Dom: I was not previously an ardent Dons fan, albeit they were my second team. I am first and foremost a football fan living in SW London all my life but specifically SW19 since 1984. I went to a few games at Old Plough Lane and also a few at Selhurst Park. I was an Arsenal fan due to family connections in North London but this all changed in 2002. I was drinking in the Crooked Billet in Wimbledon Village and there were leaflets going round that the club was going to start afresh. My sense of injustice to what was happening to my local club with the move “up there” fired me up to fully get behind the new entity. That was it, from seeing European finals, FA Cup wins and Premiership wins there was a greater joy out there and AFC Wimbledon was it. I am a fervent advocate for fan ownership, I am aware as a previous businessman that there are challenges, but with talented people all pulling together, there is every opportunity to progress the club. I believe in dreaming big. I am retired, having sold my technology business in 2007. I am good with languages and I have experience in Banking HR, Sales and IT. I like to make things happen.
(ii) What made you decide to tramp around South London to get businesses to put up AFC Wimbledon posters and attract more fans to go to Plough Lane matches?
Dom: We had been away from SW London for 32 years and the club needed to awaken and reintroduce itself to the local community and surrounding areas. The club has a debt and we needed to fill the stadium. We needed revenue. I wanted to do everything I could to attract new supporters, boost attendances and get the cash rolling in. The good attendances last season held up well despite our winless streak. Was I just putting up posters or was I building relationships? Yes, I did feel like I was on a mission. Restaurant owners, insurance companies, barbers, glazing companies, cafes, locksmiths all embraced their new stadium and fans-owned club and they knew this club was different, “more than a football club.” They were happy to put a poster up. The role is much more than using cello tape and sticking a poster on a glass front; shop keepers like to chat and it gives me an opportunity to tell them about our fan ownership ethos, the stadium and opportunities for them to use the hospitality areas and space.
(iii) Give us an idea of the territory you have covered on foot, maybe an estimate of how many businesses you have personally canvassed? How has been the response overall? Are you receiving feedback that new fans are now going to see the Dons?
Dom: I have canvassed about 150-200 businesses. I am planning to put out a map, and yes it can only be done on foot. SW London is a pretty big place and its high streets are very busy places. You simply cannot drive around. I have travelled as far north as Balham with its well-heeled residents and Victorian houses, through to leafy suburbia Raynes Park in the south, walking between 2-4 hours a day. Along Tooting Broadway I tell shop keepers there is a stadium 5-10 minutes drive away, it’s been there for two years. Whereabouts they ask? Our stadium builders did a fantastic job in making our new stadium as unobtrusive as possible. It is very difficult to gauge the impact of the fixture posters, a bit like billboards along a highway. All I can say is we had a 27-game winless run last season and attendances held up pretty good. I have had shop keepers/cafe owners telling me people stop by to read, and note upcoming games.
(iv) Give us some of your favourite anecdotes of your poster crusade, any particular encounters stick in your memory?
Dom: The best has got to be the Verace Italian restaurant along Garratt Lane towards Earlsfield. I have an Italian heritage so I felt at home. On stepping inside there in the corner was their regular customer Andrea. I first introduced myself to Michele and his partner Andrea soon joined in the conversation and before I knew, the two owners were outside the street and there was Andrea ready for a photo shoot and she spontaneously started singing. This I captured on video. It tickles me each time I see it. At Wimbledon Glass Haydons Road there’s John always welcoming and loves to talk about his beloved Crystal Palace. Ian at Earlsfield plumbing supplies would reminisce about going to Highbury in 1970s. I enjoy meeting people, listening to the their thoughts of the day, chatting and moving on. Another joy was the Indian shop keeper at Wimbledon Newsagents Plough Lane who proudly wanted to show me his hand-written fixture list behind the counter. I hope to leave a bit of good about AFC Wimbledon when I say good-bye. They always welcome me back. It’s more than sticking up a poster.
(v) You are an ardent supporter of the fans-owned club model that runs AFC Wimbledon. Tell us why, in your opinion, it is so important for AFC Wimbledon’s future.
Dom: I am ardent supporter of the fans-owned model. It is the most significant reason why I follow AFC Wimbledon. Being fans-owned is important so we can forever be in control of our destiny. AFC Wimbledon has reached heights we could only dream about in 2002. Who is to say we should stop dreaming. Can we reach the Premier League? Can we be like SC Freiburg the German fan-owned club which went from 3000 fans to 35000? We are only limited by our own efforts and vision. Yes, I accept football is about winning, but it is also about belonging and being together. I believe we can show the football world that we as community club with the wonderful DLAG (Dons Local Action Group) that there is a different way to exist. DLAG was a spontaneous response to community needs during the COVID pandemic, it won national awards because of the speed it happened. It grew exponentially for the whole duration of the pandemic and remains now an established vehicle for supporting those who in need, reverberating for good around the stadium and beyond. Do we wish to be the trinket on a billionaire’s wrist or a money-making machine for a consortium? We will have highs and lows (the latter comes with the territory). But there is no doubt, in my opinion, that people get a feel-good factor from a fan-owned club, steeped in the ethos of supporting the community and a club that is different because of its essence. There were Chelsea fans who felt tainted by Roman Abramovich and now come to Plough Lane. We are on the threshold of a new era and we need the new MD, the full-time paid staff, the Dons Trust Board, the volunteers, the DT members and all the fan base to be in unison. Will younger fans follow us? Absolutely, if we make them feel they have something special and show them they are truly on this journey with everyone in concert. Together is a mighty force and we can achieve our next dream.
(vi) Have you had much support helping you deliver these posters, club backing, or has it largely been a labour of love? Maybe this is a good opportunity to appeal for others to join/help in your crusade.
Dom: Mick Buckley, interim chair, picked up my work and called me in August to thank me. He wanted the club to fully support me and said he would be re-releasing the video of my work which was published on the official club site in April to attract volunteers to help. The DT Board members do value what I am doing but unfortunately because of the difficulty and challenges of travelling on foot around busy London streets, I have had only one person come forward, the great Charlie Huyn. My hat goes off to Charlie, who has been active in supporting the Women’s team, I saw some small handmade posters, in shops, this was Charlie’s work. I also bumped into a London Broncos fan, walking along my trodden trail. His team rents our ground. I was asked at Earlsfield Dry Cleaners to put up his smaller poster. I kindly obliged for our tenant. Yes, it is challenging work. The work involves me seeking the business owner out, and requires sales experience or at least a confident ability to talk. The role means you are working alone, walking between 2-4 hours in a stint. Ideally I would have liked to slice up SW London into 10 areas and for 10 volunteers to take up areas near where they live. Fortunately, because of my seniority, I have free travel passes. I guess new volunteers have to be of senior age with free travel passes, have sales experience and be prepared to give up a fair amount of free time. I would like to think 200-300,000 people have seen my posters across SW London and if get 1-2% attending a game then that’s of some value. I am reporting to the club’s head of Revenue, Operations and Ticketing Bal Srai and we have devised ticket incentives to businesses who display a poster. I hope to have a gaggle of shopkeepers in the stadium for a photo. I hope my Australian Womble friends down under enjoy reading about my poster odyssey. Your interest is a spur and directly felt here in London.