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Relocation of Wimbledon F.C. to Milton Keynes

Graffiti on the locked gates of Wimbledon F.C.'s traditional home ground, Plough Lane, in 2006. The club, nicknamed "the Wombles" or "the Dons", last played first-team matches there in 1991, and the stadium was demolished in late 2002. Blocks of flats have covered the site since 2008.

Wimbledon Football Club relocated to Milton Keynes in September 2003, 16 months after receiving permission to do so from an independent commission appointed by the Football Association. The move took the team from south London, where it had been based since its foundation in 1889, to Milton Keynes, a new town in Buckinghamshire, about 56 miles (90 km) to the northwest of the club's traditional home district Wimbledon. Hugely controversial,[1][2][3] the move's authorisation prompted the formation of AFC Wimbledon by disaffected Wimbledon supporters in June 2002. The relocated club played home matches in Milton Keynes under the Wimbledon name from September 2003 until June 2004, when following the end of the 2003–04 season it renamed itself Milton Keynes Dons (MK Dons).

Wimbledon Football Club spent most of its history in amateur and semi-professional non-League football before being elected to the Football League following the 1976–77 season. An unusually rapid rise through the professional divisions followed over the next decade, culminating in the club's promotion to English football's highest league in 1986 and victory in the country's top knockout competition, the FA Cup, two years later. This unprecedented spell of sustained success by a traditionally obscure, unknown club has been called a "fairytale".[4]

A series of club owners believed that Wimbledon's long-term potential was limited by its home ground at Plough Lane, which never changed significantly from the team's non-League days. Extending this dissatisfaction to the stadium's location, Wimbledon chairman Ron Noades briefly explored moving the club to Milton Keynes in 1979. As a new town formed in 1967, Milton Keynes had no Football League club representing it. Moves there were also fleetingly mooted by Charlton Athletic in 1973 and Luton Town in 1982. Wimbledon remained at Plough Lane until 1991, when the club was told to redevelop the old ground by the Taylor Report. The club's owners could not afford to do the necessary work, and so arranged a temporary groundshare at Crystal Palace's Selhurst Park stadium, about 6 miles (9.7 km) east of Plough Lane, while they sought a new stadium site for Wimbledon in south-west London. They searched fruitlessly over the next decade.

Starting in 2000, the Milton Keynes Stadium Consortium, led by Pete Winkelman, proposed a large retail development in Milton Keynes including a Football League-standard stadium. This site was offered to Luton, Wimbledon, Barnet, Crystal Palace and Queens Park Rangers. The introduction of a new chairman at Wimbledon, Charles Koppel, led to receptive talks; Koppel announced in August 2001 that Wimbledon intended to relocate to Milton Keynes. After the Football League refused permission, Wimbledon launched an appeal, leading to an FA arbitration hearing and subsequently the appointment of a three-man independent commission by the FA in May 2002 to make a final and binding verdict. The League and FA stated opposition but the commissioners ruled in favour, two to one. Wimbledon intended to move to Milton Keynes immediately but were unable to do so until a temporary home in the town could be found. The vast majority of of the team's fans switched allegiance to AFC Wimbledon in protest against the move.[2][3] Wimbledon F.C. went into administration in June 2003 and three months later played its first match in Milton Keynes, at the National Hockey Stadium. Winkelman bought the relocated club in 2004 and concurrently changed its name, badge and colours. The team's new ground, Stadium mk, opened in 2007. Milton Keynes Dons initially claimed Wimbledon F.C.'s heritage and history as its own, but renounced this in 2007.


  • Background 1
    • Milton Keynes 1.1
    • Accession to the Football League; club relocation in English football 1.2
      • Precursors in Scottish and English football 1.2.1
  • Early Milton Keynes relocation proposals 2
    • Charlton Athletic (1973) 2.1
    • Wimbledon (1979) 2.2
    • Luton Town (1983) 2.3
  • Wimbledon leave Plough Lane 3
    • Taylor Report 3.1
    • Wimbledon at Selhurst Park; Dublin proposal 3.2
  • Milton Keynes Stadium Consortium 4
    • Background and motivations 4.1
    • Negotiations with various clubs 4.2
  • Legal process 5
    • Announcement and rejection; appeal 5.1
    • Independent commission; approval 5.2
  • Relocation 6
    • 2002–03 6.1
    • 2003–04 6.2
    • AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons 6.3
    • New stadium in Milton Keynes 6.4
  • Legacy of Wimbledon F.C. 7
  • Fixtures between AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons 8
  • Notes and references 9
  • External links 10


Milton Keynes

Cranes surrounding a development in Milton Keynes, 2006

Following the end of the Second World War in 1945, the population of London increased significantly, causing the construction of a number of new towns across the south-east of England. Overspill housing for several London boroughs was constructed in Bletchley, in north Buckinghamshire, by London County Council.[5][6][7] With this not proving to be enough, a Ministry of Housing and Local Government (MoH&LG) study proposed "a new city" near Bletchley in 1964.[8] Bletchley, which had been considered for designation in its own right, became instead only a part of the planned development: a further MoH&LG study in 1965 recommended that the existing towns of Stony Stratford and Wolverton should also be included.[9][10] A target population of 250,000 was given for what was to be the biggest new town of all, built on an area previously home to about 40,000.[11] "Milton Keynes" (named after the village of Milton Keynes already present on the site) was purposely placed equidistant from London, Birmingham, Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge, and close to main roads and railways as well as Luton Airport.[12] It was designated as a new town on 23 January 1967.[13][14]

All of the football clubs present within the boundaries of the new town were playing outside the Football League. The teams most advanced in the English football league system or "pyramid" were the United Counties League sides Bletchley Town and Wolverton Town & B.R.,[n 1][n 2][15][18][22][23] South Midlands League outfit Stony Stratford Town and local teams New Bradwell St Peter and Newport Pagnell Wanderers,[n 3][25] who would join the South Midlands League in 1970 and 1972 respectively.[26][27]

Accession to the Football League; club relocation in English football

Geographical distribution of the 92 clubs in the Football League during the 1967–68 season, and Milton Keynes (marked in grey). Many teams are concentrated in urban areas such as London (London clubs marked in blue).

