So, what are we to make of this press release by AFCW this morning then?
Just as we were all beginning to moan about the new KRE stand that won’t be completed for Chesterfield, and various other limitations of KM, this comes a bit out of the blue…
So, champagne glasses out already? Nope, but this is clearly the biggest news about going home we’ve had since 1991. And anyone who has even had half an eye of what we’ve done in the past 21 years will know that even a statement like this is massive.
It’s more a statement of intent rather than anything (literally) concrete – it is after all a response to the council’s consultation – but it’s quite a big one. The key phrase from ES in it is “We have a long way to go and many major hurdles to clear”, although it might not be too over-excitable to suggest we might have cleared the biggest hurdle already.
That of actually identifying a site.
In many ways, the Dog Track is the no-brainer solution. It’s on Plough Lane for a start. It is an existing sports stadium, which means planning changes of use shouldn’t be as problematic as other sites, and the council have said that it wants to keep it as a sports venue – for what the council’s word is worth, of course.
If you drive past it, it’s a pretty run down area that is ripe for regeneration. The Dog Track itself looks like, well, a greyhound stadium. The greyhound racing industry doesn’t sound too healthy, and the stock cars are in very real danger of being banned from the emissions zone, so us being there isn’t going to make things worse…
Certainly that’s the angle the club is taking, when it says that it wants to make it a genuine community stadium. Whether that will include “leisure facilities” or not remains to be seen, but it’s not like LBM is full of them.
Before I go on, the usual spanners in the works to keep your feet on the ground. This is simply us making our response to the consultation – it’s not a guarantee that it will happen, nor are we the only people after it. That said, the council have hinted that the biggest response to it came from our fans, and you would expect that to have a sway.
There is of course the cost aspect. This won’t be cheap, and in the club’s communications this summer it put in black-and-white that any project will feature a great deal of enabling development.
We won’t own the stadium outright, in fact we may simply have to be part-owners or even rent it (to our benefit, one assumes). At a time when the club’s finances are being tested, this won’t be straightforward.
But you have to admit, it’s a literal price well worth paying.
Neither of these problems are insurmountable though, to the point of project killing, and one does suspect that this might be the preferred option of all parties involved. Wimbledon returning to Plough Lane should sell itself, and it’s interesting that the council see fit to a) put their name to a press release of an interested bidder, and b) put it on their website.
One has to wonder how advanced negotiations in this really are. What ES came up with was quite detailed for a statement of intent – a 12k stadium, expandable to 22k, part of a wider redevelopment – and those sort of things don’t come off the back of a fag packet.
During the close season, the local Guardian came up with plans for the Savacentre (typically, I can’t find the report) which was staggeringly detailed : from memory, it mentioned not only flats being built, but by Aviva too. One suspects if that article was a teaser, the Dog Track is similarly advanced.
What of the timing of this? The club has kept pretty schtum for the last three years or so, and you don’t put out press releases like that (in conjunction with the local council) if you’re not in advanced negotiations. The fallout of it only being a token gesture by the club (and the council) is too big and potentially damaging for that.
Has the club’s hand been forced because of the FLA looking over KM? It’s clear that our current ground is unsuitable, in fact it was barely suitable for the Conference, and there have been little tell-tale comments/asides from some ITK types about something like this on the horizon.
We do still have to do something with the old JS, and it’s never been properly explained why that was never rebuilt and the KRE was. But us making (even initial) plans to return home is going to keep the authorities breathing down our neck and maybe gives us a bit of leeway with the increasingly inadequate KM.
There’s still a long way to go, of course, and I expect we’ll have a couple of setbacks along the way. But today, on the 7th August 2012, we made the biggest step forward to returning home since that last game at PL in 1991. We actually have something to aim for now, for people to get motivated behind. As a fanbase, we may have one last push in us, and if it happens the jigsaw becomes complete.
21 years is a long time, far too long. It’s time we had a home game.