This is an update from the organisers of the Plough Lane Bond including reaction to recent developments in finalising the stadium contract:
As the organisers of the Plough Lane Bond, we are delighted by the success of the scheme (more than £5.2m in investment raised) and we applaud the signing of the final construction contract for our new stadium as announced on the 28th May. We are hugely grateful to the number of fans and kindred supporters who bought bonds or supported and promoted the scheme with huge time commitment and enthusiasm. We have proven yet again what an incredibly unique club we have, what we can achieve when we all work together and how much our ethos of fan ownership means to us and the wider community.
We also welcome the arrival of Nick Robertson as a minority investor and look forward to his involvement in the next phase of the Wimbledon story. Since the investment was announced, we have been contacted by bondholders asking us for our our views on the minority investment stake. It was, after all, a core tenet of the Bond proposal that our investment would be used to ensure the Dons Trust maintained majority control. And therefore that the fans, as DT members, remain de facto owners of the club.
Our view is that bringing in minority investors to use the shares left unsold through Seedrs was and is a good idea, keeping that DT 75% threshold of voting control in place. We are therefore entirely supportive of Nick Robertson’s (and other) minority investments which respect and protect our core foundations of fan ownership. We have met Nick Robertson once and we think that fans and members will like his view of the club and his reasons for investing when they hear more about him in due course too. This is structurally irrelevant, but nonetheless reassuring. The structure of the shareholding in AFCW plc means that the control remains with the DT’s voting shares and therefore with its members. This is made clear in the Dons Trust FAQ on the investment, which we urge all fans to read.
You will remember that when we set out to launch the bond, we had three core aims:
1) Get the stadium built
2) Maintain fan control
3) Create the time and space in which to debate and improve our operational structure, ownership, and governance model.
The successful Bond scheme, which effectively solved the stadium funding shortfall and ensured we remained fan owned, completed the first two steps of those promises. Many Bond investors were explicitly clear that their investment was made on the premise that lessons would be learned from the mistakes made up until November last year, which resulted in some Dons Trust Board members clearly wanting to sell control of our football club.
We all now need to make sure there is momentum in driving an agenda for that change, carrying forward that mandate from Bond investors and members to ensure our club and Trust cannot operate in a way which drives us to the brink again or lose touch with fans and members.
The challenge now is to ensure that appropriate structure and resources are in place for AFC Wimbledon’s operational and oversight bodies to function effectively, maintaining close communication with fans and members. Make no mistake, we believe there is a huge amount of work left to be done here. We are pushing for this to become a live debate now so that when we vote at the next DTB elections in October, we know what we are voting for and why.
The two main issues are the structure of the various club and Trust entities & boards and the resources available.
More operating and board resource needs to be in place for the football club as the stadium is finalised and readied for opening and operation (under whatever restrictions or compromises might be in place during or following the COVID-19 pandemic).
We do not believe the football club board is currently best set up for success as things stand and have asked the DTB to provide additional leadership support. We have also asked for clarity over plans for the executive management team for all club business at Plough Lane.
In terms of the formats and roles of the football club, AFCW plc and Dons Trust boards in the future, we need to know that a new structure will combine improved operations with adequate DT board oversight, on behalf its members. Furthermore the DT board need to be able to provide that oversight, and communicate and consult with DT members, without individual board members being over-stretched and exhausted. Fans need to know that DT board members bring real value to the process of oversight.
Some progress has been made on this, but we take the promises we made to investors seriously and we will continue to agitate for changes to structure and resource to improve how the club and Trust operate. We will continue to work where we can with the club and Trust to achieve this. Working in conjunction with Dave Boyle, former chief executive of Supporters Direct and consultant to community sector enterprises, we submitted some thoughts on potential structural alterations. Some of us also took part in an external consultation process run by an independent body on behalf of the club. We hope this will lead to clear proposals to be presented to Dons Trust members soon.
As well as immediate concerns around structure, reporting lines and resource, there is potentially a big question for consideration in the short-term around whether, how and if the Trust could or should shift at some point from having 75% ownership to maintaining a simple majority control, eg a 50%+1 set-up, analogous to how most German clubs structured.
We do not share the view recently expressed by a Board Member on the 9Yrs Podcast that this is necessarily inevitable, the best option at this point, or the only way to keep club funding secure. We would expect there to be a range of views among the fanbase and members about this possibility, with further detailed thoughts and points for discussion following in due course. Any such changes concerning structure would be considered restricted actions under the constitution and need full voting approval from members.
So whilst it’s been an amazing achievement to ensure the club remains in the hands of its fans, we think there is a lot of work left to do to ensure the club and Trust are in the best possible shape once we have all brought the Dons Home. We would like to pay tribute and thanks to the many hours club employees, Dons Trust board members and our own PLB volunteers put in to ensure that the Bond issue was a success, that the stadium will be built without fans losing control and that we all have the time now to make the changes required.
Finally, we want to add that see so many local volunteers shift so seamlessly from promoting the Bond to becoming the Dons Local Action Group and supporting residents all over South West London during the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of inspirational.
We welcome any comments on this update below and look forward to participating further in what happens next at our amazing football club.
Graeme Price, Charlie Talbot, Xavier Wiggins and Damian Woodward Plough Lane Bond Organisers.