In English football, the relocation of teams away from their traditional districts is unusual because of the nature of the relationship between clubs and their fans: the local football club is regarded by most English football supporters as part of the local identity and social fabric rather than as a business that can be transplanted by its owners at will. As a result, any relocation plan would be strongly opposed by fans in the club's original area, and unlikely to succeed in most new locations due to the existence of established teams in most towns and cities that would already have secured the loyalty of native supporters. John Bale, summarising a study published in 1974, writes that, in the view of most fans, "Chelsea would simply not be Chelsea" were that club to move a few miles within the same borough to Wormwood Scrubs.[28]

The geographic redistribution of the 92 Football League teams was considered a possible eventuality by some around that time, including Sir Norman Chester, who headed an investigation into the condition of English football in 1968.[29] Before the 1986–87 season, clubs could not be relegated out of the League's Fourth Division. The bottom four clubs had to apply for re-election by the other member clubs at the end of each season, alongside any non-League teams who wished to take their place,[30] but the replacement of an established League side in this way was quite rare. From the inaugural post-war season (1946–47) through to 1985–86, clubs already in the League were supplanted on only six occasions.[31] "New communities have developed ... which lack clubs in League membership," Chester reported, in 1968. "Amalgamations of old clubs would provide vacancies for new clubs to enter the League. Alternatively the movement of established clubs to new communities could provide a way both of saving old clubs and at the same time bringing League football to new and growing areas."[29] Having been established in 1967 as the largest of the "new towns" springing up across southern England and the Midlands,[32] Milton Keynes provided a clear staging ground for such an experiment.[29]

At the end of the 1978–79 season, 20 leading non-League clubs left the Southern League and the Northern Premier League to form the Alliance Premier League. This national non-League division started in the 1979–80 season and renamed itself the Football Conference in 1986. Since the 1986–87 season, the champions of the Conference have received promotion to the Football League, with the League's bottom club being relegated to the Conference in exchange. This was expanded to the Conference champions and the winners of a promotion play-off before the 2002–03 season, with the worst two League clubs being relegated.[33] The situation of the Football League "closed shop", which for nearly a century effectively barred most non-League clubs from accession, therefore no longer exists.[30] Any club in the English football pyramid (which also includes some clubs from Wales[n 4]) can potentially win enough promotions to reach the Football League or the Premier League, the separate top division formed in 1992.[34][n 5]

Precursors in Scottish and English football

According to the Football League's statement to the independent commission on Wimbledon F.C. in May 2002, the English League "had allowed temporary relocations for good reasons outside 'conurbations' in respect of certain clubs where it was intended the club would return, but there has been no previous occasion on which the Football League had granted permission to a club to relocate permanently to a ground outside its 'conurbation'."[36] Clubs in the English professional ranks that have relocated to other locales within their traditional conurbations include Manchester United and Woolwich Arsenal, who moved 5 miles (8 km) and 10 miles (16 km) respectively in 1910 and 1913.[n 6] South Shields of the Third Division North relocated 8 miles (13 km) west to Gateshead in 1930 and renamed themselves Gateshead AFC.[39] The commission reported that there was no Football League precedent for a move between conurbations, but stressed that there was direct precedent for such a move in Scotland.[36]

Promotion and relegation in and out of the

  • The official website of AFC Wimbledon
  • The official website of Milton Keynes Dons F.C.

