Tag Archives: Kingston Upon Thames

Borough Wars

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.

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The General Specific (Friday 29th May ’09)

So the outcome of those newspaper reports was nothing more than starting an Internet based squabble over where precisely our new ground should be. Ignoring of course we still have no preferred site closer to Wimbledon, the Greyhound Stadium owners still won’t talk to us (which is strange and arrogant of them, surely by now they could have responded, even if it was just ‘your barking up the wrong tree, folks’). I’m fairly certain the non-rumour was much more likely to have been spread to the papers by someone close to the council rather than the club.

wimbledonold25So I hope all the good publicity was worth it for them – we now know they will back us to build on a site we don’t own and which may not be released for redevelopment for years (taking the current financial climate into account). By that time the local elections could have decimated our support on the council, unless the stadium issue becomes a hot topic closer at that time.

It’s at this point that I have to come forward and declare an interest, that as someone who has lived in Kingston and its surrounds for most of my life I am naturally going to show a selfish bias towards staying at Kingsmeadow. I take great pride in the fact that my football club currently play in my hometown. I always used to follow Kingstonian when Wimbledon were playing too far for me to travel, so I have been watching football for years here.

The truth is, my love of Kingsmeadow has very little to do with Kingstonian as a club – the ground was just somewhere a group of 15 year olds who supported the likes of Wimbledon, Fulham, Chelsea, Manchester United, Spurs, Palace, etc, could go on a Tuesday night for a Carlsberg Cup game, spend ninety minutes taking the piss out of Sutton players, get served a beer at half time, and generally just enjoy ourselves at football without the fear of club loyalties ruining everything. If it weren’t for Kingsmeadow we wouldn’t have had that. 

Yes I love Wimbledon town very much, perhaps because I have never lived there and yet support the club I even have a rose tinted view of the place even those that are based in the town wouldn’t share. My memories of watching football at Plough Lane were collected almost exclusively before my fourteenth birthday (a dozen or so reserve games don’t count surely? Its a bit too late to try and cover up the fact I normally bunked off school for the afternoon to go, unless my mum is reading in which case – Sorry Mum).

Yet – and this might stagger those of you who feel wanting the club to remain at Kingsmeadow and wanting the club to move back to Wimbledon are two mutually exclusive ideas – if you asked me what camp I’m in right now I’d say I’m pro-Wimbledon. AFC Wimbledon deserve to play in Wimbledon, as a fan base we can move mountains. I really believe that. A move back to Wimbledon might seem impossible right now to some, but we can make it happen, whether it’s in five years, ten years or fifty years. We will achieve our goal.

Until then? The club has become progressively more successful in the last few years and will continue to be regardless of where we play, be it Kingsmeadow or somewhere in Merton. But why should we spend millions doing up Imperial Fields for example, when that isn’t Wimbledon either? Surely once that has been done we will all be fine for a couple of years before another site comes up and we all get itchy feet again?

We may as well stay at Kingsmeadow for all the good we will do ourselves. Get the rebuilding work done, get up to 6000 capacity, and see where we go from there. I hear rumours that Kingston Council may not be as proactive as Merton are, well they certainly will be when we are knocking on the door of the Football League and selling out Kingsmeadow every week. How long will it take until small businesses from Kingston to New Malden are banging on our door to assist our expansion plans? The pressure for homes in Kingston – let alone affordable ones – is through the roof. What ten or fifteen years ago was a town surrounded by waste ground has now been built on every available square inch.

All except two sites. The old power station, due to its proximity to the river, is always going to be a sensitive one. The other is the filter beds. Now at some point in the future, there is going to be a development there. And that development will more that likely bring with it footpath access from Lower Marsh Lane/Berrylands station. With at least an extra two trains an hour arriving within easy reach of the stadium in both directions (and the likely hood of South-West Trains allowing the Waterloo-Woking service and perhaps even the Waterloo-Guildford via Cobham run stopping at Berrylands on match day being quite high – they already do this frequently during high passenger traffic periods) fans could find it easier to get to KM from there than from Norbiton.

