What Happens to Kingstonian When Dons Go Home?
These are exciting times right now for fans of AFC Wimbledon. A plumb tie at home against Liverpool in the FA Cup, and a potential move back to their home borough of Merton is edging ever nearer. However, that excitement may not be shared by Kingstonian, the club with whom they currently groundshare.
AFC Wimbledon have played their home games at Kingsmeadow since their formation in 2002. Originally, the Dons were the tenants, but after Kingstonian fell upon hard times financially, AFC bought the lease and became the landlords. This happened in 2003. The terms of the deal were favourable for Kingstonian; a renewable twenty five year sub-lease, and the first friendly involving AFC Wimbledon’s first team. The thinking was that the income from the friendly would cover K’s rent for the season ahead. However, that friendly has not been honoured for years, which has put doubts in my mind over the club’s long term future.
The big problem for me is the ownership of the ground. Kingsmeadow has been the home of Kingstonian since it opened in 1989, but the freehold of the site is held by Kingston Council. Since 2003, of course, K’s have not even held the leasehold, so they currently have no legal ownership of the ground. What happens, then, when AFC Wimbledon move back to Merton and Kingstonian cannot afford to buy the leasehold?
Here’s what got me thinking about this in the first place. On Boxing Day last year, my club Hampton & Richmond Borough hosted Kingstonian at Beveree Stadium. As I was in the boardroom, I spoke to a couple of their club officials. I think it was around this time that AFC Wimbledon first announced their intentions to go back to Plough Lane. I asked the K’s officials the question: what happens to you lot when AFC go home?
The answer? We don’t know.
Ever since then, I have been meaning to write an article on the subject, but never got round to it. Then, recent events involving Hitchin Town FC reignited things in my brain. In case you’re unaware, Hitchin are in danger of losing their Top Field home to developers, with supermarket chains said to be interested, and the club forced to move to the outskirts of town.
Who’s to say that something similar couldn’t happen to Kingstonian? If they cannot afford the leasehold if and when AFC Wimbledon move back to Plough Lane, what then? Would Kingston council look for a new tenant on the site?
Let’s face it; Kingstonian may not be the masters of their own destiny here. Their average attendances are no more than three hundred, whereas AFC tend to get more than two thousand. Think about that from the council’s point of view. Once the Dons leave, is it viable for K’s to stay at the site? Or would the powers that be think that it would be more beneficial (read profitable) to sell the land to the highest bidder? To have a shopping centre or housing estate built there instead?
As things stand, Kingstonian would probably be ok. But years down the line when this becomes an issue, who knows how the land will lay? It could be a different set of councillors, one who have no loyalty towards the club, or no desire to have a football club at all in their borough. Remember Barnet? Their council didn’t want them, and even actively pushed them out into the neighbouring borough. That could theoretically happen to Kingstonian.
As I said, I am probably way off. I certainly hope so.