Tag Archives: Plough Lane

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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Dons Icons #2 – Show Me The Way To Plough Lane

Ah, Plough Lane! If a certain chairman hadn’t bought out the covenant from Merton Council, then sold the place for a massive personal profit, before holing us up on the other side of South London at his mates gaff before spending the best part of a decade telling everyone he was going to build a new stadium, only it turns out he never actually tried to build a new stadium, but all the while he had been lying to us to the point the fire brigade had been called to extinguish his pants so often he had the local station on speed dial… well if none of that had happened there would still be a Plough Lane for us today.

That covenant business still pisses me off. I mean what’s the point in having one on a piece of land if someone can come along at any moment and simply buy it up. Sam the Sham spent most of the nineties blaming the council when it wasn’t their fault at all, however ultimately I do still blame the council because if they really supported Sam idea to build a new stadium in Merton, be it at Wandle Valley or wherever, why didn’t they say ‘Ok Sam, we appreciate the situation the club is in, we’ll waive the covenant the day Wimbledon play their first game in the new stadium.

Of course, Sam would have wailed about the need for developing the ground, and how our parents the council have stabbed us in the back to our faces, and it is divorce, and blah blah. But without the possibility of a quick buck, Sam would have to have earned his money. With the Premier League cash starting to pour in, we would have eventually been forced to redevelop Plough Lane into a Premier League suitable stadium.

Sam Hammam knew which side his bread was buttered on, and when I say ‘bread’ I of course mean money, and you can also substitute the word ‘buttered’ for ’money’ as well. In fact remove the words ‘knew which side his’ and change them to ‘cares about is’. And add the word ‘All’ to the beginning. Now change the rest of the words to ‘money’ as well. So what I really meant to say was ‘All Sam Hammam cares about is money money money money’. Sam considers himself to be ‘the father of AFC Wimbledon’ by the way. Well, if you ever read this Sam, your not. What are you going to do now, start crying again?

We were just a simple fan base back then. Perhaps we thought our simple club had nothing worth exploiting? That we were so humble and insignificant the sharks would go for the bigger fish first? Either way, if you had told someone that our little ground stood on land worth £8m, and shortly our club will receive millions every year just for entering our league, you would have been laughed out of town. As many a wiser man has said before me, if we knew what we know back then, things would have turned out very differently.

Plough Lane would be a different stadium now if we had remained. Even if the worse case scenario had happened and we had plunged from the Premier League at first attempt, that wouldn’t have been so bad. We might have hopped between what is now League 1 and the Championship for a few years, but we would at least have been able to build a local fan base during the football boom. New stands would have been built, but gradually, so the place still felt like home.

But this article was not intended to be a ‘what if…’ more a ‘what was…’ I just want to recount my memories of the place. My dad, a Fulham supporter, had naturally taken me to see my first football match at Craven Cottage against Hull, and several times after. Most noticeable were night games where I remember the pitch almost luminous green under floodlights with a huge camber when viewed from pitch level, and the crowd sparse in what was a comparatively large ground.

He also took me to games at Brentford (hidden behind the houses), Chelsea (all crumbling terraces or seats in terrifyingly high stands) and Crystal Palace (where everyone seemed to be very angry about something…). We went to QPR as well, which felt all American, with the goalies wearing ‘American Football trousers’ and the ball bouncing really, really high like it did when I booted it in the air in the playground.

He even took me to Richmond Road to see Kingstonian play a friendly against a Fulham reserve team. It seemed a dingy and unwelcoming place, the big old wooden stand creaking beneath us. Kingstonian FC weren’t the team for me, in fact none of them were. I had been taken to Plough Lane before when I was much younger but hadn’t been able to remembered it, yet as a seven year old I knew well who Wimbledon FC were.

Their results were read out on World of Sport and Grandstand for a start. As well as that, our local paper ‘The Surrey Comet’ had Wimbledon reports in its giant pages, in the special sports section that came with it where I read my neighbours Little League reports. They must have been local, as the bus went to Wimbledon, they didn’t go to Fulham, or Chelsea, or Crystal Palace. I had asked my dad to take me, but he worked weekends and could only take me to evening games. Eventually one came along, against Shrewsbury Town.

My dad must have feared the worst, as he took me in the away end, which was just a big hill to me. It smelled of a damp pitch, and the river behind us, and the stuff footballers rubbed on their legs. The ground lay in front of me, the home end where the noise came from, but I also remember wondering why the stand to my left wasn’t open, except for the small terrace running across the front of it. I remember being quite disappointed we couldn’t stand with the rest of the crowd.

