Chessington World Of Misadventures? A Kingsmeadow Update

Given the early-stage plans (or at least impressions) of a new ground for K’s that were made open to the public at Sunday’s game, it seems timely to take a look at the current situation, as far as I see it. I’m not going to confuse the issue of the ground by bringing discussions of club ownership into this article. The ground situation and club ownership are two totally separate things, and need to be kept that way, even if one of the oft-stated ‘facts’ is that it’s easier to get outside funding for a new ground if a club is fan-owned.

Like most fans – and interested parties – I’m not privy to any behind the scenes information at all, and I’m not a club official, so I can only go on what we’ve been told so far. Here’s my summary:

  • It is assumed that Kingstonian will leave Kingsmeadow at the end of the 2016-17 season – but this hasn’t been confirmed, or any reasoning offered;
  • Nobody outside of “the board” has been made aware of the outcome of discussions with Chelsea FC about possible terms for us to stay at Kingsmeadow;
  • “The board” are exploring the possibility of a new ground being built on the site of Chessington Golf Centre, in, err, Chessington;
  • This is green belt land (apparently – which is absolutely ridiculous, but that’s for another day) and as such any planning applications will be long, argumentative, and potentially unsuccessful;
  • Chessington & Hook United FC are rumoured to be directly involved in some way, but nothing has been said about it. Certainly they’re involved indirectly, as the ‘new’ ground would be almost adjacent to their current Chalky Lane home;
  • There have been no details provided about the ownership of this proposed ground.


In my mind, the above situation leaves more questions than answers. The factual questions are:

1. What actually was the outcome of the (presumably extensive) discussions with Chelsea?

2. Do we have to leave Kingsmeadow, or are we choosing to do so because of the terms offered?

3. Is there an option to remain at Kingsmeadow until any new ground is built? If so, and we are still intending to move out at the end of next season to groundshare: why?

4. Have we genuinely exhausted the possibility of playing at every single possible site closer to Kingston than South Chessington?

5. What is the proposed ownership structure for the new Chessington ground? Would we be landlords? If not, what are the terms on offer?

We, the supporters, should certainly be told the answers to questions 1 to 3 ASAP. They are the starting point for every other decision that needs to be made. Question 4 may be difficult to answer, but detail would be appreciated, particularly as regards the athletics stadium, which was swatted aside as an option with no details given. Question 5 may not be answerable at this time, but it has to be answered before any final decisions are taken. It is the be-all and end-all of the whole discussion, so much more important that some artists’ impressions of what a new ground would look like. Although a roof on any behind the goal terracing is an absolute must!


The more difficult questions that arise from the current state of affairs are:

1. Would South Chessington be a real home for Kingstonian FC?

2. Would moving onto Chessington & Hook United’s patch make us the ultimate hypocrites, as the ‘bigger’ club moving onto a ‘smaller’ club’s turf regardless of the consequences?

But there’s no point in even thinking about those tricky questions if we don’t know the full facts. It’s pointless debating the rights and wrongs of a move to Chessington is it turns out to be a bad move for the club anyway. And without being told the details, how can we tell if it would be a good move tor the club or not? I’d like to think I’m not a naive fool: I understand that there will be commercial considerations in what supporters can be told. But, for crying out loud, we need to be told something, soon.

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Barbarians At The Gate – K’s Go To Kingston Council

In a (long overdue) first for this blog, some writing from someone else. Taimour Lay went to see what Kingston Council think about our future last Tuesday…and I’ve only just got around to posting it on here. Apologies to Taimour. Hopefully Kingston Council will be more proactive than me…

 

In the wood-pannelled mock-antique finery of the Guildhall council chamber, as solemn prayers are read and the Mayor enters to reverent silence, it’s easy to forget that K’s were born a good 50 years before this building even went up in 1935. Kingston’s heritage is as much about communities, continuity and collective memory as it is bricks and mortar and “invented tradition” – but more on that later.

