First look inside AFC Wimbledon’s new £32million stadium as Dons prepare for emotional return to Plough Lane roots

HERE are the first photos of AFC Wimbledon’s new stadium almost in shape just 24 days before it officially opens.

And the League One club are giving supporters the chance to guarantee their spot for the next ten years as they make an emotional return to their spiritual Plough Lane roots.

SunSport was given exclusive access to the £32million ground that will open on November 3 for the League One visit of Doncaster.

And, unlike arenas such as Twickenham where fans pay as much as £30,000 to guarantee their spots, the Dons’ debenture scheme is affordable.

In fact, prices have been set as low as £500 and £600, with hospitality spots just £1,000.

It has been 29 years since Wimbledon last kicked a ball in anger at Plough Lane when they took on Crystal Palace in the top-flight.

Since then it has been a long road back.

There was the controversial move to Milton Keynes and the rebranding to MK Dons, the formation of the fans-owned AFC Wimbledon 18 years ago and six promotions.

But now they have built a new stadium a few hundred yards from the original ground.

That was ripped down for apartment blocks, which you can see from the upper tiers.

You can even peer across to Wembley 11 miles away, where the Dons famously beat Liverpool 1-0 in the 1988 FA Cup final.

The West Stand seating is in place, with the East Stand set to be finished in days along with the North Stand away end.

A bit like Brentford’s new home seven miles away, they have gone for speckled coloured seating in the Dons’ famous blue and yellow.

The home South Stand is for standing only to help generate that old-school atmosphere.

But while the old Plough Lane ground was notoriously unwelcoming, the 2020 version has been designed to be more accommodating.

Gone are the days of a bobbly quagmire pitch.

The new one is a carpet, combining real grass with synthetic material to produce a perfect playing surface.

The changing rooms are spacious and, unlike in the Crazy Gang era, the away team will not have cold showers!

A museum inside the ground will be opened, where items such as Vinnie Jones’ 1988 FA Cup-winners medal and other memorabilia will be on display.

The club will even house the original Plough Lane gates.

One of the most impressive features is the stadium’s pub, which will be open seven days a week and has stairs leading down from the concourses, allowing fans to mingle regardless of where they are.

Supporters are being asked to vote on a name for it, with the choice of two  famous boozers that were near to the old ground, The Sportsman and The Batsford Arms.

Hospitality has increased greatly from the Kingsmeadow ground that Wimbledon had used since their formation.

There are eight corporate boxes, two lounges and a huge events space. The hall is one of the crown jewels and includes a mezzanine level.

For a conference it can host 700 people and can easily seat 500 for a dinner event.

CEO Joe Palmer, who walked us around the stadium, said it will be the biggest conferencing facility in the Merton borough.

He said: “This really will be a great venue for weddings, concerts, conferences, so many things.

“We’re installing a huge HD screen in there too and will cater for E-gaming, which is massive with youngsters now.”

The club plan guided tours for fans to allow them to take a proper look around while matches continue to be played behind closed doors.

For the Doncaster game, it is hoped they will be able to do a televised build-up, either through Sky Sports or using their own media channels.

But they are also planning a proper grand opening when fans are eventually allowed in.

The stadium has an initial 9,300 capacity, but planning permission has been granted for that to increase to 20,000. There will be around 100 wheelchair spaces too.

And the plan is for it to be alive with activity seven days a week.

The coronavirus pandemic has not adversely delayed the stadium’s  construction.

In fact, the biggest problem during the 22 months of work was a fox ruining the new playing surface.

Palmer added: “It kept coming in at night and ripping up the pitch. The groundsman was pulling his hair out. It can no longer get access.”

So foxes are not welcome — unless it is of the Leicester City variety!

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