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Stand and deliver

It would be just a little bit too churlish to start this off with “your money or your life”….

If you haven’t seen it, AFCW has submitted plans to redo the Main Stand. Basically, it’s an extra 200 seats, extention of roof and a refurb inside (though not including bar areas for some reason). And a Controlled Parking Zone, whatever that entails. All well and good, after all the Main Stand isn’t the nicest and could do with a bit of a fresh look.

But the bottom line, as ever, is the cost. £786,000 of your English pounds to be exact. That’s almost what we paid for Jon Main’s right foot. It’s a fair old sum no matter how you look at it.

To compound this even more, it’s the lowest quoted tender. This assumes that none of the works over-runs, that’s there’s no issues with construction, that the structure is built properly in the first place, that there are no (ahem) “unforseens”. Not to mention what happens if the club got its CPZ calculations wrong. If the club has been quoted an unrealistic tender it’s going to pay for it in more ways than one. After all, a rule of thumb in construction/engineering is to take the contingency fund then double it…..

Actually, I’ve got to wonder what the quotes from the other tenderers were. If all three prices were as much of a muchness, and the chosen tenderer has the best reputation etc etc, then fair enough. But if the others were more expensive but quoting similar sums, then you have to wonder why the one we’ve gone for is so cheap…..

The other thing that jumps out, and something quite a few people have commented about, is how short a time everyone has to digest the figures and then vote on it. Especially as AFCW has known about this for a little while. What if people aren’t happy with the information given and want more time? Or if somebody asks what I’ve just said and we find the other tenders were better? It hardly gives any time for AFCW to take it on board and re-package the proposal does it? If it loses the vote because of this short time span, it’s only got itself to blame. And I haven’t even gone onto the conspiracy theories yet…

As usual, there’s a wider issue at stake. It was inevitable at some point that AFCW would have to do its first major bit of fundraising that would get a percentage of the fanbase nervous. Already it’s different to the initial KM buyout, where a heady mixture of youthful exhuberance and the very real scars of the Selhurst era prevailent carried that motion through quite easily. In fact, I wrote this in the following days after that decision at Wimbledon Theatre was made.

Inbetween all the talk of fundraising exercises, like jumping out of aeroplanes – I’m sure plenty will pay for me to do it, most likely without the parachute – I detected a slight reluctance (or realisation) after the euphoria of voting for it. Now, I was pretty amazed that it was as high as 90% or so in favour, though I shouldn’t have been surprised. It was certainly clear from the DT board on stage that they wanted people to vote that way. But I just can’t help feeling that there was a “what the hell have we got ourselves in for?” vibe afterwards. Fear? Apprehension? Repressed excitement?


I suspect that at least part of the reason why people voted for the ground buyout yesterday was more to do with fear as much as a moving forward platform caused by a unique situation. As soon as the words “Noades” and “Ron” were mentioned you could smell panic. Indeed, if you had waved a blank cheque in front of people last night as soon as Uncle Ronald’s name was mentioned I bet that somebody would have written a kite for £3m there and then. It’s perfectly understandable of course, Noades’ record with football clubs is reprehensible at best, and I think the sheer feeling of security motivated people as much as anything. Which I can fully appreciate, after all a nomadic lifestyle isn’t always the best for a football club. And yes, being able to borrow money against an asset is a nice feeling for once, though I really hope we don’t need to start doing that. Additionally, I heard mentioned that if we don’t buy Ks somebody like a rugby club could. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?


Anyway, the die has been cast and we’ve got to live with it. So, how actually are people going to raise £3m? It’s becoming pretty obvious that some sort of fundraising issue is going to happen, which is bound to offend some peoples’ sensibilities. The most likely option I would imagine is a share issue, with perks added as well. Last night hinted that the DT would be the main bods still as their shares would be heavily weighted in their favour. Other than that, I really cannot see how funds will be raised without getting some external investment. Granted, I never subscribed to the “by the fans for the fans” mantra of AFCW, it was always going to be challenged whenever something like this came up. Not that I have a problem at all with external investment one bit, it’s par for the course in the business world and I would imagine that some ideals will have to be compromised. One thing though, money always equals influence….

That was written way, way back in March 2003. Looking back, I could have composed that in March 2008 and it would still be just as relevant .

As a club, and as a fanbase, we’ve settled down a lot since even back then. No bad thing in truth, but in the coming months and years, fundraising will just become that little bit harder to do. Why? A few reasons. Firstly, unless your head is really up Gordon Brown’s arse, there’s plenty of signs of an economic slowdown about to kick in. Whether it be house prices falling, utility bills rising, hedge fund analysts down to their last £1m etc, belts are getting tightened. People generally won’t have so much money to spend. And what’s one of the first things to go when wallets are empty? Leisure.

This might be a shock to some AFCW fans, but football is effective a leisure pursuit. Granted, it doesn’t feel like it when we lose to ETU, but it’s ultimately a hobby. We’re always first to point fingers at other clubs with one or two people bankrolling them, but AFCW could also find itself with a nasty bite on the financial arse if the general fanbase starts feeling poor. Sure, you can expect ticket sales to remain strong (as long as they don’t get raised to non-VFM levels) and bars and merchandise will still probably do well. But as the club has set itself up so that the fanbase supplies the bulk of the dough, it’s vital that the same fanbase continues to feel flush and willing to spend.

