Clarets Mad catch up again with Simon from Wimbledon

Last updated : 26 September 2003 By Tony Scholes

We chatted a year ago at which time you were still coming to terms with the news that the club you had supported virtually all your life had been granted permission to up sticks and move to Milton Keynes.

At the same time you, and most of the other Wimbledon supporters, were turning attention to the new club AFC Wimbledon who had been quickly formed and were playing in the Combined Counties League.

Since then it has obviously been a year of frustration with the move but one of enjoyment and achievement with the new club and we’ll start with the frustration.

Was there at any time during the last year any hope of reversing the decision to allow the move, what if anything was done to try and force a reversal?

WISA’s lawyers were sent a copy of the FA Commission report the minute that it was released and were asked to scrutinise it for ground of appeal. Unfortunately their conclusion was that whilst there were considerable inaccuracies in the report the FA Commission’s ruling was legally binding to all parties concerned. Supporters were never considered an interested party although WISA did make representation at the hearing.

We then appealed to the Independent Football Commission to investigate the decision, and whilst they concluded that the move was wrong and that Wimbledon supporters had been treated atrociously, their conclusion was also one that it couldn’t be stopped.

Supporters always wondered what they would do if the move failed and Wimbledon F.C. was available, some believed the club was dead and to solely concentrate on AFC Wimbledon, most firmly believed that the club could not be rescued as the finances were so poor but we had to fight franchising and reclaim our history and heritage.

Both the FA and the FL pass the buck. I for one will never forgive the FA Commission report stating that Wimbledon fans will travel to MK and that "Wimbledon Town is not in the interest of football". We deserve a full apology at the very least.

Last season saw you concentrate mostly on trying to keep the attendances down at Selhurst Park for matches. It looked successful but what was your reaction to the news that eight of their Division One games attracted less than 2,000 spectators, and one against Rotherham significantly below 1,000?

The boycott is fantastic, and all indications are that it will hold. We always knew that Wimbledon supporters wouldn’t go but the away fans boycott has been truly remarkable. The greatest thing of the boycott is that football supporters just understand how wrong franchising is and are willing to miss their team play, all in the interest of football. I was actually at the Rotherham game, well I was outside counting the numbers. The Chairman of the London Rotherham Supporters Club was outside with us, and refused to enter the ground, such was the hatred of football franchising. The football authorities have been sent a clear message, football franchising is wrong and hopefully the ridiculously low attendances will be a strong warning to any franchise wannabe chairman. The main thing is to keep the pressure up and to make sure that attendances remain low, other club supporters are always welcome to watch AFC Wimbledon instead. I hope that in years to come and when the fixture lists are published supporters will look for the first game of the season, the last game of the season, the Boxing Day fixture and the day that they will boycott Franchise.

Do you have anything to say to those supporters of all those First Division clubs who did make the sacrifice and stay away and also those supporters’ groups at clubs such as Spurs who were successful in getting pre-season friendlies called off?

A massive thank you, it really is appreciated. Whether you came to watch AFC Wimbledon or stayed at home we are eternally grateful and long may you stay away from any game involving Franchise in Milton Keynes. The Spurs, Charlton, Luton games indicated that we had got it right to call for a boycott. Before WISA could react games were being called off with supporters of those clubs blocking phone lines and email accounts complaining about the fixtures. I spoke to the press officer of Charlton the day they announced their fixture and he stated that in slightly over 2 hours they had over 2,000 complaints!. That in many ways was a turning point, for the first time football supporters were being reactive and proactive without WISA calling for it. Of course we would have called for it and made contact with the relevant supporter bodies but they were far too quick off the mark and that was fantastic.

Franchise went into administration during the summer and remain there. Was it significant that the administrators were called in almost immediately after The Football League voted not to penalise clubs in administration?

Franchise FC had been insolvent for well over a year, we kept banging on about it and were even threatened with legal acton if we continued, I don’t think we took much notice and our beliefs have been proven. Koppel always said that administration wouldn’t be an option, the club would just go into liquidation, so it is disappointing to see them still there some 4 months after they went into administration. Last Christmas Koppel held an EGM to increase the share capital, some of us managed to get proxies and gleefully told him that company law had been breached as he had only given 14 days notice of the EGM when I believe it should be 28. The Norwegians pulled out and Koppel didn’t really have much option but to put the club into administration, it probably was clever timing and a way of reducing debt and stitching up creditors. The administrators however have certainly had a shock with the financial problems at the club and the original air of optimism soon vanished. All the best players left and fingers crossed that the hot bed of football that is Milton Keynes will be watching 2nd Division football next season.

What was your reaction to the news that they were in administration?

I laughed considerably and got all excited about the club hopefully going into liquidation, and not going to Milton Keynes, with the history and heritage being awarded to AFC Wimbledon. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case with the MK based administrators and Winkleman’s stadium consortium hell bent on getting to MK. The club is still in administration so lets just hope that liquidation is around the corner soon, apparently they need an attendance of 8,000 to break even, another strong reason to boycott!

