“Show me the way to Plough Lane
I’m tired and I want to go home
I had a football ground 10 years ago
And I want one of my own
Wherever I may roam
To Selhurst Park again
You will always hear me singing this song
Show me the way to Plough Lane”
If the above ditty didn’t make you feel a twinge of emotion then stop reading now. No, on second thoughts, shut up and listen. I’m not in the mood for niceties.
The day before I wrote this, there was a major protest by WFC fans after yet another game at SP. The protest wasn’t just about MK, despite pleas from the club [insert cynical comment here]. No, this was a pro-active demo. “Show me the way to Plough Lane” was one of many songs sung. The club know about it, fuck me they know about it. The players and TB know about it. Hey, they’re even on our side. But the real target in all this is WFC itself. Not just R&G, not just CK, but some of their minions down below. People like David Barnard, Reg Davis, Tony White etc have felt the backlash. Some shareholders, some not. Some board members, some not. All have felt the wrath of the pissed off Womble. We’ve had Reg Davis crying because some nasty fans have called him a “traitor” for saying how much he liked MK. Well next time don’t actually come out and say how much you are in favour of a move that would have disasterous consequences. And don’t patronise us by saying that you don’t want to “lower ambition”. Put it this way, MK = no WFC. No WFC = no Reg Davis. Think about it.
Now, protesting is all very well, but we can’t move back to SW19 can we? No, because there’s the traffic. And the council don’t want us there. And we need to make money by bunging a hotel and casino and conference facilities on there, so sorry, you’ll have to accept MK. Will we fuck. This article, when it stops swearing and antagonising those who work at WFC (hey, stop antagonising me and I may just give you a break), will prove that Plough Lane IS workable, and without a shred of romanticism that may well work against us.
OK then, boys and girls, name the part of SW19 above? Yes, Plough Lane/Durnsford Road. You may have noticed that I’ve put in red two major expanses of space. One is somewhere called Wimbledon Stadium. The other is where some club called Wimbledon played their matches for about 95 years. They even got into the top flight of English soccer and won the FA Cup as well. So they’re pretty special. Well, were pretty special certainly. The place has been bought up by Safeways now, but they can’t get planning permission. Why? Traffic, my friend. So much so that Safeway are even considering getting rid of the site altogether. Some other features to bear in mind. Between the two plots of land, lies Wimbledon City Ford, a gas station and a electrical sub-station. Which the local residents say blight the land and want put underground. So you have a fair bit of land to play with there. You should be able to work out from the pictures where the houses start and stop BTW.
So what? Haven’t we tried to go down PL before but the council kept blocking it? That’s the myth. The reality, from what I understand is far different. Merton Council in 1994 did a feasibility study at the Dog Track, and suggested that a 20k semi-refurbished (read “half assed”) stadium would do for WFC. This study, BTW, was done without any assistance from WFC whatsoever. Had Hammam co-operated instead of trying to act like a hard man, he may have got some favourable responses (believe me, having done plenty of feasibility studies in my work, I know for a fact that if Party X and Party Y help you and Party Z wants nothing to do with the study, the end results will always work against Party Z…), but then we all know what he was like. So really, Merton HAVEN’T told us to fuck off at all. Hence this article, hence the protests etc.
Before I go into details, you may be asking why is it only now “we’re” protesting? I put this down to a couple of reasons : firstly, MK has raised its ugly concrete-facaded head. Whilst private comments from the top brass – and public comments from TB as well – are showing that WFC themselves are maybe not as keen on MK as first thought, publically it’s still at the curious “advanced” stage. Hell, there’s even a computer image of it, though whether it’s actually MK itself is anyone’s guess. And we all know what that means. Secondly, and perhaps just as importantly, people got stung under Hammam. The feeling post-Dublin was “Sam will look after us”. He looked after himself most of all, and of course did absolutely nothing positive whatsoever. Now that the same rhetoric is coming out of the club again – why? – people are more angry. And more militant. It’s felt that R&G won’t look after us, and the very soul of the club is in danger. If it is, it wouldn’t be the first time, and new training grounds/club shops could act as a strong counterbalance to that, but whatever the reasoning, people aren’t going to lay down and die this time.