We were here on a wet Tuesday night for a little slice of local democracy [which mostly appears to involve Tory and Lib Dem councillors casting pantomime looks at each other]. A petition calling for the protection of Kingstonian’s status as the town’s senior football team had gathered 600 signatures since October, granting us the right to present it to the full Council on 15 December.

The timing turned out to be propitious – just last week AFC Wimbledon got the go-ahead from Merton Council for New Plough Lane, meaning the sale of Kingsmeadow to Chelsea will be completed soon, with K’s homeless by the end of the 2016/17 season. If ever there was a time to shout “K’s matter!”, this was it.

There was a good turnout from fans – around a dozen in the public seats, most in K’s shirts, including former chairman Jimmy Cochrane [who bought the club from Khosla in 2005], current co-chairman John Fenwick, Colin Deadman, Yioryos and Tina, Ali Kazemi, Simon Grier, Paul Foley and a few others whose names I still don’t know despite 15 years of terrace promixity [knowing but also sort-of-not-knowing other K’s fans is one of our strange community’s virtues].

Part-time Villa fan Jamie Cutteridge duly stepped up to a teak table and microphone and used his allotted 5 minutes to say a number of things, including:

…. There’s this indelible connection between a football club and its place. Back in the good old days, when football was football, the club was an expression of the community, a place where fans came together to be part of something bigger, something that reflected their home. When you go to the Chelsea you’re a consumer, at Ks you’re an integral part of a voluntary enterprise. You win together, you lose together. It’s a glorious mess. It’s church. It’s family. It’s home. It’s K’s. It’s Kingston. 

And now, that home, quite literally is under threat. The recent approval of AFC’s move to Plough Lane coupled with their decision to sell Kingsmeadow to Chelsea and the Premier League club’s apparent desire to be sole users, will leave Kingstonian homeless. This leaves both practical implications – where on earth do we play? – and emotional implications – it’s our home, our fans were involved in building it. Many fans are left confused by the apparent lack of covenant or agreement over the use for the ground – the youth team from a West London Premier League side doesn’t seem to fulfil the suggested remit of the borough’s senior team. To what extent there was, or wasn’t, a strict covenant is debatable and may be academic now, but clearly there was some agreement on the use of that land, some protection for the borough’s senior football team, a protection which your predecessor council in the 1980s saw fit to put in place. But with no apparent agreement to protect us, and those decisions made, it looks like, either for the short, or the long term, that future, those fans, those connections to Kingston, will lie outside of the town.

We understand that the club and council have been in conversation about possibilities and we realise, that in Kingston, facing the brunt of the South East’s housing crisis, that there are no easy solutions. But Kingstonian matters. These names on this petition matter. It matters when you get asked the score on a Saturday night when you’re walking down Kingston high street in those famous red and white hoops. The shirts in this building matter. And as much as a last minute winner against Lewes might feel like it matters, what matters more than anything is Ks continued existence, and its survival at the heart of our town. 

But the 600 names I have with me ask one thing – Keep Ks in Kingston. Not just in Kingston Borough. For many Ks fans, the idea of just keeping Ks in the borough would be a pyrrhic victory. It’s better than nothing but it takes the club away from its roots, because Kingstonian, its glorious history and idiosyncratic name, represent Kingston. They represent the market square, the River Thames, the bridge, Tiffin school, the pedestrianisation of the town centre, Banquet Records, the university and this very council. They’re not the Borough’s club, they’re Kingston’s club. 

The reality is this: two deals have dramatically altered Ks future– Rajesh Khosla’s sale of the lease to AFC, and AFC’s sale of that to Chelsea. Despite any donation from AFC, generous or otherwise, we ourselves can’t keep K’s in Kingston. Be it a deal with a developer or intervention from this council, the future of this town’s club no longer lies in its own hands. There is a real danger of drift, of years of uncertainty and homelessness draining the life out of the club. 

