Whilst I may be the Dons contributor to the We Are Going Up set up, I feel I should let you know that I am not in fact a true fan of the Dons. I actually support Crystal Palace and my history with the Dons is very short (far more brief than the club itself). I’ve been living in Milton Keynes and following the Dons since the tail end of last season. Before I moved here I was told numerous things about the town and the club, the majority of which wasn’t good. The town centre was a featureless mess of American-style town planning and the team was a travesty to English football. What follows is a brief history of the newest professional club in the Football Leagues and my experiences with them so far.
Formerly Wimbledon FC, the team decided to relocate to Milton Keynes in 2001 following the earlier announcement by the MK Stadium Consortium led by current Dons chairman Pete Winkelman that a new football league standard stadium would be built in the relatively new town. Three years later the move was complete, much to the chagrin of much of the footballing world. The new team the Milton Keynes (MK) Dons, moved into the National Hockey Stadium on the outskirts of the city centre in 2003 following a brief stint at Selhurst Park and stayed there until their new 22,000 seat Stadium:MK was finally finished in 2007.
The ‘Dons’ currently have a somewhat mixed reputation amongst the locals and a much-derided one amongst the rest of football, however these are both starting to improve. Their ‘Franchise’ tag, applied to them because of their relocation to a new city whilst still keeping a part of their old name as American sports teams tend to do, is still used in a derogatory manner by many fans of other clubs. One of the main reasons for the dislike of the team amongst English football was because they wanted to maintain the history of Wimbledon FC as their own. The rise up the leagues in the 80’s which led to their famous FA Cup win in the ’88 final would now be considered MK Dons achievements rather than Wimbledon achievements. After a few years however, the decision was made to return the trophies back to the teams former home of Wimbledon and they are now on display in Morden Library, Merton, South London. This willingness to disestablish themselves from the past and make their own history has gone some way to healing the wounds of the move and fixing the teams standing amongst football fans.
The local football fans of Milton Keynes tend to see the club as a second team. The clubs brief history in the area has led to the team being a team that they can watch live with the kids at an affordable price whilst keeping tabs on the scores of their main team whilst at matches. It is apparently not uncommon for the latest Premier League scores to spread like wildfire amongst the crowd at Stadium:MK.
Six years after the move however, the team is now starting to establish a large local fan base. The young children of these ‘casual’ MK Dons fans are starting to pick the Dons as their first team over the likes of the Chelsea’s, Manchester United’s and Arsenal’s their Dads might support. It is not an uncommon sight in the town centre to see kids decked out in the latest Dons shirts whilst their Dads walk around in their Premier League team tops. This new generation of Dons fans are just what the team is going to need if it is going to survive in the local community and lose its tag as the franchise of English football.
After a tumultuous first few seasons of relegation, stadium issues and getting over the stigma of being a disgrace to English football, the Dons have started to establish themselves as a serious contender in League One and as something to be proud of in the local community.
In 2001 it was announced that Milton Keynes would finally get its own professional football team. Now, ten years later, has the team that moved in finally found itself a town willing to follow them?
Written by Rich Smith, We Are Going Up’s MK Dons Blogger