No ground relocation is more controversial than Wimbledon’s move to Milton Keynes. Fans of all clubs still boycott games at MK Dons and chants are thrown at the team mocking their theft of a historic club.
Through the 80s and 90s Wimbledon became the nation’s second team. They worked their way up to the top flight within a decade of promotion to the football league with a squad nicknamed “the crazy gang” before a 1988 FA Cup final win over a dominant Liverpool secured Wimbledon’s place in the nation’s hearts.
A run of top half finishes followed but their dream ended as they were relegated in 2000. Confident of their team making a return Wimbledon fans couldn’t have expected what followed.
Wimbledon had shared Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park since 1991 when their original Plough Lane ground was deemed unsafe. Originally a temporary arrangement the ground-share lasted over a decade before a consortium recommended a move to Milton Keynes, almost 50 miles away.
Despite strong opposition from fans, the FA and the football league, chairman Charles Koppel announced in 2001 that the move would go ahead, saying it was the only way to rescue the club from dire financial trouble. Attendances fell sharply before Wimbledon made the unprecedented move in 2003, leaving the town that had been their home for over a hundred years. A year later the club was renamed MK Dons and their colours changed. For all intents and purposes Wimbledon FC was dead.
But out of the ashes rose the phoenix of AFC Wimbledon. After the move disgruntled fans formed a side that would stay in Wimbledon, starting in the 9th tier. Their continued support facilitated a run of 6 promotions in 13 years ending in League 1, where MK Dons had floundered for most of their existence.
The rightful order was restored last season as MK Dons were relegated to league 2. AFC Wimbledon are once again the higher placed of the two teams, back at a level befitting their history and stature after almost 2 decades in the wilderness. A new ground is being built only 250 metres away from Plough Lane, their spiritual home.
MK Dons are often called a “stolen club”, but the fairytale of AFC Wimbledon shows a club can never really be stolen. Managers, players, the name and even the ground of a club can be taken, but its heart and soul, the fans, will nonetheless prevail against money-grabbing owners