AFC Wimbledon fans have expressed their opposition to a private investment approach in the English League One football club, as it continues to wrestle with a funding shortfall for its new stadium.
AFC Wimbledon last month called a special meeting after admitting that it may have to shift from its fan-owned structure if it is to fully complete the stadium. The Dons Trust Board holds a 75% stake in the club and has now met to discuss its options after it was revealed a further £11m (€13m/$14.5m) is needed for the stadium project by January.
AFC Wimbledon last month spelled out three main options to ensure the stadium work continues, including the potentially controversial prospect of bringing in private investors, reducing the Dons Trust’s stake in the club. At the meeting, the Evening Standard newspaper reported an offer of £7.5m for a 30% stake in the club was put forward.
The investment group is believed to be made up of three Wimbledon-based businessmen, each looking to inject £2.5m for a 10% stake. The group is said to have agreed that the Trust could retain the ultimate say on key matters such as moving the stadium and selling or relocating the club. However, it was disclosed that over time it could secure a majority stake in the team.
AFC Wimbledon has played at Kingsmeadow in Kingston upon Thames since the club was formed by supporters of Wimbledon FC in 2002. The fans acted following Wimbledon FC’s controversial move to Milton Keynes, where it was subsequently renamed MK Dons.
The planned new £30m stadium is targeted to open ahead of the 2020-21 season. AFC Wimbledon is seeking to return to Plough Lane in south-west London, about 250 yards from where the club’s original incarnation played until 1991.
The Evening Standard reported that one option to resolve the funding issues, playing at a stripped-back Plough Lane with only one stand, was rejected at the meeting after it was disclosed that it would cost more than the additional £1m initially projected.
The Guardian newspaper added that the Dons Trust meeting saw around 60% of attendees state their opposition to the prospect of outside investment. AFC Wimbledon’s first chairman, Kris Stewart, is understood to have said that if shares were sold and the board reorganised in return for the investment: “We lose control, day one.”
The Wimbledon Way, a group of original leading figures in the club’s formation, including Stewart, said after the meeting: “It was … very clear that a majority of members in the room and several of the trust board would like to feel that everything possible is explored for other avenues of funding before external investment is required.”
The initial capacity of the new stadium will be 9,000, but it could be expanded to 20,000 by filling in all four corners to create a continuous bowl. The stadium has been designed by KSS Group with Buckingham Group Contracting responsible for the construction.
AFC Wimbledon in June launched a crowdfunding campaign to support the increased costs of its new stadium, stating that it hoped to raise £13m.
Image: AFC Wimbledon