AFC Wimbledon vs MK Dons: Fans vs The Machine

November 15, 2012 in FA and Carling Cup

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In my childhood-spanning journey around all the grounds, the time I saw the now defunct Wimbledon of old stands out more than most. Their temporary home ground was the national hockey stadium; this was after their move to Milton Keynes, but before their name change. Finances were in disrepair, as they were for many lower league clubs in the early 00′s - about one in every two games I would see, fans would be stood outside with buckets, collecting coppers to keep their club afloat. But with Wimbledon, the writing seemed fairly indisputably on the wall. They were going to go out of business, it was only a question of when. I reckon there were under a thousand ‘home’ fans there to watch their side bow to a meagre defeat to a poor Coventry side. The whole game was just disillusionment, the fans not understanding why they were where they were and how they got there. At the end of that season, the club’s name was officially changed, cutting any ties to the club its fans may have had left lingering. And the club they had watched for all these years had ceased to exist,  and its history, its trophies and its place in the Football League would be taken by some Frankenstein’s monster called MK Dons (not even Milton Keynes Dons, because that would be less marketable) destined to walk around in their corpse forever.

Much has been made about the influence of money in the game. Mostly from fans of Premier League clubs, whining about the fact that they don’t get to lift trophies any more because the big bad oligarchs came and ruined football. You’ll hear this a lot. These people don’t really care about financial equality in the game. They care about their teams being the best again, because if they genuinely cared about the issue, what you’d hear about instead is that since the advent of the Premier League and the ever expanding bubble of money that came with it, the top clubs cut the rest of the Football League off at the neck, vastly cutting off the percentage of the previously shared TV income that went to their lower leagues. It led to an abject decade of economic depression in the 2000′s after clubs had overspent to keep up in the 1990′s, and for those who didn’t have a grip on the Premier league lifeboat, all sponsorships and outside income eroded. For some context, here’s a list of the Football League clubs that went into administration - the last gasp option of a team staring down insolvency -  between 2000 and 2010.

Hull City, Queens Park Rangers, Halifax Town, Bradford City, Notts County, Barnsley, Leicester City, Port Vale, York City, Derby County, Ipswich Town, Wimbledon, Darlington, Bradford City again, Wrexham, Cambridge United, Rotherham United, Boston United, Leeds United, Luton Town, Bournemouth, Rotherham United again, Darlington again, Southampton, Stockport County, Crystal Palace, and lastly and most notoriously, Portsmouth. This, of course, ignores every club with severe financial problems that managed to avoid administration by their skin of their teeth.

But sure, this was all their fault, right? They should take some personal responsibility for their actions. Well, with a couple of exceptions, such as the teams already in the Premier League who abandoned secure positions to chase immediate glory, they are as much culpable as the guy who steals to stop himself from starving. Their platform of security was disappearing beneath them into the banks of the Premier League clubs, and panic ensued. They shouldn’t have done it, but you can’t be shocked that crimes are going on when you create an environment of poverty. In Wimbledon’s case, a disastrous reign of over-spending and poor performance under Egil Olsen left them relegated, lacking in quality and with lots of bills to pay. They couldn’t stop the rot, and were by all accounts doomed. But that doesn’t give ‘Franchise FC’, as the AFC Wimbledon fans call the MK Dons, the right to leech onto their standing as a platform to build an entirely separate club. Wimbledon should have had to start again at the bottom, but no-one should have been allowed to take their place. If Milton Keynes capitalists believed there could be a footballing franchise in Milton Keynes, fine. Then start a club and build it from the bottom like everyone else had to, don’t disregard another club’s history and fan base to line your own pockets sooner.

I guess MK Dons didn’t hurt anyone else, all they did was cannibalize their own legacy, a victimless crime to their non-following. But to me, this whole fiasco is the biggest outrage in the modern game. Say what you want about Chelsea, Man City, QPR etc, but the bottom line is none of their fans are being given the short shrift in their various attempts at empire building. Ask any Chelsea fan if they think the club would have been better without Abramovich, they say no. Because it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement, Abramovich gets something to help get him laid easier and Chelsea fans get to watch their club achieve amazing things. Everyone’s happy. City went so far as to have their first Premier League trophy in 44 years presented by Mike Summerbee and Tony Book. There’s a concern for the fans that ultimately says that even if everyone else thinks what they’re doing is bullshit, which perhaps it is, at least it’s bringing joy to those who make the club what it is, the fans.

The fans never entered into the machinations of MK Dons, they were simply not a concern. Chairman Pete Winkleman took a close to sociopathic attitude towards it, often criticizing Wimbledon fans for not making the three-hour drive to the middle of suburban nowhere to support a club that wasn’t even theirs any more. He’s more philosophical about it these days, saying that they takeover was ‘regrettable’, and he had no choice, it was either this or go bankrupt, ignoring the fact that either way, Wimbledon wouldn’t exist anymore. But Wimbledon rebuilt. They started a club from scratch, owned by the fans, that soared up their leagues under former manager Terry Brown. They finally reached the Football League last season, going up multiple divisions, while MK Dons, with all their business acumen and franchise potential, have only managed one promotion. A meeting seemed inevitable, and so it has come to pass, with MK Dons drawn at home against AFC Wimbledon on the weekend of December 1st, in the second round of the FA Cup.

MK Dons manager Karl Robinson and chairman Winkleman have been enthusiastic about the tie, but there’s a sense of righteous discontent among the AFC Wimbledon, organizing a boycott that will see many fans not turn up to the game, for not wanting to put any money into the pockets of Franchise FC, with many not wanting the tie to play at all, because it would give legitimacy to a club that shouldn’t exist. Of course, AFC are struggling right now and odds have to be heavily in the favour of MK, they’re probably just going to be too good. But while not many people seem to bring up or care about the obscenity of their inception these days - far too concerned are they with the horrible financial inequality of the Premier League, with some clubs being able to sign Falcao and others not, to care about the true financial villains of British football - some do. And yet, it’s not their new fans fault, or their new players fault, or their manager’s fault. But nothing any club has done in this country is more disrespectful to the game than MK Dons’ absorption of Wimbledon; it goes fundamentally against the lifeblood of what makes it matter, the notion of a club being part of something, a family. And at least for this one game, the nation will remember and be rooting against them with all its might.

My prediction? 5-0 to MK Dons. Because the house always wins.