So on one hand we have a borough that is bending over backwards to include us in their twenty year development plan, but unfortunately cannot identify a site for us at the current time. On the other hand there is another borough that wishes to make our stadium plans part of their medium term development… the problem being this borough is Kingston, not Wimbledon…
Of course this is a response to Steve Elson’s article over on Wise Men Say (http://www.wise-men-say.com/brains/wimbledon-or-bust) and I have to say it was the most thought-provoking Dons article I have read for quite some time. The fact that it has already generated more comments than I have since August speaks volumes about its importance. The comments themselves betray that this isn’t really just a straight choice between Kingston and Wimbledon…
A tasty debate, this is one that is going to run and run. After all, AFC Wimbledon were originally formed due to a ‘debate’ over where the club should play, this is something that every Dons fan should feel strongly about. As is understandable, there is also an element of panic in the air. There seems to be two groups forming – both are undoubtedly behind returning to our home town in principle but seem to have different priorities; one group seemingly insistent that a move back to Wimbledon should be our top priority and take precedence over league position, the other that a move to Wimbledon is impractical at the moment and we should accept the best medium term alternative until a site that suits us becomes available.
So the argument really is do we risk staying at Kingsmeadow in the medium/long-term, build a new stadium and potentially miss out on a suitable site in Wimbledon in the next 5/10 years or so, or do we save our money by not redeveloping Kingsmeadow more that absolutely necessary, but find ourselves in an unsuitable stadium for the foreseeable future?
Personally I wouldn’t mind staying at Kingsmeadow until that holy grail appears before us and we find the right site in the right location, namely SW19… I make no secret of the fact my proximity to Kingsmeadow is handy for me, being in the borough that has been my home for about 26 of my 32 years. Plus growing up here, having friends in New Malden, Raynes Park and Wimbledon and travelling between Kingston and Wimbledon regularly, I’ve always considered the two towns as the same place anyway. I first became a Dons fan after reading match reports in the Surrey Comet, Kingston’s weekly paper, and thinking ‘Oh, they are my local team!’. I used to watch Kingstonian when I was a boy when the Dons played away, so I was well used to Kingsmeadow before we even arrived. So naturally I am subconsciously drawn towards Kingsmeadow as the best alternative option, and am probably ignoring key weaknesses of the site. But to suggest that it’s ok for us to stay in Kingston forever is a bit like living with your parents when you grow up… yes it’s comfortable, but deep down it’s not really your home anymore.
Despite my links with the town and the stadium, there is something bugging me. I originally became a Wimbledon fan; a team that played not that far from the town centre, I could catch a bus there and my mum used to let me go with friends or on my own if I needed, and I kind of want to see my support come full circle at some point in my life. I used the word panic earlier for a reason, as one potential problem we may have is this – should we end up building a new stadium in Kingston we may see the local fanbase rocket. These people will gradually infiltrate the club, eventually buying season tickets and joining the Dons Trust. In every other aspect they will be like us, until one day in the future our Chairman will come out and say ‘We can move back to Wimbledon, but it’s going to cost us – we may drop a division or two as we wont have the cash to compete…’ Now I would be well up for watching a team of battlers attempt to remain well above their station for a couple of years… especially when the ultimate prize is so much more valuable.
But what about any Kingston-based newcomers? Would they have that same drive that we do? Could we find ourselves in a position that these ‘newcomers’ (who could have been DT members for 15-20 years by the time we find a decent site) aren’t happy to accept such a blow to our status and consider it a waste of money. Lets not kid ourselves that some of those that at the moment I would describe as ‘us’, would feel comfortable at a redeveloped Kingsmeadow and would be easily talked into supporting the ‘Stay at Kingston’ brigade to the point that such a vote could be lost?
It’s a nightmare scenario alright, and how bitter a pill would that be for those of us who sat patiently, promised a stadium in Wimbledon that never came to being partly down to the evolution of the club itself? It’s unlikely but possible, and can only come about through our own ambivalence. We may have to wait twenty years, and it is down to us to ensure perhaps not that we return home as soon as possible, but simply that we return home at all.
Ok, so that might be unlikely, but more importantly we must consider how history will view us. These days the line between ‘the club’ and individual supporters has been blurred to the extent it no longer exists, we own the club, we make the decisions (or at least vote for the people who get to make the day-to-day calls for us…), and we no longer have a seedy businessman to blame if things go wrong. We should consider our sons and daughters, future generations of those born to SW19 who hear the call of the Dons and follow it. Yes we have done something amazing by rebuilding a Wimbledon club from the ashes of the one so criminally taken from us. But ultimately if we find this so-called Wimbledon team are still playing in Kingston in fifty years time, surely we would have failed, right?
Writing this article has clarified a few issues about how I feel personally about the whole situation. Yes, we need to be sensible about how we plan for the future, and returning to Wimbledon will require some caution. But ask yourself, could you cope with not seeing a Wimbledon side playing back in Wimbledon in your lifetime? I’ve asked myself that question today, and I have to say I’ll die a slightly disappointed man if they don’t.