It seems a very long time since we were able to go to Fratton Park to watch Pompey, so imagine if you hadn’t had a home game for 29 years. This week AFC Wimbledon fans are celebrating their club’s return to playing at Plough Lane. The Portsmouth Supporters’ Trust (PST) salutes this magnificent achievement.
For 29 years, Wimbledon FC and then AFC Wimbledon, which was formed in 2002 after the scandalous decision of the “football authorities” to allow Wimbledon FC’s owners to move the club to Buckinghamshire ”in the wider interests of football”, have played home games at Selhurst Park, Kingsmeadow, Loftus Road and Crawley. Now they have a new £30 million stadium 200 yards from the old Plough Lane.
The new Plough Lane, which has been built on the site of the former Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium has an initial capacity, including safe standing, of 9,300, with the possibility of extending to 20,000.
Like many construction projects, costs escalated with delays outside the Club’s control and design issues. Towards the end of last year, there were major challenges when an £11 million funding gap had to be resolved.
A share issue had raised a significant amount, but the options were stark:
AFC Wimbledon fans accepted neither. Instead they initiated a bond scheme which raised over £5 million. Combined with a new minority shareholder and a commercial loan, the development is now fully funded.
Beyond that, with innovative ticketing arrangements, the Club is also well funded for this season.
This is a lesson, in the era of Project Big Picture, that football clubs belong in communities, and the fans are the real owners.
PST owes a significant debt to Wimbledon fans. In our early days, we benefited enormously from the experience of the Wimbledon fans who had established the Dons Trust which owns AFC Wimbledon.
Ivor Heller, a key figure with the Dons Trust, made several members of the fledgling PST very welcome during a visit to Kingsmeadow. With Pompey struggling off the pitch financially and on it under a welter of successive points deductions, the PST needed all the help it could get from those with previous experience of rescuing a club.
His invaluable advice, ideas, pointers and guidance aided the PST Board with some of its own early decisions during the chaotic times so many Pompey fans will never forget, helping those at the fore to get PST onto a sound footing for the battles that lay ahead.
Likewise many fan of both clubs will recall the old Plough Lane ground, a literal brick throw away and some memorable games. Not least amongst these is the infamous Alan Knight boot lace tying Noel Blake back pass own goal game that has now passed into folklore. If a future visit to the new Plough Lane can provide a sequel to that game, we look forward to it though with the result in favour of Portsmouth. Well done the Wombles Trust and what a great achievement.
Sadly, like other Football League clubs, AFC Wimbledon currently play behind closed doors. Like a theatrical dress rehearsal, everything is in place except the audience. We hope the Wimbledon fans won’t have to wait too much longer. It would be nice to think that we will also be able to visit for Pompey’s match on 1 May.