Friday 8 May ~
Do MK Dons deserve respect? Some people think so and their numbers appear to be growing. John Still, the manager of Dagenham & Redbridge, was interviewed by Sky prior to last Saturday's final round of matches in League Two. If his side went up through the play-offs, Still said, they could potentially face five trips to big clubs next season. He then ticked off the names – the three sides relegated from the Championship, plus Leeds and MK Dons. In the event, Still was to be denied his wish as Dagenham lost their vital final game to Shrewsbury. It could be that being the manager of Dagenham & Redbridge, an entity assembled from the parts of four clubs, may give you an odd perspective on what constitutes a proper football team. But Still's outlook is far from unusual, as we may get to see over the next couple of weeks.
Scunthorpe will acquire temporary fans around the country tonight when they take on MK Dons in the first leg of their League One play-off, just as Shrewsbury did when they played the team widely known as "Franchise" at the same stage, but one level further down, two years ago. Shrewsbury's manager at the time, Gary Peters, had played for Wimbledon in the 1980s and spoke out against the club's relocation to Milton Keynes in the build-up to the match. This was a rare case of a football insider expressing their opposition to the Dons' existence. When Peters' team went on to win the tie, some optimists may have wondered if it would be the beginning of a slide into obscurity for Milton Keynes – surely the local interest in the club, whipped up by an expensive PR campaign, wouldn't be sustained over a long spell at the fourth level? Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to find out as Paul Ince's side easily won promotion last year.
It may still be the case that the club will go into decline if they get stuck at the third level but right now they are only three games away from the Championship. At least one influential football writer would love to see them step up and he invokes the dreaded "political correctness" in explaining why their critics are wrong. Patrick Barclay of the Times is a former resident of Milton Keynes, which is now apparently "a proper football town", their club contrasted with Wimbledon who "could never pull a crowd". It will be interesting to see how Sky's commentary team describe the club during their play-off coverage but I'm prepared to bet that we will hear a lot more about this notion that MK Dons are now a club in their own right who are gaining acceptance within football. This is a virus that urgently needs to be contained. Come on Scunthorpe, or Millwall, or Leeds.