Last week the whole country celebrated the return of AFC Wimbledon to Merton, and a local council prepared to stick its neck out and bring them home. Will you do the same? The decisions made over the next few months and years, by you, our elected councillors, are going to define the next 100 years of Kingstonian. It’s not the 300 fans that will watch us play East Thurrock this Saturday that are counting on you. It’s generations of Kingston children, decades of wandering souls who end up behind the goals and find a home there. It’s those that have gone before, all the way back to 1885, those there now and those yet to come. This is Kingston’s team. This is Kingstonian. Keep Ks in Kingston. Thank you.”

Cue woops and applause [mainly from me] and then a series of short responses from the councillors [a full debate will follow next year]. Councillor Tolley declared his interest as a K’s fan and sponsor but disappointingly failed to tear off his lumberjack shirt to reveal the red and white hoops beneath. Tolley said that K’s remain an integral part of the town’s community and heritage. Losing the club would, to some, be akin to losing All Saints Church.

Then Tory Council leader Kevin Davis made his curious contribution. I know we’re meant to be building bridges/making friends/suspending disbelief but the tone he struck was somewhere between withering dismissal and wind-up. It was certainly a surprise that he chose to use this occasion to say “we’ve been here before. It feels like every few years, we’re asked to rescue K’s” – prompting us to ponder when exactly Kingston’s Tories have previously roused themselves to ensure our survival. He also said “I know we all want to see K’s in the Premier League but let’s be realistic”, seemingly unaware of our limited top-8 Ryman ambitions.

Davis was, at least, honest about the challenges and the limited role of the Council. Merton had it “easy”, he said – all that council had to do was grant the planning permission, the site-work had been done and the momentum came from elsewhere. The “two issues” for K’s are finding a “major development site of at least 5 acres” [and “there aren’t [m]any in the town, whether private or council owned”] and finance [“I’m not privy to the sums K’s are receiving but I gather they’re more than generous”].

Intriguingly, he added as an aside that the Chelsea Chairman “had come to see me” but there hadn’t yet been any substantive discussions over K’s future. He also revealed that “the K’s directors [sic] are meeting another developer tomorrow” for exploratory talks.

Other councillors made positive, if vague, noises. Liberal Democrat Rachel Reid, who’s been known to come to K’s, and whose ward is in Chessington where the rumour-mill suggests a new mixed housing development may be in the offing, offered her support. Tory councillor Geoff Austin, a K’s patron, spoke while wearing a club tie. Diane White, speaking after the meeting, said she’d be with us on Boxing Day for the Dulwich game.

Another councillor asked that “politics be left out of this” but the sizeable elephant in the council chamber remains that any site, if it is found, will bring issues of housing, affordability, community value and infrastructure to the fore – the very things on which this council is likely to disagree.

After half-an-hour, that was that and the meeting moved on to arguments over “high-rise” towers, during which one Tory councillor bemoaned “ugly” modern developments in the town, though she failed to single out the Noodle Stand by name.

See here for the Comet’s coverage, in which Davis accused Councillor Tolley of being a “barbarian” for making the [entirely sensible] comparison between K’s and Kingston’s heritage: http://www.surreycomet.co.uk/news/14149106.Kingston_Council_leader_calls_opposition_councillor_a__barbarian__over_Kingstonian_debate/

There’ll be a full debate next year. Please come. The more barbarians at the gate, the better…

The Sale of Kingsmeadow by AFC Wimbledon to Chelsea FC – What Might It Mean?

It seems only yesterday that I last wrote about the possible sale of Kingsmeadow, but events are now picking up pace. AFC Wimbledon fans have voted overwhelmingly (apparently by 98% to 2% – and we must thank those brave 2%) to sell Kingsmeadow, the ground built for and by Kingstonian, to Chelsea FC.

Most of the media reports have contained a paragraph, usually at the end, referring to what will happen to Kingstonian as a result of the sale. (On the face of it, this is an improvement on the situation up to now, when Kingstonian have seldom been mentioned when Kingsmeadow has been discussed.) These articles universally make a comment along the lines of, “Kingstonian will use the money from AFC Wimbledon to move to a smaller, more manageable ground within the borough of Kingston”. Leaving aside that it is heavily implied in all the articles that the money from AFCW is a highly generous donation – when of course it is only partly that and partly a commercial settlement – this leaves the casual follower of this whole episode with the strong impression that Kingstonian FC wants to leave Kingsmeadow.

