Since the formation of AFC Wimbledon in 2002 – in defiance of Wimbledon FC’s franchise move to Milton Keynes – the overarching goal has been to return competitive football to Wimbledon’s Plough Lane area. Plough Lane was the spiritual home of the original Wimbledon FC, which proved to be an incredibly happy hunting ground for the Dons during their remarkable ascent through the English football pyramid. After 1991, Wimbledon FC were forced to ground-share with nearby Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, but the phoenix-like AFC Wimbledon club held immediate aspirations to return to Plough Lane.
AFC Wimbledon are still a prominent and romantic name in the world of English football; they have clawed their way back up the leagues to League One in the English Football League (EFL) which is still one of the most watched leagues in the world. It’s covered weekly by the leading online sportsbooks operating as far afield as Canada, with some games having over 100 prop bets available to try. The fact that AFC Wimbledon are now competing in the same league as the Wimbledon FC franchise club, MK Dons, underlines their spectacular rebirth.
In recent seasons, AFC Wimbledon have been playing home games at the Kingsmeadow Stadium in Kingston – the former home of non-league side Kingstonians. This tiny 4,850-capacity stadium is by no means fit for purpose in League One, hence the launch of the club’s ground-breaking New Plough Lane project. Following the closure of Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium on Plough Lane, the club purchased and cleared the land in readiness for planning application towards a new state-of-the-art home.
Original plans for the new Plough Lane Stadium were submitted for a 20,000 all-seater stadium. The project has since been scaled back for a ‘Phase One’ build, which will see a permanent West Stand structure, followed by three temporary stands, reducing the capacity to 9,000. The West Stand has already started to take shape, along with the pitch. However, the club revealed last year that it would require another £11m in funding to pay for the initial construction.
Most other EFL clubs would have resorted to touting for external investment. There was no short supply of willing investors either; a trio of investors were prepared to stump up £7.5m for a 30% stake in the club. Despite some members of the Dons Trust – the supporters-backed board – being tempted by the offer, they have gone down a vastly different route. Instead, the Plough Lane Bond Scheme was established. Fans of AFC Wimbledon have been invited to loan funds to their club to help the completion of the new stadium. As of February, £2.5m of the £5m required from the scheme had already been borrowed, underlining the depth of feeling about AFC Wimbledon ‘coming home’ to Plough Lane.
The overall Plough Lane Stadium project will also have a lasting impact on the wider community of Wimbledon too. As part of the construction, some 602 new residential homes will be built by Galliard Homes. The collection of one, two and three-bedroom apartments would encircle the new Plough Lane Stadium, cementing AFC Wimbledon at the heart of the Wimbledon community once again.
The new Plough Lane Stadium will also benefit from excellent transport links for fans too. Direct rail connections will be provided via Haydons Road and Earlsfield Overground stations, and Wimbledon Park and Tooting Broadway tube stations respectively. There is no doubt that Wimbledon’s footballing history has never been dull. AFC Wimbledon’s rise from the ashes and the club’s return to its spiritual home is yet another heart-warming chapter in over 130 years of footballing heritage in this corner of south London.