As we enter a New Year it’s good to know that within the week, AFC Wimbledon of League Two will be playing one of the biggest games since their foundation as a non-league side twelve years ago. The Dons will play Premiership Giants Liverpool in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. The game at Kingsmeadow is all-ticket and kicks off at 7.55pm, which means it will be televised live by BBC1 TV. Come on you Dons! And a Happy New Year to one and all.
Bring on the Reds! It’s a dream tie for AFC Wimbledon of League Two. Success against Wycombe Wanderers on Sunday has brought them a lucrative home tie against Premier League side Liverpool in the FA Cup third round. Dons supporters will of course remember the shock result of the FA Cup final in 1988 when a Lawrie Sanchez goal secured the trophy for Wimbledon FC for the first and only time. Kingsmeadow has a capacity of 4850 and no doubt it will be a full house for the match to be played between January 3rd and 6th 2015. Gate receipts and television rights will provide a welcome boost for the club’s finances. A draw would be a good result, meaning a replay at Anfield.
As a non-league side Wimbledon always had a reputation for being giant killers in the FA Cup, with a notable victory against Burnely in the FA Cup third round on January 4th 1975, 39 years ago. The Dons went on to draw at Elland Road against Leeds, a match I was at, but they lost the replay.
This was my first visit of the 2013/14 League 2 season to Kingsmeadow. The day was sunny but cold and the pitch seemed in good condition as the two teams came out from the dressing rooms.
It looked like our mascot Haydon might get a call-up to the first team in the absence of Harry Pell who called in sick with a stomach bug. Certainly the Dons could have done with his enthusiasm in the first half, when there were times that the defence seemed asleep.
Going into the game the Dons were in 14th place in the table while Torquay United were one from bottom. The visitors also had a new manager Chris Hargreaves. The West Country club was once managed by Irishman Frank O’Farrell in the 1960s.
The visitors took the lead after 29 minutes through defender Krystian Pearce and doubled their advantage before the break when on-loan striker Jayden Stockley scored two minutes before the break. That last 15 minutes of the first half was some of the worst football I have ever seen from AFC Wimbledon from my vantage point in the Paul Strank stand.
Dons’ manager Neal Ardley was forced to ring the changes during the break and made a double substitution. He introduced wingers Chris Arthur and Kevin Sainte-Luce in place of Alan Bennett and Luke Moore. That meant a switch back to a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation from the 3-5-2 preferred by the boss in recent times.
Playing towards the Nongshim Stand, Sainte-Luce provided just what the fans behind that goal were looking for when he powered down the right and was sent sprawling by Kevin Nicholson, who received a booking for the challenge. Callum Kennedy sent over a cross that Torquay keeper Michael Poke parried before a Dons’ player could get a touch. Wimbledon finally started to exert a spell of pressure just before the hour, but the visitors’ defence held firm.
The attendance was good – 4,339. Of those, 402 made the trip from Torquay and they were the ones who went away happy that their side had secured three valuable points. For Neil Ardley, it’s back to the drawing board. He certainly wasn’t happy with his side’s performance.
Today (Saturday) I am making my first visit of the 2013/14 season to Kingsmeadow in London. My club AFC Wimbledon are taking on Torquay who are languishing one from bottom of League 2, just above Northampton. I hope the Dons will build on their success of last week which followed a run of close defeats or draws. AFC Wimbledon are 14th in the table at the moment. On the way from Birmingham last night (Friday), the train stopped momentarily at Milton Keynes Central station but thankfully it was soon on its way out of Franchise town! I lunched in the hospitality suite before the game.
AFC Wimbledon 0 Torquay United 2
A very disappointing first half (last 15 minutes of) but better signs with a different formation in 2nd half. Good support for Torquay (400). They managed to make their presence felt and went away very happy with three points secured. A small section of Dons fans booed the team as they went in at half time having conceded two sloppy goals in the 15 minutes before the break. Very bad defence let in the second goal certainly. Back to the drawing board by manager Neil Ardley and a consideration of a fresh formation as the first half line-up did not work (albeit with the late withdrawal of Harry Pell).
