Jon Palich writes a regular column in Burnley’s Match Day Programme which takes a look at the history of the opposition. As usual Jon penned his article for the postponed home match on Saturday, an article that due to the postponement many of you have not seen.
We are now, thanks to the kind permission of both Jon and Burnley Football Club, able to reproduce his article.
If you ask a route planner to take you from the London Borough of Merton to Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire it would present you with 79.93 miles worth of directions, for a journey likely to take you 1 hour and 21 minutes.
I’ll put that into some sort of perspective for you. The same route planner would plot a similar length journey spanning 75 miles from Burnley to Stoke-on-Trent.
The relevance of this information is that, on May 28th 2002, an FA Arbitration panel granted permission for the group of businessmen then running Wimbledon Football Club to relocate it to Milton Keynes – almost 80 miles away from its history, its home and its community.
Club Chairman Charles Koppel won a year-long fight to permanently uproot a Club that was formed way back in 1889 by the Old Boys of Central School. Back in 1991 the Club left its Merton home to ground-share with Crystal Palace 6 miles away and was, sadly, never to return. Throughout the decade spent at Selhurst Park, fans had campaigned relentlessly for a return to their spiritual home at Plough Lane.
They argued that such a move was not only financially viable, but was critical to preserving the spirit which had seen their Club become established in the top flight of English football. It lost its Premiership status in 2000 and after having to bear the loss of substantial TV monies, Koppel argued that a London-based Wimbledon FC could no longer be sustained, and later campaigned that the move to Milton Keynes was imperative if the Club was to remain in existence.
I have no desire to court controversy, but I do believe that you should always true to your football principles. I passionately believe that there is no place for franchising in football, and I believe that for a Club to be taken away from its supporters, against their will, is morally and fundamentally wrong.
Since that day in May 2002, devastated Dons fans have mourned what they saw as being the death of their Club. In a proud show of defiance, they have continued to live the dream of having a football club for the local community and tireless work from the Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association and the Dons Trust saw AFC Wimbledon formed soon after the FA approved the relocation to Milton Keynes. Last season the new Club took its place in the Combined Counties League, and look set to win promotion this time round having taken the division by storm.
Football is a funny old game, and during the lifetime of any football club Chairmen, managers and players will all come and go. But the lifeblood of any club is the fans who remain loyal to it throughout – supporters who have no regard for the business side of the game but who experience the highs and lows of their clubs fortunes with a heartfelt passion.
A club is nothing without its fans, and if you take a club away from its fans and its community then, in my opinion, it stands to reason that you cannot lay claim to its history.
And so the story of Wimbledon FC from 1889 to 2002 – charting the transformation of a club from non-leaguers to FA Cup Winners – will remain largely untouched by this article. Whilst the Club can point to the history books and its place therein, surely the heritage of Wimbledon FC should remain with the supporters whose passion and commitment to the cause played a fundamental part in writing a glorious and unrivalled football fairy tale.
Today’s visitors played the first game of professional football in Milton Keynes on Saturday September 27th 2003. Burnley, of course, were the visitors that day and the game finished 2-2 with Robbie Blake scoring the games first goal to write his own little piece of football history.
The present Division One table does not make happy reading for Wimbledon FC. Before the move to Milton Keynes, the Club had only amassed three points. At the time of writing, they have added only 15 more in the games since, and relegation to Division Two now looks an inevitable fate.
Supporters of AFC Wimbledon still dispute any affiliation between the Wimbledon FC we face today and the original club they believe was extinguished in May 2002. They themselves have laid claim to the 113 years of heritage and history that were taken away from them. If promotion from the Combined Counties League is confirmed, as expected, this season, the two clubs could be separated by as few as four league divisions at the start of the next campaign.
If I had allowed myself to write any more about the history of the original Wimbledon FC you would realise that, once a club gets the bit between its teeth, four league divisions is not very much at all.
So it seems there may yet be a happy ending to the football fairy tale set in Merton SW19.