External links

  • Bale, John (1993). Sport, Space and the City. London:  
  • Cox, Richard; Russell, Dave; Vamplew, Wray, eds. (September 2002). Encyclopedia of British Football. London:  
  • Crabtree, Stephen (April 1996). The Dons in the League 1977–1982. Buckingham: Sporting and Leisure Press.  
  • Inglis, Simon (1996) [1985]. Football Grounds of Britain (3rd ed.). London: CollinsWillow.  
  • Llewelyn-Davies; de Monchaux; Bor (March 1970).  
  • Llewelyn-Davies; Forestier-Walker; Bor (December 1968). Milton Keynes: Interim Report to Milton Keynes Development Corporation. Bletchley:  
  • Morrow, Stephen (2003). The People's Game?: Football, Finance and Society. Basingstoke:  
  • Mumford, Stephen (2013). Watching Sport: Aesthetics, Ethics and Emotion. London:  
  • Parker, Raj;  
  • Ward, Andrew; Williams, John (2010) [2009]. Football Nation: Sixty Years of the Beautiful Game. London:  
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  160. ^ a b c "Wimbledon to change name".  
  161. ^ a b "Dons set for takeover".  
  162. ^ a b c Watson, Stuart (2004-05-14). "The final whistle for Wimbledon?".  
  163. ^ "No name change for Wimbledon, despite the move".  
  164. ^ a b c "Wimbledon become MK Dons FC".  
  165. ^ Ashton, Tim (2014-10-28). "Wimbledon RFC team manager is targeting a happy break". (Wimbledon Guardian). Retrieved 2014-11-27. Wimbledon RFC's first team manager James Ogilvie-Bull wants his side to go into the break in action having recorded a seventh win of the season. The Dons go to Twickenham on Saturday ... the Dons could go into the international break on top the tree. 
  166. ^ "Aberdeen: Dons denied late penalty, claims Derek McInnes". BBC. 2014-09-13. Retrieved 2014-11-27. 
  167. ^ "Ryman Premier - Clubs - Hendon". London:  
  168. ^ "Doncaster Rovers take over Doncaster rugby league side". BBC. 2013-11-20. Retrieved 2014-11-27. 
  169. ^ Moor, Dave. "Historical Kits Milton Keynes Dons". Historical Kits. Retrieved 2009-11-04. 
  170. ^ a b "AFC Wimbledon".  
  171. ^ Moor, Dave. "Historical Kits Wimbledon". Historical Kits. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 
  172. ^ "First turf cut for Dons' stadium".  
  173. ^ Sinnott, John (2005-12-05). "MK Dons fix stadium launch date". BBC. Retrieved 2010-01-03. 
  174. ^ "Milton Keynes stadium is on track".  
  175. ^ "Dons open stadium against Chelsea".  
  176. ^ "Open Letter To The Football Association". Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association. 2003-05-28. Retrieved 2009-11-04. 
  177. ^ "AFC Wimbledon Honours".  
  178. ^ a b "WISA launches the Wimbledon Old Players Association". Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association. 2005-09-12. Retrieved 2009-11-04. 
  179. ^ "Wimbledon Masters Are Back". Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association. 2006-05-23. Archived from the original on 2012-02-05. Retrieved 2009-11-04. 
  180. ^ "Wimbledon legends back in the yellow and blue". (AFC Wimbledon). 4 June 2006. Archived from the original on 15 June 2006. 
  181. ^ "MASTERS CUP 2006 - LONDON MASTERS".  
  182. ^ "Naming Ceremony at Plough Lane". Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association. 2008-12-01. Archived from the original on 2012-02-20. Retrieved 2009-06-05. 
  183. ^ "History and Honours of Wimbledon FC returned to Merton". Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association. 2007-08-02. Retrieved 2009-11-04. 
  184. ^ "It’s come home". Merton Borough Council. April 2008. Retrieved 2009-11-04. 
  185. ^ Oakes, Omar (2012-12-04). "MK Dons v AFC Wimbledon - What did it mean to you?". Your Local Guardian (Weybridge, Surrey: Newsquest). Retrieved 2014-08-24. 
  186. ^ a b Osbourne, Chris (2014-08-13). "MK Dons 3-1 AFC Wimbledon". BBC Football. Retrieved 2014-11-13. 
  187. ^ Spragg, Iain; Clarke, Adrian; Reeves, Stuart (2009). "Chapter Seven: Funny Fans". The Big Book of Football's Funniest Quotes. London:  
  188. ^ "Quotes of the Week". London: BBC. 2007-01-30. Retrieved 2014-11-16. Chants of the week ... 'Beaten by a franchise, you're getting beaten by a franchise.' Sung by MK Dons fans to Barnet supporters. 
  189. ^ "Heidar Helguson rescues QPR from FA Cup shock at MK Dons". The Guardian (London: Guardian News and Media). 2012-01-07. Retrieved 2014-11-16. The MK Dons fans in a record 19,506 crowd sang: 'You're getting beat by a franchise.' 
  190. ^ "Harry Redknapp searches for answers as MK Dons punish ‘diabolical’ Queens Park Rangers". The Independent (London: Independent News & Media). 2012-01-27. Retrieved 2014-11-16. Their longer term potential, as a new club in a new city, was underlined by a record away following of 3,155 fans, who happily chirruped 'you're getting beat by a franchise'. 
  191. ^ "MK Dons 2 AFC Wimbledon 1: match report". The Daily Telegraph (London: Telegraph Media Group). 2012-12-02. Retrieved 2014-11-16. It was a strike which cued a lusty chant of 'you're getting beat by a franchise,' from the home sections. 
  192. ^ "MK Dons 2 AFC Wimbledon 1: Ecstasy to agony for travelling fans as cheeky late winner ends dream grudge match victory".  
  193. ^ "Time for Milton Keynes to Drop the Dons, says Wimbledon Guardian campaign". Wimbledon Guardian (Newsquest). 2012-01-12. Retrieved 2012-05-02. 
  194. ^ Oakes, Omar (2012-01-16). "Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association back calls to Drop the Dons". Wimbledon Guardian (Newsquest). Retrieved 2012-05-02. 
  195. ^ Oakes, Omar (2012-01-16). "Former AFC Wimbledon manager Dave Anderson urges MK Dons to Drop the Dons". Wimbledon Guardian (Newsquest). Retrieved 2012-05-02. 
  196. ^ Oakes, Omar (2012-01-20). "Ex-footballer Chris Perry urges fans to back the Wimbledon Guardian's Drop the Dons campaign". Wimbledon Guardian (Newsquest). Retrieved 2012-05-02. 
  197. ^ a b Oakes, Omar (2012-04-30). "Merton and Milton Keynes Council leaders hold Drop The Dons talks". Wimbledon Guardian (Newsquest). Retrieved 2012-05-02. 
  198. ^ "We are MK Dons FC - Full Stop".  
  199. ^ Law, Matt (2012-12-01). I've put up with death threats': MK Dons chairman accepts blame for moving the club"'".  
  200. ^ Walters, Mike (2012-12-01). "'"Winkelman: 'Do I think what we did was right? No. Daily Mirror (London: Trinity Mirror). Retrieved 2014-11-21. 
  201. ^ "MK Dons 2-1 AFC Wimbledon". BBC Football. 2012-12-02. Retrieved 2012-12-03. 
  202. ^ a b Kirk, Scott (2014-08-12). "Football: Heel of God Two helps MK Dons beat AFC Wimbledon in grudge match". MKWeb (Cambridge: Iliffe News and Media Limited). Retrieved 2014-11-13. 
  203. ^ "MK Dons 2-3 AFC Wimbledon". BBC Football. 2014-10-07. Retrieved 2014-11-13. 
  1. ^ a b c The name "Milton Keynes City" (MK City) refers to two different non-League clubs. The first was formerly known as Bletchley Town F.C., and was called MK City from 1974 until its liquidation in 1985. The second was previously called Mercedes-Benz F.C., and played as MK City from 1998 until its own demise in 2003.[15][16][17]
  2. ^ Wolverton Town & B.R. went through a variety of names after the founding of Milton Keynes in 1967. It dropped the "B.R." suffix from its name in 1981, then added "(Milton Keynes)" in 1987, becoming Wolverton Town (Milton Keynes). A year later the naming order was reversed, with the club now calling itself Milton Keynes Wolverton Town. Finally, in 1990, the name Wolverton A.F.C. was adopted. This remained until the club's closure in 1992.[18][19][20][21]
  3. ^ Newport Pagnell Wanderers became Newport Pagnell Town in 1972.[24]
  4. ^ Welsh clubs Cardiff City, Colwyn Bay, Merthyr Town, Newport County, Swansea City and Wrexham play in the English pyramid as of the 2014–15 season. Aberdare Athletic, Abertillery Town, Bangor City, Barry Town, Bridgend Town, Caernarfon Town, Lovells Athletic, Mardy, Merthyr Tydfil, Newtown, Rhyl, Ton Pentre and Treharris also formerly did so.
  5. ^ As organised at the end of the 2011–12 season, the pyramid comprises more than 480 interconnected divisions, spread across 24 tiers. The top five levels each comprise one division of between 20 and 24 teams from across the country, while those below include multiple regional divisions of varying sizes.[35] All of these divisions exchange clubs at the end of each season through promotion and relegation.[34]
  6. ^ Manchester United moved from Clayton, 3 miles (4.8 km) east of central Manchester, to Old Trafford, 2 miles (3.2 km) south-west, in 1910.[37] Woolwich Arsenal migrated from Woolwich in south-east London to Highbury in the north of the city in 1913, and dropped "Woolwich" from their name the following year.[38]
  7. ^ On buying the team in 1932, they briefly planned to expand The Valley to house 200,000 fans, which would have been a world record capacity. Jimmy Seed, Charlton's manager from 1933 to 1956, claimed in his autobiography that the Glikstens later considered moving the club to South Africa to avoid taxes.[51]
  8. ^ The clubs Hammam named were Birmingham City, Brighton & Hove Albion, Hull City, Luton Town, Portsmouth, Watford and West Bromwich Albion.[64]
  9. ^ Non-football teams in the Wimbledon locale using the "Dons" name include the now-defunct Wimbledon Dons speedway squad and Wimbledon Rugby Football Club.[165] Teams from elsewhere using the name include Aberdeen and Hendon football clubs,[166][167] Doncaster Rugby League Football Club[168] and others outside the UK.
  10. ^ The nine-man team included seven ex-Wimbledon F.C. players—Marcus Gayle, Scott Fitzgerald, Alan Reeves, Alan Kimble, Carlton Fairweather, Andy Clarke and Dean Holdsworth—and one formerly of AFC Wimbledon, Glenn Mulcaire. The goalkeeper was Gary Phillips.[181]

Notes and references

As of November 2014, AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons have played against each other three times, in cup competitions on each occasion. All three matches have been at Stadium mk; there have been two MK wins and one for AFC. The two sides met for the first time on 2 December 2012, in the second round of the 2012–13 FA Cup. MK Dons won 2–1 with an injury time winner scored by Jon Otsemobor with his heel;[201] MK fans dubbed the goal the "Heel of God" (a spoof on the 1986 Argentina–England "Hand of God").[202] Kyle McFadzean's opening goal for MK Dons in the second match between the two clubs, a 3–1 MK win in the first round of the League Cup in August 2014,[186] was also scored with his heel, and was consequently labelled "Heel of God II".[202] Two months later, in the Football League Trophy Southern section second round, AFC Wimbledon defeated MK Dons 3–2 with a winning goal by Adebayo Akinfenwa.[203]

