23 May ~ During Wimbledon’s protracted relocation to Milton Keynes, the club’s then chairman, Charles Koppel, remarked in exasperation that many Wimbledon fans would rather see the team playing in the Fourth Division at Plough Lane than in the Premier League elsewhere. It was about the only thing he ever got right regarding the club or its fans. By the evening of the May 21, 2011, the fans’ ambition had taken another small yet significant step towards being realised as AFC Wimbledon overcame a dogged Luton Town side 4-3 on penalties to claim a place in next season’s Football League.
The emotion of the occasion proved too much for many, not least the Wimbledon goalkeeper whose two excellent saves in the shoot-out were a major factor in deciding the result. That Seb Brown is a Wimbledon fan, from a family of Wimbledon fans, is a neat narrative touch in the ongoing story of this club that was formed, and is still run, by the fans of the old Wimbledon FC.
Many journalists and supporters of other clubs have speculated over whether or not the gaining of a place in the Football League will bring about “closure” for Wimbledon fans still understandably resentful over the manner in which the original club met its demise. But to the majority of Wimbledon fans, though obviously delighted at the prospect of playing in League Two next season, to suggest this is to miss the point.
While AFC Wimbledon made no secret of their desire to return to the League at the earliest opportunity, the relocation to Milton Keynes and the enduring enmity felt towards those who benefited from it has always been, and remains, another matter entirely. That one community should enjoy League football at the expense of another, not having earned it through endeavour on the pitch but through machinations off it, persists in being an affront to many.
That the supposed guardians of the game, in the form of the spineless Football League and the infamous three-man FA commission, were complicit in this wrongdoing merely adds insult to injury. What was wrong in 2002 remains wrong in 2011 and those who suggest that moral indignation should have an expiry date are, at best, naive.
Moreover, by waiving the rules regarding teams representing the conurbation from which they take their name – not to mention allowing a town to bypass the established football pyramid system – dangerous precedents have been set. Those who set any store by the football authorities’ assurances that such a scenario would never be allowed to occur again need only look to see how they have enforced their stipulations that the relocated club maintain their links to the old Wimbledon community to see what such words are worth. To lay to rest the ghost of Wimbledon FC is to risk this same injustice happening to another club and its supporters.
In saying this, the play-off final was a remarkably Franchise-free affair. Luton, with whom they’ve tried – and largely failed – to foster a local rivalry, frankly have more important things to worry about at the moment. And Wimbledon fans, for one day at least, remained almost exclusively focused on the fortunes of their own team. It could be said that the club’s continued success is the best argument anyone could make against franchising in football anyway. Shane Simpson