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Sunday 01 May 2011
What's happening at Eastlands

Whether or not the Dons reach the play-off final, the planning has to go ahead. Last week representatives of the club travelled to the City of Manchester Stadium, where they and representatives of the other three semi-finalists were briefed about arrangements for the final. Before the action begins, and without counting any chickens, we thought that Dons fans would be interested to hear what they were told.

There is so little time between the completion of the play-off semi-finals and the day of the final itself that preparations had to begin before the top five places were settled. A few weeks ago, each club that still had a chance of making the play-offs – and therefore a chance of appearing in the final – was invited to a briefing session at the City of Manchester Stadium (also known as Eastlands).

By the date of the meeting, last Wednesday, the seven or eight possibles had been whittled down to four definites. Chief Executive Erik Samuelson and Club Secretary David Charles represented AFC Wimbledon at the meeting, at which all four clubs were briefed about arrangements for the play-off final and then given a conducted tour of the stadium.

Shortly before the meeting started, Football Conference representatives completed final discussions with stadium staff and Manchester police about which areas of the ground would be allocated to which clubs, and how segregation would work. It was decided that the winner of the Wrexham v Luton Town semi-final will be allocated seats stretching from the directors’ box above the half-way line to the south end of the stadium, and the winners of the Fleetwood Town v AFC Wimbledon tie will get seats from the half-way line to the north end. The east stand will be occupied according to the number of tickets sold to fans of the two finalists, allowing the stadium management and police some flexibility in managing the actual attendance on the day.

Use of the dressing rooms follows the way the seated areas have been allocated: Fleetwood or the Dons will get the away dressing room.

The clubs were told that each finalist is invited to visit the stadium the day before the final, with an option to train on the pitch for an hour. The winners of the Fleetwood Town v AFC Wimbledon semi-final will have a training session from 10.30 to 11.30 am, and will give a press conference at 11.45 am. The other finalists will begin with a press conference at 12.30 pm and follow that with their training session, from 1.30 to 2.30 pm.

A whole range of other issues, including policing, stadium safety policies and parking, were explained at the meeting. One area of particular interest to all those present was ticketing. Because there is only a short time between the end of the semi-finals and the final, it is likely that tickets will go on sale to each finalist the day after their semi-final is decided. If that does happen, then tickets will go on sale to the winners of Wrexham v Luton before they go on sale to the winners of Wimbledon v Fleetwood.

Tickets will be sold by an agency. A number of options have been discussed, including the possibility of a “singing area” behind each goal. This is not to discourage other fans from singing at the game, but to identify an area where the most vociferous fans might want to congregate. Ticket prices and detailed arrangements for ticket purchases, including hospitality facilities, will be announced by the Conference in due course.

One thing that was decided at the meeting was which team would change their strip if Fleetwood Town meet Wrexham in the final, since both teams have a predominantly red kit. The clubs tossed a coin to decide which team would have to change – but we will leave it to them to announce the result when they think it appropriate.

There is a long way to go, of course, but Erik and David came away from the meeting convinced that the final will be a great event, and even more hopeful than before that the large and beautifully tended pitch will see the Dons appear on it on 21 May.