No one likes us, we don’t care!

Nine years ago, in the dark of the night, a big bunch of burly businessmen barged their way in to SW19 and ripped the footballing heart and soul out of the local community.  Without a care in the world, Wimbledon FC was whisked 56 miles up the M1 and in to a town that was 78 years younger than the club it was to inherit.  That town was Milton Keynes.

Many would have you believe this was a callous act of sheer greed and desperation.  For one of few towns in England without any form of footballing identity, it was certainly an appealing proposition.  One that was too good to miss out on.  Wimbledon FC was on its knees.

In June 2002, Gjelsten and Roekke, co-owners of Wimbledon FC, estimated personal losses of £40milion against the club.  Speculation of bankruptcy was rife, and fans continued to boycott matches in protest.  A month earlier, an FA Independent Commission had rubber stamped a potential move to Milton Keynes.  WISA members responded by opting to stay away from their team for the forthcoming season as wel, wherever they may be playing.  The water had broken, and AFC was about to be born.

Being strapped for cash was nothing new though.  They had already been homeless for 11 years, making the move across from the Borough of Merton to the Borough of Croydon in 1991.  Here they were to borrow Selhurst Park, following the condemnation of Plough Lane a year prior by the Taylor Report.  Without the money to implement new mandatory safety measures for their fans, players, and staff, the ground was sold to Safeway in 1998 – leaving Wimbledon with nowhere to call home.

So with no home and a fan base who had largely turned their back during the club’s desperate time of need, Wimbledon as it was known was teetering.  Administration loomed and a year later, the inevitable happened.  At this stage, most are probably picturing Pete Winkelman and a masked gang of men storming Dons:HQ, stuffing the remnants of what was left in to a briefcase, and making haste – ensuring they grab the ’88 FA Cup on the way out.

Well, if the MK Dons chairman is to be believed, it wasn’t as merciless as many pundits, fans, and social media outlets would have you think.  In an interview given recently to the BBC, Mr Winkelman lifted the lid.  “To most people in football the way they imagine it happened is so different to the way that it actually did.  It wasn’t the big Norwegian billionaire owners who moved the club to Milton Keynes. It was an administrator who said ‘I’m going liquidate the club tomorrow unless you come up with the money to keep it going. The only way I could come up with the money to keep it going was to move it to Milton Keynes.”

Here’s where it really gets interesting.  “For the first seven weeks of that administration we did nothing. I will never understand why AFC Wimbledon did not buy their club. That’s the bit that always confuses me.”

He’s right.  Why did AFC and its legion of fans ignore the opportunity to buy up their club, for what surely would’ve been nothing but a token gesture?  Could it be that the hassle, the cost, the worth of what was once theirs was no longer of their concern? A place in the Football League was assured, and finally the chance was there to gain control of their destiny.

A response of sorts will no doubt emanate from Kingston over the coming days, where AFC have resided since their inception – having lodged on, and subsequently taken sole lease of, Kingsmeadow.  Kingsmeadow had been the home of Kingstonian FC since they built it themselves in 1989.  Fans of the K’s saw their ground handed over to AFC in 2003, and despite Kingstonian still plying their trade there, a rebranding of the stadium name has followed and this is now very much AFC’sstadium for the foreseeable future.  Just how long will it be before Wimbledon ever really has a club back in its community?

Football fans everywhere can sympathise with the suffering fans of Wimbledon, watching on as the club they loved so dearly suffered an agonising demise. It is every fans worst nightmare. However, as the dwindling numbers through the turnstiles (from an average of 18,500 per home game in 1999, to 3,000 in 2003) accompanied the many failings on – and off – the pitch, the end was very much nigh.

Nine years on and MK Dons are an established League One outfit – averaging 9,000 a week since 2008 – having inherited all that of which AFC kindly refused, and turned it around. They have planted a local footballing seed and embraced a community desperate to move away from the armchair on a Saturday afternoon.

AFC Wimbledon’s success, especially on the pitch, has been meteoric.  Multiple promotions and record-breaking streaks (78 games unbeaten, spanning 22 months in 03-04) have brought honour to an area so heavily deprived of the joys of football for a long time.  Some may even suggest it couldn’t have worked out much better.  Others, may disagree.

Neither season will be defined by the result of this weekend.  For both sides, the focus is set firmly on league status – at both ends of their respective tables.  MK Dons have been on a terrific run of form throughout November, and with 43 league places between the teams, will be clear favourites on the day.  Promotion and survival are very much the order of the day.

For both Dons, growth and stability are key, core elements – as is a passionate desire and determination to claim a footballing identity they can call their own. Perhaps, come Monday morning, the contamination suits can be put away, and a sense of perspective can prevail.