Examine above the same map. This time I’ve superimposed an existing stadium in London on both sites, and you can see the fitments. The stadium in question is Millwall’s lovely ground, 20000 and was supposed to be designed for WFC on Wandle Valley. Supposedly scuppered by Merton but I’m not too sure of anything now. As the old WFC site shows, you can fit the ground on “our” Plough Lane site and still have room for emergency access. Look at the bit heading towards Durnsford Road : that is serious car park space there. It backs onto a river etc etc. Height restrictions? Well, that has been a problem/excuse in the past. So, ever heard of sinking the stadium into the ground? Doesn’t need to be too deep, the foundations will take it (being by a river shouldn’t make any difference whatsoever), and if it can be sunk down suitably you may even be able to get a few extra thousand spaces in there. It’s so easy and obvious it’s untrue. No it may not be symmetrical. But then do we care?
Oh, and notice how easily it fits on the dog track as well
“Perfect” you think. Sadly, WFC won’t think so. Have you heard some of the excuses they’ve come out with? Here are some genuine excuses as to why something like this will never work. My answers are below:
“There will be too much traffic”.
Simple. Close the roads off between say 1pm and 5.30pm on a matchday. Allow local access/emergency vehicles/public transport only. This will allow people to disperse easily, and won’t inconvenience the local residents that much. Think it won’t work? Well, when we used to play at Plough Lane the side roads were closed off by the police, it was only main thoroughfares like Gap Road, Durnsford Road and PL itself that were kept open. Close those roads off and the locals will feel much less hassled. This happens BTW at Twickenham and Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, both in seriously built up areas and both much larger venues.
As for anyone who feels the need to drive, ever heard of Park And Ride? Works at the Millennium Stadium. Might bring in some extra dough as well.
“There’s no public transport”
So obviously those buses that still go along Plough Lane – and do stop right outside as well – are a figment of my imagination. Likewise Haydons Road station. And of course Wimbledon Park tube. Here’s a few things you may not know about:
– London Transport have talked about a walkway from Wimbledon Park tube to any site on PL. Celsi are doing it for their new stadium.
– Tramlink are keen to put a spur to Plough Lane. They want to expand the network, certainly.
– There are railway sidings about 500 metres behind PL. Don’t tell me something can’t be done there.
“It will cost too much money”
Buy back PL from Safeway – about Â£5m
Clear the site – Â£2m
Feasibility study – Â£50k at most
Building the thing – about Â£15m
Total estimated cost about Â£20m, and even then we can always get the Football Trust/National Lottery/Euro funding to give us a hand. And who’s to say it should solely be WFC? Get somebody like the London Broncos to groundshare and you’ve halved the cost at a stroke.
Think I’ve forgotten about the transport links? Well, if the other parties are offering, the price is neglible. Not to mention the goodwill we’ll get from the local residents.
“We’ll never get planning permission”
So, have you asked the council? Believe it or not, you don’t actually need as much PP as you think, not for an existing site anyway. True, there’s height restrictions, traffic flow considerations and all round environmental impact – all explained in this very article – but are they that prohibitive? Only if you’ve got a hidden agenda.
“The residents/council don’t want us”.
Firstly, the council. How many of you have got letters from Merton saying that WFC have never discussed anything with them? Has the Wimbledon Forum met with WFC? Nope. When was the last time – no, the only time – WFC put forward anything concrete themselves? Wandle Valley? That was 13/14 years ago. Ask what the club have done, and they’ll blame Merton automatically without ever answering the question you’ve asked. What does that tell you?
Now the residents. Firstly, has anyone actually asked them if they want us back? Or do we automatically assume “no”. Ask how many of them like having a vandalised PL on their doorstep.
