If you take look around the World of football you can find plenty of matches that have red hot atmospheres, are full of red blooded passion, have long standing rivalries and even, in some cases, absolute hatred for one another. The clash of Milton Keynes Dons and AFC Wimbledon is one that many believe shouldn’t really exist, however it does, and there is certainly no love lost between these two very different football clubs. One thing it most certainly isn’t and that’s a derby.
AFC Wimbledon are the club that were born out of the franchising of the old Wimbledon to Milton Keynes, and they have been on a path to prove the FA suits wrong ever since their formation back in the summer of 2002. These are the same FA suits that said a new club wasn’t in the wider interests of football; a statement that has since been widely ridiculed and proven to be about as accurate as a British weather forecast.
Milton Keynes Dons, however, are a franchise created out of the destruction of the Old Wimbledon. The three-man FA panel allowed their owner Peter Winkleman to move the club over 60 miles up the road from their home in South London, a move that sparked utter outrage amongst the whole footballing community and showed a complete disregard for what a football club means to its fans and the local communities from where they first originated.
Fourteen years after their formation, AFC Wimbledon are now level in the English pyramid with Milton Keynes Dons, and prior to the first ever league meeting between the two clubs, sat above them in third tier of English football. It’s been a truly phenomenal rise for the fan-owned club.
Whilst Peter Winkleman used his wealth to fund and build an out of town all seater football stadium costing £50 million and with a capacity of over 30,000, the controversial move to Milton Keynes hasn’t exactly had locals flocking through the gates. Meanwhile back down in South London, AFC Wimbledon regularly sell out their matches and have outgrown their modest home at Kingsmeadow in Kingston upon Thames. They have in all reality been looking to move back the borough of Merton ever since their formation, however, despite identifying the old Greyhound site in Wimbledon as the preferred location back in 2012, there have been many hurdles to overcome in the years since.
The decision makers at Merton Borough Council finally gave planning permission to the club in 2015, but when the then London Mayor Boris Johnson asked a for a review of the decision, the Wombles fans were left to fret yet again on the decision to bring the real Dons back home to South London. A recent decision by the new London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, not to intervene and pass the decision back to Merton Borough Council finally gave the green light for the club to build a new ground on the site of the old greyhound stadium in Merton, and it’s one of huge significance for the re-born club. The move will be another huge milestone for the owners and fans of this remarkable football club. A move to a bigger capacity stadium will allow the club to grow further off the pitch, bring in more match-day and commercial revenue, which in turn will help on the pitch and allow the team to compete at the top of League One, and then challenge for promotion to the Championship, the league they graced before the FA panel allowed their club to be franchised.
Whilst everything looks very rosy in the AFC Wimbledon garden right now, life in Buckinghamshire looks distinctly uncertain. After a brief one season stint in the Championship in 2015/16 and a Divisional League title and Football League trophy double back in 2008, the franchised club are presently struggling in League One with attendances less than half the capacity of Stadium MK:, a venue that played host to large crowds during the Rugby World Cup in 2015.
Whilst the anger and hatred of MK Dons has lessened somewhat during the passing years after the controversial move in 2002, there are still many supporters who would be glad to see the back of Milton Keynes out of the Football League with the town having been gifted a place amongst the 92 by the FA without having climbed the English League Pyramid system. However, whatever fence you sit on it does look like MK Dons are here to stay and the recently appointed manager Robbie Neilson has a big task on his hands in keeping the club afloat in the third tier this season.
Saturday 10th December 2016 – Milton Keynes Dons 1 v 0 AFC Wimbledon – Stadium MK: – Att – 11,185(1976 away)
Whilst this was the first ever league fixture between the two clubs, this wasn’t the first time these two clubs have met each other in a competitive fixture. That happened back on Sunday 2nd December 2012, when the two clubs were drawn against each other in the FA Cup.
Whilst the footballing public saw it as an ultimate battle of good versus evil, it was the tie that those involved in AFC Wimbledon didn’t want, as it divided much of their support on the rights and wrongs of the Milton Keynes move. Many supporters simply couldn’t go and give money to their franchised nemesis, therefore justifying their very existence, whilst for others they just wanted to attend and get behind the players whilst also letting their feelings known to all those who had stolen their club from underneath them. It’s a subject that still divides supporters with strong opinions to this very day.
At the time of the FA Cup clash, AFC Wimbledon were a league below MK Dons, but they more than matched their higher placed hosts that afternoon almost taking MK back to Kingsmeadow for a replay after coming back from 1-0 down to level through striker Jack Midson. However, it wasn’t to be the fairytale that the majority of the watching TV public wanted that afternoon, as MK won the tie deep into second half injury time. The clubs have also met each other in both the League Cup and the Football League Trophy with a win a piece for each side. So far all three games have been played at Stadium MK. They have yet to clash back down in South London.
On an overcast and dull day in Milton Keynes, you could puncture the air with tension as both set of fans milled around the ground before kickoff, but without the customary banter and polite discussion that takes place between rival supporters before most other matches up and down the country. The surreal site of seeing AFC Wimbledon fans dressing up in suits worn by those looking for clues after a murder investigation – think CSI here and you get the picture – tells you all you need to know about the distain and dislike for MK from those in yellow and blue.
