It looks like my club, Kingstonian, are preparing to leave the ground that we built, Kingsmeadow. Even during the very darkest days of the last twelve years, I never truly believed it would come to this, not out of naivety or miguided optimism, but because there seemed no logical way that we’d ever find ourselves in this terrible position.
For Kingstonian, moving away from our home makes little sense. There’s a covenant protecting the ground for use by the senior club in the borough – us, when Wimbledon have gone home. It’s an excellent football ground, a stadium that sounds like thunder when people sing in it, somewhere that can be genuinely intimidating and a real home fortress. And with Wimbledon gone, I’m sure we could make it our actual home again: our own, welcoming, decently priced tea bar; use of the Kingston Road turnstiles; the seats out of the Kingston Road End and a return to terracing; paint the place red and white all over again; insist on our own Bar Manager and make it a great place to drink again. And to put it simply, now that Richmond Road is a petrol station, it’s our home.
Furthermore, I’ve always assumed that buying a new piece of land in Kingston – a town where land is exorbitantly expensive – and then building a new stadium would surely cost more than buying back Kingsmeadow. The very idea always seemed to me to be a complete impossibility.
As for Wimbledon, I never believed they’d actually throw us out. Of course, any Kingstonian fan will tell you that Wimbledon are nowhere near as morally pure as their popular image: after all, they bought Kingsmeadow in the first place, thereby rewarding Khosla for asset-stripping our club with a prize of several million pounds. Although any club in their position would have done the same, it was still a morally reprehensible course of action, removing any sense of Wimbledon inhabiting a higher moral ground than other clubs. However, I – and most other K’s fans – still believed that Wimbledon were a little bit different from any other club because of their unique history. We thought: there’s no way that Wimbledon would kill another club to make a profit, because that would make them as bad as the MK Dons they detest so much. Surely when it actually came to the crunch, something would be sorted out enabling K’s to stay at Kingsmeadow?
But Wimbledon are planning to throw us out. They can spin it any way they want – in the same way they have spun buying Kingsmeadow in the first place into ‘saving Kingstonian from extinction’, in the same way you could argue that the meteor that killed all the dinosaurs and 90% of life on earth could have been said to have ‘saved a few small mammals from extinction’ – but they are throwing us out. If you enter negotiations to sell our ground, our home, to a club, Chelsea, for whom a few million quid is spare change, you’re not giving us a chance to buy the ground back.
When the story broke of Chelsea buying Kingsmeadow, I was devastated. This killed my pipe dream of K’s entering into some sort of agreement to buy back the ground – perhaps not in one big payment, but as a sort-of mortgage over many years, giving Wimbledon a decent income, and our club a chance to raise the necessary funds. But there’s been no confirmation, beyond speculation, of what Chelsea buying the ground would actually entail. Would Chelsea object to entering into a partnership with K’s, where we tended for the ground, made it our home again, and we got the bar and food receipts from our home games? Would they mind if we wanted to convert the Kingston Road End to terracing? We don’t know, and I really don’t think our board know the answers to those questions either. My gut feeling is that Chelsea wouldn’t want us around, or would make life extremely difficult for us at any rate: their development teams play on Saturday afternoons, for starters, and I can’t think they’d want the facilities to be Kingstonian’s, having spent so much on the ground. Having said that, it’s entirely possible that we could negotiate a deal with Chelsea to stay and prosper at Kingsmeadow. At this point we don’t know either way.
As such, the co-chairman’s statement – please click here to read it if you haven’t already – is, to put it politely, badly misjudged. It removes any obligation – an entirely justified moral obligation – on Wimbledon to do the right thing and to look after Kingstonian. Last night, following the Wimbledon v Liverpool game on Twitter, your average football fan discussing the issue tended to say something glib like “the ground’s too big for Kingstonian so they’re moving out” when defending Wimbledon’s sale of the ground. We’ve made it look like we actually want to leave, when the opposite it true. We’ve been bullied out of our ground, and instead of complaining loudly about it, or fighting back, we’re still sucking up to the bully in the hope he’ll pick on one of the other kids and let us go with him to the cool party on Friday night. Whatever the content of the message, its tone is pathetic.
All three of the co-chairmen are good men who have the best interests of Kingstonian at heart. I therefore have to trust them when they say that they have a plan, that they have somewhere for K’s to go, that there is a future for my magnificent football club. But short of building a new ground, quickly, somewhere within Kingston (not Chessington, Tolworth, Worcester Park or Colliers Wood, but Kingston-upon-Thames itself) then I cannot possibly see how giving up Kingsmeadow is in the best interests of Kingstonian FC. We are in grave danger of becoming a South London version of Hendon, a once-great non-league club with 200 die-hard fans reduced to roaming as nomads among the local non-league clubs, groundsharing as tenants, dying slowly but surely, and no longer representing our community as we once proudly did. If that’s the plan, you can count me and many others out.
We need to stand up for ourselves and fight, in the same way we fought Khosla. This is a club that has refused to die once. It will refuse to die again, unless we let it.