House of Payne: Dons must enhance Merton's sporting legacy
AFC Wimbledon have taken another step towards a return to Merton this week.
The fact the owners of the existing Wimbledon greyhound stadium have submitted a proposal for the site to be transformed into a football stadium, will clearly be greeted as welcome news by many Dons supporters.
It means that two out of the three ideas in Merton Council’s ‘call for sites’, to identify potential uses for the Plough Lane site, now feature a football ground with the club itself having already suggested a 12,000-seater stadium with the potential to rise to a 22,000 capacity.
The fact the Greyhound Racing Authority seem to have chosen football over their own sport as the best use for the site, means a potential opponent to the change of use has been removed.
One of the founding aims of AFC Wimbledon when they were formed out of the ashes of the Milton Keynes franchise agreement in the summer of 2002, was that the club should play in their spiritual Merton home as soon as possible.
There were negotiations over a possible groundshare with Tooting & Mitcham in the early days, but that would only ever have been a short-term fix, so you can’t blame fans and club officials for being excited at the current possibilities.
So forgive me for my failure to jump up and down in celebration because the greyhound track in Plough Lane has as much a sporting history in the town as its football club.
The fact the GRA is prepared to sell its own sport down the river in order to make way for a 10,000 to 15,000 seater football stadium, leisure facilities and 450 to 500 homes, smacks of profiteering every bit as bad as that which saw the Milton Keynes Dons created a decade ago.
This isn’t just a dog track. It is the last one left in London and a historic venue in its own right, having hosted greyhound racing since 1928. It hosts the sport’s derby.
The loss of greyhound racing will be felt just as much as the loss of football was by those wearing yellow and blue.
All is not lost – a third proposal is from Irish businessman Paschal Taggart for a £30m dog racing stadium for 6,000 spectators.
Yes, the Dons do need to return home, but in Olympic year we should be talking about the club enhancing the town’s sporting legacy, not coming in at another sport’s expense.