After what seemed an eternity, yesterday we finally received the full results of the DT’s “where do you want us to be?” survey. Helpfully in PDF format, I think it must be the first time since 2002 that the supporters have been properly asked about our future, which seems quite an extraordinarily long time.
Sadly, time constraints and trying to work out what the fuck “consensus voting” is has truncated what your editor wanted to do. Even so, it’s still quite lengthy and open to interpretation.
So, what can we conclude? Well…
- Merton is still the firm favourite
If you assume that Option A, C, D and E (to an extent) were the pro-Merton options, it got the bulk of those voting for it, at least “consensus” wise. As an admitted pro-Merton fundamentalist, this remains very pleasing to hear – especially when it’s been 20 years since anything was realistically put on the table.
Sadly, it’s impossible to find out the age breakdown of this survey, because it would have been interesting to see whether the younger ones were as keen on returning to the place called, er, Wimbledon as those who remember games in SW19. That said, there are still a LOT of fans who fall into the latter category, and many of them are still relatively young. Don’t forget the ones who joined in the Selhurst days too, from my own experience they were just as pro-Merton as the older ones.
It wasn’t that people could only pick Merton as an option, there were three options that weren’t explicitly the case…
- There’s lukewarm support for Kingston.
When first preferences were published, the most explicitly pro-Kingston one (Option F) was waaaaay down, and could have been overtaken by Option A. That it pulled back a bit more on the second preference onwards is perhaps unsurprising, read why later, but it does suggest there’s not that much particular love for it.
(as a quick aside, I’m not sure if it’s a sign that the fanbase has rejected giving over control, as press releases suggest. Option C was popular and that relinquishes some control, and in fact the second highest overall was Option E, which again allows scope for some degree of devolving of power. Option D then B would have been the top two if it was…)
This should give the club something to think about. See, whenever RBK mention us in glowing terms, it does feel like they’re trying to “steal” us, and it does feel like the times when Hammam was claiming he was trying to buy Selhurst Park. History could have changed somewhat if that happened, although that does assume the Lebanese camel fucker was being truthful for once.
And is Kingston really “our” area? You see a fair amount of car stickers around SM4, SW19, SW20 and the London Borough of Sutton (more Sutton and Stonecot Hill, though apparently Stoneleigh is decent AFCW territory). Apart from New Malden, you hardly see any presence in Kingston apart from those going to the match.
RBK want AFC Wimbledon in their borough permanently, because it looks good for them. Does anyone else want us there though? Which leads us onto…
- Option B (Fan Owned In Kingston) is the Stay-As-We-Are option, it’s not necessarily pro-Kingston
Let’s face it, a reasonable amount of people are quite simply happy as they are. They’ve enjoyed the last eight years, they have a nice little spot with a nice little group of friends and who get them a nice cup of coffee at half time. They don’t want the upheaval on their Saturday afternoon out, and why should there be? We’re doing OK so far.
One may call them vanilla fans, the “sit-down-and-watch-the-game” brigade, whatever. The premise of this attitude is that it doesn’t matter where they’re watching the game, as long as they’ve got a nice place to go and nice friends etc. They would have been just as happy watching WFC in their nice seat at Selhurst. And chances are, they’ll be just as happy in their nice seat at the Halliburton Dome in SW19.
As a subset, they may have a sizeable support but aren’t likely to put up too much resistance if a move to SW19 (or wherever) turned into fruition. Christ, half of them didn’t quite get WFC trying to move to Milton Keynes in the beginning, and thought it was just the club sabre-rattling yet again.
The blurb in the handout that came with the voting form said the following about this option:
Location: Upgrade KM as necessary to get into the league and maintain our status by working with Kingston Council on gaining the necessary planning permissions and to improve local facilities and access. We could upgrade to a 6,000 capacity stadium under our own steam – an acceptable size for League 1 & 2 requirements – thus ensuring our short- to medium-term future. We have come so far in 8 years. It is silly to make firm plans now for what lies beyond the next 15.
In the real world, KM itself is creaking. The JS is a disgrace, and if truth be told the views in the KRE and the TE aren’t all that either. We have precious little scope to do anything other than basic hospitality, and as the kerfuffle over the Carvery’s location suggests, anything we do try at KM would put noses out of joint.
The only scenario where this would feasibly happen is if it went for the “high cost” option as set out in this document from late 2007. This was written in the days when we were in the Ryman Premier promotion season, where the highest attendance was 4085 against Torquay in the FAT and 3124 in the division against Chelmsford. This season alone, we’ve had higher attendances than Torquay once (though Crawley came very close, and Grimsby will probably top both), and just three lower than the highest league record that season – all within a small margin, and only one of those on a Saturday.