Fixtures between AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons

In a December 2012 interview, Winkelman expressed some regret about what had happened. "I'm not proud of the way this club came to exist, and I am totally prepared to be the villain of the piece, but I can't put the genie back in the bottle," he said. "Do I think it was right? No. Do I think it was a great thing that happened to Wimbledon? No ... I don’t feel in the right over the way this club was born. But I don’t think I could live with myself if I hadn't gone out and bought the club when it was hours away from liquidation. It was about to be completely finito ... What happened was my fault, and I have to take responsibility for it. But I don’t see why my players, staff and our young supporter base should be forced to carry the can and live with the nastiness, it's nothing to do with them."[200]

In January 2012 the Wimbledon Guardian newspaper launched a campaign called "Drop the Dons", with the aim of persuading MK Dons' owners to remove "Dons" from their club's name.[193] The WISA joined the campaign almost immediately, saying that it believed the use of "Dons" by MK Dons was counter-productive for all parties.[194] The campaign was publicly backed by several former Wimbledon F.C. and AFC Wimbledon figures,[195][196] both Merton Members of Parliament and all 60 of the borough's councillors.[197] Most MK Dons supporters reacted to the campaign with anger. One MK season-ticket holder interviewed by the Milton Keynes Citizen, a former Wimbledon F.C. fan based in London, suggested that "AFC Wimbledon should drop Wimbledon from their name as they don't play in Wimbledon."[198] The leaders of Merton and Milton Keynes Councils met in Milton Keynes in April 2012 to discuss the campaign, and agreed to differ on the matter of a name change.[197] Later that year, shortly before the first AFC Wimbledon–MK Dons match, Winkelman told reporters that "Dons" would not be dropped from his club's name unless it was the will of MK supporters. "I have learned to do what the supporters want," he said.[199]

Sections of MK Dons' fans continue to relate to their club's former identity as Wimbledon. When AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons met on the playing field for the first time in 2012, some MK supporters wore scarves bearing the Wimbledon name, and Wimbledon F.C. shirts.[185][186] Others have attempted to reclaim the "Franchise F.C." label for their own use, chanting "you're getting beat by a franchise" during matches.[187][188][189][190][191][192]

Despite Winkelman's strong words in 2004, his club later agreed to hold talks with the Football Supporters' Federation (FSF), the Milton Keynes Dons Supporters Association and the WISA. The FSF was refusing to admit MK Dons supporters because of objections by the WISA, which was also encouraging other clubs' fans to boycott MK Dons home games. The parties reached an agreement in 2006. The WISA would remove its objections with the FSF regarding MK Dons supporters, and stop calling for a boycott of MK home matches, and in return MK Dons would renounce any claim to a history before 2004, and transfer the Wimbledon F.C. trophy replicas and other physical paraphernalia to Merton Borough. All of this was done in August 2007.[183] The Wimbledon F.C. trophies were put on display at Morden Library in Merton, alongside other memorabilia, in April 2008.[184]

Stadium mk in May 2007, soon before its official opening

The Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association founded the Wimbledon Old Players Association (WOPA) in September 2005 as part of its drive to "reclaim the history of Wimbledon Football Club for AFC Wimbledon and/or the community of Wimbledon".[178] Membership was opened to any former Wimbledon F.C. or AFC Wimbledon player or manager. There were 60 founder members.[178] A "Wimbledon" team, organised by WOPA and backed by AFC Wimbledon,[179][180] played in the London Masters indoor football tournament in July 2006.[n 10] Plough Lane was replaced by a residential development comprising six blocks of flats. Representatives of AFC Wimbledon, the WISA, Merton Council, Barratt Homes and the Dons Trust attended a ceremony in November 2008 at which the development's gate and each of the buildings was named after a figure from Wimbledon F.C.'s past.[182]

Milton Keynes Dons initially maintained that any debate was pointless as Wimbledon F.C. and MK Dons were legally the same entity. Winkelman was unequivocal when answering readers' questions in FourFourTwo magazine in November 2004: "MK Dons and AFC Wimbledon share the same heritage, but we're the real child of Wimbledon", he wrote.[93] One reader asked: "Now that you have renamed the team, and changed the badge and colours, do you agree that AFC Wimbledon now carry the true spirit of Wimbledon?"; Winkelman replied that AFC Wimbledon's founders had betrayed their club and "left their team before their team left them".[93] In another answer, he poured scorn on suggestions that he might give Wimbledon F.C.'s trophy replicas to AFC Wimbledon, writing that the fans had "abdicated their right to it when they all walked away."[93] "The fans who have continued to support us from London—they're the ones who've had to put up with this shit for so long", he concluded.[93]

The location of the history and legacy of Wimbledon F.C., as well as the honours won by the club, was disputed for five years after the relocation's confirmation on 28 May 2002. In the view of AFC Wimbledon and that club's supporters, the "identity of a football club is implicitly bound up in its community".[176] The club regards itself as Wimbledon F.C.'s spiritual continuation to this day, holding that the community maintaining and backing AFC Wimbledon is the same one which originally formed Wimbledon Old Centrals (later Wimbledon F.C.) in 1889, "and kept Wimbledon Football Club alive until May 2002".[177]

Wimbledon F.C. and AFC Wimbledon trophies and memorabilia, exhibited together at Kingsmeadow in 2012

Legacy of Wimbledon F.C.

The newly renamed Milton Keynes Dons continued to play at the National Hockey Stadium while the consortium's new ground was constructed. Despite the stadium's original proposed opening time of the 2003–04 season, ground had not yet even been broken on it; this only happened in February 2005.[172] MK Dons set a new target of January 2007 in December 2005,[173] and in February 2007 revised their proposal to a 22,000-seater stadium ready in July of that year, with provision for expansion to 32,000 (it had originally been intended to seat 30,000).[174] The first match at "Stadium mk" was played in July 2007.[175]

New stadium in Milton Keynes

In line with its self-perception as the spiritual continuation of Wimbledon F.C., AFC Wimbledon attempts to emulate the original team's appearance in almost every way. The fans' club plays in the same blue and yellow home colours and, like Wimbledon F.C., uses a badge based on the local municipal coat of arms.[170][171] AFC Wimbledon continue to use the "Dons" nickname, despite its synchronous use in Milton Keynes. They also retain the "Wombles" label formerly applied to Wimbledon Football Club.[170]

The new name of the relocated club was "Milton Keynes Dons Football Club" (commonly shortened to MK Dons),[164] a name made up of the team's new location and "Dons", a common nickname for Wimbledon-based sports teams, often associated particularly with Wimbledon F.C., but also used by other teams.[n 9] Winkelman's consortium explained that the name was intended to "represent the past, present and future and place the club at the heart of its new community" as well as to retain a connection with the club's former identity.[164] The blue and yellow home colours that Wimbledon F.C. players had worn were concurrently replaced by white shirts, shorts and socks, with black, red and gold as accent colours; the away outfit comprised red shirts, shorts and socks. Both white and red had been used by Wimbledon F.C. as away colours over the previous two decades. The club badge became a rendering of the letters "MK", with the "K" positioned below the "M", rotated 90° anti-clockwise and defaced with the year "MMIV" (2004).[169]

AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons

Winkelman's takeover bid was accepted by Wimbledon F.C.'s creditors on 18 March 2004,[160] but delayed while the Inland Revenue decided whether or not to pursue the club's £525,000 debt to the UK taxpayer before the Law Lords. The Football League threatened to expel the club if the takeover were not completed by 31 July.[161] In May Property Week reported that the new stadium in Denbigh would be cancelled if Wimbledon F.C. were wound up.[162] Richard Foreman, a director of the consortium's development consultant, denied this, saying that the project would continue with "the total support of the council";[162] the consortium would invite another League team to move, he said, and would have 18 months to do so.[162] This did not prove necessary. After the Inland Revenue announced on 27 May that it would not pursue the club's debt,[161] Winkelman's consortium brought Wimbledon F.C. out of administration in late June 2004,[160] paying £850,000 for the club.[88] Although commitments had been made to keeping the name "Wimbledon F.C." regardless of the move,[163] it concurrently announced changes to the team's name, badge and colours.[160][164]

After hosting the first few home matches of the campaign at Selhurst Park—1,054 saw them lose 4–2 to Wigan Athletic in their last home game in London[71]—Wimbledon F.C. received Football League clearance to play home matches at the National Hockey Stadium on 19 September 2003,[155] and eight days later played their first match in Milton Keynes, against Burnley.[156] The game drew a crowd of 5,639, including 893 away fans.[157] Wimbledon F.C. went two goals down before coming back to draw 2–2; Dean Holdsworth scored the club's first goal in Milton Keynes.[158] The team struggled both on and off the pitch for the rest of the season, losing important players regularly as the administrators sold them to keep the club afloat, and eventually finished bottom of the second-tier First Division. Attendances at the National Hockey Stadium over the course of the season were higher than those at Selhurst Park during the year before; 4,800 turned out for the 2–1 defeat to Sunderland that confirmed relegation to the third tier on 7 April 2004, of whom 2,380 were away fans.[53][159]

Milton Keynes Dons (white shirts) play against Blackpool at the National Hockey Stadium during the 2004–05 season

Wimbledon F.C. went into administration on 6 June 2003.[138] Later that month the Hockey Stadium's owners, the National Hockey Foundation, pulled out of discussions over the ground's use, creating confusion as to where Wimbledon F.C. would now be located. The club's administrators stated that as things stood the move to Milton Keynes was off.[150] A week later, after Watford had refused to let Wimbledon F.C. share their ground at Vicarage Road,[151] the administrators announced a return to Selhurst Park.[152] Winkelman had not originally intended to own Wimbledon F.C. himself; his plan had been to work alongside it while the stadium was built in Denbigh and then give the ground to the club in exchange for shares and a place on the board.[88] He had not expected it to go into administration.[153] With the move threatened and the club facing liquidation, he made "the life-defining decision", to quote Conn, of buying it himself.[88] He secured funds from his consortium for the administrators to keep the club operating with the goal of getting it to Milton Keynes as soon as possible.[153] In late July the administrators concluded a deal with the Hockey Stadium's owners to convert it into a League-standard football ground and play there from October—Wimbledon F.C. would return to Selhurst Park in the meantime.[154]

The College of Arms had informed Wimbledon F.C. in August 2002 that in light of the relocation its continued use of the Wimbledon Borough arms for its logo was illegal, so a new badge was created before the 2003–04 season. It featured a stylised eagle's head—an element from the Wimbledon arms—and was drawn in navy blue and yellow outline, the yellow forming the letters "MK".[146] Tottenham Hotspur, Charlton Athletic and Luton Town scheduled pre-season friendly matches against Wimbledon F.C., but then cancelled them in quick succession after each set of supporters protested.[147][148][149] Koppel accused the WISA of orchestrating a campaign against the club, and said the friendlies that would have been at home had been cancelled in part because of concerns that the National Hockey Stadium might not be ready on time.[149]


Soon following the end of the 2002–03 season, Luton Town were purchased by a consortium from Hong Kong and the United States led by John Gurney.[143] As Luton chairman, Gurney floated the idea of buying Wimbledon F.C. and merging it with Luton, "effectively buying a back door to Division One" (Luton were in the division below).[143] Further ideas from Gurney included the building of a "70,000-capacity stadium" near Junction 10 on the M1, and the possible renaming of his club to London Luton "after the airport".[143] None of this was followed up. After six weeks of Gurney ownership described by Luton supporters' representative Yvonne Fletcher as "a complete nightmare, kind of Kafkaesque",[143] Luton entered administrative receivership "as a protective measure", resulting in Gurney's departure.[144][145] Milton Keynes City F.C. went out of business in July 2003, unable to secure the investment it required to continue.[16][17]

Safeway demolished Plough Lane and sold the site to a property developer in November 2002.[139] Milton Keynes Council meanwhile granted planning permission to convert the National Bowl into a temporary football stadium, but the Football League delayed a decision on these plans in October 2002.[140] At Selhurst Park, Wimbledon F.C. reported a divisional record low of only 849—including over 200 away fans, around the same number of complimentary tickets, and Wimbledon F.C. youth players and members of the press—as the attendance for the Tuesday-night game against Rotherham United on 29 October 2002.[2][141] A temporary stadium in Milton Keynes proved difficult to arrange and Wimbledon F.C. remained in south London at the end of the season.[142] On the field, the side finished the second-tier campaign in 10th place.[53] Koppel re-adopted the National Hockey Stadium as his preferred interim destination, announcing a plan to convert the stadium for football and play there from the start of the 2003–04 season.[142]

Wimbledon F.C. hoped to move to Milton Keynes immediately, but as the new ground was yet to be built an interim home in the town would have to be found first.[136] The first proposal, to start the 2002–03 season at the National Hockey Stadium in central Milton Keynes, was abandoned because it did not meet Football League stadium criteria. While alternative temporary options were examined—Winkelman suggested converting the National Bowl music venue[136]—Wimbledon F.C. started the season at Selhurst Park and set a target of playing in MK by Christmas. Central Milton Keynes Shopping Centre became the team's new sponsor; "GO–MK" was emblazoned across the players' shirts.[137] Before Wimbledon F.C.'s first game of the season, against Gillingham on 10 August 2002, AFC Wimbledon supporters picketed outside Selhurst Park, tried to dissuade home fans from entering and shouted "scab" and "scum" at those who did. The attendance was officially announced as 2,476, including 1,808 from Gillingham.[134] The breakaway club claimed an average crowd of over 3,700 during its first months,[75][133][134] while Wimbledon F.C. attracted less than 3,000, most of whom were followers of visiting teams.[2][133][134] The loss of income from gate receipts would contribute to Wimbledon F.C. subsequently entering administration.[138]

