Although AFC Wimbledon may be considered by most if not all of their supporters as having previously played at the Plough Lane ground, technically the club that once did so are now known as MK Dons. This article confines itself to a look at the history of Plough Lane and the then Wimbledon FC which played there.
Formed in 1889, Wimbledon Old Central Football Club took its name from the Old Central School on Wimbledon Common where players had been pupils. Competing in the Clapham League, they played on Wimbledon Common, using the Fox and Grapes public house as the team’s headquarters and changing room.
In 1905 the club became simply Wimbledon FC and were playing in the Spartan League when excessive debts caused the club to fold in 1910. It was restarted a year later under the name Wimbledon Borough, though ‘Borough’ was dropped from the title soon afterwards. The club continued to play on Wimbledon Common and at various other locations in the Wimbledon area until the leasehold on disused swampland at the corner of Plough Lane and Haydons Road was purchased by 1912. The pitch was fenced in, the playing surface improved and a stand holding 500 spectators was erected with the first match being a friendly against Carshalton Athletic in September 1912.
Improvements continued to be made to the ground during the First World War and Wimbledon joined the Athenian League for the 1919/20 season, progressing to the Isthmian League two years later.
The 2,000-seater South Stand was added in 1923, having previously been situated at Clapton Orient’s Millfields Road ground since about 1906. The terrace in front of the North Stand was improved during 1932/33, and the ground was used for an England v Wales amateur international match in 1935. Crowds of between 7,000 and 10,000 were not uncommon and the attendance record for the ground was set later in 1935 with 18,080 people present for an FA Amateur Cup tie against HMS Victory. By the start of the Second World War the capacity was 30,000 but bomb damage to the South Stand made extensive redevelopment necessary and by 1951 the ground capacity was back up to around 25,000. Six years later the North or Main Stand was rebuilt and a further development saw floodlights installed, first being used in a London Charity Cup match against Arsenal in 1960, the same year in which the Durnsford Road End terracing was covered.
The FA Amateur Cup was won in 1963 but then the club decided to turn professional and joined the Southern League in 1964. Wimbledon became nationally famous for their FA Cup run in the 1974/75 season, beating First Division side Burnley at Turf Moor in the Third Round before losing 1-0 in a replay to the reigning First Division champions Leeds United which rather prophetically took place at Selhurst Park. The Dons went on to win the Southern League championship that season and after repeating the achievement in 1976 and 1977 were elected to The Football League in place of Workington.
In their second season Wimbledon won promotion to the Third Division (now League One) at the same time as Lincoln City were being relegated from it. But with the Dons suffering immediate relegation the first meeting between the two clubs at Plough Lane took place in Division Four on September 20th 1980. The only goal of the game from Gordon Hobson in front of a crowd of 2,380 was enough to put City into second place where they were to finish the season. Mid-table at the time of the match, Wimbledon under the management of Dave Bassett were to rise to fourth by the end of the season meaning the two clubs met again in Division Three the following season. At the end of February 1982 only 2,094 were present to see Glenn Cockerill’s second half equaliser against a bottom-of-the-table Wimbledon secure a point in a drab game for a mid-table City side embarking on a rise up the table.