In that two year period, we have already outgrown what was planned back then, and what option B is suggesting. It would end up being more than £3m anyway, and as the new stadia we’ve seen in the last 2 years shows, we would still be sufficiently lacking in the corporate/commercial side. In the meantime, while it’s being refurbished, we’d be subject to reduced capacity which even as a Conference side would dent our budget, and it’s a lot of time, money and effort for something we’d outgrow in a decade anyway. If not before.
Perhaps Option B should have been renamed Option Barnet? Ask those at Underhill what happens if you’re stuck in an inadequate stadium…
- There’s still a large degree of romance at AFC Wimbledon.
In other words, why did the majority of people believe they could fund a return back to Merton themselves? It’s taken six years to get the £3m Khosla debt/Barclays Loan to some reasonably managable level, so try getting them to pay for a stadium ten times that amount.
Unless of course they expect Mike R and co to pay for it all themselves.
- Option A wasn’t much of an option
The numbers speak for themselves. Even your editor, who doesn’t give much of a shit about who runs the club, cares even less for the club’s politics, and wants to see AFCW in Championship football ASAP only put it as a second preference. For the record, my preferences were CADE…
Being realistic, the only way that Option A is ever likely to gain traction is if the club is in a new stadium, financially on a knife-edge and struggling in L2/L1/wherever. And that is something that won’t be an issue for the next ten years or so, or until a new generation of fans come through. Never underestimate how being unsuccessful on the pitch affects viewpoints.
Ironically, the more the club grows attendance wise, the less Option A becomes taboo. Any intake of new supporters will feature fans who have been brought up on Sky, the Premier League, Jeff Stelling on a Saturday afternoon, Chelski being a successful club etc etc. They will still love the game, but not in the same way as, say, somebody who started watching in the 1980s would love it.
Casual fans are exposed to more football than ever before – the days where to watch games you’d either have to go to a ground or wait until at least 10.30pm on a Saturday evening for MOTD are long gone. Hell, even some crappy TV company shows our division. Their expectations have changed, and won’t be so prepared to tolerate crappy football or underachievement. This is something that non-league clubs like Ks have found out to their cost the hard way, and is something to bear in mind if we’re starting to struggle.
Just one thing – didn’t signing Jon Main and Danny Kedwell come under Option A?
- People are quite flexible – “Merton or bust” doesn’t have much traction.
It’s a shame that this is using some weird “consensus voting” system, because the actual voting data for the various preferences would have been easier to look at.
Option D won out, but not by much. The more real-world friendly Option C wasn’t too far behind overall, though it was quite low down when people made their initial choices. But it does suggest that if pushed, people aren’t quite so set in their ways, which may also suggest why Option F did better when it came to second preferences onwards – not as a desire, but more as a backup plan if all else failed.
Every so often, you get less-than-flattering comments about “Merton or bust”, or “Merton militia”, suggesting that if we don’t get back to SW19 the club will eventually fade and die.
It’s half-right – AFCW can’t go on at KM long term, even a redeveloped one, but the results suggest that most people would move on if they had to. Lest we forget that we spent eleven years at Selhurst Park, so being outside our home borough is something we’re used to. Where the confusion lies isn’t “Merton or bust”, it’s a feeling that pushing back to Merton will be diluted and a very good opportunity will be missed.
We’ve had the most positive response in twenty years in the past 24 months. The club will meet owners of a potential site within the near future. Merton Council has at least given lip service in the form of debate motions, all of which unaminously passed (and if you don’t get the significance of that, ask somebody who remembers 1994, and especially what the current MP of Mitcham and Morden said before football became politically expedient).
- Option E was the biggest surprise, and maybe the most telling of the lot.
It’s a vague question, and one that was apparently rewritten more times than a Crawley Town CVA. Does it mean that people would accept Wimbledon or Raynes Park? But not Morden? Would Summerstown or Wandsworth do people? Or even Putney? Or Battersea? Or groundshare at Stamford Bridge? Hey, that has a South West London postcode, too.
Enough questions. Flexibility rules, as we now know. This said, why would people reject an explicitly Kingston option but be happier with a more vague “South West London”? Is the lack of enthusiasm for Kingston more pronounced than we think, to the point we’d even choose Wandsworth if available?
Lest we forget that Plough Lane neighboured Summerstown, which was SW17 (and technically Wandsworth/Tooting), and nobody thought any more of it. If somehow the Dog Track ever became a viable option – and to this day, it’s still puzzling why the owners won’t consider it, although they did allow us to parade a trophy during one meeting – people would consider it going back home despite the postcode change.
