AFC Wimbledon on a high as opportunity knocks in FA Cup

There is an air of contentment at AFC Wimbledon. An upturn in form, the green light to begin constructing their new stadium and the stardust of Sunday’s FA Cup clash with Tottenham at Wembley has left even the club’s perennially grounded chief executive Erik Samuelson smiling.

Although the threat of relegation lingers – The Dons remain in League One’s bottom four – a productive festive period, which brought victories against promotion-chasing Bradford City and Southend, has boosted their survival chances.

The flurry of positive results followed Merton Council’s granting of permission for building work to commence on their new £25m, 11,000-seater stadium at their spiritual home of Plough Lane, where AFC Wimbledon hope to return for the 2019-20 season.

Not even a bout of flu could dampen Samuelson’s joie de vivre this week as he reflected upon a hugely satisfying period which has gone a long way to ensuring a sustainable future for the supporter-owned club.

Erik Samuelson, a former partner at PWC, is optimistic about a cup upset

“Life is quite good – in fact very good – at the moment and I’m not my normal miserable self,” Samuelson, a former partner at PwC, told City A.M.

“Over the years we have overcome a significant number of hurdles and that is true both about who we are as a club and about what we have been trying to do with the stadium.

"Having got past those, although it may sound a bit pompous, it feels as though we’re in a transformational period and that has to feel good, and to an extent that transmits everywhere.

"It’s great that the results have turned upwards at the same time. Life is looking very good.”

Such zeal stretches to Sunday’s showdown as AFC Wimbledon prepare to pit their wits against Champions League candidates Spurs, who are 60 places above them in the football pyramid.

Plymouth Argyle v AFC Wimbledon - Sky Bet League Two Play Off Final
The Dons won promotion to League One in 2016 (Source: Getty)

The FA Cup remains synonymous with the original Wimbledon, who were controversially relocated from the capital to Buckinghamshire in 2003.

Immortalised is Lawrie Sanchez’s winner in the 1988 final against Liverpool, and Samuelson has not ruled out AFC Wimbledon following the lead of their forefathers and sealing a modern-day giant-killing.

“It’s a rare event that a lower league team goes to a Premier League club, especially one as big as Spurs, and wins, but I’m a football fan – why can’t I live in hope?” he added.

“We know we are not going to win the cup. All League One clubs know they are not going to win the cup. So what you look for is a bit of excitement, a bit of money and something new. And here we are.

“There is a whole list of very special games in our history from our very first at Sutton United to the game at the City of Manchester Stadium [2011 Conference play-off final] and our previous matches at Wembley.

"This, however, is probably the most exciting challenge. Nine times out of 10 we probably won’t win, but you never know. You should never be a football club if you don’t have ambition.”

Read more: Las Vegas? AFC Wimbledon chief plots Championship path

The last time AFC Wimbledon won at Wembley, in the 2016 League Two play-off final, a mystery ex-City worker funded a celebratory trip to Las Vegas for the victorious Dons squad.

“An offer has not been forthcoming this time. I wouldn’t be surprised if an offer was made, but it hasn’t yet. I’d better give him a ring and ask him,” said Samuelson.

But while the chance to embarrass a top-flight heavyweight is a brief moment in time, it is the go-ahead to start work on their new home at the site of the old Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium that is the real prize.

AFC Wimbledon have played their home games at Kingsmeadow, the former home of Kingstonian FC, since their formation in 2002, but now a whole new world of opportunity and viability beckons.

“Kingsmeadow has been our home for 15 and a half years and we’ve done very well there but we belong in Wimbledon,” added Samuelson.

AFC Wimbledon V Northampton Town - Sky Bet League Two
AFC Wimbledon are set to return to their spiritual home of Plough Lane (Source: Getty)

“Our current home doesn’t give us the opportunity to expand attendances or increase income from non-matchday activities, both of which we need if we’re going to develop.

“We would probably be stalled if we were to stay here in the medium term and we would struggle to make significant progress.

“This is the opening of a door that gives us a chance to continue our climb through the leagues. There are no guarantees in football but this is the big opportunity.”

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