A day in Wimbledon with the London Clarets

At the London Clarets' AGM last July, London Clarets' members voted overwhelmingly in support of a boycott of our final game of the season, against the club once known as Wimbledon FC. Members of the Clarets Independent Supporters' Club (CISA) had already done so at their AGM. We chose to do this as a way of making a protest about what has been done to Wimbledon, and as a way of showing our solidarity with Wimbledon supporters. In voting the way they did at our AGM, our members gave this supporters’ club a clear mandate to call for a boycott on the 4th of May. Nothing having changed in the meantime, that call for a boycott still stands.

Instead, this supporter's club is organising an afternoon of fun in - where else? - Wimbledon. If you, too, want to stay away from the game, you'd be very welcome to join us! Details are at the bottom of this article.

Everyone must, of course, be free to decide for themselves whether to attend the game. There can be no comebacks or recriminations, whatever decision people take. We only ask that people give staying away from the game some serious thought and follow their consciences. Those who do not attend will be no less supporters of Burnley than those who do. We realise that for our members, most of whom live across the counties of the South East and in London, deliberately missing a Southern game will not be an easy decision to take. The cornerstone of the existence of our club is to help Burnley supporters living in the South get to games and support Burnley. Supporting a boycott was, therefore, an extraordinary step for our members to take. That should tell you something about how seriously we take this. Let me tell you why we're doing it.

Why it matters

While being dedicated to Burnley, as a club we have always tried to build bridges with other supporters. We try to remember that little distinguishes us from supporters of other teams than where we were born or who our parents supported. We try to keep in mind that supporters share the same kinds of problems. What has happened to Wimbledon supporters should not have happened to supporters of any team. It must never happen again.

Over the course of the season, the plight of Wimbledon has fallen off the back pages, and perhaps slipped peoples’ minds. I suppose it was inevitable. The franchised club that now occupies Wimbledon’s former place in the League has shown disappointing resilience. But the problems of Wimbledon haven’t gone away. Just because the franchise holder still plays at Selhurst while the real Wimbledon fans have successfully gone about establishing their own club in the nursery of non-league doesn’t mean that everything's okay and there’s nothing to worry about. This looks like the old Wimbledon's last game at Selhurst Park before they fully become the new, franchised club of Milton Keynes. It seems that the unimaginable is actually going to happen.

There is still an important principle at stake here. You can’t just ‘move’ a football club to a completely different town. You can’t just take a club away from it supporters, without the consent of those supporters. Imagine if Burnley were ‘moved’ to Stoke. It makes about as much sense as Wimbledon ‘moving’ to Milton Keynes. If the 'move' is successful, a precedent will have been set. Any unscrupulous business man could seize on a struggling club, uproot it from its community and plonk it down in a distant town. Any town looking for a lucrative stadium (plus, of course, attached shops and leisure development) could buy a ready-made league place. This is what franchising means, and if Milton Keynes succeeds, the concept will have been introduced to English football. Franchising, an idea which is alien to the tradition and structure of our game, will be here to stay. There is a danger that it will quickly become a commonplace.

Do not be fooled by propaganda. Remember always that what is at stake for the owners of the franchised former Wimbledon club is a property deal. They paid over the odds for their club, managed it badly, got relegated, and now re-locating it to Milton Keynes is the only way they can get their money back. They must not get away with it.

They must fail. If they succeed, it will happen again, and again. Every time a struggling club meets a circling shark, there will be danger. I want to support a club rooted in its community, and I want to see us playing games against other clubs which have a tradition, roots and a soul. Who could face a league season filled with encounters against new town teams with no identity playing in plastic grounds long distances from their home communities?

What we’re going to do

As supporters, there are simple ways in which we can demonstrate our abhorrence of franchising. We can withhold our money from the proponents of franchising, and demonstrate our contempt by leaving as many empty seats as possible. We can publicly show our support for the Wimbledon supporters who have seen their club hijacked. So don't give the franchisers your money. Don't become a statistic as they desperately try to massage the attendance into four figures. Show your contempt by staying away. The franchisers are banking on football supporters carrying on 'business as usual 'and turning up come what may. Surprise them.

Please think seriously before deciding whether or not to go to the game. Please bear in mind that your attendance, if you do decide to go, will be taken as tacit approval for what has been done to Wimbledon. If you don’t approve, make the sacrifice, and give the game a miss.

Of course, it would be boring just to stay at home! The London Clarets are therefore organising an alternative afternoon out for anyone who decides to boycott the game. We are organising it in co-operation with others who share our concerns, including the Clarets Independent Supporters Association (CISA), the Clarets Mad website, When the Ball Moves fanzine and of course the excellent Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association (WISA).

We'll be spending the afternoon on Wimbledon Common at the Hand in Hand pub. Come along and join us from one o'clock for a pleasant drink in the company of real Wimbledon fans. Wear your Burnley shirt with pride. If the weather's nice, we'll have a picnic and a kickabout on Wimbledon Common, so bring appropriate footwear just in case. If the weather's not so good, we'll just stay in the pub!

The Hand in Hand is at Crooked Billet, and it isn't a terribly easy pub to find, so Wimbledon supporters have kindly arranged to meet us at Wimbledon station from 12.45 to 1.00 and show us the way. Get yourself down there and make yourself obvious.

Alternatively, click HERE for a map showing the location of the Hand in Hand.

If you want to know anymore, please e-mail me. If you need to find us on the day, please phone me on 07974 927820.

Please also help spread the word to other Clarets. Try to convince them of the reasons to stay away from the game, and invite them along on the day.

I, for one, will be proud to be a Claret in Wimbledon on the 4th of May. I hope you'll join me.

Firmo