Welcome to the resurrection – Revived Dons return to Plough Lane after 29 painful years in exile

BY TOBY PORTER
richard@slpmedia.co.uk

The traffic lights where Gap Road in Wimbledon crosses Durnsford Road hold particularly tough memories for Ivor Heller.

The AFC Wimbledon commercial director moved to Leopold Avenue, half a mile, from his beloved Plough Lane when the club moved out – two days later.

They had played there for 69 years so his timing could have been better.

Ivor Heller

“That was something I never really got over,” Ivor said. “When we were at Selhurst Park, I used to drive to the traffic lights at that cross roads and look at Plough Lane. I would see the decaying stadium, and then the gap where the old ground had been – and realise I couldn’t go to Selhurst Park.

“I would turn around and go home to sulk. Crossing those lights on Tuesday will be a very emotional moment for me, passing the tower block that is there now.

“But it is slaying me, knowing that a lot of people I love and care for won’t be there.”

It has been a long journey to being able to go through those traffic lights.

A fan at Wimbledon show his support to the move to Plough Lane – Picture: PA

But Heller always had faith. “There was stages where you think it might not happen,” he said. “But someone said to me it’s like the Grand National – only every time you think you’ve done Beacher’s Brook the last time, you realise something else comes up and you have to do it again.

“Seeing the land separated up made me realise that it was going to happen. There were different stages but as it got to demolition we were still thinking there are a lot of hazards and it might not happen.

“But after that, I remember seeing the metal framework coming out of the ground and then it felt like it wasn’t just an idea or a dream any longer. This was real, we are really going to play here.

A general view of the site of the former home of Wimbledon Football Club, Plough Lane taken from Gap Road Cemetry. Used by the club from 1912 until 1991 when the club moved to groundshare with Crystal Palace. The area is now a residential development

“At that stage I was 100 cent sure. Other people wavered but I knew that where there’s a will there’s a way. Even when it looked like things were going wrong around last Christmas, with having to do the bond issue, I still believed we would get through.

“Even when Covid-19 hit, I was never in doubt because they kept building all the way through and that gave me strength and solace. The people working on the bond said we would get what we needed and I was delighted to get there.”

Fans have raised a total of more than £7million towards the cost of the stadium with a string of initiatives.

Wimbledon’s Dennis Wise celebrates scoring a goal, his team’s third, with Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Martin Hodge and defender Nigel Worthington (right) on the ground in the goalmouth during the Division One match at Plough Lane. Archive-pa221415-2

“When we first started AFC Wimbledon I spent time explaining what fun we would have winning cups and promotions,” recalled Heller. “Other clubs have not had that – but I was convinced it would happen.

“I wasn’t the only one saying we would return, but I did firmly believe it and I’m very grateful we did it – and in some style. In 1977 when we got elected to the football league I said we would get to the top – and that is what happened. Now the dream is happening all over again.

“When we bought Kingsmeadow, we set out a 10-year vision to get into Football League – we did it in eight.

“We have always punched above our weight. We have achieved things we had no right to do.”


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