A group of disaffected Wimbledon F.C. fans led by Stewart, Jones, Ivor Heller and Trevor Williams resolved to found their own team, in their view a spiritual continuation of the original.[132] Within weeks, they had done so; the new side, AFC Wimbledon,[2] entered a groundshare arrangement with Kingstonian at the latter club's home ground at Kingsmeadow, in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, adjacent to Merton and about 5 miles (8 km) from Plough Lane. The fans' club was accepted into the Combined Counties League, seven levels below Wimbledon F.C.'s place in the second tier, and began play at the start of the 2002–03 season.[75] The vast majority of Wimbledon F.C.'s fanbase switched allegiance to the new club.[2][133][134] The assertion in the commission report that a supporters' breakaway club would be "not in the wider interests of football"[135] particularly infuriated AFC Wimbledon's founders and became an integral part of club lore.[108][132]

The FA stated that although the decision was final and binding, it still strongly opposed the relocation. It emphasised that its recommendation to the independent commission had been against the move. "The Football Association sees it as vital for the game to stop these circumstances ever happening again," the statement concluded.[3] The chief executive of the FA, Adam Crozier, said that he believed the commission to have made an "appalling decision".[129] Koppel said the decision had saved Wimbledon Football Club.[130] A spokesman for Milton Keynes Council said the people of Milton Keynes were looking forward to the team's arrival. "It will be of great benefit to the city," he said; "Milton Keynes is becoming a city of sport."[130] In the eyes of the WISA, the Dons Trust and most of the Wimbledon F.C. fanbase, the move's sanctioning marked the "death of their club".[3] "If it moves it will mean nothing to us," said Marc Jones, a WISA spokesman.[3] Wimbledon F.C. became widely reviled by football supporters across the country and pejoratively nicknamed by some as "Franchise F.C.".[75][131]

AFC Wimbledon (blue shirts) warm up before taking on Raynes Park Vale in a Combined Counties League game at Kingsmeadow, on the last day of the 2002–03 season


Wimbledon F.C. and AFC Wimbledon are named in full throughout the following sections to avoid ambiguity.


The commission report described redeveloping Plough Lane, which Merton Council insisted remained viable "if there is a will for the club to pursue this option", as the only recourse for Wimbledon other than Milton Keynes.[124] A feasibility study carried out by Drivers Jonas, commissioned and funded jointly by Wimbledon F.C. and Merton Council,[125] described a 20,000-capacity stadium at Plough Lane as physically possible but "extremely ambitious", risky and financially unsustainable given the club's money problems.[124] The commission ruled that it was unreasonable to expect Wimbledon's owners to pursue a move back to Plough Lane under these circumstances. Parker and Stride concluded that on the evidence presented Milton Keynes was the only option that would give the club a chance of financial survival,[126] and therefore ruled in favour of the move, two to one—Turvey dissented[127]—on 28 May 2002.[3][128]

The commissioners heard oral statements from Winkelman, Koppel, Louise Carton-Kelly of the Dons Trust fundraising group, Kris Stewart of the WISA, Nicholas Coward of the FA and Steve Clark, Merton Council's head of planning.[120] Winkelman was described in the report as "a passionate and frank witness, who is genuinely concerned to promote the interests of Milton Keynes and WFC."[121] He expressed a wish to retain Wimbledon's "name, strip, branding and the like", and spoke of renaming local roads and calling the stadium site "Wimbledon Park". Winkelman predicted that an overwhelming majority of Wimbledon fans would continue to follow the club in Milton Keynes.[121] The commission summarised the fans' submitted views as almost universally negative and reported that most perceived a continuation of the club in Milton Keynes as no better than liquidation.[122] Stewart, when asked if he would prefer life for the club in Milton Keynes or death in Merton, said he regarded both as death and that in either case he would attempt to "resurrect the club and start at the bottom of the pyramid".[123]

Wimbledon's statement centred on the club's precarious financial situation and a claim that its case was unique. It stressed that Wimbledon (referred to in the statement as "WFC") had lacked its own home stadium for 11 years and asserted that the club did not have "firm and extensive roots within the conurbation from which it takes its name". According to the club statement, "the vast majority" of Wimbledon fans were not from Merton and "less than 20% of the 3,400 season ticket holders" lived there.[118] Milton Keynes was, the statement said, Wimbledon's "last chance of financial survival"; the move's opponents did not properly appreciate the club's fiscal troubles and "wrongly assume[d] that there is a viable alternative in south London."[119] The new ground in Milton Keynes was feasible despite the club's financial problems as it would be almost entirely funded by the consortium's enabling development. Wimbledon's identity—"traditions, history, colours, name, strip, stadium design and the like"—would be preserved in Milton Keynes and supporters would be offered subsidised travel and tickets. The statement concluded that "infinitely more harm would be caused to football if WFC went out of business" and that a "proportionate exercise of discretion ... would allow the relocation in WFC's exceptional circumstances."[97]

Parker, Stride and Turvey sat at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer's [117]

Independent commission; approval

After considering extensive written evidence from Wimbledon F.C., the Football League, the FA, the Premier League, the Football Conference, the Scottish Football League, Milton Keynes City F.C., Merton Council, the Football Supporters' Association and the Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association (WISA), and oral submissions from Koppel, Burns and Andrew Judge of Merton Council,[111] the arbitration panel unanimously ruled on 29 January 2002 that the League's decision had "not been properly taken in the legal sense, and that the procedures had not been fair"—the League had, the panel reported, rejected Wimbledon's application "not on its merits, but on the basis of an inflexible view or policy".[106] The question of Wimbledon's proposed move was remitted to the Football League board,[106] which reconvened on 17 April 2002 and concluded that the matter should be considered by an independent commission appointed by the Football Association.[112] The FA agreed and in the first week of May appointed Raj Parker of the Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer law firm to chair the commission, with Steve Stride, the Operations Director at Aston Villa, and Alan Turvey, a member of the FA Council and chairman of the Isthmian League, as commissioners.[113] Under FA Rule F the Football League and Wimbledon were informed of these appointments; neither objected.[113] Acknowledging Koppel's request that the matter be resolved by the end of the month because of Wimbledon's financial problems, the FA set a deadline of 31 May 2002 for the commission's "final and binding" verdict,[114] and released a press statement on 10 May inviting anyone interested to send written submissions care of the FA.[113]

Koppel appealed against this decision, calling it and the process by which it was reached "deficient and unlawful"; he insisted that re-basing in Milton Keynes was the only way Wimbledon could "survive and thrive".[105] Burns expressed strong personal opposition in response, declaring that allowing such a move would "destroy what football is about".[105] To consider whether or not Wimbledon had the right to contest the League's decision, the Football Association formed an ad hoc arbitration panel made up of FA vice-chairman and Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein, York City chairman Douglas Craig, and Charles Hollander QC.[106][107][108] Craig was a controversial choice for some because of his actions as York chief;[104] he had sold his club's stadium Bootham Crescent to a holding company he also owned for £165,000 in July 1999, then in December 2001 announced his intention to evict the team and sell the ground for £4.5 million.[109] Winkelman told reporters that even if the appeal were unsuccessful "our door will be open to any club in trouble".[110]

