AFC Wimbledon has played its first match of the season with full-capacity crowds at the new Plough Lane on Saturday.
On Saturday, after 30 years of playing at a number of other stadiums including Selhurst Park due to a ground-share with Crystal Palace FC, Plough Lane saw the return of fans to the stadium to see the League One team draw 3-3 with Bolton Wanderers.
The team played its matches at the original Plough Lane stadium for 79 years from 1912 until 1991 and the stadium was rebuilt and reopened in November.
Many fans consider Plough Lane to be the ‘spiritual home’ of the team and are very happy to be returning to the stadium.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been test events with reduced capacity crowds attending events.
After the club was relocated in 2002 to Milton Keynes, a community of fans rebuilt the team and created AFC Wimbledon who played at Kingsmeadow in Kingston.
As the smallest team in League One, the new stadium gives AFC Wimbledon the opportunity to welcome in new fans to the community, as the capacity at Plough Lane is 9,000, up from 4,850 at Kingsmeadow.
Jim Hampshire was 11 when he saw his last AFC Wimbledon game at Plough Lane in 1991.
He said: “I was within touching distance of my own Wimbledon heroes, but also the likes of Paul Gascoigne, Gary Lineker & John Barnes. It’s still quite surreal.
He said: “I was sad when we left Plough Lane. Selhurst Park wasn’t home. Kingsmeadow wasn’t home. Loftus Road wasn’t home.”
Now 41, Hampshire attended the game with his dad, brother Matt and other friends and family.
He said: “It feels pretty special going with my dad as it was him that took me to my first game in January 1988.
“I’ve waited 30 years, I wasn’t prepared to wait another few days! I’m very proud to be a part of it.”
Tim Smith, 52, has been a lifelong supporter of AFC Wimbledon and also attended the game on Saturday. He watched his first game at Plough Lane when he was six with his dad and grandad, who have since passed away.
He said: “I cried, I couldn’t help thinking of my dad, my grandad, and going to matches as a kid.
“The new stadium is gleaming in a way the old place never was.
“It’s wonderful to be home.”
Featured image credit: Kirk Pritchard