We welcome AFC Wimbledon to the Valley for the first time this weekend, and that welcome is especially warm from CAS Trust, and hopefully from most of our fanbase. Here’s why…
It’s not because of AFCW’s remarkable rise, although it is of course something all true fans should salute. After all, last week at Fleetwood we played another club who have risen almost as fast (the two often clashed in key games in their rise up the football pyramid.)
No, we extend this welcome because AFCW are an inspiration to us, just as we have been to them in the past. And when their representatives walk into the Valley boardroom on Saturday, they will be a living, breathing rebuke to the attitude towards football and its fans held by our owner and CEO.
Charlton message boards have already seen the idea floated…”Is it time for AFC Charlton?” Of course most feel that things are nowhere near that stage, but the use of the “AFC” is a clear tip of the hat to the Wimbledon supporters who had the courage and self-belief to say ‘enough is enough” and start again, on Wimbledon Common, with an open trial for players.
When they started, Wimbledon fans were inspired by our return to the Valley, and subsequent rebirth as a club where its fans played a key role in its development. When we moved out of Selhurst, Wimbledon were moved in, and they didn’t like it any more than we did. They knew from our story the importance of “home”, and now finally they will return home to Plough Lane, albeit not the ground that they left 25 years ago.
This will also be the first time in a competitive game where we take on a club majority owned by its fans. We saw how powerful a force this can be during the Olympic Stadium campaign. When arguing for the full release of the contract we wanted other clubs to speak up on our behalf. While several top London club owners were privately spitting blood about the contract, none of them wanted to go public. It isn’t done, clubs criticising the financial arrangements of another club. But AFCW stepped forward. As a fan-owned club they saw the importance of our campaign, and were not intimidated by the potential wrath of Brady and Gullivan. Their testimony was a vital part of our case to the Information Tribunal.
On Saturday, as usual, the visiting “entourage” will be hosted in the Valley boardroom. They will however be a bit different to the usual crowd of millionaire owners, and CEOs with six figure salaries. The CEO of Wimbledon, Erik Samuelson is a former partner of PwC, and a Dons fan. His salary is one guinea a year. A guinea sounds more “posh” than a pound, you see. Also present will be representatives of the Dons Trust – because they own the club.
As we know, our CEO expressed surprise in her infamous Dublin conference appearance that fans want to feel like stakeholders in the business. Underpinning her surprise was an implicit assumption that fans have no knowledge or experience that would allow them to play any role in making a football club successful. On Saturday she will not meet AFCW’s millionaire counterpart to Roland Duchatelet, who provides loans to offset debts of millions run up during an unsuccessful season, because no such person exists. AFCW has never needed such a person. AFCW does not find itself in angry confrontation with its fans, because its fans own the club. AFCW cannot fail to have regular meetings with its Supporters Trust, because the Trust is effectively the supervisory board. When the two sets of directors and senior management meet on Saturday, the contrast in approach to running a football club will hardly seem more stark. Yet AFCW arrive just 4 points and 8 league places behind us. Do you think that maybe, just maybe, Katrien Meire will consider that fact, talk with her guests about their approach, and then maybe wonder whether she and her boss have something to learn from them?
So welcome AFC Wimbledon. We hope we never have to call you for advice on setting up AFC Charlton. But we look to you for inspiration in our darkest hour, and after Saturday, wish you a successful season. You are standard-bearers for a better way to run football.