Wouldn’t it be great to see AFC Wimbledon playing on their ‘home’ turf? If you’re a fan, then the answer is undoubtedly yes. But is Plough Lane the right site for a football stadium? That has yet to be decided.
AFC Wimbledon in association with Galliard Homes (which is a shareholder in the Greyhound Racing Authority) has put forward proposals to develop the existing greyhound stadium into a football stadium along with residential and retail units as follows:
- an 11,000 seat football stadium capable of being expanded to 20,000
- 600+ residential units
- 1,000m2 retail store
- 1,000m2 squash and fitness club
- 350-space car parking, with cycle parking
- functional servicing arrangement and landscaping.
Is Plough Lane the only site suitable within the borough for an AFC Wimbledon stadium? Apparently not. According to the football club’s Chief Executive Erik Samuelson: ‘It’s not the only site in Wimbledon but it is our preferred site by some distance.’
Merton Borough Council leader Stephen Alambritis says: ‘Yes, there is a desire to see football return to the borough, but that does not mean at the expense of greyhound racing, or on this particular site.’
Some 19 other sites were considered for a new AFC Wimbledon stadium. They were all discounted, for a variety of reasons. But from AFC Wimbledon’s point of view, it always ‘had to be Plough Lane’, where the club’s forerunners Wimbledon FC used to play on a site further up the road that is now a housing development.
In their romantic vision of ‘returning’ to Plough Lane, petty details like the fact this site is a vital flood plain, it’s a traffic blackspot, and this part of the borough is desperately short of education services and GP surgeries, appear to have been overlooked by AFC Wimbledon and their developer pals Galliard Homes.
How will thousands of home fans and rival supporters safely reach the site without causing disruption for residents of the Plough Lane area? Haydons Road Station is the nearest train stop, but runs an extremely limited service with short trains. Earlsfield and Wimbledon are other mainline options, combined with a bus journey. Alternatively, underground stations at Wimbledon Park, Tooting Broadway or South Wimbledon. Buses would undoubtedly come under heavy pressure.
The behaviour of fans is another issue of concern for local residents. While AFC Wimbledon prides itself on being a community and family-friendly club – and praise is certainly due to them for this – there have been a number of incidents recently that have raised eyebrows.
A number of AFC Wimbledon fans were arrested because of “a pitch invasion plus bad behaviour that wasn’t typical of our fans” at a match against Milton Keynes, wrote AFC’s chief executive Erik Samuelson following the clash. “Although it would be grossly misleading to think that what happened the other night was typical of how Dons fans normally behave, there is no excuse for what occurred.”
In a separate incident, the Wimbledon Guardian reported a brawl involving 40-50 fans when AFC Wimbledon played Bury at their home ground in Kingston.
No one could possibly accuse AFC Wimbledon fans of having a propensity for violence, but what happens when they are playing less peaceable clubs? How will rival fans be kept apart given the transport constraints of the Plough Lane site?