Home Football Former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Ambitious Plan to Relocate Wimbledon FC to Belfast

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Ambitious Plan to Relocate Wimbledon FC to Belfast

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Football Relocation

In the world of sports, there are often tales of ambition, dreams, and unorthodox proposals that never come to fruition. One such story from the late 1990s revolves around former British Prime Minister Sir Tony Blair’s intriguing idea to relocate the then-Premier League football club, Wimbledon FC, to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Wimbledon FC had a rich history, playing at the old Plough Lane from 1912 to 1991. However, the Taylor Report, which followed the tragic Hillsborough disaster in 1989, recommended that football clubs transition to all-seated stadiums. This recommendation left Wimbledon FC in a difficult position as their Plough Lane ground was deemed unfit for redevelopment.

In 1991, the club found a temporary home, sharing Selhurst Park with Crystal Palace. But owner Sam Hammam had other ideas, including the possibility of relocating the club to Dublin. However, this proposal was met with resistance from the League of Ireland clubs in 1998. This is where the Belfast relocation plan comes into play.

Confidential state papers from 1997 shed light on this ambitious idea. They mention “following up earlier informal discussions about the possibility of an English Premier League football club relocating to Belfast.” The proposal was seen as groundbreaking, with the potential to have a Premier League team based in Belfast, a city that had long been divided along political and religious lines. It was believed that such a move could foster cross-community support and act as a unifying force for the city.

The plan didn’t stop at just moving the club; it included the construction of a modern 40,000-seat sports stadium, potentially accompanied by a sports academy. Two potential sites were suggested, Queen’s Island in east Belfast or the North Foreshore site in the northern part of the city. Moreover, Wimbledon FC would undergo a name change to become Belfast United.

One can’t help but wonder how this relocation would have affected the Premier League landscape. Belfast, a city with its unique charm, could have seen itself represented in one of the world’s most prominent football leagues. The prospect of Premier League matches taking place in Belfast would have been a sight to behold for football fans in Northern Ireland and beyond.

The leaked information from the time also revealed that key figures, including Secretary of State Mo Mowlam, were supportive of the idea. They saw it as an opportunity to bring new investment to Northern Ireland and enhance its international reputation. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Local football authorities in Northern Ireland expressed concerns that such a move could negatively impact football in the region.

Downing Street also took a keen interest in the proposal. Alastair Campbell, the then-chief press secretary, noted that Sam Hammam, Wimbledon’s owner, was eager to explore the possibility. In a memo dated July 16, 1998, Tony Blair himself expressed enthusiasm for the plan, stating that it would be excellent if Wimbledon were to make the move to Belfast and that they should encourage it as much as possible.

Despite these positive signs, another note from August 17, 1998, described the situation as delicate, with Irish football authorities strongly resisting the idea. It was suggested that any change in their stance would likely require local pressure, possibly with government support from the background.

The story of relocating Wimbledon FC to Belfast remains an intriguing chapter in football history, filled with ambition, political considerations, and the potential to transform a divided city through the power of sports. While the plan ultimately didn’t come to fruition, it serves as a testament to the boundless imagination that can sometimes surround the beautiful game.

In the end, Wimbledon FC went on to relocate to Milton Keynes in 2004, becoming MK Dons, while supporters of the original club founded AFC Wimbledon, a team that started in the ninth tier of English football and gradually climbed their way back into the Football League, embodying the spirit and resilience of the sport. Today, AFC Wimbledon proudly plays near the site of their historic Plough Lane ground, keeping the legacy alive.

The proposed Belfast move may have never happened, but it’s a reminder of the exciting and sometimes unexpected possibilities that can emerge in the world of sports.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Football Relocation

What was the ambitious plan involving Wimbledon FC and Belfast in the late 1990s?

The ambitious plan involved relocating the Premier League football club Wimbledon FC to Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the late 1990s. It included building a modern stadium, potential sports academies, and a name change to Belfast United.

Why did Wimbledon FC consider relocating from their historic Plough Lane ground?

Wimbledon FC needed to move from their Plough Lane ground after the Taylor Report recommended all-seated stadiums following the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. Plough Lane was deemed unfit for redevelopment.

What was the potential impact of relocating Wimbledon FC to Belfast?

The relocation was seen as a unifying force for a divided city, fostering cross-community support. It aimed to bring new investment to Northern Ireland and boost its international image.

Who supported the idea of relocating Wimbledon FC to Belfast?

Key figures, including Secretary of State Mo Mowlam and Prime Minister Tony Blair, expressed support. However, local football authorities in Northern Ireland had concerns about the plan.

What ultimately happened to Wimbledon FC and AFC Wimbledon?

Wimbledon FC relocated to Milton Keynes in 2004 and became MK Dons. Supporters founded AFC Wimbledon, starting in the ninth tier and working their way up to the Football League, now playing near the original Plough Lane site.

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1 comment

SportsBuff December 28, 2023 - 8:58 pm

amazin read, luvd learnin abt da ambitious plan & Belfast’s role in football history. gr8 job!


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