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AFC Wimbledon

Find out how Little Fire Digital helped bring AFC Wimbledon home.
The most successful fundraiser in the history of the English Football Association.
The Night Sky by Alyn Williams

About AFC Wimbledon

AFC Wimbledon is one of the newer clubs in the English football league. In the early 1990s, Wimbledon FC‘s owners had sold the Plough Lane Stadium, from which the club had played since 1889, and the club had been forced to share grounds with clubs across London – leaving the fans desperate for a ‘home game’.

Finally, in 2002, the owners elected to move the club to Milton Keynes, forming the MK Dons.

In despair, from try-outs on Wimbledon Common, the fans founded their own club. From these simple beginnings, with a fanatical fan base, the club began to climb the leagues.

The Challenge

Somehow, and against all the odds, AFC Wimbledon – now playing in League One – had managed to acquire a plot on Plough Lane and begun the process of building a new stadium – a new home ground. But cash had started to run out – they needed a solution.

The club could have raised capital by selling shares of the club to raise money. But this would have meant, potentially, that the fans would lose majority ownership of the club they had built from nothing and, possibly, lose everything again.

The club chose to create a bond scheme – to borrow money from the fans – the Plough Lane Bond.

It Needed to Happen Fast

The club’s lawyers had advised that the process of building the site and making it legally compliant would take months. The club had just weeks to secure the funding.

It Needed to Be Secure

For the scheme to work, the club needed to allow fans to buy the bond online. Bonds need to be repaid with interest, then online solution needed to allow the club to do this.

It Needed to Be Simple

Despite being a more complicated product than a book or any other retail product, the experience of buying a bond had to be as close as possible to any other online purchase. Quick, simple and friction-free.

The Solution

Little Fire Digital have built a content management and e-commerce solution which can be customised and extended to sell just about anything. With an extensible, configurable system, a bit of ingenuity and some graft we reckoned we could deliver.

We gave our word and it was on.

What Did Little Fire Digital Do?

Once we had installed the base content management system, we set about tailoring it to the needs of the project.

Created a New Product Model

Using an MVC framework, we were able to make a custom product type which exactly matched those required. Each user needed to be able to select the interest rate, the term of the loan and several other atypical product attributes. This enabled us to create a familiar buying experience for the client whilst selling a highly unusual online product.

Maintained Compliance

The process of buying a bond requires the purchaser to read and acknowledge detailed terms and conditions as stipulated by the FCA and the club‘s legal team. Little Fire built an interactive FAQ and an interactive set of terms that were easy for the customers to navigate and straightforward for the website administrators to keep updated as the terms went through many iterations.

Stored Information Securely

Each bond-holder needs to be repaid.

  • For the bond holders, we built a system where each could securely store their bank details – protected by layers of encryptions and multi-factor authentication – the customer can review and edit their own payment details.
  • For the administrators, we built a system for administering the thousands of bonds sold.
  • Given the sensitive nature of the data held, we needed a complete audit trail (every change to every bond is logged for review) and differential permissions (for website administrators, all financial details are redacted, but the bond administrator can review balances due, review payment details and make repayments as they become due).

… and Built the Website

Working hand-in-hand with the club and their amazing team of volunteers, we coded like fury as they negotiated with the legal team. Fans produced copy and images which we optimised and integrated into the website.

The Outcome

Plough Lane, the new (old) home of Football in Wimbledon

On 3 November 2020, AFC Wimbledon played their first match at Plough Lane against Doncaster Rovers. Wimbledon’s Joe Pigott scored the first ever goal in the new stadium in the 18th minute of that match.

Thanks to the success of both tranches of the Plough Lane Bond, AFC Wimbledon has replaced all its external and secured debt. The fans who built both the club and its rightful home still own AFC Wimbledon – now and forever.

Little Fire Digital had helped bring the Dons home.

What Did the Clients Have to Say?

“Wimbledon fans are always at their best in a crisis and we like a challenge. So when we needed to stop control of the club being sold off in late 2019, a few of us suggested launching a Bond scheme.

That idea went from concept to a live website in a fortnight thanks to the tireless efforts of Simon and Little Fire.

They had to deal with all of the standard website challenges (design, layout, content etc) as well complying with legal regulations and compliance policies that were being finalised as we went along.

Oh, and that fortnight included Christmas and New Year. It was a difficult brief on an impossible timescale, but they threw themselves into it wholeheartedly and delivered a well-designed, easy-to-use robust and secure solution under all that pressure.

And the campaign? Well that raised over £5m in a matter of weeks and is the largest bond raise by a British football club ever. If Little Fire can produce work like this so quickly and effectively, I can only imagine how much they could achieve for your business if you give them a sensible timeframe. We are indebted to Simon and his team. You helped Bring The Dons Home.”

Charlie Talbot
Plough Lane Bond

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