August 28, 2015 by Made In Brum
Re-posted with permission
Blues’ fixture on Saturday wouldn’t have been possible when I first started watching football in the late nineties/early noughties. Not because our opponents have only recently been propelled through the divisions by an influx of money a la Fleetwood or Bournemouth, but because when I first started watching football the Milton Keynes Dons simply didn’t exist.
To treat the MK Dons as anything other than a footballing leper is considered almost blasphemous by many football fans. They are Franchise FC, the football club that stole another football club. They are the embodiment of everything apparently wrong with the game today, and to see them in the Championship and actually starting the season very well will be making a fair few football fans feel very queasy right about now.
But I don’t have a problem with the Dons, never have done. For starters I don’t think they stole a football club; it made a massive stink at the time, but for me the ‘old’ Wimbledon moving 60 miles up the road was the best outcome in what was a very bleak situation. I don’t think the MK Dons stole Wimbledon, because to be honest I don’t think there was anything left to steal. Wimbledon had no ground, no money and very few fans. Add to that mounting debts and costs, unscrupulous owners and a totally ineffective local council who were unable or unwilling to find the club space for a ground of their own and it was clear where Wimbledon were going. They were going to the wall.
So what would have happened if Wimbledon had simply gone bust in the early 2000s? Well a lot of people would have lost their jobs and the club would probably have been restarted in the manner that AFC Wimbledon was started, the difference being that they would have started their own club later and the MK Dons simply wouldn’t have started up at all. Even if the Wimbledon fans who formed AFC had taken over the shell of the old Wimbledon, the aforementioned problems the old club had may have been insurmountable or at least the very least would have hindered them greatly. Either way, it is unlikely that the old Wimbledon would have been any higher up the footballing pyramid had the fans who run the club now attempted to resuscitate it.
What do we have now then? Well Buckinghamshire has a club that is thriving, playing in a fantastic stadium with a team playing good football that is going from strength to strength. Kids in Milton Keynes, rather than having to hot-foot it to Watford, Luton or London to watch professional football now have a club on their doorstep to call their own. They are probably the club with the most untapped potential in the country; a massive catchment area, a very young fan base and the Dons do a heck a lot of work in the community to capitalise on both, work that is now really starting to come to fruition. Nights like last season’s when they horse-whipped Man United 4-0 at home in front of 27,000 people will one day become something like the norm; in ten years or so I predict that the MK Dons will be where Stoke or Swansea are now, a fully fledged Premier League club.
Credit for their progress should be doled out to a whole host of people, but Pete Winkleman deserves credit more than anyone else. He had the vision to bring league football to Milton Keynes, the guts to actually do it and then the steely mindedness to keep going in the early years after the MK Dons came to be when they were struggling like mad playing in the lower reaches of the Football League in a hockey stadium, when the world and his footballing wife seemed to want this project to fall flat on its face. Hard work and sheer belligerence has got him and the club through those very tough early days, and now the rewards of that are as plain as day.
There will be Blues fans who will really want us to beat the Dons simply because of how they came about just like any other club that plays against them, but I think what has happened has been the best possible outcome of what was an awful situation. No-one wants to see a club die, but the old Wimbledon was dying and even if someone had stepped in and saved it the club would almost certainly have hurtled down the divisions to where AFC Wimbledon are now anyway. Instead, rather than none or one there are now two football clubs who are thriving; isn’t that a good thing?