So let’s make something clear: I do not know a single Kingstonian fan, official or board member who actually wants to leave Kingsmeadow.

Let’s break that down into the usual questions that follow such a statement:

Why did you sell the ground in the first place? “We” didn’t. A brief history: Kingstonian went into administration; a man called Rajesh Khosla bought the club and its assets; he then sold the ground to AFCW and pocketed the money, and then handed over a football club in dire straits to Jimmy Cochrane; Jimmy saved the club from bankruptcy, then sold on to (effectively) the current co-chairmen, who saved the club again and put it on an even keel.

Why don’t you buy it back then? This one’s obvious: there is no way a club like Kingstonian can get its hands on £3 million (or whatever the price is).

Didn’t your board say the ground was too big for you? Yes, they did, and I have no idea why they said that. It isn’t – and it was a stupid thing to say from a PR point of view anyway because it makes it sounds like we’d rather move out than stay. Bulldoze the blue monstrosity at the Kingston Road End (something that I’m sure any K’s fan would donate money towards) and you’d have a perfect non-league football ground.

But if Chelsea are going to own Kingsmeadow, wouldn’t moving to a new ground in Kingston that you owned be better for you anyway? Fair point – yes it would. Firstly it would mean we’d have long-term security; secondly we’d be a much more sustainable club because we’d have control over our own income streams (pitch hire, bar takings etc), which we wouldn’t at a Chelsea-owned ground.

Okay, okay, so why can’t you just stay and groundshare with Chelsea while you explore options for a new stadium? The answer at the moment, as a fan, is that I don’t know. I don’t yet know why we have seemingly committed to leaving Kingsmeadow and spending money groundsharing elsewhere. I presume it’s because Chelsea don’t want us to stay, but at the recent open meeting none of the co-chairmen said that they’d had a proper conversation with Chelsea FC.

Therefore the next step – surely – is for the co-chairmen to speak to Chelsea FC urgently and clarify their intentions. As far as I can see, there are three ways it can go:

a) Chelsea immediately rebuff any sort of approach and won’t even negotiate: If so, what on earth have we got to lose by then waging a hearts-and-minds war with them in the media? There would be no downside (that I can see), and the potential upside of them being shamed into letting us stay for at least a couple of years.

b) Chelsea say they’re not keen, but are open to negotiations: Well let’s negotiate then! If the terms eventually are so negative that we basically can’t stay, then we’d have to leave, but at least we’d have tried.

c) Chelsea actually say they’re open to us staying and working in a partnership, providing we can meet certain criteria: happy days! Surely, surely staying in the town of Kingston is preferable to being nomads moving from groundshare to groundshare. Even if the deal struck was a short-term one (for say, 5 years), wouldn’t this at least buy us time to explore other options for a new ground as they arise?

But whatever happens with groundsharing, be that at Kingsmeadow, or as is currently likely elsewhere, we are still being put in a position where the club will eventually die without a new ground. So what are the chances of that?

To me, the chances look somewhere between slim and none. Land in Kingston is incredibly expensive, and largely unavailable – or earmarked already for housing. The money from AFCW would nowhere near cover a new ground in the town of Kingston, as far as I can calculate. Yes, there are grants that would get us closer – but I just can’t see how a new ground in Kingston is financially viable without more money from somewhere. Apparently the Athletics Ground is not a viable option, but it’s not been explained properly why this is the case, as AFCW’s lump sum would surely allow a massive upgrade of facilities there.

Which brings us to the apparent solution our board are pursuing: build a new ground, but not in Kingston. Reading between the lines of various statements made by our board and the council, it seems as if the site earmarked for a possible new ground in the near future is the current site of Chessington Golf Centre. I actually joked with friends when this whole situation began a year or so ago – and our co-chairmen started very deliberately using the phrase “in the borough of Kingston” as opposed to “in Kingston” when talking about a new ground – that we would end up in Malden Rushett, still technically in the borough but literally as far from the town of Kingston as possible while meeting that requirement. Incredibly depressingly, it looks as if this joke is what may end up being presented to us poor supporters as the future of Kingstonian.