Secondly, and leading on from that – is there as much willing to spend at AFCW? Especially on a new stand? Case in point – the Barclays loan. Didn’t it take about six months to shave £1m off the original debt? And what is it now? Still over £500k outstanding I believe. That’s a helluva slowdown in clearing it, and that’s without external financial issues affecting people.

Lest we forget, people put holidays on hold to clear that original £1m. Christ, I even know somebody who decided not to have a dental operation and bunged the money towards AFCW. You just can’t expect people to do that all over again. Back then, we really did have a point to prove : we wanted to show anyone looking in that this club could survive without pro football, that we could do it ourselves. We made that point, proved it, and now we’re back to being a “normal” football club again.

We’ll be adding a good £786k plus to money outstanding, and maybe for the first time we’ll struggle financially over it. The original zest shown for that initial bit of fundraising has gone, in truth it died out a long time ago. It would have been a tall order to clear it then, let alone now.

Of course, there are always other ways of getting money in. A little thing called sponsorship, perhaps? Might keep those dreaded “sugar daddies” away from the oh-so-pure AFCW doors. When we got KM, we inherited something called the John Smiths Stand (and it wasn’t named after the late Labour leader either). Any moralistic “not in the spirit of AFCW” arguments against sponsorship died when Tempest funded the hardcore Athletics End roof and renamed it the Tempest End. I won’t mention Cherry Red sponsoring the ground full stop, but suffice to say – the irony of rebranding KM as the “Fans Stadium” then putting a sponsor on it is not lost…..

The whole point of this article is this. Finally, AFCW is going to be forced to review how it raises funds from now on. For the first time since inception, the club faces a major crossroads. It funds a club, a ground, a full time manager, a playing staff that isn’t exactly starving and a weight of expectation. One may have to give. Dampening collective expectations would probably be the best thing but also is the most unrealistic approach going. You just have to look where we’ve come from to see why, and don’t kid yourself that playing somebody like Torquay doesn’t move you subconsciously into looking to higher divisions.

We’ve also made a rod for our own backs over the playing/manager side. When TB became the manager, I was genuinely shocked that we’d gone for a full time manager so quickly since 2002. Footballing wise we had to do it, as there’s a lot of aspects like reserves, youth, kids etc that needed sorting out properly. And from what I was once told about how much TB and DA got paid, there wasn’t that much difference between the two. Could we go back to part-time and wind down a lot of the non-first team activities? If we had to, we probably would, but we should not be in that position. And by that, I mean we fall back to Ryman One or even lower levels. Sounds far-fetched now but who knows what the future will bring? Football clubs can go down as well as up after all…

There’s been recent discussion on relying on our fanbase to continue a large percentage of our funding, and it’s pointless going over again. But we need to examine existing sponsorship deals as well. How much are John Smiths paying us for the structure opposite the Main Stand? Peanuts? If so, tender it out again and get a bit more dough in this time. How much are Cherry Red paying AFCW to rename the Fans’ Peoples’ Lenin Revolutionary Workers Stadium? Nobody really seems to know, but I would hope it’s a decent wedge. The worst thing that can happen over this sort of approach is by selling the naming rights too cheaply – you’ll have effectively given the rights away but still have a major financial headache. And that’s when patience start to wear thin…..

When the likes of Lewes are paying £11k a week on players, you know exactly what we’re up against. What do we pay? Haven’t got the figures to hand but it’s nowhere near that apparently. Now more so than ever, the club is doing a tricky delicate balancing act. It will get things wrong, it will make mistakes, and there’s no use pretending it won’t otherwise. We just have to make sure they’re not costly…

Finally, back to this stand proposal. Without being too presumptious over the whole vote, it’s likely the proposals will get approved by the DT members anyway. History has shown that it’s more or less a rubber stamp for what “the club” proposes, and in all likelyhood it will continue that way for a long time to come. One does wonder how much real “bite” the DT membership will have if there’s a genuinely contentious issue, especially if the club and the collective support are at odds. One day we’ll find out.

But I don’t think this is one of those days. In fact, I would happily support rebuilding the stand, simply because I think we’ve got no real choice whatever way you look at it. I for one want to see a club called Wimbledon in League football again because it was stolen away from me in 2002 and I want it back. The club wouldn’t have survived beyond its first couple of seasons if there wasn’t the carrot of getting promotion and doing well – it’s called normal football supporting and we are certainly not immune from that. To get further, we’re going to have to bite the bullet and spend some money in ways we may not want to.

Remember – you only need to build the stand once. It’s not like buying a player, who can get injured or bugger off when he gets a better offer, and then have to spend loads of £££ on his replacement. Make any works pay for itself – teams like Man Utd learnt this a long time ago, and we’d do well to follow suit. Even if football comes to its financial senses we’re always going to have to generate income in other ways. A refurbished Main Stand ain’t going to hinder that, and who knows – the community we’re so eager to represent might fancy coming along to a decent looking KM.

The less we have to pay ourselves the more we can spend on other things. I just hope they’re not Adam Ant records….