David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘MK Dons’

No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care!

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Nine years ago, in the dark of the night, a big bunch of burly businessmen barged their way in to SW19 and ripped the footballing heart and soul out of the local community.  Without a care in the world, Wimbledon FC was whisked 56 miles up the M1 and in to a town that was 78 years younger than the club it was to inherit.  That town was Milton Keynes.

Many would have you believe this was a callous act of sheer greed and desperation.  For one of few towns in England without any form of footballing identity, it was certainly an appealing proposition.  One that was too good to miss out on.  Wimbledon FC was on its knees.

In June 2002, Gjelsten and Roekke, co-owners of Wimbledon FC, estimated personal losses of £40milion against the club.  Speculation of bankruptcy was rife, and fans continued to boycott matches in protest.  A month earlier, an FA Independent Commission had rubber stamped a potential move to Milton Keynes.  WISA members responded by opting to stay away from their team for the forthcoming season as wel, wherever they may be playing.  The water had broken, and AFC was about to be born.

Being strapped for cash was nothing new though.  They had already been homeless for 11 years, making the move across from the Borough of Merton to the Borough of Croydon in 1991.  Here they were to borrow Selhurst Park, following the condemnation of Plough Lane a year prior by the Taylor Report.  Without the money to implement new mandatory safety measures for their fans, players, and staff, the ground was sold to Safeway in 1998 – leaving Wimbledon with nowhere to call home.

So with no home and a fan base who had largely turned their back during the club’s desperate time of need, Wimbledon as it was known was teetering.  Administration loomed and a year later, the inevitable happened.  At this stage, most are probably picturing Pete Winkelman and a masked gang of men storming Dons:HQ, stuffing the remnants of what was left in to a briefcase, and making haste – ensuring they grab the ’88 FA Cup on the way out.

Well, if the MK Dons chairman is to be believed, it wasn’t as merciless as many pundits, fans, and social media outlets would have you think.  In an interview given recently to the BBC, Mr Winkelman lifted the lid.  “To most people in football the way they imagine it happened is so different to the way that it actually did.  It wasn’t the big Norwegian billionaire owners who moved the club to Milton Keynes. It was an administrator who said ‘I’m going liquidate the club tomorrow unless you come up with the money to keep it going. The only way I could come up with the money to keep it going was to move it to Milton Keynes.”

Here’s where it really gets interesting.  “For the first seven weeks of that administration we did nothing. I will never understand why AFC Wimbledon did not buy their club. That’s the bit that always confuses me.”

He’s right.  Why did AFC and its legion of fans ignore the opportunity to buy up their club, for what surely would’ve been nothing but a token gesture?  Could it be that the hassle, the cost, the worth of what was once theirs was no longer of their concern? A place in the Football League was assured, and finally the chance was there to gain control of their destiny.

A response of sorts will no doubt emanate from Kingston over the coming days, where AFC have resided since their inception – having lodged on, and subsequently taken sole lease of, Kingsmeadow.  Kingsmeadow had been the home of Kingstonian FC since they built it themselves in 1989.  Fans of the K’s saw their ground handed over to AFC in 2003, and despite Kingstonian still plying their trade there, a rebranding of the stadium name has followed and this is now very much AFC’s stadium for the foreseeable future.  Just how long will it be before Wimbledon ever really has a club back in its community?

Football fans everywhere can sympathise with the suffering fans of Wimbledon, watching on as the club they loved so dearly suffered an agonising demise. It is every fans worst nightmare. However, as the dwindling numbers through the turnstiles (from an average of 18,500 per home game in 1999, to 3,000 in 2003) accompanied the many failings on – and off – the pitch, the end was very much nigh.

Nine years on and MK Dons are an established League One outfit – averaging 9,000 a week since 2008 – having inherited all that of which AFC kindly refused, and turned it around. They have planted a local footballing seed and embraced a community desperate to move away from the armchair on a Saturday afternoon.

AFC Wimbledon’s success, especially on the pitch, has been meteoric.  Multiple promotions and record-breaking streaks (78 games unbeaten, spanning 22 months in 03-04) have brought honour to an area so heavily deprived of the joys of football for a long time.  Some may even suggest it couldn’t have worked out much better.  Others, may disagree.