So where will all these fans fit into our tiny 4700 arena? Well we know from the beauty of openly available trust reports that the extra turnstiles will push us over the 5000 capacity + 1000 seat limit to allow us at least a three year stay in the Football League. That’s not going to be big enough for us, so I will imagine that developments on the Kingston Road End are completed as per current plans. The safety bonus of having supporters enter and leave from the rear as well as the front will mean we could fit a few more in safely.

That only takes us up to 5,500, so the club implements the John Smith planning permission. Or maybe it doesn’t? Perhaps the club find out it would be more cost effective to join forces with the council owned running track, demolish the old stand there, and build a new one in front of the old one, moving that jump pit inside the track? Or even putting the stand on the other side of the track altogether… it would cost money, but again there would be improved grants available to a Football League club, and as it is improving the athletics facilities too may qualify for a separate grant for that part of the work. All of a sudden there’s 7,000 in the ground, and things are looking a little rosier.

km overhead

Finally the Strank Stand. Seemingly constrained by its own structure, the only alternative would be to demolish and rebuild. The only way we could possibly do this would be to find a ‘development partner’. Again grants would play a part, but if we cosy up to the right sort of investor at the right time, i.e. one who had noticed a lack of conference and banqueting facilities in the Borough.

I know I have banged on about this before, but as someone who once had to plan a Christmas party for a Surbiton based company knows only too well – there aren’t nearly enough of them! Most venues were telling me they are solidly booked throughout the year, let alone Xmas, and we had no chance (we eventually had to make do with a Monday early in December in Strada. Nice, but not what we had in mind…). This was before Ravens Ait fell dormant – the island site later fell into the hands of ‘community squatters’, before sadly they were turfed out last month.

Ok, a reality check now. I know speculators looking to grab a few hundred thousand pounds a year from the business community probably won’t snap up Kingsmeadow. I also know what ever happens to Ravens Ait there are likely to be similar facilities in the new Holiday Inn just down the Pompey Road. But what’s stopping us from making the most of our own site – and scooping the rewards ourselves?

Well, it would take a massive amount of investment and borrowing off our own backs, even if the inflated London construction prices were capped with the largest grants available. But those steps don’t need to be taken straight away, they can happen over the course of ten or twenty years, as a piecemeal development – always keeping our eyes open for a return to the Promised Land. Every new structure from now on – even those basic improvements we have to make to stay in the Conference/be eligible for the league – will need to be debated with the same ferocity as this one has.

Lets not be scared of argument. Ultimately as someone who attended coming on forty Dons games last season, my opinion counts the same as any Wimbledon supporters, whether they be based in Wimbledon, Mitcham, Croydon or Kent, if they attended every first team game or just a handful of home fixtures. As a long time Kingston-based Don I’m fairly certain I know my council. They resisted public criticism to build The Rose, the loss making theatre. They did everything in their power to get the family oriented Rotunda built. So I’m fairly certain if they were offered a Football League club for keeps, they’ll snatch our hands off. Bear in mind ten years ago Kingston Town Centre was a battleground on Friday and Saturday nights caused by pissed up young fools like myself… and fair enough it hasn’t improved a great deal after throwing out time now. But walk around the town centre of a Saturday night, you’ll see a lot more families, theatre-types, or people who only came to Kingston to sample the Jamie Oliver restaurant.

Kingston wants to build more hotels, to make more of its heritage, its closeness to Hampton Court and Kew and the launch pad to several dozen historic places nearby. Kingston wants to see new people, to be a tourist hotspot. For that reason, Kingston will want a football club in the League. And what about other institutions? I remember picking up a prospectus at Kingston Uni ten years ago that advised students ‘Premier League football is a short journey away, as Wimbledon FC play at Selhurst Park’. The message being that cheap football was nearby, and although the student demographic at the Uni has changed considerably over the years, there will still be plenty of students willing to come down, even based on our reputation alone.

