MK Dons FanZoner Dominic Damesick questions if Wimbledon could have continued without moving.
Only realistic option to keep Wimbledon afloat
On Sunday, for the first time, Milton Keynes Dons and AFC Wimbledon will lock horns on a football pitch. For the neutral football fan, the ones who actually care about the game at all, the tie is a gripping soap opera of history, anger, betrayal and lies. Yet, for the actual supporters of the respective clubs the impending tie has provoked a whole range of emotions - a mixture of excitement and apathy from the MK fanbase; a concoction of bitterness and disappointment from the AFC Wimbledon fans.
On both sides there seems a desire to achieve some sort of revenge: MK Dons fans have endured intolerable abuse from their footballing 'cousins', while AFC Wimbledon supporters remain incensed that the football team many of them used to support ended up in Milton Keynes.
Wimbledon FC was not, during its latter days, a well supported club - indeed, even during its best years it had very low crowds for a Premier League side. In the 2000-01 season, before the Milton Keynes move became a concrete proposal, Wimbledon's average attendance was just under 8,000 - the fourth lowest in Division One (now known as the Championship). Wimbledon, due to playing at Selhurst Park, had to pay rent to Crystal Palace, and lost out on significant portions of their matchday income.
Such difficulties had only been accentuated by the club's relegation from the Premier League in 1999. In 2002 independent auditors Deloitte reported that the club was losing upwards of three million pounds annually by not playing in its own stadium; contributing to net annual losses of eight million pounds. The conclusion: Wimbledon FC needed to find a home of its own to survive.
As most football fans will know, the 'home' that was eventually chosen was some sixty miles north, in Milton Keynes.
I remember, quite vividly, the sickening feeling when the move was ratified by an independent three-man panel (appointed by the Football League). Yet, despite feeling so devastated by the move to Milton Keynes, I continued to support the club that moved there, and paid money to the man who had moved it. Why?
Firstly, a viable alternative to the Milton Keynes move, bar allowing the football club to go out of business, was never forthcoming - or, at least, in the unlikely event one exists, it has never been brought to my attention. All the evidence -the credible sources, rather than the conspiracy theories - unequivocally state that Wimbledon could not continue to survive at Selhurst Park: except in the unlikely instance that a wealthy benefactor was willing to finance huge deficits indefinitely.
The importance of the club having a ground of its own was paramount, and the nearest viable option - both in terms of being able to be financed, and of having the support of the relevant local bodies - emerged as Milton Keynes. Many have disputed this, but ten years on from the events themselves, I have yet to be shown a legitimate site in South West London that Wimbledon could have developed into a football stadium fit for an ambitious Football League club: a return to Plough Lane or developing the Greyhound Stadium never seemed anything more than pipe dreams.
Indeed, the fact that, a decade down the line, AFC Wimbledon continue to struggle to find a suitable permanent home in which to play league football - their current ground being very much 'non-league' - suggests to me that the matter was far harder to resolve than WISA (the Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association) and their affiliates were ever willing to admit to.
Secondly, it is worth bearing in mind that an independent three-man committee sanctioned a move from Wimbledon to Milton Keynes. Many fans vehemently disagreed with this decision, and accusations of lies in the testimonies provided by key figures have long been bandied about, but ultimately two out of three on the independent panel decided that a move to Milton Keynes was a legitimate proposal for a club in the unique situation that Wimbledon FC found itself in.
Their conclusions were based on the evidence they were provided with, which came from both those in favour of and against the move, and from independent bodies, undermining the notion that this was a verdict reached entirely on the foundations of misinformation.
Thus, rather than just dismissing the decision outright, on account of not agreeing with the verdict reached, fans with a vested interest in the issue would be well served to actually read the report the commission published, and consider if such a decision, while disappointing, can perhaps be comprehended.
I can certainly understand why the commission came to the conclusions they did - why they felt that a move to Milton Keynes was a regrettable, but necessary step for Wimbledon FC - and this allows me to reconcile myself with the existence of Milton Keynes Dons.
In an ideal world the move would never have happened, and I would, alongside many others, still have my original football team to support: as well as having a far shorter journey to games every week! Yet, Wimbledon had a terminal condition, and it seemed that the only cure was relocation.
This involved taking on a new home and a new identity, but it allowed the club to continue to exist in some form. Wimbledon FC no longer exists: the Crazy Gang, the team which won the 1988 FA Cup, has passed on. In its place have emerged two clubs, and after a bitter ten year rivalry, the talking can finally take a back seat to the football - at least for ninety minutes.