Once inside the ground the large traveling contingent of Wombles fans were seated in the upper tier, meaning any flash points would be contained on the pitch alone and not off the field. A mini pitch invasion from the Wimbledon hordes in the FA Cup clash in 2012 probably prompted the decision, much like the choice of kickoff time at 1pm, which was probably done on police advice.
As the two teams emerged on to the pitch, the AFC Wimbledon fans made sure the majority inside Stadium MK knew exactly what they thought of them with a rousing chant of, “You know what you are, you know what you are, you franchised ****** you know what you are.” It wasn’t going to be a typical Saturday afternoon in this corner of Buckinghamshire that’s for sure.
On the pitch it was the home side who came out of the traps quicker and stronger as Neil Ardley’s men struggled to get to any sort of flow going to their game. Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was the fear of making a mistake in such a poisonous fixture, but whatever it was, the Wombles were struggling to produce the form that had seen them catapult up the League One table having lose just twice in 14 games before the game.
MK Dons enjoyed the majority of the possession in the first twenty minutes and went close when Wombles defender Barry Fuller had to put his body in the path of a goal bound effort. The more the AFC Wimbledon players stood off their men and dropped deep, the more it encouraged the midfielders of Milton Keynes to dictate the flow of the game. The Wimbledon striker pairing of Dominic Poleon and Tom Elliot were pretty much feeding off scraps, as the ball spent too much time in the air.
The first chance of the half for the visitors came on the half hour mark when Ben Reeves fired high over the bar with a shot from outside the penalty area. As the rest of the half wore on, the game had developed into a pattern of play where MK Dons attacked but were a little bit blunt when it came to finishing, and AFC Wimbledon were defending well but were seemingly not able to string two passes together when they got beyond the half-way line. The centre-back pairing of Paul Robinson and Chris Robertson were forming a solid base for the Wombles, which did much to keep the score level at 0-0.
Whilst the game wasn’t quite living up to the hype surrounding it, the 2000 odd away fans were making all the noise from their lofty position in the upper tier, which included served all renditions of “Where were you when you was us”, which was quite apt given how badly the old Wimbledon struggled to bring in the crowds when sharing grounds with Crystal Palace.
The only other noteworthy chance of the half for Neil Ardley’s men was when Jake Reeves found space outside the area, but his long range effort was easily dealt with by the home goalkeeper
During the half time break the majority of the away supporters remained in their seats, again refusing to hand over more cash to their nemesis, but a few hundred did and they were probably still finishing off their liquid refreshments when Milton Keynes almost opened the scoring early in the second period. A dangerous cross into the box was met by the head of Dean Bowditch but he couldn’t direct his header on target. It was an early warning to the away side the home side were still carrying a threat.
The game and AFC Wimbledon in particular needed some fresh impetus, so Neil Ardley decided to make a double swap with Lyle Taylor and Chris Whelpdale, replacing Dominic Poleon and Dean Parrett. Taylor had been left out of the starting lineup due to being doubtful before kickoff, but his pace on the wing was required as far too much of the play for Wimbledon was coming through the congested middle of the park.
The referee had been making some bizarre decisions throughout, and as the game ticked past the hour mark, he made two questionable calls that had the Wimbledon hordes up in arms. A decision not to award a 50/50 free kick in Wimbledon’s favour in an attacking area was then further compounded when MK Dons went up the other end and won a penalty. The penalty was scored by Bowditch to give the home side the crucial advantage.
The visitors now needed a spark to reignite their fight and it was the incompetent referee who seemed to be proving the flame. The goal had come about just as Wimbledon were getting to grips on the game, but after the penalty award Neil Ardley was pressed into showing his final hand when he replaced Tom Elliot with Tyronne Barnett.
A great chance for the visitors went begging when a terrific cross from George Francomb was narrowly flicked wide by the lively Lyle Taylor, but an even clearer cut opportunity was wasted when a long Chris Whepdale throw caused panic in the area but a combination of Meades and Daniel Powell could get that crucial shot at goal and MK’s goalkeeper Martin was able to gather the ball.
It was turning into one of those frustrating afternoons for the Wombles in a game that required the emotions to be kept in check, but they had cause to feel extremely hard done by in second half as the referee almost seemed hell bent on awarding every decision in the home side’s favour, the worse coming right near the end of the match when Lyle Taylor was somehow penalised for sliding in to block a clearance from Lewington, but was adjudged by the referee to have committed an offence. The game felt too big for a referee that looked clearly out of his depth.
The fourth official signaled six minutes of second half injury time to be played, but that one clear cut opportunity just wasn’t going to come for the visitors as the clocked ticked down to the finish. MK Dons had the victory and three points they craved in this highly charged match, whilst the travelling army of Wombles supporters were left to ponder on
their first defeat on the road since August as the rain lashed down in buckets from the Buckinghamshire skies.
The AFC Wimbledon manager Neil Ardley had most certainly been right when he was interviewed before kick off when he said, “My players won’t be defined by this result”, but Peter Winkleman was most certainly wrong when he said back in 2003 “that is not possible to come from level 10 of the football pyramid. I don’t believe AFC Wimbledon will do it.”
Much like the FA suits, the real Dons have been proving Pete Winkleman wrong ever since.