AFC Wimbledon fans raise over £4m to keep Plough Lane return alive

David Conn
AFC Wimbledon fans raise over £4m to keep Plough Lane return alive

AFC Wimbledon supporters have raised more than £4m towards building a new stadium at Plough Lane in an effort to meet an £11m shortfall and maintain the club’s supporter-owned structure and ethos. The £4m total was passed on Thursday, shortly before Friday’s initial deadline set for raising money from the “Plough Lane Bond”, that launched on 5 February.

The bond was established by the Dons Trust, the mutual supporters trust which set up AFC Wimbledon in 2002 after the former Wimbledon FC, having moved out of Plough Lane, was taken by their then-owners to Milton Keynes and ultimately became MK Dons. The new fan-owned club became a beacon to the supporters’ trust movement after their formation and by winning promotions from the Combined Counties League through to the Football League in 2011, then League One five years later.

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In December the trust chairman, Mark Davis, told members costs had significantly increased to £31.5m for the new 9,000-seat stadium planned to fulfil fans’ dreams of a return close to the old Plough Lane home. Davis said the trust had been discussing a proposal to raise £7.5m from private investors, who would want shares in return and their own representatives on the board.

This news of a proposed dilution to the Dons Trust’s ownership prompted an outcry, particularly among leading figures in the original campaign against the Milton Keynes “franchise” and formation of AFC Wimbledon. The bond was launched after a number of supporters worked on developing an alternative, to raise finance without affecting the ownership structure. The initial £5m target was set for midnight on Friday because the contractors, Buckingham, could only commit to continuing with construction until the end of this month unless further money was secured.

The bond sought investment in the form of loans with a minimum £1,000, for periods of five-, 10- and 20-year terms, with interest offered of up to 4% depending on the investment, and a commitment to repay the loan at the end of the term.

Explaining the principle, the trust said: “External investors have offered to fund some, but not all, of the £11m required. But their terms would bring an end to a principle that has guided us through the past 18 years, which is that the Dons Trust (and therefore the fans) must have majority control.”

Charlie Talbot, one of the bond’s organisers, said after passing the £4m total: “It is very likely the club will be able to secure the remainder in commercial lending, ensuring that the stadium can be completed on time. To get back to Plough Lane as a fan-owned club will be the culmination of almost three decades of campaigning and hard work by so many people.”