I want to give you an update on our return to Plough Lane and share some good news that you all richly deserve to hear .
To begin, I would like to confirm that our first historic match back at our spiritual home is now planned for November 3 – a midweek league game against Doncaster Rovers. Our last game at our temporary home – QPR’s Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium – is therefore likely to be against Blackpool on October 27. I would like to relay our gratitude to QPR, who have been very professional and attentive towards us and who have gone out of their way to accommodate our needs.
If all goes to plan, the Doncaster game will mark a real milestone. Not only will we be opening the doors on our brand-new home, we will also be witnessing the start of a brand-new era for our club.
The stadium itself is still largely due to be completed on October 25. Whilst there are a number of things that need to happen before then, such as connecting the electricity, erecting the floodlights and holding a test event for a behind-closed-doors match, we have no reason to think the stadium won’t be ready to host behind-close-door matches from then onwards. The test event will include a dry run of a behind-closed-doors match during the week following completion, when we will have all our essential backroom staff at the ground and the team will arrive as if it is getting ready to play a game. If that all goes smoothly, then we hope to be issued our final safety certificates to stage matches behind closed doors.
Even then, the stadium won’t be entirely finished and we don’t expect a formal handover from our construction contractors, Buckingham, until early December as there are a few stadium works that won’t be completely finished by 3rd November:
- The rail seating won’t be installed until early December. This was held up by the FSIF approval process as we were unwilling to risk placing an order until we knew that our grants would not be compromised by safe standing. So, we’re agreeing a handover date in December with Buckingham, our contractor. There will be various other bits and pieces to be completed by then, including finalising the utility connections, and testing and commissioning activities and some minor decorations
- The perimeter wall behind the east and north stands is going to be erected over the coming months. The design of the wall has been the subject of some negotiation with our neighbours, as we need to get it right for the phase one stadium we are building now, rather than the eventual 20,000 stadium. The wall should be finished by the spring, and we’ll be negotiating arrangements with the relevant authorities so that we can accommodate fans (when permitted) even if it isn’t finished.
- We’re intending to install a 5-a-side pitch in the north-west corner. That will be carried out as a separate project over the coming months. This will be funded from grants, so isn’t adding to the financial pressures on the project.
Construction projects always bring the risk of delays and last-minute hitches. Covid-19 has created a unique situation, including backlogs with various sub-contractors. However, we really are in the final stages of the construction project.
While all this is fantastic news and November 3 promises to be a momentous occasion for everyone, it looks highly likely there will be one major ingredient missing when Glyn leads his team out for that first game.
If anybody deserves to be there that night it is, of course, you. We had hoped that at least some – if not all - fans would be allowed back into stadiums by October but, as you know by now, the government has currently abandoned those plans.
There have even been dark murmurings that we might not see fans at football until next March, although I can assure you there is a lot of activity going on behind the scenes.
Pressure is being continuously applied on behalf of Football League and National League clubs, with local MPs up-and-down the country lobbying the government to ease Covid regulations. While everyone’s number one priority is safety, there is a powerful argument for a more pragmatic approach to live, open-air sport - and a real push to see fans back before Christmas.
I cannot predict whether this will succeed but I will absolutely keep you updated should there be any changes or developments.
Some of you have asked about whether the pub will be open to fans, even if the stadium is not for matches. We are monitoring this closely. The Pub is currently going through the licensing process and if, along with other covid protocols, this is possible, we hope to open it as soon as we are allowed to, along with the new club shop.
The other good news I want to share with you is the success of our debenture and non-refundable season ticket schemes – as well as our new commercial projects.
Thousands of you have registered for our new ticketing options, with over 85% of our target already achieved – and that’s before we have even gone on general sale. Given the difficulties and uncertainty that many people have had in relation to their own personal finances at this time, some facing redundancies, it’s a remarkable achievement. Similarly, there has been considerable interest in our commercial packages and it is extremely encouraging that so many local businesses want to be part of our return to Wimbledon.
I cannot over-stress how crucial this revenue will be to our club’s operational budget as we continue to face such uncertain times. To be able to run our club without the lifeblood of match-day income is another phenomenal achievement.
It’s no secret that many clubs will be facing a grim battle for survival over the next couple of months and there could well be some who lose that fight.
For the time being at least, we are not in such a perilous position although it remains imperative that we reach all our revenue targets and that we do not fall into complacency. So, if you haven’t yet participated and feel able to support us by buying a debenture or, if you were a season ticket holder last season, a non refundable season ticket, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the ticketing team. In addition, I am relieved to report that we will shortly be able to take payments for our debentures and non-refundable season tickets and I urge you all to watch out for further instructions on how this will be done.
I understand the payment process has been a source of frustration amongst fans, with many asking when they will be able to pay for their debentures and non-refundable season tickets. This frustration has been shared by the club which has been equally keen to see payments being made.
In order to take payments online, a payment provider must process the payment through their gateway. There are two main payment gateway providers, both of whom we have had detailed but unsuccessful discussions with, due to their reluctance to provide this gateway to, not only ourselves, but other football clubs, other sports clubs and other entertainment providers during this time of uncertainty.
As a result of working with our new ticketing provider, we have come up with an alternative approach that will enable payments to be made for those wishing to pay up front for their ticket selection, and those who wish to pay via direct debit in eight equal instalments - will be able to - through a similar process to the one we have used in previous years. This has not been easy but we are very close to resolving this problem and payments will go live on Thursday, so once again, thank you for being patient.
Finally, I would like to say the following.
Returning to Plough Lane is a triumph for all of us, especially all the loyal supporters who dug deep to get us over the line. By that, I mean the fans who backed our crowdfunding campaign and invested in our Plough Lane Bonds or made substantial one-off donations. Then there’s everyone who has committed to our debentures and non-refundable season tickets.
But they’re not the only ones: I must also add to all these heroes the Dons Trust and stadium steering committee, plus our incredibly hard-working backroom team, who have worked round the clock dealing with a multitude of crucial yet exhaustive tasks – not least, the complex job of making sure everyone is guaranteed their place at our new home.
Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone for their forbearance during what’s been a difficult period. I’ve no doubt you’ve all had loads of questions on your minds and endured an environment where, through no one’s fault, the messaging on what and wouldn’t be possible has been changing. It’s been a challenging time for all of us, so thank you for your understanding and patience.
You might not all be there in person on November 3 – but we look forward to witnessing the fruits of everyone’s labour and you will all definitely be there in spirit.