“Any site will be too small”
Yeah. So we REALLY need a 30-40k stadium then. Oh sorry, it’s for when (not if) we ever return to the Premiership. Call me ungrateful, but I would rather have 15k Dons fans in a 20k stadium than 15k Man U fans in a 30k stadium. Do we ever learn at this club? Such short-termism “bums on seats, don’t care whose” approach killed us during the 90s and is now trying to kill us full stop. But then, I suppose it’s “easy” to market the club with a massive stadium and Premiership football. It takes a little bit more effort to market a first division club. Dynamism has never been a phrase ever associated at WFC, the lack of it is strangling this club.
Here’s a thing or two : there’s a club who constantly qualify for Euro competition, often the Champions League. They’ve just spent Â£13m on one player. They play in a rich part of the country and have rich backing. They play in a fine stadium, often used for meaningless “Super Cup” type things. They also play in a 15k stadium to crowds about 8k. If you haven’t guessed, they’re AS Monaco. If you believe that we can only have a big stadium then just quote what I’ve just said.
“But we need to have hotels/conference facilities to fund it”
Firstly, I agree that we need to diversify to an extent to pay for it. Hence my suggestion of jumping into bed with the Broncos (not literally, but I understand you can buy Danish videos with similar actions). But hotels? Conferencing? Hmmm.
Pick up any hotel directory, be it Holiday Inn Express, Sheraton, SAS Radisson, Hilton, Marriott etc and examine them. For a stadium based hotel to pay for itself (witness the rent it would charge just to pay for itself), it needs to be a chain. Witness the non-chained Celsi Village to see how a loss making enterprise can bugger you up. Not any old chain though – to get the money in, it needs to be a rich chain, like a Marriott or a Hilton. After all, if you’re selling conference facilities you need good hotels, right? Wrong. Firstly, the “quality” chains don’t ever touch stadia – they either go for city centre locations or in the UK Country houses. Those that do go for the outlying areas – namely your Fortes, your Quality Inns, your Holiday Inn Expresses, are also the ones where people conferencing for a day or two would stay. And will chains like Holiday Inn pay for excessive rates to fund a stadium? Er, no. Why pay over-the-odds when you can get another plot of land nearby, for far less dough and build it to your specs? There are only 3 stadia hotels I can think of in the world : the aforementioned Celsi Village, the Man U venture (which may only be profitable because of its name “The Man U Hotel”) and the Toronto Skydome’s Marriott. Which coincidentally is right near a city centre and is used as “overspill” for downtown Toronto Marriott. Having a hotel would cripple WFC…
Coincidentally, Milton Keynes has Quality Inn, Forte and Best Western for its local hotels. Ask yourself why people like Marriott don’t go there, and why they would pay for a stadium hotel. And why our powers-that-be think differently.
“But we need to have hotels/conference facilities to fund it ”
Still don’t believe me do you? Check this out then:
Name the site. Oh, it is Plough Lane. OK then, who’s the stadium. One Ponti Stamfordi, home of a multi-faceted 3 star hotel, entertainment and leisure complex together with high class restaurant facilities. And a soccer ground. As you can see, with a little bit of redesign you can easily put Ponti Stamfordi into the Dog Track venue. Sadly, you probably wouldn’t be able to get away with putting it on “our” PL site but then height restrictions would probably, er, restrict it anyway. But as there is no immediate housing near the Dog Track. It can easily be “sunk” in case there is problems with its height. You can fit those supposedly profitable hotels and conference facilities there. And as my superimpositions prove, you may even have the West Bank back 🙂 Again, usual traffic restrictions would apply. There’s still room for parking, and it’ll make use of a dying stadium.
Cost? Well, if WFC are serious about spending Â£50m on MK, why not spend the same actually in SW19? It would be less hassle and may even regain some popularity.
So, that’s my pennysworth. I am no chartered surveyor, though I believe I haven’t done THAT bad a job, just an interested fan who cares for his club. After doing this I am under NO illusion whatsoever. I believe that Merton is perfectly viable. My photos prove it. My research into how other stadia around the world “do it” prove it. The only thing that can hold WFC back is its own arrogance and its ostrich mentality, together with chronic lack of dynamism and “what the people want”. I hope they get it. If they don’t, the club deserve to die. Sit in protests are merely the start….
All together now….
“Show me the way to Plough Lane…………………………………………………..”