AFC Wimbledon has hailed a “historic moment” for the English League One football club after fresh investment allowed it to sign the final construction contract for its new stadium.
Local businessman Nick Robertson has agreed to acquire a 10% stake in AFC Wimbledon, which is majority owned by its fans through the Dons Trust (DT). Robertson helped create the online fashion company ASOS and his investment has allowed the unlocking of funds from a Seedrs crowdfunding campaign and the Plough Lane Bond scheme.
In December, AFC Wimbledon fans expressed their opposition to a private investment approach in the club, as it continued to wrestle with a funding shortfall for its new stadium (pictured last month). AFC Wimbledon earlier called a special meeting after admitting that it may have to shift from its fan-owned structure if it was to fully complete the stadium.
The Dons Trust Board holds a 75% stake in the club and met to discuss its options after it was revealed a further £11m (€12.3m/$13.6m) was needed for the stadium project by January. AFC Wimbledon in November spelled out three main options to ensure the stadium work continues, including the potentially controversial prospect of bringing in private investors, reducing the DT’s stake in the club.
AFC Wimbledon has played at Cherry Red Records Stadium 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 stadium had been 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.
AFC Wimbledon has now said stadium construction is on track and the DT remains the majority shareholder with its current stake. “Without doubt, it’s thanks to our incredible fans that we’re in this position,” said chief executive Joe Palmer.
“The Seedrs crowdfunding and Plough Lane Bond were the game changers – but we still needed an extra push to complete the job. 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% 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.”
Despite the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the completion of the domestic football season, AFC Wimbledon said the stadium build has continued and remains on schedule for completion by October 25.
Palmer added: “There are so many problems that still lie ahead because of the coronavirus crisis. 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.”
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.
Image: AFC Wimbledon