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REPOST: Crossroads

As time has conspired a little against me this week, and I have no real desire to write about Franchise tomorrow, here’s a little blast from the past instead.

With the final safety certificates for NPL granted yesterday, our first home game in just under three decades is this Tuesday.

It’s going to be a long few days, even if we’re not allowed inside (and openly discouraged from being outside too), so your editor did a brief bit of digging this morning.

In the back of my mind, since AFCW first started, I always remember a meeting involving Merton, WFC and (I believe) WISA representatives just before the whole MK shit broke formally.

It was the time when returning home, to a new site on the dog track, was effectively ruled out forever.

And my hunch wasn’t wrong – I wrote the following piece on the 20th June 2001. You do the maths how long ago it was.

I called it “Crossroads” after the, ahem, low budget soap opera of that time, and there was some other interesting stuff I wrote around then as well.

One bit of it I definitely do regret putting down for posterity, all these years later. And no, I’m not telling you what it was or where to find it, but I read it again this morning and cringed.

Anyway, the first announcement of the chain of events that leads up to tomorrow’s game was just over a month later, and it turns out to be the perfect time to repost this.

It’s self-explanatory to read, will give a bit more context to anyone who has forgotten why the next five days will be one of the most cathartic in Wimbledon’s history, and just makes you realise how far we’ve come since then.

Or to put it another way – I’ve never been so glad to get it so wrong…

If you were to ever take WFC and make it a soap opera, that programme would be closed down within a week for being too far fetched and unrealistic.

After all, name any real life situation where you can rise to the top in under a decade, take the top prize then find yourself asset stripped as a result, before being knocked back at every opportunity to reclaim those former glories.

Too dramatic isn’t it?

Anyway, I write this less than 24 hours after WFC officially state that the Greyhound stadium is too expensive (£60m) and that we can’t go back to Merton.

This is a major body blow for many, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen now. Will we rise phoenix-like from yet another setback?

Will we wither and die, or worse get shipped off to another, undeserving, part of the country? Both? Neither?

Now maybe isn’t the time to think, emotions are running high, bewilderment and confusion remains. Fear of the future coupled with anger, and it’s no wonder that questions are being asked of even some highly loyal Wombles, “is it worth it?”.

Before we can examine the future, let’s examine the past : WFC did a proper feasibility study into the WGS and found they could do it. Just.

The projected cost? £60m. But this figure broke down thus : £15m for the land, purchased off the GRA. Who, coincidentally, were going to stay come what may, regardless of who was paying for it.

Demolition for £1m, “professional services” for about £4m, the rest (£40m) for a stadium.

More on stadia cost later, but effectively WFC were buying the “right” to flatten the WGS, not to get shot of the dogs.

Here I think lies your answer as to why WFC have officially ruled out WGS and subsequently Merton. £60m is a lot of money anyway, to pay £60m to subsidise the greyhounds as well (appears as though the GRA are putting £0 into it) is in effect a piss-take.

So Merton is dead.

Or is it? Rather than being the end of it all, it could well have the opposite effect. Without the benefit of insider knowledge, it appears that WFC have assumed that they would have to stump up £60m themselves.

Now, take a look at who has funded other stadia around the country. A major sponsor, local councils, other financial bodies have all contributed to some of the monoliths you see in various dumps, which begs the question, did WFC jump too soon?

Suddenly, Merton is not dead after all. Have we attempted a non-GRA partnership? If not, why not?

Have the GRA offered to put anything up? If not, why not? Far from being the close of a chapter, a totally new direction becomes apparent.

This will I’m sure be pressed to the full – it’s not as if it’s physically impossible to revamp the site, it’s now in black and white (and nicely laminated for presentation purposes as well I would assume).

And if something changes in regards to funding, availability etc, then what? Egg on face?

The major danger in all this of course is that many people who support WFC will have had enough. This complete with the absolute debacle of distributing season ticket applications could seriously and permanently damage fan support.

After all, if the carrot of going “home” has been tossed away, officially for good, what is the motivation of supporting WFC?

The last time a situation like that happened was during the dark days of Dublin, morale was at an all time low.

There are however differences this time round : firstly, supporter representation seems much more organised in 2001.

The club has at least undertaken the WGS study more “proper” than before, and one would presume future sites won’t be tossed aside nonchalantly like they did in the past.

