

Let’s keep our new home at Plough Lane safe for generations to come. As fans. As
owners. As Wimbledon.

Anne Williams

As a new member of the Board I’ve become quickly immersed in the ongoing and
exciting developments of the Club’s future. 2020 has brought many challenges not least
the Pandemic but despite this we’re still on track to move back to Plough Lane.

The whole reason I wanted to become involved is to help to achieve the next stage of
development, while protecting and maintaining the very thing that got us there in the
first place which is the voice, passion, drive and control that the fans have. AFC
Wimbledon have an extraordinary story to tell and it is followed around the World.

But there’s no question that we do face huge funding challenges in 2020. This will be
apparent to everybody. However I’m sure as ever that the fans and the Board will
continue to find ingenious ways of continuing to support the Club financially as they did
most recently by issuing the Plough Lane Bond. I’m so proud of what has been achieved
through this and other mechanisms.

Let me be clear I’m absolutely in favour of and committed to fan ownership and the
Dons Trust retaining majority control of AFC Wimbledon.

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