We are Wimbledon: see my blog last December to know the reasons why. I am a founder member of the Dons Trust in 2002, a decision which led to the formation of AFC Wimbledon, a team that started off in the Combined Counties League and (re-)entered the Football league in 2011/12. We just about survived in League Two last season: see my article AFCW: We’re Staying Up! in April.
On 28th May 2002, the Football Association backed a three-man independent commission decision to allow Wimbledon F.C. to relocate 56 miles North to the new town of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire (otherwise known as roundabouts, like Craigavon). The Wimbledon chairman at the time Charles Koppel claimed such a move was necessary in order to prevent the club from folding. This franchising of a club was unprecedented in English football. By moving so far from their original base in London SW19, Wimbledon F.C. were cutting all ties with the area. Although the club was unable to move to Milton Keynes for over a year, their small band of loyal fans stayed put.
On 30th May 2002 a group of supporters led by Kris Stewart and fellow founding members Marc Jones and Trevor Williams, announced plans to create a new club , AFC Wimbledon. On 13th June 2002, a new manager, kit, crest and ground (shared with Kingstonian FC in Norbiton, in the nearby Borough of Kingston-on-Thames and on the 131 bus route from Wimbledon) were unveiled to fans and the media at Wimbledon Community Centre.
In order to assemble a competitive team at short notice, AFC Wimbledon held player trials on 29th June 2002 on Wimbledon Common, open to any unattached player who felt he was good enough to try out for the team. The event attracted 230 players, from whom the club’s squad for their inaugural season was chosen, under the captaincy of former Chelsea player Joe Sheerin, who ended up at Leatherhead in 2006. Forward Kevin Cooper (no relation to my friend in Belfast!) was the player of the year.
In March 2003 the Dons Trust members voted to purchase part of the lease for the ground at Kingsmeadow and in June 2003 the contract for buying the lease to the stadium was agreed with the owner Rajesh Khosla. £2.4 million needed to be raised, and a share issue in which I was an investor raised over one-third of the required amount. Further amounts were raised through a bond issue (in which I also invested) and a commercial loan was organised through Barclays Bank, not an easy task for a completely new entity which had no financial record.
AFCW PLC was placed under the ownership of The Dons Trust, a supporters’ group which is pledged to retain majority control of that ownership. The Dons Trust is an Industrial and Provident Society registered with the Financial Services Authority as “Wimbledon Football Club Supporters’ Society Limited”. The Chief Executive of AFC Wimbledon (previously Finance Director) is longstanding fan Erik Samuelson, a retired accountant with PwC, whose influence and experience was crucial in securing the commercial loan. In an online question and answer session, he explained how the finances worked from the start:-
“We paid £2.4m for the stadium – remember it was a non-league stadium, although it had already been upgraded for Football Conference national standards in line with the rules in place 11 years ago. We paid for it in stages:
- We created an intermediate holding company called AFCW PLC and issued shares. After expenses this raised about £1.25m;
- We couldn’t get anyone to lend us the balance but fortunately for us the people who sold us the stadium agreed that they should become our creditors and we paid them a high, but not usurious, rate of interest on the debt;
- So we decided to issue a Bond. These were for four years, but capable of being extended (and most have done so) and you could select your own interest rate, subject to a cap. We raised about £300k. About half the Bond holders chose 0% and the average rate paid was about 2%, a nice cheap loan;
- Then we decided to spend some of our five year ST money on reducing the debt. Spending next year’s income can be a very risky option but we knew we had a pretty certain stream of income coming from the Trust’s fundraising and so it was set aside for the purpose of replacing the annual ST income we’d spent on repaying some debt. In effect, we were spending the next five years’ fundraising on reducing the debt;
- Then we, astonishingly, managed to get a bank loan which cleared the final tranche of the debt on purchase. We make the capital repayments on the loan from the Trust’s fundraising and the interest is paid by the operating company.