So let me make something else clear: personally, for this Kingstonian FC supporter, a club playing in South Chessington would not be a club that I would actively support. I would still go to the odd game to see my mates (if some of them were still going), but I could not call myself a true supporter of the club, and I would not dig into my pockets like I do currently to try to make it succeed. That’s because I don’t support The Royal Borough of Kingston FC; I support Kingstonian FC, the team that has represented the town of Kingston-upon-Thames with pride (and occasionally glory) for 130 years.

Out of the club’s hardcore support of around 300, this may very well be a unique opinion – although from talking to others at games, I’m almost certain it’s a fairly widespread view – but that really isn’t the point. We’re not saving the long-term future of the club for the 300 people who go on a Saturday in 2015. We’re trying to save the club for future generations of people growing up in Kingston who want to play for their local club as boys and girls, and who want a club to support either every Saturday – or at the very least when a big cup game comes around and the excitement in the town is palpable. The current threat is that Kingston loses its grand old football club: we’ll be homeless, hemorrhaging money away year-on-year in groundshares, and sooner or later go bankrupt. But we’d have ceased to be Kingston’s football club long before we went out of business, because we simply wouldn’t be Kingston’s football club while we were playing elsewhere. Moving to a new ground in South Chessington wouldn’t avoid that catastrophe. Kingston’s football club would still have died; there’d just be a club called Kingstonian playing in a different town.

And I’m sure AFC Wimbledon fans, of all people, can empathise with my view on that.

Thoughts On The Open Meeting – Kingsmeadow & Fan Ownership of Kingstonian

I attended the open meeting on Saturday after the game. People have been asking for an unofficial summary, so I’ve written one. Some important caveats:

– I took no notes at all;
– I’m writing this on Tuesday, so will have forgotten massive chunks;
– These notes are NOT minutes: they are my recollections and obviously reflect what I felt at the time was important, as unimportant bits I’ll have forgotten;
– I’d had three pints before proceedings started!
– These are MY interpretations, and I make no claim to them being anything more.

The Co-Chairmen’s Statements

Mark Anderson spoke first, at reasonable length, setting out the facts and the current situation on the ground as he sees it. As I recall, there was little in this summary that has not already been covered in the interview and the original statement. Of more interest was Mark’s views on the supporter ownership element of the proposed changes to the club. There will be a vote – of some description, see below – on which route the club takes “in the New Year”, and whether it reconstitutes as a community-owned club. There are “multiple options” being explored here. Without putting words in Mark’s mouth, one of the key drivers for this is apparently the potential increase in commercial income that can be gained as a result and that it will improve the chances of funding for any new ground. It is certainly the case that this push has come from the co-chairmen and not from the supporters – which to me is putting the cart before the horse. This element of the evening left me concerned, as much as all of us in the room appreciated Mark’s honesty.

Malcolm Winwright then spoke, and did add a couple of of nuggets of detail to do with Kingsmeadow. The first of these, supported by (I think) Colin Deadman, is that there is no covenant on the land to speak of – and as such there is no obligation on any of the parties involved to keep K’s playing at Kingsmeadow. This is obviously critical. The second piece of information was background on the (complicated) leasehold situation of the ground, and why we find ourselves in this position. Essentially, the writing has been on the wall ever since Khosla managed to separate the club from the ground in 2002/3. He had built annual increases in rent that the club would pay the owner of the ground into the lease itself, meaning that the football club found itself in an intensely weak negotiating position with AFCW throughout the last 12 years, basically relying on their charity and goodwill. As I understood it, this is one of the reasons that the perimeter lease was signed over for the terms that it was, which we now know did not guarantee us a 25-year lease at Kingsmeadow, as was previously understood. Work is ongoing behind the scenes to clarify some of the detail on this.