I stood at the front behind the goal, unashamedly cheering when Wimbledon scored (as presumably my dad stood ten feet behind me pretending he didn’t know me!). It hardly mattered, the fifty or so Shrewsbury fans seemed more preoccupied by their own teams’ performance. When I read the book ‘Steaming In’ ten years later I took great delight in the fact I had, as a seven year old, ‘taken’ the Shrewsbury end that night!

My dad had given me fifty pence to buy crisps and a drink, but the man walking round with the tray hadn’t spotted me the first time round, so I spent ten minutes fiddling with the coin waiting for me to come back round. Of course I dropped it onto the warm-up track, and try as I might couldn’t quite reach it. Eventually (and this is probably what sealed in my mind I would become a Wimbledon fan) a boy my age in a tracksuit walked round. I didn’t point it out to him because I thought he might pick it up and steal it (that’s what we would do round our way!), so I hoped he would walk past without noticing. To my horror he stopped and picked it up, but shocked me by turning to me and asking if it was mine, then giving it back to me!

We were still going to watch Fulham more often than Wimbledon – in fact as my neighbours were Chelsea fans and unhindered by working Saturdays I was probably watching Chelsea more than I was Wimbledon, as they occasionally took me along as well! Picking up bits of vegetable at the bottom of the Shed and throwing them at each other was about the only fun to be had there – I could barely see the action on the field miles in front of me, mainly because some fools thought it was a great place to park their car – so there was no way I would support a team stupid enough to put their car park inside the ground!

Eventually Wimbledon were due to play Fulham, and I had been fence-sitting slightly at school, proclaiming myself a Wimbledon fan but lauding Fulham, mainly to remain popular with the couple of Fulham fans there. One of my other school friends told me to choose one or the other, and it was always going to be Wimbledon (back then I led, I didn’t follow!). The game finished 1-1, but that was it, I had nailed my colours to the mast. Forever more Wimbledon FC would be my team. There was just one problem – my dad.

I remember when for some reason one night before dinner I announced that I was a Wimbledon fan. My dad said ‘Naaaahhhh’ (in the same way he would if I had accidentally broken something, stretching the word out really long, but not in a threatening manner). I thought he wouldn’t be pleased with me. Instead, he calmly asked me why I wanted to support Wimbledon, and I remember sputtering out something about ‘just wanting to’. My mum then whispered to him so I couldn’t hear (but could!) that ‘he can support Wimbledon if that’s what he wants’. To be fair to my dad he took it pretty well as any good father should (although I may have some difficulty accepting any potential offspring of mine choosing an English team that isn’t AFCW!).

We went to Wimbledon, and we went to Fulham. We went to football, as dad and son. And my dad even came to love the Dons (never as much as Fulham of course…), even the time a Dons fan trod on his foot at an FA Cup replay at Everton when there must have been about 80 of us in the huge away section. It must have been my funniest moment in football – my dad laughing ‘This wankers trod on my foot when there’s all this space!’ while the guy carried on chatting to his mates like nothing ever happened! I told him – we don’t really care for our personal space that much at Wimbledon!

Its at this point I would like to make a public appeal, so important that I need to flag it up in bold –

An important appeal by the Anonymous Don! Please read! Even if it’s the only bit you do read!!!

As previously stated, my memory of the time I became a Dons fan is a bit fuzzy. At the moment I have the Shrewsbury game as an arbitrary date. I have another game from around the same time at Plough Lane that I remember just as clearly – but it may have been before or after the Shrewsbury game of ’85 (perhaps May ’85?)

It was a West London Cup match, an end of season trophy competed between Wimbledon and Fulham. Naturally my dad took us in the away end, though there were a few Fulham fans in attendance and perhaps a thousand or so Dons fans. Anyway, it absolutely pissed it down, torrential style – like you see on footage of a Miami hurricane (but without the wind…). As the Main Stand was mostly empty, the Wimbledon stewards led the Fulham fans around the pitch to the dry seats.

I remember the rain clearing in the second half, and Wimbledon winning the game 4-3. More importantly I gave my dad some grief about Wimbledon beating Fulham meaning if it was before March ’85, I can re-date my first game as a Dons fan and perhaps find a programme if indeed one was even produced. At the end of the game the supporters were invited onto the pitch to see the trophy presented in the Main Stand (for which I cheered when the Wimbledon captain held the cup aloft!), then me and a friend wanted to play football on the pitch, didn’t have a ball so had to make do without one.

