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AFC Wimbledon fans urged to stay away from new Plough Lane opening

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FC Wimbledon chief executive Joe Palmer has urged fans to stay away from Plough Lane on Tuesday night ahead of its opening, but has promised a “spectacular” event for when supporters are allowed back in.

After 29 years, the Dons are finally returning to their spiritual home in Merton and the new 9,300-seater Plough Lane, which cost over £30million, will hosts its first game on Tuesday evening when Doncaster Rovers come to town.

AFC Wimbledon fans, however, cannot attend the game as current social distancing guidelines related to the Covid-19 pandemic mean supporters cannot visit football grounds to watch matches.

That is a blow for Dons fans who, after their club was relocated to Milton Keynes, formed AFC Wimbledon in 2002 and climbed the football pyramid from the ninth tier to League One.

Supporters naturally want to be there on Tuesday night to mark their return to Plough Lane, where they last played in 1991 before then owner Sam Hammam sold the stadium.

But Palmer has urged fans to stay away and follow all the pre-match action via the club’s YouTube Channel, as any issues could cause the club to lose their safety certificate – which is the licence that allows matches to be played at the stadium.

“We have waited so long – 29 years – so to just trip up at the final finish line seems such a shame,” Palmer told Standard Sport. “It is very important that fans stay away. 

“We need to prove to the council and to the SGSA (Sports Grounds Safety Authority) that we can run this club responsibly and safely, particularly during these times.

“They will be watching us and we have to behave, and we have to meet their guidelines and their protocols. So it is imperative that fans do stay at home. 

“I really do understand how much they want to be here and how being as close to the stadium as possible they can start to feel some of the energy from tonight.

“But really, for the benefit of all of us and the club, they really do need to stay at home.”

“For the benefit of all of us and the club, fans really do need to stay at home.”

AFC Wimbledon, like other clubs, are waiting to find out when fans can safely return to grounds, but Palmer has promised a big celebration for when the new Plough Lane can officially open its doors to the public.

“We have had several discussions about what that would look like,” he said. “If it is not until next season, then you can bet we are going to do something pretty exciting.

“For that first event in the new stadium for the new season, we will definitely be looking to do something spectacular for that. At the moment we just have to wait and see how things progress.”

The lack of fans has hit AFC Wimbledon’s finances due to a loss in matchday revenue. The Dons, however, are in a more stable position than others in League One due to the support of their fans – who own the club.

Supporters raised over £7m to build the new stadium via a bond and crowdfunding, while they have boosted finances further through a new seat debenture scheme.

“We are not completely out of the woods, but we are mostly there,” Palmer added.

“I think compared to other clubs I would put us in the category of the least vulnerable, but there is still some way to go through this season.

“We have got a brand new stadium and there is a lot of unknown operating costs that, until we are in there, we can’t foresee.

“So we do have to be cautious, but at the same time I would say we are probably one of the least vulnerable at the moment and that’s a very nice position to be in.

“Obviously we do think about what could happen for other clubs in this division if they do struggle. We hope that they don’t, it would be a disaster.”


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