MK Dons vs. AFC Wimbledon: How relocation split sports clubs fandom

Success and failure in sports come hand-in-hand with one club fails while the other earn success; yet, the last thing every sports fan desire to see is losing your beloved club from one of three constants:

  1. Demotion/relegation: This was particularly true when discussing the world of soccer (sans North American soccer pyramid and A-League) towards the end of each season, fans’ hope for those particular teams to survive in their league have been dashed when three teams (if not four) that remain at the bottom of the league table, and they would be playing in the lower league for the next season if the club finance is able to sustain; or risking one of two options below that brings extra heartaches people might bear;
  2. Liquidation of beloved clubs: For sports fans around the world, losing a club due to financial mismanagement or other financially related issues is even worse than being demoted to lower leagues, as we would not be able to watch our beloved club competing for domestic and international trophies in the near future, if not at all;
  3. If liquidation isn’t bad enough, try the North American sports culture’s worst kept secret in the form relocation to another city due to financial and stadium issues. 

611px-San_Jose_Earthquakes_2014.svgIn California alone, Los Angeles Rams, Oakland Raiders, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Sacramento Kings, and even my beloved San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics, they were all originated from another city.  Across the country, the Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Texas Rangers, Oklahoma City Thunders, Calgary Flames, Milwaukee Brewers, Atlanta Braves, Winnipeg Jets, Houston Dynamo, Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles, and, surprisingly, even the New York Yankees have also done exactly that.  While the concept of relocation is not new as it has always been part of human existence, in particular with the relocation to another neighborhood within the same city was less of an issue unless it’s to the new neighborhood, relocating to another city proper or the outskirts, particularly in European countries, is considered as foreign for a starter, blasphemy at worst.  Stadium relocation, in itself, is controversial enough when a section of the neighborhood begin voicing its opposition to the proposal due to concerns about incoming traffic and other social and economic effects associated with the construction, but the combination of that while also moving the team to another city, in my experience, can cause such uproars from communities that, specifically with National Football League (American Football) and Major League Soccer, forced the leagues to put the “franchise” into hiatus while sorting out options in alleviating the suffering of the relocation.  Major League Soccer, for instance, gave a 2-year hiatus with San Jose Earthquakes when the original team moved to Houston and became Houston Dynamos, after which the league awarded the “expansion franchise” to San Jose and continues the club history as if it has never left the city.  National Football League, to their credit after much criticism in handling the previous controversies, “awarded” the expansion spot for Cleveland Browns under the condition of Baltimore Ravens not allowed to claim the history of their former existence in Cleveland, to which MLS followed suit. 

964px-Oakland_Raiders_logo.svgSame cannot be said with the Raiders and other NFL franchises, and that of the National Hockey League (ice hockey) and Major League Baseball.  It’s one thing when the nation began their sporting expansions to other sprawling communities from the 1950s, in which San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers were the initial benefactors, it’s another with those who moved their franchises for potential profits elsewhere, which was notoriously true for the Atlanta NHL franchises that the city is now without a franchise since the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, who had lost their original Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix in 1996 citing “financial difficulties”, and became the rechristened franchise.  The soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Rams are the de-facto poster child for the latter notion as they had moved to Los Angeles from Oakland for better ticket sales, only to return to Oakland after LA failed to provide a suitable land for the team’s new stadium, however, after more than a dozen years of similar issues, owner Mark Davis – son of the infamous late owner Al Davis, whom infamously won a lawsuit against the NFL for disallowing the team to move to Los Angeles back in 1982 – decided to move the team to Las Vegas, where the city has never had a major sporting franchise due to fears of match-fixing concerns as its close proximity to the casinos within the city limit, until the controversal awarding of the Golden Knights.  I was among tens of thousands of baseball fan who almost witnessed the departure of the Giants in, of all places, Tampa back in 1992 by Bob Laurie, who had once saved the very team from another contentious bid by Toronto, where later received their own team (Blue Jays) via expansion for “compensation”, had it not been MLB intervened in the matter. In fact, no sports fans would really want their beloved teams moved away at all, especially not done like the Indianapolis Colts, which left Baltimore in the middle of the night without warning back in 1983.

