On the face of it, there is nothing special about Milton Keynes Dons beating Cambridge City 6-1 in the FA Cup first-round replay. They home side are a few divisions above the visitors.
It’s not the result. It’s who MKD will now meet.
For they will meet AFC Wimbledon, the grass roots club formed by supporters of the old Wimbledon FC, in response to the relocation of the South London club over 50 miles away to Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.
Since their rebirth AFC Wimbledon have won five promotions in nine years from their lowly beginnings while MK Dons have made little progress on the league placing they inherited. They are now just one division apart but the cup draw has finally decided they will meet on the pitch after nearly a decade of battle between fans on the internet.
The Dons in the name “Milton Keynes Dons” is the only reference to MKD’s birth and roots; Dons being the nickname of the old Wimbledon, whose financial trauma became the catalyst for the birth of a club in the new town of Milton Keynes.
This club appeared in the league position Wimbledon thought they held. MK Dons continued to make the claim they were the inheritor of Wimbledon’s history, which included a 1988 FA Cup win, until 2006.
In 2010 both drew matches in the FA Cup first round, Milton Keynes with fourth tier Stevenage and Wimbledon with Ebbsfleet United, who play a league below them. They were drawn to meet in the next round. Neither won their replays which took place after the draw had been made.
This year they did. Wimbledon against York and MK Dons tonight. And the pain has not subsided.
Here is the full story, adapted from one we first ran in October 2010 when the two sides were first drawn together in the FA Cup:
English fans sometimes sling the accusation that US sports entities are nothing but franchises. They forget Milton Keynes FC if they do so, a club that cynically exploited the financial troubles of another to buy its way into the English Football League and move it 56 miles away. Naturally the fans of the club whose misery they exploited, 1988 FA Cup Winners Wimbledon were furious.
They were so furious in fact, that in 2002 they created a brand new club called AFC Wimbledon, with players drawn from any unattached player. AFC Wimbledon had to start at the very bottom of England’s football pyramid and watch Milton Keynes play in the main league. Although AFC Wimbledon have worked their way up the leagues through successive promotions, the enmity and bitterness over what was done to their club has remained.
It is hard to think of a match that will unite football fans more. On the one side, you have an authentic club build by fans who had their local club ripped from their community and moved to another side. On the other, the club that exploited the financial troubles of an existing club to buy their way into the league at worst, or rip that club out of its community to a more profitable venue at best.
Here is a history of how Wimbledon were moved to Milton Keynes from an article we originally wrote in August 2009.
Wombles CAN Climb Ladders!
Wimbledon were traditionally a non league club and only gained league status in the late 1970s. From then, they began a remarkable ascent up the divisions and incredibly reached the top league then called Division 1, now the EPL, in 1986. Wimbledon stayed there until 2000. What was remarkable about their 14 year stay, was that they did it on a shoe string.
Their location was horrible for attracting new supporters. Crystal Palace lay a few miles to the east, and Chelsea, Fulham, Queens Park Rangers and Brentford already inhabited a very cramped area of West London to their north. Their catchment area was almost nil, and to make it harder, much of the suburbia closest to Wimbledon was affluent, and populated by a strata of society not noted for their attendance at England’s working class sport.
In their first season in Division 1, their average attendance was only 7,811. Much of that was made up of away supporters, and any progress was stymied by their Plough Lane home’s tiny capacity. It was still in effect a non league ground.
In 1991 Sam Hammam, the Wimbledon chairman, moved the club out of Plough Lane, and into a ground share with nearby Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
This arrangement lasted twelve years, during which time Hammam sold the Plough Lane ground to Safeway and sold the club to two Norwegian businessmen Bjørn Rune Gjelsten and Kjell Inge Røkke.
Crowds rose well, mainly due to the increased numbers of away fans who could attend, but Dons fans were regularly outnumbered by visitors, an occurrence completely unheard of in English football. In addition, the club had been removed from its Wimbledon roots, and their fans never felt totally at home at Selhurst, good landlords though Crystal Palace were.
The unreal survival of Wimbledon FC in England’s top flight couldn’t go on forever against the financial odds however and Wimbledon were relegated from the Premier League in 2000. Attendances dropped to more than half during the following season to an average of just 7,897, as the big London sides and northern clubs with large traveling supports no longer visited. Finally in September 2003, with the club heavily in debt and administrators in effect running it, the club was relocated out of London entirely to the town of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.
Initially the club took the name Milton Keynes Dons, but this wasn’t enough for the abandoned fans of South London. So a group of them combined and formed a new club called AFC Wimbledon, which began its life in 2002, playing in the Premier Division of the Combined Counties League, about as far down in the English league pyramid system as it’s possible to go.
They recruited by holding open trials on Wimbledon Common, an area made famous by the TV puppets, the Wombles. They held player trials over three days, which were open to the general public. From these trials, the club’s squad for their inaugural season was chosen. The new team attracted a crowd of 4,657 fans for their first ever game, a pre-season friendly against Sutton United on 10 July. They lost 4-0.
Nonetheless, the new club was successful and started winning promotions up the ladder. They now face a painful reminder of the entire history.
(Full Article: 21 Years on, FA Cup Semi Finalists Meet in Non-League Football)