Eighteen years after one of the bleakest days in our history, it is with considerable pride and pleasure that we can today confirm the news we've all been waiting for: "We're going home!"
It was on this day in 2002 that the FA's independent commission allowed our club to be ripped from its community. Worse, we were even told that for the fans to attempt to continue by reforming Wimbledon’s football club would not be in the "wider interests of football”. But today we are delighted to be able to confirm that May 28, 2020 can go down as a day to be remembered - for all the right reasons. It's been a phenomenal journey since our club was reborn as AFC Wimbledon 18 years ago - and now we have completed a key step on our journey home.
In short, the road is now clear for our return to Plough Lane and the final construction contract has been signed. We are also able to announce a new minority shareholder, whose investment has filled in one of the last pieces of the fundraising jigsaw alongside the Seedrs crowdfunding and the Plough Lane Bond scheme. This means the stadium construction is on track and the DT remain the majority shareholder (over 75 per cent) as currently.
Our Chief Executive Joe Palmer confirmed: "This really is a historic moment for our club."
While this announcement is extremely welcomed, we also realise these are not the greatest times to be celebrating. Our first thoughts remain with everyone struggling as a result of the current coronavirus pandemic. Before the onset of Covid-19, our focus had been on tackling the funding shortfall that had threatened the construction of our new stadium in Wimbledon. The Seedrs crowdfunding campaign and Plough Lane Bond made significant dents in that shortfall - and we can now confirm that additional support has put us in a position where we feel confident to sign the JCT and push on to stadium completion.
Wimbledon resident Nick Robertson had always intended to help when the time was right and with investment from him – plus the extraordinary contribution our supporters have made - we are at last able to unlock the crucial crowdfunding and Bond money and sign the final construction contract.
"Without doubt, it’s thanks to our incredible fans that we’re in this position. The Seedrs crowdfunding and Plough Lane Bond were the game changers – but we still needed an extra push to complete the job," added Joe. “Nick always promised to help when we’d need it most. He’s been quietly coming to our games at the Cherry Red Records Stadium for at least a couple of years and has totally embraced our story.
"He values what we value - not least the core principle that we are a fan-owned club and that's the way we want to stay. He will be taking a 10 per cent stake and invested on terms that leave the Dons Trust in control. That’s how all of us, including Nick, wants it to be. His shareholding will come from allocating some more of the shares that were approved but not used in the Seedrs issue.
"He wanted to help us get back to Plough Lane because he appreciates what it means to us and how important it will be for our club and our community going forward."
While we are still waiting for the EFL to confirm what is happening to the remaining games this season, the stadium build has carried on unabated and remains on schedule for completion by October 25.
"There are so many problems that still lie ahead because of the coronavirus crisis," continued Joe. "For starters, we don't know when the new season will begin - or, more importantly, when our fans will be allowed to see games at our new home.
"But at least we've overcome one of the biggest obstacles and our road to Plough Lane is clear and open. That's a huge step in the right direction."
Dons Trust Chair and Stadium Committee Chair Mark Davis said: “Signing the construction contract is a major step forward that puts the stadium and indeed our wonderful club on a much firmer footing.
"I commend Buckingham Group on their pragmatic approach to working with us over recent months, and I am enormously grateful to Nick for his investment that has helped us to sign the contract.
“Further announcements will follow over the coming days and weeks as the final details of the project fall into place. First up will be a General Meeting of AFCW PLC to approve the allocation of shares, which will be announced over the coming days.
“I look forward to the opportunity, in a few months’ time, of thanking a very long list of people who have been so instrumental in getting the stadium completed.”
INTRODUCING NICK ROBERTSON
Few of our fans will know the name Nick Robertson, but it’s been almost two years since he began quietly helping us with our return to Plough Lane.
Our new investor has been to home games, enjoyed drinking in the bars, listened to our stories and, all too often, anguished over our results. Nick quickly understood what ‘Bringing The Dons Home’ meant to us all and very soon promised the people leading the project that he would do his bit to help.
The success of our Seedrs crowdfunding campaign convinced him of our commitment and he was bowled over by the phenomenal response to the Plough Lane Bond. So his investment has helped us get over the funding line and ensure the stadium will at last become a reality.
"What the fans did was truly amazing. They proved they aren’t just supporters; they clearly take their roles as owners extremely seriously,” said Nick. “More than anything I’ve learned how much fan ownership means to everyone. I realise it’s at the heart and soul of everything – and quite rightly so, given what the supporters have achieved.
“If anything, I hope my involvement will help reinforce that. I know AFC Wimbledon belongs to the fans – and it’s the fans who make it so special. I’m just delighted to be one of them."
Nick, who lives in Wimbledon Village, was introduced to us when we asked a long-standing supporter if there were any business people in the borough who might help with our homecoming.
As a result, there was a meeting with Nick at the Fox and Grapes pub at lunch-time on May 29, 2018, and he immediately offered to help in any way he could.
Nick doesn’t just love football, he also cares passionately about the community - he helped create the online fashion company ASOS - and he supports a number of charities and good causes.
Last year, for example, he contributed generously to the rebuilding of Wimbledon’s popular children’s theatre, the Polka, and more recently helped secure the survival of the Wimbledon Bookfest. And Nick also hosted a series of dinners at which groups of Wimbledon businessmen were told about our plans, our hopes and our needs. He became increasingly involved and offered welcome advice and reassurance during the stressful fund-raising pressures we faced earlier this year.
Inevitably, Nick's name started to become known, so to allay false rumours and fears he met a group of supporters for a pint or two in the Hand in Hand on Wimbledon Common. But for the lockdown, he would have been with us for brunch and a farewell party following our final game at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.
When we finally get to actually see a game at Plough Lane, many of you will no doubt want to meet Nick. That won’t be a problem: he’s definitely the sort of guy who’ll be at home in our new Fans’ Zone. In the meantime, he is reluctant to say more than: “I’ve only done what I said I’d do. If that means all the numbers add up and we can get the stadium built, then I’m delighted to have played a part in making it possible.”
And he summed up his feelings for everyone at the club with this tribute: “I love the resilience of the club, the passion of the fans, and their commitment to the community."
Please note, shareholders in AFCW PLC will shortly receive a formal communication regarding the allocation of shares (previously approved prior to the Seedrs crowdfunding) to give effect to Nick Robertson’s investment. The Dons Trust retain more than 75 per cent of the shares in AFCW PLC.