He hit an imaginary shot low towards my left corner that I dived full stretch to divert the imaginary ball past the quite real post at the Wandle End (although my friend claims it actually went in – so if you can help with this dispute as well you would be a legend!). If you have any further information if you could let me know via the usual channels that would be great! Thanks in advance!

Appeal over… Article continues below…

Later visits saw me enter the home end turnstiles, where as well as the familiar smells from before, I found a peculiar mix of piss and burgers, which took a while to get used to. I also noticed the little passage under the South Stand, always wondering what was down there… We rarely turned left onto the West Bank, we would stay where we were or turn right, pay extra, and go onto the South Stand Enclosure. The terrace wasn’t high here; it was concrete steps filled in with ‘cinder’ (or dirt as I explained to schoolmates later) as were the terracing in the corners and the lower part of the West Bank.

From here I got a much better view of the grounds most obvious feature (which wasn’t actually in the ground) – the electricity pylon. It was almost twice the size of the floodlight in that corner, but my young mind, oblivious to the danger, always wondered what it would be like to watch a game from the top – although as I had almost soiled myself in the upper tier of the East Stand at Stamford Bridge I doubt I would have enjoyed it! (As an aside I did get a fantastic view from those vertigo inducing seats at Stamford Bridge of Eddie Niedzwiecki losing the ball for Michael Robinson to score the decisive QPR goal from the half way line in a League Cup match there during the 80’s).

I always wondered whether footballers back then might have occasionally played the old electricity pylon trick I would later pull on slower minded teammates of my own. I can imagine it now, you know the one, it goes as follows – the chief tormenter (probably Wally Downes if the Dons ever did it) goes up to the young apprentice about to make his debut and points at it and says ‘What’s that thing over there behind the floodlight?’ Meanwhile teammates are creeping slowly towards the victim, who at this stage will be totally confused and ask what he’s talking about. ‘You know, over there. The electricity thing’ and the youth will say ‘Pylon?’ at which point all his team mates bundle him shouting ‘All Pile On!’ No?

I had picked a fantastic time to become a Wimbledon fan. Before too long we were challenging at the top of Division Two. I had started to explore the ground more. We had gone round to visit the club shop, where I sorted through old kit in cardboard boxes looking for bargains I was occasionally allowed to buy. Fashanu came, and we were up. The ground was to look a little different in our first season in the top flight. Well, loads of concrete had been dumped at the top of the Wandle End, to enable more visiting fans in.

And that was about it as far as preparations for Division One were concerned. The South Stand reopened as well, and a few coppers were now regularly positioned at the back of the West Bank, but that was it! You could imagine how much Liverpool and Spurs fans hated it that year (not Chelsea fans though – they had been relegated!). My regular space had become the corner of terracing between the South Stand and the West Bank – in front of the toilets. I remained in that position, or on the right side of the West Bank, until the ground closed.

My favourite memories had to be the three games before the cup final, where we had to go to get our vouchers for Cup Final tickets. In 1974/5 my dad had been to every Fulham home game that season, yet couldn’t get a ticket to the Cup Final, and was determined to make sure his son wasn’t going to miss out as well.

There was nothing to play for in those games, yet Wimbledon still took it to their opponents. There was a 2-2 draw with Chelsea, but before that an electrifying 2-2 draw with Portsmouth under the lights. I missed not only the goal, but also a clash between Fashanu and the Portsmouth goalkeeper that led to him being stretchered off (Not Fashanu, obviously!), as we were stuck in a gargantuan queue at the turnstiles. Obviously as a Dons fan around that time, especially a young fan, that was the best bit missed as far as I was concerned!

In the last couple of seasons I became old enough to travel to Plough Lane with a friend. We took the train, as it was just as cheap for youths like us, and quicker than the 131 or 57. We would walk from Wimbledon station, or if we felt lazy get the train to Haydons Road. I would buy a programme from the guy outside the newsagents, and would read it when we occasionally got there so early the turnstiles hadn’t opened yet. Then it was out front to the terraces.

The proximity to the gents was always useful for me, as I occasionally got over excited before matches and had to squeeze a few drops out before the game began, so not to miss any action. I remember after one Ribena-fest before a game against Sunderland I had to go seven times in the hour before kick-off alone! A record, surely! Perhaps only matched by an elderly gent who was on the same piss cycle as me…

Eventually it became the norm for me to go on my own when my friend couldn’t make it, which I suppose what makes me bad company at games and led to me becoming ‘The Anonymous Don’ I am now. I became focussed on the game itself, rather than chatting to people around me. That was to be the last season of first team action at Plough Lane. I didn’t go to the last game against Palace. Perhaps if I had known then… I mean there were rumours, but my immature mind just thought ground shares and mergers were the stuff of fiction. It had been mentioned so often, but never happened, so I though we were immune.

