December 15 – AFC Wimbledon, who have clawed their way into the third tier of English football, have taken a big step towards returning to the site of their spiritual Plough Lane home in south west London with the granting of planning permission to start building their new £25 million stadium.
Wimbledon are one of English football’s most compelling rags to riches stories. Having made their way from non-league status to the old English First Division and even winning the FA Cup against one of the great Liverpool teams in the 1980s, the club was sold to an investor from Milton Keynes, moved to the town north of London and re-named MK Dons – the use of the Dons is still a contentious issue.
With supporters disenfranchised and their club playing more than 40 miles away, a group of fans took matters into their own hands and . “Everyone in football knows the story of how AFC Wimbledon came into being. A group of fans started with nothing; no ground, no team, no manager, no players and no kit. Now, fifteen years later, we’ve taken a giant step towards going home to Merton, in a new stadium and as a Football League club,” said AFC Wimbledon chief executive Erik Samuelson.
Wimbledon, who are still primarily a fan-owned club, want to start building the 11,000-seater ground next summer and hope they will move in for the start of the 2019-20 season.
That might be an ambitious timeline even for this club that has made a history out of being written off. “Because it has taken a long time to get this sorted it is going to be incredibly tight,” said Samuelson.
The new stadium will be part financed by £14 million from developers Galliard Homes, who will build 602 new homes, retail space and a squash and fitness club on the site.
The club will also sell its current Kingsmeadow Stadium in Kingston to Chelsea for £2 million. Chelsea will play their reserve team and Ladies team games there.
Leader of Merton Council, councillor Stephen Alambritis said: “After a long journey, this is a proud moment and a historic moment for Merton…It has been a pleasure working with the club since we granted the planning permission in 2015. I look forward to seeing the stadium and housing become a reality over the coming months and can’t wait to see the first game. Welcome home AFC Wimbledon.”
Wimbledon have said they would like Barcelona – another supporter-owned club – to be their first home game.
Wimbledon of course have their own share of football icons, none more so than Vinny Jones who moved from being a legendary midfield enforcer in England’s top tier of football to playing similar roles in movies and TV series in Hollywood. Eat your heart out David Beckham (actually Vinny probably would have eaten it). One suspects that Wimbledon will be writing plenty more stories into English football folklore.
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