We always hear it; football without fans is nothing. In this case, it was a be-all or end-all for AFC Wimbledon.
The club found themselves with a shortfall of £11 million for their new stadium at Plough Lane, a stone’s throw from the site of Wimbledon FC’s old ground that the club called home for almost 80 years.
You can imagine the reaction that news caused amongst the fan base at the time it was announced – cue the collective gasps and pent up rage.
The Dons Trust, the supporters’ organisation that owns AFC Wimbledon, proposed a potential game changer to the many members in attendance at a special general meeting held during December to discuss the severity of the situation.
There was a proposal from three individual local investors to put £7.5 million into the club, with a 30% stake and seats on the board in return for their cash.
With the deep wounds still there from Wimbledon FC’s relocation to Milton Keynes back in 2002, you could see why many Dons fans were reluctant to give up their control of the club that easily.
Much deliberating took place in the days and weeks that passed. But then, supporters came up with a solution. The Plough Lane Bond was born.
The idea was the brainchild of three Dons fans; Charlie Talbot, Damian Woodward and Xavier Wiggins.
“There was quite a lot of anger around but we had tunnel vision from the beginning. Some were saying we need to take outside investment, which actually means outside control. We were like, but that’s the everything about who we are ripped up,” Wiggins told the Evening Standard.
The concept is straightforward. For any sum that is invested, you would receive that money back over a term of five, ten or 20-years, with a choice of up to 4% interest.
The initial target was to raise £5 million in time for the all-important construction contract deadline. The bond went live on January 17th, and the scheme was launched publicly at the start of February.
A month after launch, the all important £5 million marker was reached – the fans had dug deep once again and created history.
Including the £2.4 million pocketed from the Seedrs crowdfunding campaign in the summer, reaching the new target would mean that a total of just under £10 million will be raised.
The hope now from the powers at be is that commercial lending from the banks in the form of a loan will prove to be much easier with regards to any further cash injection that is required.
A majority of AFC Wimbledon supporters believe that fan ownership is integral moving forwards, at a time when community clubs in the EFL are becoming fewer and far between.
It was confirmed last week that American businessman Rob Couhig had acquired a 75% stake in Wycombe Wanderers, ending the ownership of the club by the supporters’ trust.
That means only three fan-owned clubs in the Football League now remain: AFC Wimbledon, Exeter City and Newport County.
With a fan-owned model comes the option to control your own destiny, and that is what AFC Wimbledon will want to be the case for the foreseeable future. What the success of the bond has proved yet again is that Wimbledon always find a way to triumph through adversity.
Fan power is here to stay.