Tag Archives: Merton

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 (Saturday 30th May ’09)

It’s been a confusing morning for the Anonymous Don. I was under the impression I had written a brilliant defence for staying at Kingsmeadow for the time being before I went to bed last night, only to find I must have been in the deepest of fevers imaginable. To be fair, the redevelopment I wrote about is technically possible, however its only likely to happen if it turns out the whole world is a figment of my imagination as I lie in a coma somewhere.

The whole article was meant to be a balanced piece, where I spoke about Kingsmeadow and my personal feelings towards the place, then moved on to examine our options around Wimbledon and the surrounding areas. It didn’t quite work out like that, so even though I made it pretty clear from the start that I’m pro-Wimbledon, I thought I better write this ASAP this morning in case word gets around that the Anonymous Don is actually a henchmen of Winkie, designed to gain the trust of the Dons fan base and steer them away from their ultimate destiny of a ground in Wimbledon. Which could ruin my reputation… if of course I had a reputation.

I think most people are in agreement that any new stadium will need to be closer to ‘Wimbledon’ than Kingsmeadow currently is. But people seem to have different ideas as to where that is. I like the idea we should centre our search on Camp Road, on the Common. Other supporters think it should be Plough Lane. So for arbitrary reasons, and to make this article simpler for everyone, I’m going to go with Wimbledon Station. 

 

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The circle is roughly the distance between Kingsmeadow and Wimbledon Station, which makes any potential site within fair game. Leader of the Opposition Councillor Stephen Alambritis recently suggested three sites – Imperial Fields, the Greyhound Stadium, or land around the tennis club. His point was there are plenty of green areas around the borough, so why not build a stadium on or near to existing sporting facilities? This would make sense rather than wait for a Brownfield site to become available

Imperial Fields is probably a no go; we know from recent experience that the locals just don’t want us even when we planned to share the existing 3000 capacity facility. As well as this, I wouldn’t feel comfortable ground sharing again, so we will have to force T&MU out. We all want our own stadium, however it doesn’t need me to say just how controversial that would be. It was interesting to hear Alambritis mention the tennis facilities, however I’m not sure how that will work in practice. Plus it’s one thing for Alambritis to gain favour by mere words, its actions that we need now.

Council leader David Williams has always seemed supportive, even if he has been channelling us towards the Greyhound Stadium. He was quoted earlier in the year as saying ‘I think they know that there’s only one real option and that’s the greyhound stadium.’ Hardly encouraging words, especially as neither us nor the council owns the site, by all means the council could use their powers to squeeze us into any new development, but the current owners seem happy to hold the land, perhaps even until the economy picks up and land becomes a lot more valuable once more.

So if it’s going to happen, we are going to have to take the initiative ourselves. Following the suggestion that green space could be used near existing sports facilities takes us to another football club based in the circle – Colliers Wood United. We wouldn’t even need to force them out of their ground, we could build next to it, or further down on the extension playing fields. This wouldn’t be as easy either, as the only way in and out is from the A3, and it’s a fair old walk from the nearest train station, Raynes Park.

The fact is there’s nothing stopping us building on any of these sites if we fight a brilliant campaign. We only have to look towards Brighton fans, and how they secured their new stadium site on sensitive land. There are thousands of us in and around Merton, and its time we made ourselves heard. Its time the majority was put ahead of a NIMBY minority for a change. Wherever we chose to focus, we need to systematically destroy any selfish arguments, and take a stand against these sorts of people.

Yet, as I said yesterday, we shouldn’t allow a prolonged stay at Kingsmeadow to get in the way of our ambitions. And lets not be afraid to spend serious money on the ground (after all we have already spent millions on it) while still looking for a new facility. Our primary objective as a football club wasn’t to find a ground in Wimbledon (or Merton) as soon as possible, our objective was to rise up the divisions and reclaim what is rightfully ours. So lets not allow some petty squabble to go on all summer long and cause unnecessary divisions among the fan base, we are in this for the long run aren’t we?

Finally it may have escaped the attentions of a few of you, but we signed Steven Gregory from Hayes and Yeading yesterday. The two-goal hero from the Conference South playoff final joins an increasingly young looking midfield, hopefully Terry will get them playing without fear next season. Perhaps we will see a more experienced head join in July when contracts run down and expire, but is it even necessary if the plan is to bring through younger players who can make the step up the League football? 

I have a feeling we are going to shock a few of our own supporters with our performances next term, I’m not saying we are going to go up, in fact mid table safety and a couple of almighty cup runs will suit me down to the ground, but a player like Gregory can only improve over the next season or two. So wherever we finish, we can look forward to a much brighter future on the pitch.

Terry has gone back to Ashford with an improved offer for Ricky Wellard, including a big cut of any future fee we receive for him, meaning the Middlesex club will have a chance to cash in on our first million pound player! Current signs are good the deal will go through, but unlike Gregory the club are unwilling to go to tribunal for him, so if the offer is refused, the deal is dead. Stay tuned for more news next week…

Already from the limited contact (mainly forum and email based) I have had with other supporters in the BSP, I have a feeling we are all going to enjoy being in this division! Being in the BSP for 5/6/7 years won’t kill us, but neither will promotion in two seasons, so lets not fear that either. Accrington are the latest club with a winding up order over their heads, these clubs pulling in sub 2000 or even sub 1000 crowds will get replaced eventually by the likes of Cambridge, Oxford, Stevenage even. But I don’t think we will see a newly promoted BSP club go straight back down for many years yet…

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