AFC Wimbledon have enjoyed an astonishing 11 years since their re-birth in 2002 following the decision for Wimbledon F.C's relocation to Milton Keynes. In 2011 AFC Wimbledon achieved a huge goal, a return to the Football League, where they have since stayed. Getting back to the Football League is only the start for this ambitious club, and plans have been announced to move back to their historic home in Merton where it all began. At the Football Family we are lucky to get an inside view from David Lloyd, a fan of 40 years. We would like to thank David for his time in giving us this interview.
Firstly, if you could give a brief outline of who you are and your involvement with the project.
My name is David Lloyd. I’ve been supporting Wimbledon for over 40 years and I’m one of a large group of people who are working with the club to help make the move back to our home town to a new, purpose-built stadium become a reality.
Can you give us some details about the proposal for the new ground?
AFC Wimbledon is currently based in Kingston-upon-Thames and is seeking permission from the planning authorities to build a new ground, featuring a range of facilities for the wider community, on the site of an existing, run-down greyhound stadium in Wimbledon. Our partner in this development is Galliard Homes, which proposes building 600 residential units on the site as well as a range of retail and leisure facilities.
There are, though, a number of hurdles that the club must overcome. First, the local authority, Merton Council, must support the proposed change of use of the existing stadium from greyhound racing to football. Then a government-appointed inspector must approve this new designation. If the club gets the green light, it will then submit a detailed planning application to build the new stadium. All this could take until next spring, with planning consent taking several months to obtain after that. If everything goes according to plan, work could begin on the site in about two years from now.
Do you foresee any issues with your plans and the independent inspector and Merton Council, or do you think you will get permission for everything to go ahead?
Merton Council has been very supportive and have made it clear that they want AFC Wimbledon back in the borough. The club has a compelling case, has prepared thoroughly and can demonstrate that a new stadium will provide benefits for the wider community beyond football.
What would this ground move mean to AFC Wimbledon?
Moving back to Wimbledon would be of huge significance and give the club a massive boost. Our current ground, Kingsmeadow, was a short-term purchase to enable the club to grow from birth. But now we have quite simply outgrown this temporary home because Kingsmeadow cannot easily be extended beyond a capacity of approximately 5,000 and many games are already sold out. Nor does the ground provide adequate commercial facilities or enable the Dons to participate more widely in the community.
And, of course, crucially, Kingsmeadow is not in Wimbledon. Our supporters united against an FA decision in 2002 so that they could right two wrongs: one was the transference of a Football League place to a town that had done nothing to deserve it, and the other was the removal of a club from the community that gave it its name and nurtured it. On the second, a return to a stadium in Wimbledon would bring the Dons home after more than 20 years in exile and return to Merton one of its prime community assets.
The move seems to concentrate on the fact that the new ground will not only benefit the club and the fans, but the wider community as well. How does it aim to achieve this?
AFC Wimbledon is not a normal football club. It was founded by its fans and is owned by its fans. We do not pay lip-service to supporter involvement and community projects – they are our raison d’etre . We are fiercely proud not only of the club’s achievements on the pitch but of its significant and diverse achievements in the wider Wimbledon community – despite being currently based across the borough boundary with a Kingston postcode. As a community-owned club, AFC Wimbledon is run in a prudent and sustainable way. We have demonstrated that football clubs can be a powerful force for good in their communities. Re-locating finally back to the area we are proud to represent will enable us to extend the range of activities we run, support and encourage.
How important is the connection with the community in Merton?
It goes back to 1889 when the original Wimbledon was formed in Merton. In the early years the club actually played its matches on the site of the current greyhound stadium, which we seek to make AFC Wimbledon’s new home. In 1912 the club played its first game in its new ground 100 yards further up Plough Lane, where the Dons remained until 1991 when the Taylor Report demanded all-seater stadia for Premier League clubs, and we were forced to ground share with Crystal Palace in order to comply with this ruling.
Where is the funding for the new stadium coming from?
Constructing the first phase of the stadium, providing a capacity of 11,000, is expected to cost in the region of £16m. Funds will be raised through a combination of naming rights for the new ground, a Community Share issue and enabling development.
The club’s community work in Merton has been around since 2002. Does this provide a good foundation to continue to build on, and provide incentive for the new build to go through?
Community activity has been at the heart of the AFC Wimbledon project since 2002. In fact, the club has won several major awards for this work. The Dons are owned and run by its fans and its performance is reviewed regularly by the Dons Trust, which lists community involvement among its core objectives. To underpin this commitment the club is in the process of forming a Charitable Foundation, under which many of its community activities will be run.
How much would this move symbolise and highlight the amazing achievements AFC Wimbledon has conquered over the last 11 years? Would it be the icing on the cake?
It would, of course, be enormously satisfying for everyone associated with the Dons for the club to be playing, once again, in its home town. But our fans are also realistic and recognise that the move would represent just another chapter in our short but glorious history, helping to generate the income needed for AFC Wimbledon to progress up the ladder of professional football.
The thing that strikes me the most about the move is that it’s a decision made by the fans, for the fans, with fantastic intentions and no secret big commercial motive. Would you agree?
Fan ownership means that it is the fans who make the big decisions affecting the future of our club. That’s very different to the way the majority of professional clubs, with a different ownership model, are run.
Everything else aside, what does this mean to you as a fan, and what do you think it means to other fans like yourself?
It would be fantastic to be playing in Wimbledon again. What an achievement that would be when you consider that this club is only 11 years old.
If you want to find out more about AFC Wimbledon’s proposed new stadium and would like to register your support for the club’s move back to its home town see http://www.bringthedonshome.org (Link goes live on Sunday 1st of December)
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Interviewed by Jack Read-Wilson