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Club News

Mick’s End of Year Update

AFCW PLC Chair reviews 2023

18 December 2023

Club News

Mick’s End of Year Update

AFCW PLC Chair reviews 2023

18 December 2023

With the end of 2023 imminent, we put together 10 questions to Mick Buckley about a variety of subjects as the Dons seek to build upon a much-improved season after 21 league games.

For the full Q&A with the AFCW PLC Chair, take a look below.

How are things looking as we approach the end of 2023?

As fans, we are most interested in what happens on the pitch. It’s certainly been a ‘year of two halves’. The first five months of the year were grim in terms of the results. It was a challenging time. Craig Cope and Johnnie Jackson were working hard behind the scenes to improve our long-term football operations, but that work wasn’t visible to people in terms of results on Saturdays.

Thankfully, all the things we discussed at the back end of last season have had a good impact and given us many highlights to enjoy since August. The work ethic, preparation and subsequent performances have been impressive. All the coaching and playing staff should feel good about outcomes, but equally they all know that it’s only mid-December. As ever, there will be lots of hard work ahead, some ups and downs, but we have put ourselves in a great position.

On Friday night, we enjoyed a great game under the lights as our Under-18s beat Blackburn Rovers in the FA Youth Cup, which given all the work going in there every day, was a fantastic reward for Michael Hamilton and his talented Academy leadership team.

AFC Wimbledon Women are also making great progress and are on track for promotion.

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In recent campaigns there’s been a downturn in results on the pitch during the second half of the season. Is there more confidence that we’ll get the January transfer window right this time around?

My major learning from the last January window was that there is only so much you can control.

This time last year, two parent clubs assured us that ‘season long loans’ would be just that, and at that moment in time they meant it. Two weeks later, we ended up losing two important loanees and Ayoub Assal, who opted to exercise the ‘buy out’ clause on his contract.

All that said, don’t forget the January window also included the arrivals of Ali Al- Hamadi, Armani Little and Kasey McAteer.

The problems in the second half of the season were not just about the transfer window.

There were structural weaknesses in squad profile and football operations, which have been addressed, and which will be continually improved.

We can’t control everything; the PLC board is going into this window with a strong desire to support Craig and Johnnie to come out of the window in good health and to continue the progress we have made this season.

There are no plans to sell any players in this window.

The first-team squad have moved up the table recently with a good run of form, but how do you think we are performing off the pitch?

For our long-term success, talking about finances is not always exciting, but is integral.

We are trying to create a sustainable fan-owned community football club. We are doing that competing in an unsustainable industry with most League Two clubs accepting £1m-plus losses every year.

I have said before that after relegation, despite losing £700k in revenue, we had to maintain our playing budget at the League One level to stay competitive. We have financed that by player sales.

We recently announced our financial results for the 22/23 season (and financial year). Roughly speaking, we made a £1.1m operating cash loss, but turned a £400k profit after taking into account player sales of £2.6m and interest/loan repayments of £900k.

The challenge for us, as a club, is to manage our costs and grow our revenues so that we can move away from that £1m cash loss.

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Is that achievable?

The results announced for 22/23 showed that despite a prior season relegation, all of us working together achieved record sales in many areas, including Ticketing, Retail, Commercial, Hospitality and Streaming.

If we continue on our current track, all those areas will be higher again this season. The balance is seeking to keep things affordable whilst remaining competitive and sustainable.

However, just like on the pitch, it’s work in progress.

There is much work to do in managing our costs and turning revenues into profit, but as we hopefully shake off the pandemic and learn more about monetising our stadium, things are moving in a positive direction.

We were delighted to appoint James Woodroof as our new Managing Director last week to provide leadership to all our fantastic club staff and volunteers - helping us to unlock the massive potential we have.

During a previous interview for BBC Radio London, you mentioned that the Club still has a debt to pay as regards to our current stadium. What is the current situation, including timings, and will we need help again from supporters?

Looking back to 2002, a few hundred fans met in the community centre with the collective determination to keep Wimbledon’s football club going. A blank piece of paper, no money.

Here we are 22 years later, a few more have joined us along the way, and we have just enjoyed six successive home wins in this fantastic £32 million stadium.

It is an audacious achievement, but all that said, the stadium is not paid for yet.

