Football Governance

Siobhain McDonagh Excerpts
Monday 14th June 2021

(3 years ago)

Westminster Hall
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Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
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I begin by proudly declaring my interest as an AFC Wimbledon season ticket holder—a club with historically symbolic roots in this debate. We all know that football clubs have meaning far deeper than any result on a Saturday afternoon. I have cherished childhood memories of Wimbledon match days with my dad, and particularly his joy at receiving tickets to the famous 1988 club final against Liverpool, to see the Crazy Gang beat the Culture Club. I will never forget him racing down to the King’s Head from the post-match reception to show off his autograph book bursting with his heroes’ signatures. But just three years later, his joy turned sour: our club left its home on Plough Lane in 1991, being stolen 60 miles up the M1 to Milton Keynes—an event that shook sport and, just like the super league, exposed the hyper-commercial world of football.

So began one of English football’s greatest stories: the birth of fan-owned AFC Wimbledon—according to the FA commission, a club that was not in the wider interests of football. How wrong they were. A democratic supporters organisation, the Dons Trust, owns AFC, giving fans control of the future of our club. After six promotions in 13 seasons, we soared our way to league one, coming an awful long way from the open trials on Wimbledon Common, where a team was cobbled together to face Sutton United just a few weeks later. The result that day did not matter; our dream was now real. Anybody who wants a little light summer reading might want to read the book by our former chief executive Erik Samuelson, “All Together Now: How a Group of Football Fans Righted a Wrong and Brought Their Football Club Home.”

When a club is truly fan-led, the results for the community can be remarkable. Throughout the pandemic, the Dons Local Action Group, a 2,000-strong volunteer group of AFC fans, expertly led by Xavier Wiggins, honoured in the Queen’s birthday list, Cormac van der Hoeven, and Craig Wellstead, has distributed hundreds of thousands of food boxes, tablets and laptops across south London—a club that gives heart and soul back to the community to which it belongs.

Dad would have been so proud to see our team back at Plough Lane next season. Margaret, my sister, and I hope to sponsor a match in his memory in his birthday month of February. I assure all Members that people will be able to hear us shout as far away as Milton Keynes: “Come on you Dons!”