KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Ananth S. Nathan, a pioneer of the Esports community in Southeast Asia, has made a major investment in English football club AFC Wimbledon.

The investment in April this year has made Ananth the second-largest individual shareholder of AFC Wimbledon and among a handful of Asian owners of a European football club.

Ananth, who is also president of Malaysian Esports Federation, wants to add value with Wimbledon Esports division and take a slice of the global gaming market that was valued at US$173 billion in 2021 and expected to reach US$314 billion by 2027.

Through the investment, he assumed a new role as international president for AFC Wimbledon, affectionately known as the Dons and formerly Wimbledon FC before being resurrected in early 2000s.

Ananth’s ambition is to combine his unique Asian perspective and connections, and extensive Esports experience to build on the Dons’ remarkable legacy and passionate fanbase.

He shared that he found his own journey echoed the story of struggle and triumph of AFC Wimbledon, forming an instant bond with the passion and perseverance with the football club.

A very unique aspect of Ananth’s investment is that he has never seen the AFC Wimbledon team play live.

In 2002, the Dons was controversially severed from its community by the decision of a Football Association commission. The club was relocated 70 miles from its home, and repositioned under a new name and ownership.

A devastating moment for fans, this resulted in a fan-led campaign that relaunched the club as AFC Wimbledon in the same year, thus maintaining the team’s legacy.

That same passion was also shown during a multi-million-pound fund-raising campaign to rebuild its Plough Lane home stadium, with the club playing its first match there in November 2020.

Ananth said he had become a committed supporter of AFC Wimbledon’s journey, one which he hoped to extend through a shared community in Asia and beyond.

“In 2010, I went through a tough stint in my personal and professional life. With the support of family and close friends, I persevered. Like a phoenix, my life rose from the ashes and I embarked on an upwards trajectory,” he said.

Ananth believes AFC Wimbledon’s story will resonate in Malaysia and Asia.

“The strong community spirit on the revival of the club was an important catalyst of this investment. It never crossed my mind as an investment, I did it because I love football and the romantic history of the club.

“When I went through the museum here at Plough Lane, I had goosebumps. That’s the effect I want to create in Malaysia. So, when the opportunity came, I had to put my name in,” he added.

Despite its rocky history, AFC Wimbledon is no stranger to success.

The club currently holds the record for the longest unbeaten run of league matches in English senior football, with 78 consecutive undefeated league games, as well as being proud winners of the FA Cup in 1988 having beaten Liverpool 1-0 at Wembley.

In the long-term, there are plans to have the Dons play against national teams of Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and other nations of the region, as well as develop a Wimbledon Academy in Asia to help build player depth and experience across the club and national team.

Ananth also plans to build a local clubhouse where people can watch the game live together.

Beyond the traditional roots of a shared gameday experience, he also has a vision to potentially establish the famous Plough Lane stadium as a leading home of Esports, building on the huge growth of this innovative industry.


Main Feature in News Straits Times Business Section