Tuesday 1 April ~
A few years ago the reports in yesterday's papers that a team from Milton Keynes had won a trophy at Wembley would have seemed like extremely implausible April Fool jokes a day early. But it was all too true. MK Dons, the higher-placed of Buckinghamshire's two Football League clubs, took the Johnstone's Paint Trophy with a 2-0 win over Grimsby Town. Most football supporters have second favourite teams whose results they look out for. MK Dons, in contrast, are the club that most fans like to see lose – a consequence, as we all know, of their having stolen Wimbledon's Football League place in 2003. There were widespread celebrations when they lost in the semi-finals of the 2006-07 League Two play-offs after having been in the promotion places for much of the season. Sadly, they seem unlikely to mess up this year, being currently nine points clear of fourth-placed Darlington with a game in hand.
A dangerous precedent was set when an FA tribunal allowed a League club to relocate 70 miles away in the teeth of opposition from almost all their supporters. There will surely come a time when another owner of a club beset by financial problems attempts to follow suit, having first talked up the prospects of “an exciting new market” in a town currently without a League club. The Dons' owners recently handed over the silverware won by Wimbledon to their real successors, AFC Wimbledon of the Ryman Premier.
Yet the notion that MK Dons are a bona fide club has taken root in some quarters. They are credited with Wimbledon's League history on several statistics websites, such as Soccerbase, while the Radio Five commentary on their Johnstone's Paint win suggested that this was the Dons' first trip to Wembley since their 1988 FA Cup final victory over Liverpool – something that their owners would doubtless welcome as a further sign of “normalisation”.
It's become something of a tradition for WSC to receive letters of complaint when we omit MK Dons from our annual pre-season preview. We may get more than ever this year given that 30,000 Milton Keynes residents turned up at Wembley, nearly four times the team's average attendance. Then again, it's reasonable to assume that most of these extra fans are really followers of Premier League clubs. Most supporters, at every level of football, will hope that the MK casuals won't ever get an opportunity to see their favourites in a Premier League clash at the absurdly-named stadium:mk. But there is reasonable cause for hoping that they will find the going a lot tougher one level further up, especially given that manager Paul Ince will receive several job offers from real football clubs in the summer.