Those of you who may have seen my posts on the guest book recently will know I hold no sympathies for Kingstonian FC. The reaped what they sowed and have finally found their level because of it. Kingstonian FC are a famous old non-league name, and that’s all they will ever be. They will have their minor success and their problems here and there, but ultimately it will be achieved in the Ryman Premier, perhaps yo-yoing between the division above during the good times and the division below during the bad. 300-500 people will turn up to watch them do it, and no matter how hard Wimbledon try for new supporters in the Royal Borough it will always be that way. Those words I mentioned yesterday, spoken by a neighbour five years ago, are still ringing in my ears. “Kingstonian blew it. AFC Wimbledon are our club now”

Certain webmasters who are all too keen to fire cheap shots over from the safety of their sofas while they aren’t watching TV 🙂 should bear that in mind. Yes, I’m not an expert on potential sites in Merton, I have never been to a council planning meeting in my life, and I’m talking as a Kingston based Don who has an obvious pride in his town, a pride that extends to the fact that our football club elected to play here to begin with, and therefore Kingston will always somehow be associated with its history.

I’m not sure whether a League club playing down the road will convert supporters on the Cambridge Estate in their droves from the evil empire that is Chelsea. As far as I’m aware the estate is a dumping ground for the unwanted anyway, or they would have got a nice house in Tolworth or Chessington, and the turnover is pretty high. What’s the betting that in ten years time we will see a number of young fans with no previous English allegiances swarming the ‘Meadow on match day, just because we happen to be down the road from where they live. And if they bring their Chelsea supporting dad, so be it, we’ll convert him too! Then all of a sudden we have a thousand or so more fans in K’tun, capable of affecting local planning and council policy.

This has gone beyond a rant now and is in danger of becoming a full on diatribe. I’ve never written a diatribe before, so it’s all very exciting. Obviously the article I was referring to above, Rob Dunford of SW19 fame’s eloquent summing up of recent events, probably makes this effort look like the rambling scribbles of a pre-teen suffering from ADHD locked in a room with only a pen, a crayon and an idea. I do have to say in my defence that Rob probably isn’t suffering from the early stages of full-blown man flu like I am, so I have neither the concentration nor inclination to go back and edit tonight.

So I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of The General Specific – Unleashed. Some of the points I raised above may seem ludicrous to seasoned experts in their respective fields. Shoot them down in flames if you know different, not because I think you can’t, but because I want to know for myself what the likelihood is of improving the stadium in the manner I suggested.

And please don’t ever suggest that Kingston as a Borough is not suitable for our team. It’s as suitable as any location within a three-mile radius of Wimbledon station. Its suitable because it’s only a steroid fuelled javelin throwers best shot from the very place we first started – Wimbledon Common. I know none of us were born then, but the ghosts of the Old Centrals still kick those heavy leather balls around in the dead of night (I presume, I mean I know nothing of the paranormal. UFO’s and Cryptozooligy on the other hand I’m slightly better on). Perhaps the WUP could spend some money on a plaque sited on our best guess of where our first ever game took place. Because whether it was Wimbledon Common, Raynes Park, New Malden or wherever those Old Centrals also had difficulty finding a home ground. We owe the fact there is an AFC Wimbledon here today for us to support to them.

And whatever happens in future, we must all remember this (and I’m definitely including myself in this…). Whatever is best for the club is best for us all, regardless of where that may be. Although Milton Keynes is stretching it slightly too far…

 

STEVEN GREGORY – AN APOLOGY

It has been noticed that I failed to mention the signing of Steven Gregory today, and I will come back with a full introduction tomorrow, unless I am forced to spend the day in bed which will be a real bummer as I’m supposed to be viewing a flat in Surbiton at 10:20. On behalf of the Anonymous Don (which is a really stupid thing to write anyway, as I am the Anonymous Don) can I apologise for this oversight, and welcome you into the bosom of our family, AFC Wimbledon.

Also can I apologise to everyone else for the grammar… 

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