Wimbledon stars past and present gathered at the Batsford Arms for the Plough Lane Lift-Off - a celebration of everything achieved so far on the Plough Lane Bond.
First team players including Will Nightingale, Jack Rudoni and Anthony Hartigan mingled with AFCW Ladies stars including club captain Hannah Bellingham (pictured right with manager Kevin Foster and Kelly Highman). The current AFC Wimbledon management team were also represented by Glyn Hodges, Nick Daws, and Mark Robinson. There to talk about the club’s glittering past were the likes of managerial legend Terry Brown and ex WFC Premier League star Peter Fear. And, of course, the renaming of Tunnel 267 to the Batsford Arms was a nod to the pub at the original Plough Lane stadium which itself took its name from legendary Dons manager Allen Batsford.
But the night was hosted to celebrate the true stars off the pitch who have come together to raise more than £5million with the Plough Lane Bond in a bid to keep the club fan-owned and bring the dons home.
To kick things off on stage, compere Chris Philips introduced PLB gurus Charlie Talbot, Damian Woodward and Xavier Wiggins who spoke about how the bond was launched in a matter of weeks and took off thanks to an army of volunteers to exceed all expectations. Charlie said: “We have more than £5million in the bank and that is because of how many people got behind this campaign. It has been a gamechanger to keep the stadium construction on track and tonight is a chance to say a massive thank you to every bondholder and volunteer.”
AFC Wimbledon CEO Joe Palmer then took to the microphone to speak about his pride in the way the fans of the club have rallied round to work with the club to overcome adversity.
But possibly the biggest cheer of the night went to first-team manager Glyn Hodges as he recalled how Dave Bassett had made him help build parts of the old Plough Lane ground during Glyn’s first stint at the club – Glyn adding that he fully intended to grab a spade and help build the new incarnation. There surely can’t be too many football managers around who can lay claim to helping build their club’s stadium - twice!
With Will, Jack and Anthony expressing their excitement at the prospect of playing at the new ground, Merton Council leader Stephen Alambritis spoke about how proud he is to have helped the club on its journey back to the area, and how much richer the borough will be with Wimbledon’s football club back in the community. He said: “AFC Wimbledon don't take from Merton, they give to Merton. It's been a long journey but welcome home.”
Arriving on stage to rapturous applause, Terry Brown and Peter Fear shared their ongoing admiration for the club’s fans to achieve the impossible, with Terry admitting that when he originally heard of the PLB’s £5m target his first thought was “Well good luck with that one!” before adding “I always used to wonder what it was about Wimbledon that made this club so special…and it can only be you, the fans. I look forward to sharing a drink with you at the new Plough Lane.”
Terry then proposed a toast to the late Allen Batsford, who unbeknown to many, Terry had known from his own playing days, describing coming up against Wimbledon sides back in the day as “painful”.
It was then over to Dons Trust Board member Graham Stacey to wrap up, saying: “Sometimes you get so caught up in the doing that you forget to take a breath and celebrate what you have achieved. But this is incredible, really - in December it wasn’t really in our hands, but we are now speaking to more people and there are more opportunities available to us, thanks to the Plough Lane Bond. And of all the discussions ongoing, none of them involve losing control of our club.”
All that was left was for fans and guests to enjoy drinks and snacks in the knowledge that all proceeds from the night went towards... buying more bonds.
On behalf of the Club and Trust, we would like to add a huge thank you to everyone who made it on the night and to all fans who have contributed to the success of the bond to date, no matter how big or small the contribution.
The Plough Lane Bond is live and offering returns of up to 4% over periods of 5, 10 and 20 years*. Find out more at PloughLaneBond.com. *Capital at risk