October 08, 2014

Horse 1769 - Corporate Franchise 2 - Proper Heart and Soul 3

MK Dons 2 - AFC Wimbledon 3
Powell 2' (1-0)
Azeez 26′ (1-1)
Afobe 40′ (2-1)
Rigg 68′ (2-2)
Akinfenwa 80′ (2-3)

I have written blog posts in the past about various national football teams, club sides like Liverpoolm Blackpool and Sydney FC but never have I written a post about a side which I don't necessarily follow, until now.
The Football League Trophy isn't particularly the most glamorous trophy in football (though Blackpool have won it twice) and is only usually open to the lower two tiers in the football league.
Given all of this, why even comment about a round of 32 match in a second rate trophy? Because this fixture in particular strikes to the very heart of what it means to be a football fan.

Wimbledon FC began in 1889 and had bounced around amateur and semi-professional non-League football until it was elected to the football league in 1977. Just nine years later, they found themselves in the top tier of English football.

In 1988, with a side that included the likes of John Fashanu, Dennis Wise and hard man Vinnie Jones, Wimbledon found themselves in the unlikely position of playing in an FA Cup Final against the then greatest club in English history, Liverpool. Only just the week before, Liverpool had closed out the 1987/88 league title, nine points clear over Manchester United and were looking on track to claim "The Double".
Wembley Stadium was stunned into silence before half-time when on the end of a Dennis Wise free kick, Lawrie Sanchez's header passed by Bruce Grobbelaar and even though Liverpool were awarded a penalty. Wimbledon's keeper Dave Beasant became the first goalkeeper to save a penalty in an FC Cup Final.
The media had dubbed Wimbledon the "Crazy Gang" and you'd think that this sort of thing should have gone into legend, but no.

Wimbledon FC sort of went into a decline for several seasons and in 1991 after the implications of the Taylor Report meant that their previous ground at Plough Lane, no longer meant safety requirements, they entered into a ground sharing arrangement with Crystal Palace FC and started to play matches at Selhurst Park.
A series of owners found that upgrading Plough Lane was infeasible and so in 2002 a group led by led by Peter Winkelman, gained permission to move the club 56 miles away to the town of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.

Naturally this caused a dispute between the owners of the club who thought that they could simply up sticks and shift a football club and the supporters of said club, who decided to withdraw their support and set up their own phoenix club, which was owned and backed by the supporters. AFC Wimbledon claimed the moral right to succession of the old Wimbledon FC; this exacerbated when Winkelman changed the club's name, badge and colours of the shifted club to MK Dons.
In consequence, the supporters of AFC Wimbledon deride MK Dons as "Franchise FC" and even the Wimbledon Guardian newspaper has run a campaign since 2012 for MK Dons to "drop the Dons" from their name.

AFC Wimbledon themselves have had a stellar rise through non-league football, with an unprecedented 78 game unbeaten streak at one stage and then in May 2011, became the youngest ever club to be admitted into the football league when in a play-off; after a scoreless draw, Seb Brown heroically saved two penalties to achieve what the old Wimbledon FC had done 34 years earlier.

All of this begs the question of can you simply buy a club and move it? Who should a football club actually belong to anyway? Should it be subject to the commercial whims of business people? Remember, the chairman or a board might be there for only a few seasons, whilst as the old Wimbledon FC proves, a club might exist longer than peoples entire life.
This is why I find the story of AFC Wimbledon so fascinating. Here we have a club which is owned by its fans, which rose up out of the ashes of a terrible and horrible series of corporate decisions and which this morning has gone one step to answer that question of who should own a club.

I find it fitting that the player dubbed "the world's strongest footballer" Adebayo Akinfenwa, smuggled one away to finally stitch up a win against Franchise FC, with less than ten minutes of regular time because I think that this is an apt metaphor. Is heart and soul stronger than the scream of so many dollarpounds?
Tonight, that answer is "yes". You can't buy history.

Sky Sports provides some nice video: http://www1.skysports.com/watch/video/sports/football/9508469/afc-make-footballing-history

1 comment:

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