Koppel announced Wimbledon Football Club's intention to move to Milton Keynes on 2 August 2001 with a letter to the Football League chief executive David Burns requesting approval. The letter stated that Wimbledon had already signed an agreement to relocate and "subject to the necessary planning and regulatory consents being obtained" intended to be playing home games at a newly-built stadium in Milton Keynes by the start of the 2003–04 season.[103] The proposed move was opposed in most quarters: along with most of Wimbledon's fans and many football supporters generally, the League, the Football Association (the FA), Merton Council, most football writers in the national press and a 150-man Parliamentary All-Party Committee voiced disapproval.[1][2][3] Two similar club relocations had occurred in the Scottish professional ranks during the 1990s, but the permanent relocation of an English League club to another conurbation was unprecedented.[36] The League board unanimously rejected Wimbledon's proposed move on 16 August 2001,[103] stating that any Milton Keynes club would have to earn membership by progressing through the pyramid and that "franchised football" would be "disastrous".[104]

Announcement and rejection; appeal

Legal process

A month later, Winkelman offered his proposal to QPR, promising that the club's name and blue-and-white hooped strip would be kept in Milton Keynes and that the fans would be represented on the board of directors.[84] QPR dismissed the offer, leading the developers to once again contact Wimbledon later that month.[58] With Koppel in charge, Wimbledon were more receptive this time around—Koppel said that Wimbledon's owners were subsidising the club to the tune of £6 million per year and that such action was necessary to prevent its liquidation.[58] As talks progressed, Winkelman approached the owner of Milton Keynes City, attempting to buy the club name.[84] It soon became clear that the bulk of Wimbledon's support strongly opposed a move of this kind.[102]

Towards the end of the 2000–01 season, Wimbledon briefly entered discussions with Queens Park Rangers, who were in financial administration, over a merger; the new team would play at Loftus Road.[98] The Football League announced on 2 May 2001 that it would give "favourable consideration" to a takeover of QPR by Wimbledon, but that the process would have to be very quick if the merged team were to take part in the 2001–02 season. Noades told the press that Wimbledon would have to give him 12 months' notice to leave Selhurst Park. The vast majority of Wimbledon and QPR fans quickly made their opposition to a merger known.[99] Following Wimbledon's draw with Norwich City at Selhurst Park on 6 May, Koppel came onto the pitch and told the mostly jeering home fans that "there never was a merger proposal with QPR";[100] the discussions had been instigated by the Loftus Road club, he said.[100] QPR abandoned the amalgamation plan two days later, citing potential fan alienation.[101]

Røkke and Gjelsten appointed a new club chairman, Charles Koppel, in January 2001.[95] According to Stephen Morrow in The People's Game?: Football, Finance and Society (2003), Koppel had never been to a football match before becoming involved with Wimbledon and "gave the impression of being completely unaware of the relationship that exists between a football club and its supporters."[96] He was interested in an "enabling development" whereby a new football stadium could be created and funded as part of a business or leisure opportunity[96]—exactly the kind of proposition put forward by Winkelman.[97]

The first club approached was Luton Town, in 2000.[59][91] Luton's owners were keen on the idea of moving to Milton Keynes but the Football League blocked such a move on the grounds that no member club could leave its own area.[59][92] Nevertheless, Winkelman attempted to negotiate a move with two London clubs over the following months; he approached Crystal Palace and Barnet, but neither was interested.[59][76] Winkelman then offered the ground to Wimbledon.[58] He registered various internet domain names relating to "Milton Keynes Dons" and "MK Dons",[93] including,, and, all of which were registered through Tucows Domains on 23 June 2000.[94] Wimbledon initially rejected the Milton Keynes idea.[58]

Plough Lane in 2000, standing derelict

Negotiations with various clubs

Opponents of such a move surmised that the stadium was a "Trojan Horse" included in the blueprint to bypass planning rules, and that although the consortium described the Asda superstore as an "enabling development to finance the building of the stadium", the opposite was the case—the consortium, they claimed, had to have a professional team in place right away to justify the ground so the development could go ahead.[84][86][88] After interviewing Winkelman in 2012, David Conn of The Guardian corroborated this assessment. "Having seen the opportunity to build a stadium Milton Keynes lacked, and realised Asda did not have a store in the town, Winkelman acquired options to buy the land from its three owners, including the council," Conn summarised. "Asda would not have been granted planning permission for a huge out-of-town superstore unless it gave the council the benefit of building the stadium. [A League club] would move up, permission would be granted, then [Winkelman] would exercise the option to buy all the land, sell it to Asda and Ikea for very much more, and the difference would be used to build the stadium."[88] Conn retrospectively described this as the "deal of a lifetime".[88]

Winkelman's professional background was in music promotion; an ex-CBS Records executive, he had moved to the Milton Keynes area from London in 1993.[89] In his own words, in a 2013 interview, he "didn't have a clue about football" when he was proposing move a League club from another town—indeed looking back he said "it was that naivety that enabled me to go and do it."[90] He was the only person in Milton Keynes publicly associated with the project;[85] his financial supporters, later revealed to be Asda (a subsidiary of Walmart) and IKEA,[86][88] were kept strictly anonymous.[85] According to an investigative report by Ian Pollock, published in When Saturday Comes in July 2002, neither the Milton Keynes Council press office, the editor of the Milton Keynes Citizen newspaper nor the head of Invest in MK, the council agency encouraging businesses to move to the area, could tell him who was backing the plans. Winkelman told Pollock his supporters were "major business people in MK and some developers. A number of major international par­tners who've done this sort of thing before."[85]

The Milton Keynes Stadium Consortium, led by Pete Winkelman, was formed in 2000.[58][84] It proposed a large development in the southern Milton Keynes district of Denbigh North, including a 30,000-capacity football stadium, an Asda hypermarket, an IKEA store, a hotel, a conference centre, and a retail park.[85][86][87] The plan to build a ground of this size was complicated by the fact that there was no professional football club in Milton Keynes and that the highest-ranked team in the town, Milton Keynes City (formerly Mercedes-Benz F.C.),[15][n 1] was playing in the then eighth-tier Spartan South Midlands League, four divisions below the Football League.[15] The developers could not justify building such a stadium for a club of this small stature.[86] Rather than wait for MK City or another local team to progress through the pyramid, Winkelman resolved to "import" an established League club to use the ground.[84][86][88]

A man in a dark suit with wispy brown hair and a wide smile looks into the camera.
Pete Winkelman, the leader of the Milton Keynes Stadium Consortium, pictured in 2011