Neither season will be defined by the result of this weekend.  For both sides, the focus is set firmly on league status – at both ends of their respective tables.  MK Dons have been on a terrific run of form throughout November, and with 43 league places between the teams, will be clear favourites on the day.  Promotion and survival are very much the order of the day.

For both Dons, growth and stability are key, core elements – as is a passionate desire and determination to claim a footballing identity they can call their own. Perhaps, come Monday morning, the contamination suits can be put away, and a sense of perspective can prevail.

Unless it goes to a replay, of course.

Written by Paul Speller, We Are Going Up’s MK Dons Blogger

Paul tweets at @paul_speller

Work in Progress, Still

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Back in July, I attended a charity event at Stadium:MK, in honour of the MK Dons Sports Education Trust, and in the presence of one Mr Pete Winkelman. As we sipped champagne on the boardroom balcony, The Dons chairman, enigmatic as ever, was bullish about his team’s chances this campaign and quick to embrace the pre-season tag of ‘favourites’.

After successive play-off failures and a significantly enhanced budget this summer, he had made it apparently clear that being the bridesmaid is no longer accepted. Automatic promotion is a must if the Dons are to progress to the next chapter of their relatively new existence.

Fast forward three months and it’s fair to say things haven’t gone to plan so far for Karl Robinson’s men. Despite retaining the majority of those who bagged the second-highest goals tally in the division last campaign, the Dons have struggled to find the net this time around – a problem that most fans would say has been apparent for a long time.

Top of the goal charts is Dean Bowditch on four; three in the league, and all coming against a relegation-worried Bury side over a month ago. Charlie MacDonald and Ryan Lowe, Dons only recognised forwards, have struggled with form so much that Alan Smith has been the preferred option upfront on a number of occasions so far. That is Alan Smith who has scored just two goals in 115 appearances, since scoring for United in their Champions League romp over Roma way back in April 2007. In fact, Jabo Ibhere is our leading striker at the moment, knocking in four.. on loan.. at Colchester. It’s fair to say it’s an issue that needs addressing.

However, we’re led to believe it’s not without trying.

Mick Harford has spoken out today about a ‘Strikers Club’ that takes place every Thursday, with “The idea to get people hitting the back of the net and to get players in the correct positions around the area.” Hardly ground-breaking stuff, but a clear indication that the manager is well aware as to the trouble they may find themselves in if a solution cannot be found sharpish. Ian Wright, a man who knew exactly where the goal was, has been working with the squad since last year and it was announced just days ago that Angelo Balanta would be returning on loan from QPR.

Unfortunately, for all the talk and hard graft on the training ground, it’s match day that counts. No win in 5, and without a goal in 3, Dons already find themselves nine points off automatic promotion, and in danger of losing track of the leading pack even before Christmas. For all the talk of being favourites, Robbo must surely be feeling the pressure.

His acclaimed brand of play has been brought in to question a lot this season – from fans and critics alike – and for all the neat build-up in the world, without a cutting edge, it can quickly become one of the most frustrating styles in the game.

4-2-3-1 possesses many a positive possibility, but the current crop of Dons attacking options is not settled, nor technically coached/gifted enough, to hit the requirements of such a formation. Too often, fans are being subjected to a slow-paced, predictable, often emotionless performance which stagnates back to the final home game of last season against Walsall, when they limped to a 1-0 defeat, leaving them right up against it from the off come the playoffs. Injuries and suspensions have played a part – but this is football and at this stage of the season, we should not be struggling to fill the bench.

Robinson has been quick to defend his approach.  In an interview with a local paper after the latest defeat to Crawley, he acknowledged he was trying to answer the questions being asked of him. “People are calling for 4-4-2 and to play two up front which we did today, but then there was less fluency and we created less chances.”

“It’s not the players fault, you need to look at me, I’ll take the criticism from everyone. I know it’s like a broken record, but I’m disappointed, gutted and devastated because I care.” 

Clearly the words of a man who knows he is firmly in the spotlight, and wedged in to a tight spot. If the work is going in on the training ground, and Robbo is apparently trying what others are calling for, then what’s next? For me, possession is not the be all and end all of victory, and sometimes you have to cease a little to gain a little. With the introduction of the right players in the right places, this can be turned around. Tiki-taka is not for Crawley, away.