The first tranche of Plough Lane Bonds totalling £3.4m are due for repayment in April 2025 and the AFCW finance committee are looking at the different ways that we can repay or re-finance the debt. In terms of how our supporters can help, active engagement has already begun with bondholders and Dons Trust members over the various options available to both groups. 

Dons Trust members are considering the idea of reducing their ownership stake from minimum 75.1% to minimum 50.1%. There are pros and cons which need consideration. This could obviously be a major benefit to addressing the debt levels by selling more equity.

Bondholders have indicated their appetite for repayment in April 2025 or their willingness to defer giving us more time to monetise the stadium.

The debt levels impact on how we make decisions at the Club, from the size of the playing budget to timing of player sales, to how many grow lamps we can afford for the pitch. It’s important that we manage the debt wisely and we continue to appreciate the support from bondholders in how we do that.

We need to work together to manage it. If we can do that, then we will continue to progress.

We own our club, our land, our stadium and our future. We have planning permission to expand.

People who know about the Club and its story have a natural affinity to it. We need to tell our story to as many people as possible and lots of opportunities will open for us. I know that James Woodroof will be particularly keen to get that done well.

With attendances having regularly hit the 8,000 mark this season, is it still in our long-term strategy to expand the stadium if the Club progressed further up the ladder?

Yes, I think our current attendances are really encouraging. We have been creative with our marketing, but we want to do a lot more on this. In particular, we haven’t begun to tell our story in a systematic way to future fans. Seeing young families making their way along Plough Lane to our amazing stadium is exactly what we dreamt of when sitting in dark meeting rooms at Kingsmeadow.

The fact that we own our land and have a planning permission to expand will be very helpful in terms of growing the Club and achieving sustainability. The stadium will be developed to enable our growth. The PLC board think we need some more expertise in this area and as one of three imminent recruitments, are close to appointing a specialist property Non Exec Director.

Our recent televised FA Cup match showcased the Club to a national audience. Did this make you proud to be associated with AFC Wimbledon and provide an example of the potential of the Club?

I am proud of my association with Wimbledon’s football club every day of my life. I thought the ITV coverage filmed from the Ry Stand made for a great spectacle.

I see the potential of the Club in every conversation I have with staff members, board members, fans, volunteers and others. If we can work together to improve just one thing every single day, the Club will realise its potential. Everything is about togetherness.

What do you think are realistic ambitions for AFC Wimbledon in the next five years?

I think it is a great question. I just said everything is about togetherness. In previous times we had obvious goals that helped us work towards a common target e.g. ‘getting back to the EFL’, ‘getting back to Plough Lane’. Those simple goals were helpful in keeping us together. We are probably due a big conversation about what’s next and how?

From my point of view, providing we manage the debt situation, there is no reason why within five years, we can’t be competing in the top third of League One and once you are there, who knows?

With that in mind, we need to concentrate on the following:

  • Winning more football matches.
  • Growing the business to manage debt obligations and increase the playing budget.
  • Increasing our community impact.
  • Telling our story in a way that engages more people who will help us on our journey.

Thanks Mick, what were your own highlights of 2023?

As a fan, I’ve obviously enjoyed the football in recent weeks, but as PLC Chair, it’s when I’ve seen staff and volunteers working to make things happen. There are so many examples of this but three spring to mind:

  • Craig and the volunteers painting the training ground and featuring in one of our best bits of club media announcing a new signing.
  • The fans welcoming Johnnie Jackson and the team as they walked into the pub in Benidorm (as part of a very well organized pre- season).
  • The creation of the Autograph Zone. The staff want the best fan experience possible. It was clear that the players and their young fans either side of locked gates was not the way to go, so setting up this zone outside The Phoenix was a step in the right direction. The gathering of our younger fans there, demanding the arrival of the players, makes me feel great about the future and the effort we have all put into this.

Anything else you would like to say?

I would like to thank all the football and non-football staff, volunteers and board members, for working through some challenges this year.

Thanks to the fans for their passion and support in significant numbers. Thanks to everyone involved with AFC Wimbledon Foundation, DLAG and WiSH for all they do to help the Club and the community.

Have a great Christmas - if we continue to work together there will be exciting times ahead.

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