My last game at Plough Lane was a reserve team fixture, on the afternoon of a League Cup tie with someone (perhaps the Liverpool airplanes game?). I know we won 4-0, I can’t remember who we played, but I remember Peter Fear sat in front of us. The ground was a shell by then. Everything that could be removed and sold had been. Without supporters in, there was nothing there. We made that place special, or as far as I’m concerned, you made it special. Everyone who ever visited the old place. For some reason while I write this the Placebo song ‘Without You I’m Nothing’ has popped into my head, which seems pretty apt.

For all of you who didn’t visit and were perhaps disappointed I didn’t describe the turnstiles or crush barriers in minute detail, I’m sorry. It did, you may be interested to hear, have a cantilevered cover over the West Bank (it had no roof supports to get in the way). I appreciate the cover at Kingsmeadow is the same, but it was novel when first erected. Sidney Black built it for us…

The prospect of someday moving back to Plough Lane, albeit across the Wandle, is incredibly appealing. I almost don’t want to think of it, for fear I may allow unrealistic dreams to run wild in my head. We have all been hurt before. Lets do our very best to make this happen, but if it doesn’t, make the move elsewhere, and take it with us in our heads.

For it still exists, in my mind. It is safe there, and can never be torn down. Plough Lane was special because of the people, the memories, and our history. As a ground it was neither a shithole or glorious, though probably closer to the former. But because of what our club made of it, it is legendary, and will be ever more. 

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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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The General Specific (Thursday 28th May ’09)

Well a couple more players have signed (although thats not really the actual reason I was writing today, but I’ll get this out of the way first – no offence meant to those concerned!). Jay Conroy and Elliott Godfrey are onboard for next season, great news as Jay looked like the sort of right back we had badly missed since Luke Garrards injury. As far as Luke himself is concerned, well I think he is still the better right back but we may well see him act as a midfield utility player next season as and when required.

Elliott is a top player as far as I’m concerned, and the news that he has signed again is a relief (although I had the impression he was under contract already…) as a player with his combination of workrate and skill should always have a home at our club, especially as in my mind (and presumably Terry Brows mind too) he has done more than enough to earn his shot at a higher level.

On to more important things, You may remember I mentioned the ‘non-existant ground in Wimbledon’ yesterday. Well judging by news reports this morning in the Daily Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-1189065/AFC-Wimbledon-target-Football-League-Plough-Lane.html), the Mirror (http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/2009/05/28/wimbledon-going-home-115875-21394759/) and more comprehensively in the Evening Standard (http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard-sport/article-23700727-details/AFC+Wimbledon+plan+to+go+home+to+Plough+Lane/article.do) suggests, well, we may be in the verge of a move back to Plough Lane.

Which raises a few questions. Firstly how concrete are these plans? Well the club has spoken openly about attempting to open dialogue with the owners of the site, which has largely fallen down through the lack of response from the current owners. The reports above seem to suggest an agreement of some kind has been made, but of course doesn’t mention who it was with. Its sounds more like educated guesswork as far as I can see, and the more measured responses from the fanbase consider that perhaps an agreement has been reached with the council for a football ground to be included in any planning application for the site.

If so this is unhelpful reporting for a number of reasons. It comes on the eve of an important meeting where Dons Trust members will decide the future direction our club will take ins the form of a Strategy Review, and if members approach the meeting with their heads filled with improbable dreams, will they really be acting in the clubs best interests going into the SGM?

Perhaps the Trust are intending on revealing all before the meeting begins tonight, but perhaps they have been thrown slightly by one of our own mouthing off to the press at the worst possible time. There are ways and means of doing things, for example Marc Jones revealed his wish for the club to return to Wimbledon in the SLP last week, this was enough to spark debate, why did someone feel the need to take it one step further and act, as the articles describe, as a ‘spokesman’ for the trust?

There are a number of issues which I want to cover in greater detail that work commitments mean I don’t have time for right now, however its likely the picture could become clearer in the next 24 hours. This afternoon however, I call on the club to issue a statement so everybody is aware of the facts ahead of time, even if they just advise a further statement will be made at the meeting tonight. That in itself could help calm the speculation, as while they remain unanswered supporters, myself included, find their hopes raised by lazy reporting which may turn out to show we are still as far away to agreeing a move back as we were yesterday.

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