And unlike Dublin, the team are (or were) playing much better on the field of play. But will this be enough to stop people showing so little enthusiasm?

The answer to that question lies within the next 6 months, at a push this time next year.

Psychologically, WFC fans feel they have very little to look forward to. Whenever something DOES come up, like a meeting about a ground, shit happens. And the longer it goes on, the less people are inclined to fight.

Simply put, if WFC does not put something concrete about a ground by the end of next season, the club will cease to exist within 5 years time. Why? Because nobody will want to be associated with them anymore.

Why associate yourself with a club that has no off-field ambition? People ARE sick of having no ground, and a “give us another year” answer just won’t wash anymore.

Problems like this are only exacerbated whenever a QPR, or an MK comes up – at a time when WFC needs all the support it can get, it really treats its existing fanbase like shit.

Which leads me on nicely to what happens next. If we take WFC’s official rejection of Merton as final, explained, read etc, where next?

Let’s look at the three worse case scenarios, QPR, MK or SP. QPR has also been “officially” rejected by WFC unless QPR vacate it. Which is not so far fetched although whether a property developer will get their hands on it quicker is anyone’s guess.

What this will mean is more insecurity for WFC – a prime bit of real estate, a “small” stadium and it’s hard to see how the club could stay there that long.

MK? Plenty still fear it, though the Football League have always said that it would take a “very good” case for any club to move there.

Indeed, the FL are reportedly insistent on WFC remaining in London/Surrey, and rejecting plots of land because they are too expensive wouldn’t necessarily facilitate a good reason to move. Hey, build it cheaper.

Then there is SP – we’re there already, but Jordan wants us out. That so much is obvious.

But will Jordan be in a position to buy it? He’s already stated that SP is too expensive to buy – sounds familiar – and as long as Uncle Ron is coining it in, he doesn’t care whether we stay there or not.

So we MAY still be there for a while, though the four year period is drawing ever closer and in truth we can’t take that chance. Especially if Jordan finds more mobile phones off the back of a lorry…

There are of course better case scenarios, from Gatwick to nearer SW19.

Gatwick is liked by CK, though it’s a bit of a way for many people. Well served though, and during our Prem days we did reportedly get a bit of support from down that way.

Moving nearer to London, it seems to be a case of take any decent plot of land, see where it’s near, see who owns it then consider it a possibility. Much of the land from SW19 down the A3 to the M25 is farmland, even as near as places within the LB Kingston.

Are they up for grabs? Remember, the farming industry is in major crisis and I bet they’ll be a bit keener than the GRA to sell their spud crops.

Such a piece of land would need to be easily accessible from the Wimbledon area, near a train line if possible, and obviously not cripplingly expensive.

And again, this needs to be (seen to be) done very very quickly – time is not on WFC’s side, and the longer moves are delayed the shorter club’s very vibrancy becomes in critical danger.

All this of course costs money, and there is a growing school of thought that it will only be Premiership football that will necessitate the funds which can buy land etc.

I have two problems with this : firstly, it is a risky approach to funding and planning. If we went up then went down again we would be back at square 1 again.

Secondly, the priority if we were to get promoted is the playing staff. £15m would bring in three or four top quality Prem players, or give us the ability to keep our best ones.

If we blew that on land, we would have a stadium but no team. And we would lose that money anyway the next season as a result.

So the Premiership argument is a bit dodgy to say the least. Other clubs seem to rebuild/relocate without too much hassle certainly.

Also, a re-evaluation of the stadium itself may be necessary. If whatever HOK offer is consistently too expensive, perhaps another such company who aren’t so grandeous could be employed?

WFC are only the second club in the UK (Arsenil being the other) to employ HOK for a stadia. There have been many other stadia built since 1991, why not contact those builders and see what they charge?

There are so many permutations that could be explored. If exploited, nothing would remain dead for long.

As WFC stands now, they are DEFINITELY at the crossroads.

Face value wise, we are fucked. Dig deeper and we’ve still got plenty of opportunities, some good, some not so good.

Where and when depends on the approach of the fans, the authorities and indeed WFC themselves.

The next move the club makes could make or break them for good.

Choose the wrong path, and it will not only be a crappy daytime soap based in Birmingham that is treated as a national joke…

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