As an observer, I’d love to see Chicksen given a run – introducing a direct injection of pace to the flanks. For me, Bowditch needs to convert his no. 9 shirt in to a no. 9 role and Balanta pushed right up alongside him.  If Gleeson can recover from his phantom broken foot then let’s see a bit more drive from the heart of midfield and start to pose a real threat through the middle as well.  That should, at least, see us through to Christmas.

With some of Europe’s largest retail & entertainment brands bedding down on the rest of the old Denbigh Fields, and with car parking unheard of to most football fans across the country, from the outside the future looks bright. Unfortunately, closer to the core we find a plateau of development – a half-complete stadium, not to mention a 4500 seated arena that has never been used, and a squad equally crying out for the finishing touches. Until then, Scunny away will continue to stay on that fixture list and MK Dons will remain work in progress.

Written by Paul Speller, We Are Going Up’s MK Dons Blogger

Paul tweets at @paul_speller

The Team in Need of a Town

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Dear readers, before we start I have a small confession to make. Whilst I may be the Dons contributor to the WAGU! setup, I feel I should let you know that I am not in fact a true fan of the Dons. I actually support Crystal Palace and my history with the Dons is very short (far more brief than the club itself). I’ve been living in Milton Keynes and following the Dons since the tail end of last season. Before I moved here I was told numerous things about the town and the club, the majority of which wasn’t good. The town centre was a featureless mess of American-style town planning and the team was a travesty to English football. What follows is a brief history of the newest professional club in the Football Leagues and my experiences with them so far.

Formerly Wimbledon FC, the team decided to relocate to Milton Keynes in 2001 following the earlier announcement by the MK Stadium Consortium led by current Dons chairman Pete Winkelman that a new football league standard stadium would be built in the relatively new town. Three years later the move was complete, much to the chagrin of much of the footballing world. The new team the Milton Keynes (MK) Dons, moved into the National Hockey Stadium on the outskirts of the city centre in 2003 following a brief stint at Selhurst Park and stayed there until their new 22,000 seat Stadium:MK was finally finished in 2007.

The ‘Dons’ currently have a somewhat mixed reputation amongst the locals and a much-derided one amongst the rest of football, however these are both starting to improve. Their ‘Franchise’ tag, applied to them because of their relocation to a new city whilst still keeping a part of their old name as American sports teams tend to do, is still used in a derogatory manner by many fans of other clubs. One of the main reasons for the dislike of the team amongst English football was because they wanted to maintain the history of Wimbledon FC as their own. The rise up the leagues in the 80s which led to their famous FA Cup win in the ’88 final would now be considered MK Dons achievements rather than Wimbledon achievements. After a few years however, the decision was made to return the trophies back to the teams former home of Wimbledon and they are now on display in Morden Library, Merton, South London. This willingness to disestablish themselves from the past and make their own history has gone some way to healing the wounds of the move and fixing the teams standing amongst football fans.

The local football fans of Milton Keynes tend to see the club as a second team. The clubs brief history in the area has led to the team being a team that they can watch live with the kids at an affordable price whilst keeping tabs on the scores of their main team whilst at matches. It is apparently not uncommon for the latest Premier League scores to spread like wildfire amongst the crowd at Stadium:MK.

Six years after the move however, the team is now starting to establish a large local fanbase. The young children of these ‘casual’ MK Dons fans are starting to pick the Dons as their first team over the likes of the Chelseas, Man Utds and Arsenals their Dads might support. It is not an uncommon sight in the town centre to see kids decked out in the latest Dons shirts whilst their Dads walk around in their Premier League team tops. This new generation of Dons fans are just what the team is going to need if it is going to survive in the local community and lose its tag as the franchise of English football.

After a tumultuous first few seasons of relegation, stadium issues and getting over the stigma of being a disgrace to English football, the Dons have started to establish themselves as a serious contender in League One and as something to be proud of in the local community.

In 2001 it was announced that Milton Keynes would finally get its own professional football team. Now, ten years later, has the team that moved in finally found itself a town willing to follow them?

Written by Rich Smith, We Are Going Up’s MK Dons Blogger

Rich tweets at @PathfinderDE67