John Fenwick added little at this point because he agreed with all that had been said so far, saying that he had been concentrating on the day-to-day running of the football club, leaving a lot of the ground negotiations and work to Mark and Malcolm.

Questions From The Floor

Laurence Cooley made it clear he was dead against the idea of stopping being a limited company – largely because the trend has been in the other direction. The chairmen commented that they were not clear that this is true at our level: viz. Enfield Town, Hendon, Lewes, Tonbridge. These examples were used throughout the evening, because they show that a) there are many models of community ownership, and b) there are various levels of success to be had! Horsham was also brought up on numerous occasions as the “example to avoid”. This was perplexing. Nothing that was said by anybody, at any point, convinced me that we won’t be in *exactly* their scenario: with a big lump sum in our pocket, but without a ground to play in, and therefore that lump sum being eroded away year-on-year paying for groundshare deals. There was no reassurance on this, apart from the fact “we don’t want to end up like Horsham”. Well, obviously – but why will we be different?

I asked about what I felt was a misleading line in the notes handed out – about any payment from AFCW “clearing the club’s debts” – to clarify the situation. I was reassured that the club had no operating debts beyond what any business would have in any given month – PAYE etc – and so this was just clumsy phrasing. I then asked about whether a 51% fans / 49% investors ownership model was one of the options being considered, given that it would seem to apply perfectly to our situation, in that we could become a “community club” without losing the incentive for people to invest larger sums in the club. From the answers it didn’t sound like something that had been thought about at all so far, but I was later reassured that all options were on the table. Personally, I think a club as small as Kingstonian becoming one member, one vote would be disastrous – but that doesn’t mean we can’t become a fan-owned club, because there are middle ways. See Hendon and Tonbridge as two successful examples.

The option of sharing or working out an arrangement at the athletics track was dismissed out of hand, which was heartbreaking – as I can’t see another obviously good solution.

There are two groundsharing options being pursued potentially: one in the borough, and one just outside the borough. The one inside the borough is obviously The Hyphens, but the latter could mean one of several clubs. Understandably no details were given at this point.

We could be groundsharing in the 2017/18 season, meaning next season would be our last at Kingsmeadow. This would not be the case if AFCW’s move was a) delayed by planning process, when we would stay for another season, or b) thrown out entirely. In the case of Plough Lane being rejected completely, the answers were not altogether clear, although Malcolm said we’d stay at Kingsmeadow until we had a new site sorted. One of the themes of the meeting: the board are 100% clear that we need to leave Kingsmeadow soon, i.e. in any circumstances. I’m still not 100% clear on why that is. Even if we were being charged rent to groundshare at Kingsmeadow from 2017, surely it would be a lot better to be paying rent to play at ‘home’, rather than paying rent to play at Cor-Cas or Hampton or Met Police? I assume the three men in charge feel the same way, but this wasn’t made explicit enough in my opinion.

Groundsharing decisions (specifically) will 100% not be taken by the co-chairmen and would be taken “by the fans”. But asked to clarify whether all “major decisions” would be taken by the fans, given that decisions are being taken all the time and the club is nowhere near fan ownership yet, the answers were a bit vaguer. “We’re not going to sell you a pup,” said Mark. Well, I totally accept that – but are you going to hand over a situation that the majority of fans wouldn’t have pursued were we in charge at the moment? That is the question, and I’m not sure that was resolved to my satisfaction.

Then a longer discussion on fan ownership. Major decisions, specifically the vote on ownership structure, will need to be taken in the coming months by Kingstonian supporters. Yet it was rightly pointed out by a few of people, Jon Tolley and Ali Kazemi among them as I recall, that there is no agreement on who or what constitutes “a Kingstonian supporter” at the moment. Membership of the Supporters Club doesn’t cover it, as the Supporters Club membership has dwindled over recent years. There is no longer a K’s Trust, and although the Trust had a membership in the high hundreds at one points does anybody still have those details? Probably not. Malcolm in particular was also worried of the other side of the coin in this matter – that people could effectively “walk in off the street” to vote on Kingstonian’s future on the night of the vote. But personally, I’d be worried about the other side: that many many loyal K’s fans who care about our club might be denied a vote. By far the best idea was to allow people to sign up to some scheme to vote – effectively starting an “electoral roll” of K’s fans, possibly costing a nominal sum such as a pound to join to prove consideration. This is something that needs to be much more seriously thought about over the coming weeks.