Wimbledon_fcNow, before we explore the headlined topic, we must address the historical context surrounding the controversy regarding the state of English football prior to the 1990s.  Plough Lane, the home of Wimbledon Football Club since 1912 in a disused swampland, had become rather dilapidated by the end of the 1980s and was home of the 1988 FA Cup winner.  However, the event at Hillsborough Stadium one year later led to recommendations of all-seater via Lord Justice Taylor report, which meant the club was required to redevelop their beloved stadium to meet the new standard.  Citing such redevelopment cost would be expensive and difficult concerning work to modernize the ground, the board opted for “temporary” ground-sharing with another club, specifically with nearby Selhurst Park (home of Crystal Palace Football Club).  The ground, however, was initially sold to supermarket giant Safeway but was forced to abandon plans after opposition from the local community, and was eventually torn down in 2002.  The club, meanwhile, as one of the founding member of the newly-established Premier League, struggled at times during their tenure in the top flight despite being close to making their debuts in European competitions but managed to stay afloat.  However, their luck ran out on the 12th anniversary of their greatest moment in club’s history and was relegated for the first time in 14 years.  After failing to reach the promotional playoffs in the following back-to-back seasons, rather than staying at Selhurst for another year, the club decided to move away from Merton after failed negotiations with other cities away from London; however, the eventuality caused an irreparable schism with the WFC fans and the club, so much so, the majority who revolted formed a “phoenix club” known as AFC Wimbledon in direct opposition; in other words, the Wombies fans revolted against the decision, so much so, the decision to move to Milton Keynes led to a massive boycott, and eventually led to administration in 2003 before Pete Winkelman bought the club and formalized the move, but not without facing initial denial from the Football Association. Since then, any teams owners who tried to discuss moving away from the very communities they have been for decades most definitely received the most scrutiny from everyone else, especially when they attempted to include the teams previous identities and/or history, which led to series of boycotts by Football Supporters Federation (and/or perhaps even those from supporters from other clubs), which will be explained further below. (Editor’s notes: my description of this event is a truncated version of the entire process as it would take me extra long time to elaborate, time that I don’t really have these days looking further into the matter, thus I may have some information that wasn’t exactly in the chronological order when written. Please don’t deliver any vitriolic comments direct at me if you find any omissions, and you have been forewarned.)

MK_DonsBy the time the name change occurred by 2003-04 season, AFC Wimbledon has already marching their ways back to where the original club had left off while leasing (later purchased a few years later) the Kingsmeadow from another local club; meanwhile, the Milton Keynes would suffer yet another relegation to League Two, the fourth division in English football, before they mounted their comeback initially in League Two after moving into their own stadium called Stadium mk after a 4-year stay at the National Hockey Stadium; meanwhile their counterpart took on their old club’s identities in return.  For a period of 2 to 4 years, Football Supporters Association held talks with MK Dons Supporters Association and the WISA while steadfast in its refusal to admit the MK Dons supporters, discouraging friendly matches against MK Dons, and urging football fans generally to boycott MK Dons home games.  The hostility would eventually finally reached its end with the involved parties by FSF ending its boycott against the club and admitted MK supporters into FSF, with MK renounced any claim to Wimbledon F.C.’s history up to 2004 and transfer the Wimbledon F.C. trophy replicas, copyrights, web domain names and other patrimonies back to Merton Borough by 2007; still,  the Wimbledon Guardian newspaper launched a campaign called “Drop the Dons”, with the aim of persuading MK Dons’ owners to remove “Dons” from their club’s name in January 2012, which the WISA joined the campaign almost immediately, saying that it believed the use of “Dons” by MK Dons was counter-productive for all parties, and amongst those who publicly supported it including several former Wimbledon F.C. and AFC Wimbledon figures, both Merton Members of Parliament and all 60 of the borough’s councillors.  For obvious reasons, MK fans weren’t too pleased into this matter, to the point that one MK season-ticket holder made a counterproposal of “AFC Wimbledon should drop Wimbledon from their name as they don’t play in Wimbledon.”  MK chairman Pete Winkelman, whom led a consortium in purchasing the club from adminstration caused by massive boycotts in 2003, expressed some regret about what had happened in an interview conducted in December 2012.

 Winkelman,_Pete“I’m not proud of the way this club came to exist, and I am totally prepared to be the villain of the piece, but I can’t put the genie back in the bottle, … Do I think it was right? No. Do I think it was a great thing that happened to Wimbledon? No … I don’t feel in the right over the way this club was born. But I don’t think I could live with myself if I hadn’t gone out and bought the club when it was hours away from liquidation. It was about to be completely finito … What happened was my fault, and I have to take responsibility for it. But I don’t see why my players, staff and our young supporter base should be forced to carry the can and live with the nastiness, it’s nothing to do with them.”

AFC_Wimbledon.svgAs for their rivalry matches are concerned, however, there hasn’t really been too many matches in both league plays and cup tournaments.  However, MK have dominated 4 of 7 over matches (2 of 4 League One games) while Wimbledon took the remaining 2 (1 Fooball League Trophy match in which AFCW won at home 3-2, and the only shutout victory won by the Wombies 2-0) with 1 draw came on January 13, 2018 when they had a goalless draw at MK.  The only reason why only 4 league matchups occurred at this point in time was quite obvious: MK has never spent a season in what is now known as the National League (5th tier in English Football), and has hovered mostly between League One and League Two (with the latest season they will be spending in for the 2018-19 season following their loss at home to Scunthorpe United , thus confirmed their relegation on April 28, 2018; meanwhile, the Wombies spent their first decade in their existence gaining their status from the Combined Counties League to National League, capping it off by winning the promotional playoff in 2011 and earned their status in the Football League at League Two; after which they struggled to retain their spot for 5 seasons until their playff wins in 2016, thus promoted to League One and played against their namestake counterpart until the above mentioned relegation.

With the above-mentioned relegation sets in stone for MK next season (2018-19), would there by any chance of resuming this much controversial rivalry in the near future? Only time can tell if either or both clubs would survive in the upcoming seasons ahead, or perhaps they might yet get drawn together in upcoming cup competitions.  We shall find out soon enough.  That’s all for now, if you wish to find out more information about this controversial topic, please click here for all the developments up to this point.  

Until the next article …. very soon.

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