As for subsequent fundraising, we’ve self funded substantial improvements to our stadium to make it Football League compliant (plus about £600k of Football Stadia Improvement Fund grants). For our hoped-for new stadium* we expect most of it to be paid for by enabling development but we are also changing our constitution to allow us to issue Community Shares in the Trust, hopefully qualifying as an Enterprise Investment Scheme, so that investors get 30% tax relief up front on their investment. Supporters Direct have been a great help in pulling the Community Shares plans together.”
*The plan for a new stadium is based on proposals for the redevelopment of the greyhound stadium at Plough Lane in Wimbledon, alongside what was once the home of Wimbledon FC and is now a housing estate. Remember what happened to Glenmalure Park and now Shamrock Rovers FC are in a brand new stadium in Tallaght, with the support of South Dublin County Council? This afternoon I passed by the Glenmalure Park memorial at Milltown and memories came flooding back, just as they do whenever I am near Plough Lane.
I am one of the AFC Wimbledon five year season ticket holders, in the front row of the main stand near the middle of the pitch. If I cannot make it to a home match, the Club can re-sell my seat and gain added income, as well as reclaiming the VAT on my ticket. Given the level of my commitment to AFC Wimbledon, you can now see why I am opposed to the visit of Franchise FC to my other “home patch” at UCD in Belfield, where I went to University in the first year of the Arts/Commerce Block and just a short walk away from where I am typing this article in the family home.
So once again I will say it: UCD AFC are entitled to play whoever they choose. But let’s not give Franchise FC the traditional Irish “Céad Mile Fáilte” when they arrive in Dublin for pre-season training. To the FAI and Airtricity League my message is this: Franchise FC were supposed to be coming to Dublin at one stage (or even Belfast) and a few prominent businessmen and commentators were doing their best to encourage a move across the Irish Sea to set up the “Dublin Dons” in the English Premiership. Wisely, in my view, the FAI said “NO” but that did not stop a certain pop music executive now property developer from setting up a soccer franchise in Milton Keynes, with the blessing of the Football Association. They took away our Club and eleven years on, we have given them the answer.
AFC Wimbledon 2 Fleetwood Town 1 (0-0 HT)
When the crowd invaded the pitch after the final whistle, it was as though the Dons had won the FA Cup. 25 years after their success against Liverpool, it was very appropriate that one of the Dons’ heroes Lawrie Sanchez from that victory should be in the stand to watch AFC Wimbledon retain their league 2 status and avoid relegation back to the Conference. But it was touch-and-go. Nail-biting stuff right from the start. The Dons had a couple of early chances and were the better team in the first half, but somehow they could not find the net. When a Gary Alexander header from Sammy Moore’s free kick put them in front after 60 minutes, Kingsmeadow erupted. But the joy was short-lived, with the visitors from Fleetwood managing to equalise within three minutes through Andy Mangan.
As time ticked away, the Dons kept chasing the important score and were rewarded with a penalty in the 72nd minute when full back Curtis Osano was brought down on the box. Jack Midson stepped up to take it on his 100th appearance for the club. He made no mistake and the home fans were left to count down the minutes and seconds, which included five minutes of added time (no idea where that came from as there did not seem to be many injuries). So it was almost 4:55pm when the referee blew the final whistle and the crowd descended upon the players. Job done and Neil Ardley was swamped by well-wishers before being taken away to do a television interview. Come on you Dons! Incidentally one of the Fleetwood substitutes who remained on the bench was full back Conor McLaughlin from Belfast, who has won one international cap for Northern Ireland.
DAY ONE: The walk began this morning in South West London. The main group started off from the AFC Wimbledon stadium at Kingsmeadow at 9am. I started two miles along the route at Malden Manor station so that I would not delay their start and was able to catch up with them at a convenient location near the Hogsmill River. Today’s section of the 43-mile route goes for about nineteen miles as far as Whytleafe where there are a number of hills. My chosen charity apart from the AFCW Community fund is Diabetes UK and details of how to donate can be found in my JustGiving page or click the Sponsor me button at the top of the page. Or Text WFFW67 £5 to 70070 on your mobile.