Fans may have to sell up to ‘keep Wimbledon alive’

BY TOBY PORTER
toby@slpmedia.co.uk

AFC Wimbledon fans may have to accept they cannot retain their three-quarters share in the club after it emerged the club needs £11million to complete its stadium.

The Kingsmeadow outfit’s fan owners, the Dons Trust, has blocked anyone else owning more than 25 per cent since the League One side was created seven tiers of the football pyramid lower in 2002.

Investors are already lining up to pour money into the club to ensure the new stadium, at the club’s spiritual home in Plough Lane, is of the best quality. But they will insist on having more of a say in how their money is spent.

And if trust members block an injection of investment, the stadium, which opens next year, will be of poorer quality.

The agenda for a special December 9 meeting of the trust says: “Construction of the stadium is under way.

We have not yet signed the main construction contract and are not able to do so until we have the necessary funding lined up.

“We do not yet have a firm offer of a loan. We are working hard to secure one but it is taking us longer than we expected to get there, and there is no guarantee that we will get what we are looking for.

“If we are to build the full phase one of the stadium for 2020/21, we need to be able to demonstrate to our contractor by January that we will have the funding available.

There are individuals who are willing to provide us with capital. They have made clear to us that they have the long-term interests of AFC Wimbledon at heart and are not motivated by making a profit.

They would bring deep and varied business experience to the relevant boards. Investors would require us to make major changes to the ownership structure and governance of AFC Wimbledon.

They agree that the Dons Trust must have complete control over issues such as selling the stadium, relocating the club or changing our name, badge or colours.

“However, they are not content for the Trust to insist on retaining 75 per cent voting control as this limits their rights and the club’s ability to raise more money if and when we need it.”

One trust board member, Rob Crane, has resigned his position as a result of the proposal, saying: “We are where we are. And unfortunately for me one of the things we as a club are now going to have to consider – bringing in external investment – goes against what I
personally have for years been saying about how I believe a fan-owned club should be running itself.

“No matter how unpalatable it is to me, we’re going to have to consider that option in order to keep the Plough Lane dream and our club alive.

But given my long-standing concerns, it’s not an option that I personally could stomach presenting to our members with my name attached to it.”

And some fans have already expressed their fears. One said on messageboard Wombles Underground Press: “This is awful – it’s like being visited by a dreadful ghost from your past, and not a friendly one either.”

Another said: “The majority will be against though and we don’t seem to have left very much time.

Dangerous to expect people to vote in favour just because you’ve given them no choice.”

Another said: “We voted to go back to Plough Lane, creditable ambition but the chickens have come home to roost.

“Whatever the outcome it will be a defining day in our history.”

A spokesman for AFC Wimbledon said: “The stadium at Plough Lane is proceeding and we are fully committed to returning to our spiritual home back in Wimbledon.

The issue we face is that the funding currently available to us will only pay for the bare minimum stadium.

There are options for doing more than that, including bringing in external investment, but quite rightly, it is a choice for Dons Trust members, the owners of the club.

We have presented the options to our members and will be listening carefully to their views over the coming weeks.”

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