You could expand this further. Would people have been happier if we’d got Gander Green Lane instead of KM? And yes, GGL is council owned and would have needed a lot more work on it than KM ever did. And it’s not in SW London any more than Norbiton is. But maybe Option E is simply forcing people to think that if Merton is a no-go, where they would be comfortable in going.
Oh, and I just thought – Brixton is in SW London too, isn’t it? Remember when Hammam called Wimbledon FC “street fighting blacks from Brixton?”.
- 730 responding isn’t a good total.
Have to admit, I would have expected this to be over 1000. It wasn’t limited to DT members, it was posted on the OS, and it was being surveyed one-on-one before a game or two (Darlington IIRC). So it wasn’t exactly a closed shop.
Yet looking at the breakdown of figures, the majority of respondents were DT members, the majority of those were ST holders too, and probably the same people who vote in DT elections each year. 730 is the kind of figure you expect in a “good” DT election year. And perhaps explains why the sort of candidates who get elected seem to reflect the mindset behind Option D…
This survey was supposed to gauge the feelings of the great unwashed AFCW fan, the rank and file, the kind of fan who isn’t “involved” but hasn’t fucked off to Fulham yet. They just didn’t respond, despite being reached out to – only 221 non-DT members replied, out of about 1500 regular matchgoers who aren’t, and of those it’s unclear how many were simply lapsed DT members.
So why didn’t they respond? Has apathy won, or is there something more to it? Were they all secret fans of remaining in Kingston, and felt the survey was biased against them? Did they want Option A, but were unhappy at having to put their name, ST number and/or DT number down, in case they gave the “wrong” answer?
Are they simply just not part of the AFCW “process”? Or is it something far more simple than that, as in they’re not especially fussed right now?
Whatever peoples’ motives were for not filling in the survey, and there was a story about people against Darlington actively trying to avoid those handing it out, it hasn’t connected with the majority of AFCW fans. And this causes a bit of a problem. See, whatever the club presses ahead with, it won’t know what the rank-and-file think. At least if 1000+ responded, some of those would be the “ordinary” fan, and they would have something to work with.
We don’t know if there’s some repressed resistance to Merton in the 2300 or so who didn’t respond (if you assume that the survey reached out to 3000 people), which we will only find out just after a press conference at Crown House is announced.
In all likelyhood, the people who haven’t responded didn’t because they didn’t need to. Which leads onto the final conclusion…
- The survey is mostly academic.
It’s been interesting, and occasionally mind-boggling, to find out the results of it. And people will take what they want out of it. The trouble is with it is that people are being asked their opinion on something that hasn’t happened for twenty years and will take a little while longer before something actually does.
Since 1991, we’ve had nothing, at least nothing concrete. The only actual permanent proposal (if you could call it that) was the Frenzydome, and only a windowlicking slobbering fraud of a human being would have accepted that. Still, that does at least explain who was on the Three Man Commission.
Sure, we’ve had little tidbits, but it’s all Chinese whispers, or supposition, or just outright wishful thinking. For the most part, we’ve had stories like these. And WISA’s mockup of a stadium on Plough Lane (thanks to 2Shirts for the link). And, well, precious little else really. Even today, Merton and (dare I say) AFCW’s comments may have a tinge of tokenism to them.
That might be why Option D got the highest – because nobody really believes anything will happen, might as well go for the option that makes you feel good. If something did happen though, and it looked something like this, would people really shrug their shoulders and go “meh”? Of course they wouldn’t…
It may have been a pang of desperation, or something a lot deeper, but the most noteworthy happening of the last 2/3 years happened practically by accident. When this story in the Evening Substandard came up one sunny (?) morning in 2009, I can’t recall the last time I had so many texts or conversations or so much interest in the story. Even non-AFCW fans were commenting on it, about “going home”. Alas, the story proved to be wide of the mark, but for that brief time it was “live”, it touched people in a way I can’t remember seeing before or since.
And that’s something this survey, for all its good intentions, just couldn’t do. Don’t get me wrong, it was very interesting to read, and there’s things you can get out of it even with its lower-than-hoped-for return rate. But whatever happens next is ultimately out of our hands. The “real world” will intervene sooner or later, and it’s quite probable we’ll have less choice than we think. Our minds will become more focused, and our hearts will have to make one hell of a decision. The next stadium we have will be the last one, after all.
Mind you, at least we now know that 256 people would prefer to pay for a new stadium in Merton themselves…