‘The Dons’ D-Day on November 3rd!


AFC Wimbledon first home game in new stadium Image: AFC Wimbledon

The English professional football club AFC Wimbledon’s first match at its new residence Plough Lane Stadium will be against Doncaster Rovers on November 3rd, the League One club confirmed recently.

Doncaster Rovers Football Club is a professional association football club based in the town of Doncaster, South Yorkshire, England. The team competes in League One, the third tier of the English football league system.

AFC Wimbledon is an English professional football club based in Merton, London, which has played in League One, the third tier of the English football league system, since winning promotion in 2016. The club’s home stadium is Plough Lane.

‘The Dons’ are presently playing home matches at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, home of Championship club Queens Park Rangers, while work is over at its new 9,000-capacity home.

In a statement released recently, AFC Wimbledon Chief Executive Joe Palmer said that the club’s home fixture against Blackpool (professional association football club in England) on October 27th is likely to be its last at Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, with the Doncaster match the following week pencilled in as Plough Lane’s opening fixture.

The new stadium is set to be “largely completed” by October 25th, 2020. Prior to that, the stadium’s electricity will be connected and the floodlights erected, with a pilot event for a behind-closed-doors match also planned.

Terming the new stadium as their “spiritual home”, Palmer added, “The test event will include a dry run of a behind-closed-doors match during the week following completion, when we will have all our essential backroom staff at the ground and the team will arrive as if it is getting ready to play a game. If that all goes smoothly, then we hope to be issued our final safety certificates to stage matches behind closed doors.”

Palmer also informed that the formal stadium handover will not happen from construction contractors Buckingham until early December as there are some features that are still to be completed, including the setting up of rail seating, the construction of the perimeter wall behind the East and North stands, and the installation of a new five-a-side pitch in the North-West corner of the ground.

Fans will not be allowed for the opening fixture at Plough Lane, but Palmer is keeping fingers crossed that supporters will be back into the arena fold in the near future. However, reports are doing the rounds that with COVID-19 resurgence in Europe, fans might not be allowed in UK stadia till March 2021.

“Pressure is being continuously applied on behalf of Football League and National League clubs, with local MPs up and down the country lobbying the Government to ease COVID regulations,” he said.

“While everyone’s number one priority is safety, there is a powerful argument for a more pragmatic approach to live, open-air sport – and a real push to see fans back before Christmas. I cannot predict whether this will succeed but I will absolutely keep you updated should there be any changes or developments,” Palmer continued.

“I would like to relay our gratitude to QPR, who have been very professional and attentive towards us and who have gone out of their way to accommodate our needs. If all goes on course, the Doncaster game will mark a real milestone. Not only will we be opening the doors of our brand-new home, we will also be witnessing the start of a brand-new era for our club,” he affirmed.

Palmer pointed out that construction projects always bring the risk of delays and last-minute hitches and to make matters worse, “the outbreak of COVID-19 has created a unique situation, including backlogs with various sub-contractors. However, we really are in the final stages of the construction project.”

The top official stated that despite all the hurdles, November 3rd promises to be a “momentous occasion for everyone”.

It’s no secret that many clubs will be facing a grim battle for survival over the next couple of months and there could well be some who lose that fight.

AFC Wimbledon has managed to keep themselves afloat despite several hurdles.

AFC Wimbledon played at Kingsmeadow since the club was formed by supporters of the former Wimbledon FC in 2002. The fans acted following Wimbledon FC’s controversial move to Milton Keynes and subsequent rebranding as MK Dons.

Wimbledon FC played at the now-demolished Plough Lane for several years and the new structure has been built where the former facility used to be housed.

The new stadium, which has been designed by KSS Group, could be expanded to 20,000 by filling in all four corners to create a continuous bowl.

Andy Simons, Founding Director, KSS, UK, is a Member of Coliseum, Global Sports Venue Alliance.

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