MK Dons are facing an uphill struggle to be accepted, writes Tom Davies
Attempts by supporters of the Milton Keynes Dons franchise to integrate themselves into the wider football fan movement have received their first knockback, with the rejection by the Football Supporters’ Federation of a membership application from the club’s supporters’ association. The FSF’s annual conference in May voted to refuse the MK Dons supporters’ application until the football authorities had tightened their rules on clubs moving grounds and disposing of stadiums (something the League have since acted upon) and until MK Dons stopped claiming the history and honours of Wimbledon FC as their own.
The initial motion was brought by the FSF’s national council, who argued that affiliation from supporters of the club widely regarded as having stolen the identity of Wimbledon “would send out completely the wrong message about football franchising before we have won the battle to ensure that this can never happen again”.
The Wimbledon Independent Supporters’ Association – fans of AFC Wimbledon, that is – successfully proposed the amendment calling for the “return” of the honours to south-west London.
The Milton Keynes Dons Supporters’ Association feel they should be shared, arguing that “both sets of supporters [MK Dons and AFC Wimbledon] have equal rights” to them. Their chairman, John Brockwell, said: “We are trying to get an exact definition of what they feel are the honours of the club and what they refer to as the ‘community of Wimbledon’. Is it the community that supported Wimbledon Football Club or the area of London, which is a completely different thing?”
WISA see it in more straightforward terms. “The history and honours of Wimbledon were won before the transfer of the League place in May 2002,” said spokeswoman Gail Moss. “Wimbledon has a very strong identity and we think most people would understand what the community of Wimbledon means.”
The issue is more than symbolic. While two clubs claim the same history, the issue of who legitimately speaks for it becomes crucial and was at the root of the decision of Supporters Direct, the government-aided body that oversees the establishment of fans’ trusts in Britain, to refuse MKDSA’s request for help in establishing a trust. Supporters Direct’s rules stipulate that they can only provide help and financial support to one trust per club. As SD had already assisted fans of Wimbledon in establishing the Dons Trust in 2002, they could not provide similar backing to MK Dons fans while they were linked, in the eyes of the Football Association, to the same club.
The alternative – admitting that their club were no longer linked to the old Wimbledon – would of course mean supporters of the franchise admitting that their club had been parachuted into the Football League without ever winning promotion.
WISA regard MK Dons fans as being complicit in the theft of their club from Wimbledon. “They have shown complete disloyalty to the former Wimbledon fans and indeed to fans of any club which is in danger of being taken from its community,” said Moss. “So why should they be accepted into a fans’ organisation? As it is, MK Dons fans can still join the FSF as individuals, so are not banned altogether.”
MKDSA stress their opposition in general to the extension of franchising elsewhere and their desire to be represented as a fans’ group like any other, promoting the virtues of supporting a local club and the settling of the club in a community, where they insist support is growing.
“Us joining would have created a powerful voice at both ends of the spectrum,” said Brockwell. “Our move was allowed because of the way the rules were at the time. It’s a very, very unique case. Wimbledon had been playing out of their area for 11 years.”
MKDSA also point out that, since the FSF conference vote, the Football League have introduced a new rule stipulating that ground moves must be “appropriate, having in mind the relationship (if any) between the locality with which by its name or otherwise the applicant club is traditionally associated”.
WISA are not entirely convinced. Moss said: “The recent changes are welcome, but they still wouldn’t necessarily prevent franchising. For instance, a rule which stops a club moving more than ten miles away from its conurbation was in force when Wimbledon FC got permission to move to Milton Keynes, but the move still went ahead.”
While the FSF’s own motion admitted that there may come a time when a line will have to be drawn under the whole affair, opinions run so high – and the principle of opposition to franchising is so fundamental – that such a time is likely to be a way off yet.
From WSC 222 August 2005. What was happening this month