Unless it goes to a replay, of course.

Written by Paul Speller, We Are Going Up’s MK Dons Blogger

Paul tweets at @paul_speller

5 Comments

  • Jon says:

    This is probably the most stupid article I’ve ever read on the internet. Congratulations.

  • Frank says:

    Are you perhaps bitter because this is one of the only articles that can be found online that isn’t Pro-AFC, Jon?

    Can you answer the “7 week” conundrum?

  • John D says:

    A few things to pick you up on. I would appreciate a thoughtful response. The fanbase did not ‘turn their back on the club during it’s desperate time of need’, the club had turned its back on the fans. In 2002 and the period leading up to that the owners had actively pursued franshising the club to MK and in may 2002 the move was sanctioned. This was something which Peter Winkleman and the MK consortium had been pursuing for at least 4 years and had actively engaged the clubs owners on. They were made up in part by ASDA who needed a football league club in MK to allow for a property development to go through and had sold the idea to QPR, Luton and Barnet among others. The idea that Mr Winkleman just happened to stumble upon Wimbledon FC and tried to save them out of the goodness of his heart is an absurd historic revision.
    The Franchising of Wimbledon FC had been planned before the club went near administration and had been agreed to by the then owners who wanted out. The FA commision in May 2002 had quite clearly stated that Wimbledon would be moved next season to Milton Keynes, Wimbledon fans ‘abandoned’ their club at this point and formed AFC Wimbledon so they could actually watch some football next season.
    They could not buy the club during the short period of aministration for 3 rather simple reasons, firstly they did not have the money, secondly the club was moving to Milton Keynes (as dictated by both the FA commision and the administrator) and they were already embroiled in trying to save Kingsmeadow stadium (and thus Kingstonian) from an asset stripper who had taken legal ownership of the stadium and was putting both AFC Wimbledon’s and Kingstonian FC’s future in doubt.
    AFC Wimbledon’s fans did not refuse the league place MKs fans have had bought for them, it was bought and sold from them by lawyers, property developers and Nordic businessmen. What happened had been attempted before in the mid 90s with Dublin and the late 80s with the Palace merger with owners thinking that the fans weren’t numerous enough for their ambitions (once again it was never the fans not having enough commitment, it was the owners never having a commitment towards the fans).
    AFC Wimbledon are actively pursuing a move back to Plough Lane and the current owners of the Greyhound stadium are in favour of Wimbledon coming home to play there, the club is closer to returning to Wimbledon than it has been for 20 years. It is also worth mentioning the £30 million profit Sam Hamman made from selling Wimbledon FC and Plough Lane to Safeways.
    You also talk about how well things have worked out for Wimbledon fans, actively implying that fans should be greatful for the franchising of their club. All of AFC Wimbledon’s achievments have come from a position of pain and loss and hard work which, as proud as the fans are, would have been completely unnecessary had it not been for a Milton Keynes Property Deal.
    MK fans seem to continue to buy the story that the club went into administration and was moved to MK because Wimbledon fans ‘abandoned’ their club in 2003. Part of the reason for Wimbledon FC’s administration was certainly the boycott AFC Wimbledon fans and supporters associations around the country had put in place, but this was due purely to the events that led up to and included May 2002. Fans were told their club would no longer be playing in South West London next season, the franchising of Wimbledon FC went from nightmare to reality, the club abandoned the fans. Peter Winkleman did not suddenly turn up in 2003, he and the MK consortium along with the Nordic owners had been planning it for atleast 2 years.
    I write all this because there is an obvious opportunity for Wimbledon and MK fans to move on with their lives and get over all this. Like you state we all have very real priorities in the league and a lot to be proud of in our short histories. This is made impossible though by the continued revision of history by MK fans and Peter Winkleman. It creates a petty and delusive atmosphere around your club and is one of the main reasons why many football fans around the county still don’t like you and will refuse to visit your ground. Being liked (as AFC Wimbledon fans have found out) isn’t a bad feeling, Milton Keynes fans should try giving it a go. You may actually like it.

  • BathWomble says:

    Responses to Winkelman’s lies, sure, try these:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2003/jun/06/newsstory.sport3

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/teams/w/wimbledon/2968272.stm

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/2405494/Wimbledon-go-into-administration.html

    Or is he just unbelievably forgetful that he doesn’t remember the administrators ONLY looking for a buyer in MK?

    You need to stop swallowing the lies and then repeating them.

  • BathWomble says:

    And one more thing… when claiming not to care about something, it’s always a good idea not to write a blog post that clearly demonstrates that you do care. Just a little tip there for you for the future. By all means continue to use Millwall’s infamous chant, but just remember it’s one more thing your club has taken from another team and in your case it obviously isn’t true.

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