Dons Trust Board member, Graham Stacey, looks at the journey that got us back to Plough Lane and what comes next…
When Wimbledon Old Centrals took to the field for the first time 131 years and one day ago, on 2nd November 1889, they surely had no idea of the epic scale of the journey Wimbledon’s football club was embarking on.
Sometimes in life you really do have to stand back, take a breath, and take it all in. Now is that time. Where we are today is a victory for fan power and this truly, surely has to be the greatest story in football.
I may not look old enough (stop laughing at the back, there) but my love affair with Wimbledon started at Plough Lane. That love wasn’t instant. My earliest memories were of things moving around in the stand under the wooden seats. It was probably rats but I was assured it was Wombles, tidying up. That was probably the only thing that got me to go back because that stadium was what you might call humble, and we’d rather outgrown it.
Besides regularly thrashing the likes of Chelsea and Spurs, my fondest memories of the place include sneaking in for kickabouts on the pitch, playing there in the final of a school cup (as the only Wimbledon fan at my school, that was pretty cool) and much later being at the last night of The Sportsman – although the memory is a bit hazy on that one.
But since our last home match there, against Palace in 1991, some 29 years ago, it hasn’t all been a barrel of laughs.
We’ve had our stadium sold from under us, spent way too long at someone else’s ground, were told we were not in the wider interests of football, had to start again at the bottom and spent time in a neighbouring borough.
All the way through there was one positive: the fans.
People like my father, who has supported us for almost 60 years (he says he doesn’t look old enough) but hasn’t seen us play a home game for around half that time.
People like the WISA gang who were building a relationship with Merton Council while disingenuous chairmen were saying going home could never be done.
People like Marc Jones, Kris Stewart, Trevor Williams and Ivor Heller who came up with ridiculous ideas in the space of a few days. People like Lou Carton-Kelly who headed up this new-fangled body called the Dons Trust.
And then as recently as December 2019, when we were told we would have to sell up or drop down to non-league, the fans rallied. Within months, the fan-led Plough Lane Bond had raised £5.4 million, Nick Robertson saw what we had done and came on board and we’d secured a loan to get the stadium finished.
Every time the club has called on the fans, the fans have come good. Together we’ve overcome every obstacle.
Whatever your part in this journey, take a breath, take it all in and enjoy. You did this.
I mentioned earlier that this is surely the greatest story ever told in football. But I actually like to think it’s just chapter one. I’m particularly looking forward to the chapter on our European adventures but, for now, it is our duty to ensure Wimbledon’s football club is never put at risk again.
How? Well, I’d say joining the Dons Trust is your starting point. When the board muck up, call us to account. Or maybe go further and stand for election – being on the board can be hard work, but there’s an amazing fanbase always ready to help.
We’ve learnt the hard way, but this club is everything because of the fans. And with the fans in control of our destiny as members, we’ll never go too far wrong.
I reckon those Old Centrals would be proud of what Wimbledon’s football club has become.
So, enjoy today, whatever the result, and I cannot wait to see you all at a home game soon.