What has happened to Charles Koppel, is the Chairman still involved? He does seem to have gone very quiet.

Apparently the administrators asked him to vacate his office. He set up a consortium to get hold of Franchise FC and he was hoping to share with Watford. He eventually pulled out, when it became clear that Winkleman’s rival consortium was preferred with the administrators. There have been rumours that he is involved somewhere down the line, I honestly don’t know. I genuinely hope that he doesn’t get any further financial reward for the murder of Wimbledon FC and never becomes involved in football again.

This weekend is the final realisation that they have introduced franchising into English football. What will be your thoughts at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday when the game kicks off?

That’s a very difficult question to answer, the honest answer is I won’t know until 3:00. I am still not sure where I will be, either at MK (outside of course) or at Bedfont watching AFC Wimbledon. It will be emotional especially when reading the paper, and watching the television clips of the day. I just hope they get hammered and nobody turns up. The whole thing is a farce and I hope the media reports are ones of anti franchising.

Finally on this subject, what are your hopes now for Franchise FC?

Liquidation with the Football Authorities awarding the history, name and heritage to AFC Wimbledon. It is too late to get that club back and I am not even that bothered about the League place. Hopefully Franchise will be such a failure that the risk of football franchising would have vanished forever. The FA, FL certainly need to tighten up their rules to ensure it can never happen again.

I also genuinely hope that football keeps up the onslaught on Franchise FC, and get fully behind the FSF/WISA Say NO to Football Franchising Campaign.

You of course have another club to support now in AFC Wimbledon but how difficult (or easy) has that been after supporting another club for years, even though that club was taken away from you?

AFC Wimbledon is Wimbledon FC. Another club might call itself Wimbledon FC but it doesn’t represent Wimbledon supporters or the Borough of Merton. It was actually fairly easy to get right behind AFC Wimbledon, it was the only option for Wimbledon supporters to once again enjoy football. The atmosphere at Kingsmeadow is similar to that at Plough Lane, the fact that everyone turned their back on Franchise meant that the transition went smoothly. We didn’t have to contend with a messy civil war where supporters were split 50/50. We are a fans owned club, most of the matchday staff are Wimbledon supporters and volunteers. People are enjoying their football again, the kids love the matchday academy and there certainly has always been a buzz around the place.

I have always argued that AFC Wimbledon should never have had to happen, but we were given no option and OUR club was taken away from us. AFC Wimbledon was perhaps the final nail in Franchise’s coffin never before has there been such an exodus of supporters. What I love about AFC Wimbledon is that we are virtually everyone second team.

What is it like being an AFC supporter? Obviously the standard of football is not as high but do you get the same enjoyment from it, is the atmosphere good? And what sort of reaction have you had from the supporters of the other clubs in the league?

It is fantastic, everyone is interested in our story. The atmosphere is excellent, although I do miss banter with opposition fans. All the other clubs in the league want to beat us and see playing us as their Cup Final. We are effectively the Manchester United of the Combined Counties League. What is nice is that our away attendances have helped

Do you get many supporters from other Premiership and Football League clubs attending your games and what sort of welcome do they get? There could well be some Burnley supporters at your away game this week will they be welcomed?

We have had loads of different supporters come down and watch. They always get mentioned on the PA system and receive a round of applause and more than a round of drinks!

Of course the Burnley supporters will be welcome, I just hope it’s a good match and they enjoy the game. They will probably be bought a few drinks, have their hands shaken a lot, but I am sure they will be able to cope with that!

All supporters are welcome at AFC Wimbledon, one of the reasons why the ground is now called The Fans Stadium Kingsmeadow, it is for all supporters to use and benefit from.

Things do seem to be going rather well on the field this season and I’m sure you are all looking forward to a promotion next May. Where would that take you and what are the realistic ambitions for AFC Wimbledon?

Well it is complicated with the potential Non league restructuring so I don’t really know. I think it will take us into what was/or may still be the Ryman First Division and that is 2 divisions from the Conference. will tell you more, it does seem fairly complicated.

Realistic Ambitions for AFC Wimbledon: Winning the Champions League, Premiership and FA Cup in one season, kids from Manchester wearing AFC Wimbledon shirts and being asked do you come from Wimbledon!

Serious answer: Well lets get out the CCL first, if we keep or hopefully expand our crowds we will be in a good financial position. A slow progression up the Leagues and hopefully back in the Football League within 10 years. Having lost a football club I just want to enjoy the ride and still pray for a return to Merton.

Finally, if you could close your eyes and make one wish, what would that be?

Mmmm and how do you answer that?

You are meant to say to end world poverty, wars, famine etc so will answer it with my only football wise: Wimbledon FC, recently acquired by the fans, with an identical structure to AFC Wimbledon implemented. Burnley are visitors tomorrow and are the first club to run out onto the brand spanking new 25,000 seater Plough Lane.

Thanks for all your support, it is so appreciated! and I hope I haven’t bored you all to death.