How Little Fire Digital helped bring AFC Wimbledon home – a joyful tale of insane deadlines and madcap football fans.
Make no mistake, Little Fire Digital is a Sheffield company: in one way or another, we’ve been in business here for nearly thirty years; our office overlooks Bramall Lane; in simpler times there are season-ticket holders clattering away at their keyboards and, without leaving my garden, I can tell the score of each and every home game.
And yet, and yet, it appears you can take the man out of London but …
I was witness to the sorrow of my childhood friends and family as their stadium, ground and finally their club itself was sold from under them.
If you don’t know the story of AFC Wimbledon, the fan created club patched together from soggy try-outs on Wimbledon Common and the love and loyalty of their fans, you really should look it up. It is without doubt one of the best stories in sport. With talent and passion the fledgeling club has defied the odds (and, on occasion, the Football Association) to rise with unprecedented speed to League One.
Despite this, the fans who have followed, who have celebrated this meteoric ascent with such cheerful lunacy have never quite shaken the yearning to return to Wimbledon, to have again, in their words, ‘a home game’.
I can’t have been alone in thinking that the prospect of affording a plot of land of sufficient size in an expensive corner of London was hopeless fantasy.
It was just before Christmas when the phone rang.
The land had been bought, the stands were rising fast, but funding had run short.
More than anything, AFC Wimbledon want to remain fan owned – to exclude forever the risk of losing their club once more through the misadventures of a careless owner.
‘Could you put together a website quickly in the New Year?’
‘I think so.’
… and so we did
Working closely with the Dons Trust, we dropped everything to build a means for fans to raise money by buying bonds from the club. January was a frantic development spree, adapting our content management system for the sale of intangible assets, countless to-ing and fro-ing between lawyers and our developers to make the loans available for sale.
We learned later that the Trust’s lawyers had said it would take a year. We had the site selling bonds by the 20th of January.
Over the following weeks the Dons Trust and the fans mounted an extraordinary campaign: across social media, across local media, leafleting, manning the tube stations of South London at rush hour – exhorting commuters to invest in their new, local club. The money began to roll in.
AFC Wimbledon fans in 2016 © AFC Wimbledon and The Dons Trust
“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.”
The Plough Lane Bond