AFC Wimbledon fans look likely to raise more than three-quarters of a million pounds in a week to plug a £11million gap in the funding of their return home.
The prospect of having to allow a big investor to effectively take control of the club has been enough to scare their support into lending them huge amounts of cash to complete their new stadium.
The SW19 outfit’s owners, the Dons Trust, had revealed the shortfall in December and warned that any offers to plug the gap would involve allowing businessman to issue shares – and therefore take over in the long term.
But a packed meeting of fans on December 9 heard from many who were not prepared to allow a single individual or outside consortium to dictate the direction of the club.
A group was set up instead to create a Plough Lane Bond (PLB), over a period of just three weeks at Christmas, to lend the club a large portion of the £11m needed before the end of February.
Within four days of its launch, £600,000 of the £5m target had been committed – and the money kept pouring in.
Fans can lend money over a five, 10 or 20 year period, with a variable rate of interest from 0-4 per cent, paid annually.
The club’s official site said: “Every Bond sold helps. If the bond raises £5m, then this will be a huge help in raising the remaining £6m. If it raises more than £5m, then a smaller commercial lending portion can happen at even better terms.”
The PLB team received pledges of more than £3.5m pre-launch from fans, at an average chosen interest rate of 1.66 per cent, and an average term length of 12.5 years – but it remains to be seen if this is what can be raised from the issue.
Charlie Talbot, one of the team who helped launched the bond, said: “It would be lovely to raise all £11m through a bond, but even £3m would make borrowing £8m borrowable.
“As so often with this club, when things look like going wrong, people rally round. You discover the most amazing people. It would be better if we could make full use of them at times of non-crisis.
“We already had a good model of bringing in money. Anyone who does not remember that Sam Hammam took us to Wembley and then to Milton Keynes has not learned from the first time around.
“We have gone from concept to launch in three weeks over Christmas, which some would have said was somewhere between impossible and insane.
“It helps that this is not like throwing money into a bucket – it is ring-fenced for a need. This is what a fans-owned club is about – we would rather the Dons owed money to fans than banks. It is better than having a capricious owner who might take the cash out at any moment.
“Clearly it would have been better to have done this without the same time pressure. But it would not be helpful to point fingers now. Once it is built, we will try to make sure it does not happen again.
“It is great that the people who were combative on December 9 have all pulled together to solve the short-term problems. At the moment, everything is proceeding as it should for games near the start of the season in August. But the timescales are tight. If the money is not there by the end of February, the builders would have to slow down.”
More than 600 fans were either at the December 9 meeting or streaming online, where Dons Trust chairman Mark Davis told members about the offer of external investment.
Chief executive Joe Palmer said: “It’s been an incredibly busy period since December and I am delighted the team behind the Plough Lane Bond have managed to turn this idea into reality so quickly. Many people from the Trust and our legal advisers have also been involved in getting the Bond launched, and now it’s time for us all to work together to make it a success.”
He added in his programme notes for the 2-1 win over Doncaster on December 14: “For many, remaining a fan-owned club is sacrosanct. If that means we only have the funding to play non-League football, then so be it. For others, outside investment might take Wimbledon further up the leagues. A fan-owned club can’t possibly afford that, they’d argue.
“The supporter base is clearly pretty divided. Those who spoke were adamant our fans would welcome another chance to raise the funds themselves.
“It could be a good solution if it can be done without exposing us too much financially, so we absolutely have to give it a chance.
“Some of the conspiracy theories circulating online were akin to Lord Voldemort – a dark force desperately trying to steer the club into the hands of outside investors. That’s not me at all. I joined Wimbledon fully aware it was a fan-owned club. It was largely why I wanted the job.
“My main motivation was the prospect of being the person that oversaw the club moving back to Wimbledon and getting promotion back to the Championship – achieving that as a fan-owned club is a greater challenge.”
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