There was a lot more discussion, but I can’t remember it. Sorry. There will apparently be minutes.

Conclusion – Worried But Hopeful

Overwhelmingly the meeting was positive. The mood was one of finding solutions, not apportioning blame. But writing this all up, it’s interesting which bits have stuck in my head three days on – the most worrying parts. There’s a lot of work to do to make me less worried, but by the nature of this meeting, at least it seems as if people are up for it.

Kingsmeadow: Two Big Unanswered Questions

I was enjoying the season – new songs, foam hands, 7-0 wins and all that – until this statement was released by the three co-chairmen in the early hours of Sunday morning. On the face of it, the situation seemed both dreadful and inexplicable. Some of the seemingly inexplicable parts of that statement have since been clarified by Mark Anderson’s conversation with the King of Kingston. (It’s essential viewing, and available to watch here if you haven’t seen it already.) Essentially, our much-heralded lease until 2033 is nothing of the sort: it contains a one-year break clause, and also contains a clause whereby we would be charged market rent from 2018 were the Wombles to move out. As such, voluntarily taking the option to leave Kingsmeadow suddenly seems much less inexplicable – but equally as dreadful.

But taking the statement, the video interview and other facts we now know into account, there are still a number of points that need answering, please:

1. Why was the lease signed? Mark talks in the interview about break clauses being “standard business practice”, which is true enough. But he then goes on to defend signing the lease with the one-year break clause by saying that the break clause could be good for “both parties”. He seems to have two justifications for this opinion. Firstly, in 2008, when the lease was signed, AFC Wimbledon were still in the Ryman League, and therefore such a quick move to Merton could not have been foreseen. This is disingenuous nonsense: maybe AFCW could have taken a couple of years longer to return to the football league, and therefore a new ground for them pushed back to nearer 2020 than 2018, but could there ever have been a situation where AFCW were floundering around in the lower non-leagues until 2033? Of course not. Mark’s second justification is that Kingstonian may have wanted to use the break clause – and lo and behold, we do! This is a circular argument: the only reason we now need to use the break clause because it exists. As much as the three co-chairmen may want to gloss over it, by signing that lease in 2008, they may very well have signed Kingstonian FC’s death warrant.

2. What has been going on since 2008? 

a) Why have we been spending vast pots of cash each year on non-league journeymen in an effort to get promoted to the Conference South, when by getting promoted, all we would achieve is raising the bar for the standard of ground we’d have to build in a few years’ time? And why have we been spending all that money when if we’d taken £30k out of the budget each year we’d now have the start of a decent-sized stadium fund?

b) Why haven’t we been trying to engage the community and pursue larger gates if the end goal was a “community club”?

c) Why wasn’t the new stadium planning started in 2008 so that when push came to shove we’d be prepared and know how much money we’d need and what options were available?

d) Most of all, why weren’t supporters told the facts so we could do what we’re now, at the very very last minute, being asked to do – to help? Mark made a big play in the interview of saying fans weren’t offering to help. Well, err, why would we if we didn’t know the full facts? If I’d known since 2008 that the club I support was slowly dying, maybe I’d have offered to do something about it more than what I’ve already done over the past few years?

People may be reading this thinking, “what’s done is done and now it’s time to move on”. That is absolutely true. But for me, the future starts after these questions have been answered fully, because the answers are a big part of the future: do I want these three men to carry on running my football club or not when the dust has settled? Hopefully – and I really do mean that – there are good answers to the above questions, and Malcolm, Mark and John can continue to part-fund the club in the future, albeit in a different structure with much greater involvement from the supporters.

Kingsmeadow, Our Home

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.