Background and motivations

Milton Keynes Stadium Consortium

Frustrated by the lack of progress, Hammam shifted his focus to Dublin and other locations outside London—Basingstoke, "Gatwick", Belfast, Cardiff and Scotland.[2][4][64][75][76] He later claimed that during this time seven clubs from outside London approached Wimbledon with groundshare offers.[64][n 8] By February 1998, Clydebank of the Scottish third tier were also pursuing a move to the Irish capital. Swayed by Hammam's offer of £500,000 to each League of Ireland club, the same amount to the FAI and "schools of excellence all over the country" in return for support, five Irish teams now backed Wimbledon's Dublin proposal.[77] Later that year, after the Premier League had approved the idea, the lengthy, heated debate in Ireland ended with an FAI veto.[58][64][78][79][80] With Dublin now not an option, Hammam attempted to buy Selhurst Park from Noades, who had sold Crystal Palace in 1998, but still owned the ground. This led nowhere.[55] Hammam finally sold his shares in Wimbledon in February 2000,[81] and seven months later became the owner of Cardiff City.[82] Wimbledon were relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 1999–2000 season.[53] The average attendance at Wimbledon home matches dropped by more than half over the next year, from 17,157 during the 1999–2000 season to 7,897 during 2000–01.[83]

Playing away from Merton at a supposedly temporary home, Wimbledon set a record for the lowest-ever English top-flight attendance during the 1992–93 season, drawing only 3,039 fans to a Tuesday-night match against Everton on 26 January 1993.[70] However the general trend was one of a sharp rise—the club's average home attendance more than doubled at Selhurst Park from around 8,000 during the last years at Plough Lane to a peak of over 18,000 during the 1998–99 Premier League season.[71] Hammam sold Wimbledon to two Norwegian businessmen, Kjell Inge Røkke and Bjørn Rune Gjelsten, for a reported £26 million in June 1997, while remaining at the club in an advisory role.[72] Six months later, Wimbledon were reported to be considering the football and greyhounds option again.[73] Ownership of Plough Lane was transferred from the club to Rudgwick Limited—a company founded in 1993 with Hammam serving as director.[74] With political control of Merton Council having changed, Hammam secured the £8 million sale of Plough Lane to Safeway supermarkets in 1998.[58] He unsuccessfully attempted to gain permission to redevelop a former gas works in Merton during the same year,[58] and soon after entered abortive negotiations over a site in Beddington.[58]

Opinion polls in the Republic showed consistently high support for the idea of Wimbledon hosting Premier League matches in Dublin,[65][67] but the League of Ireland argued that this would endanger its existence, and in September 1996 about 300 fans rallied in Dublin under the slogan "Resist the Dublin Dons".[65] Twenty Irish clubs "reaffirmed their opposition" to Wimbledon playing in Dublin the following month;[68] a week later Reuters called the proposal "dead and buried".[54] When Hammam requested talks with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) top brass in April 1997, they refused to even meet him.[69] Vocal opposition from Wimbledon fans emerged—after a friendly match in August 1997 fans holding "Dublin = Death" and "Dons Belong In Merton" placards refused to leave the stadium for two hours. Soon afterwards, Hammam met six leading protesters, who told him that in the event of a move they would start a new non-League club locally.[65]

Hammam later claimed to have looked at every possible stadium site in Merton. He initially sought to relocate within south London, examining "seven boroughs" including Tolworth and Brixton.[64] He also began to consider selling the club. In 1994, Wimbledon's Irish-born manager Joe Kinnear contacted Eamon Dunphy, a football pundit and former player from Ireland, to inform him of this and to put to him the idea of moving the club to Dublin. Dunphy was enthusiastic about the idea and became its main proponent in Ireland over the next three years. It was suggested that Wimbledon fans from London could be given free flights to Dublin for home matches,[65] and that British Sky Broadcasting might pay to fly the opposing teams there during the first season.[66]

Eamon Dunphy (2013 photo) was a leading proponent of the mid-1990s proposal for Wimbledon to relocate to Dublin.

Merton Council had been recommending that Wimbledon move to a site in nearby Beddington, but this proposal fell through soon after the move to Selhurst Park.[4] With the inflation in costs brought on by the foundation of the FA Premier League in 1992, the club soon began to lose money heavily.[2] In 1992 the Greyhound Racing Association offered to redevelop Wimbledon Stadium (less than a mile from Plough Lane) into a 15,000-seater dog racing and football ground.[4] Hammam was outraged two years later when the council, attempting to retain the Plough Lane site for public use,[4] refused to sanction its sale for a supermarket redevelopment that Hammam said would finance a new ground at the dog racing site.[63] Hammam angrily declared he would look elsewhere,[4] and threatened to change the club's name and remove the eagle device, a symbol of Wimbledon, from the team's badge.[63] "We have been betrayed," he told the press. "The council say they want us back, but when it comes to taking action they don't want to know."[63]

Selhurst Park, photographed in 2011

Wimbledon at Selhurst Park; Dublin proposal

Even with this clause removed, the team could not afford to redevelop Plough Lane when required to do so the following year. Wimbledon moved about 6 miles (9.7 km) across south London before the start of the 1991–92 season to share Crystal Palace's Selhurst Park ground. This was supposed to be a temporary arrangement while Wimbledon arranged the construction of their own new ground in a more local area, but the move was still unpopular among fans.[4] Critics alleged that it was at least partly motivated by financial considerations—namely the profit that might be gained from selling the old ground.[2][62]

When Hammam purchased the club from Noades in 1981, Wimbledon also owned the ground at Plough Lane; a pre-emption clause existed, however, which reserved the site for "sports, leisure or recreational purposes" only. If Wimbledon Football Club were ever wound up, Plough Lane's owners were legally bound to sell the ground to Merton Council for £8,000, irrespective of inflation.[58] This clause reduced the possibility of the club losing its home stadium, but it was unpopular with a succession of Wimbledon owners as it made the site practically worthless as real estate. Hammam complained that this limited his ability to borrow money needed to redevelop the ground.[58] Seeking to increase Plough Lane's commercial value, Hammam entered into negotiations with the council to remove the clause in 1990; the eventual agreed price for the revoking of the clause was a sum between £300,000 and £800,000.[58] At least one Wimbledon club director resigned his position in protest.[58]

Wimbledon's success as a club in the top flight of English football was founded on unorthodox financial management and judicious dealings in the transfer market.[2] Rumours of a move or a merger with another London side persisted, leading the club's chief executive Colin Hutchinson to resign in 1987 amid talk of an amalgamation with Ron Noades's new club Crystal Palace or a groundshare at Queens Park Rangers' Loftus Road ground in Shepherd's Bush.[61] Wimbledon were granted planning permission to build a 20,000-capacity all-seater ground in their home borough of Merton in 1988, soon after they won the FA Cup, but the site was instead made into a car park by a newly elected Labour council in 1990. Wimbledon's desire to move was made a necessity a year later, when the Taylor Report, which ordered the extensive redevelopment of football grounds, was released.[4]

Relocation of Wimbledon F.C. to Milton Keynes is located in Greater London
Plough Lane
Plough Lane
Selhurst Park
Selhurst Park
Wimbledon moved about 6 miles (9.7 km) across south London, from Plough Lane to Selhurst Park, before the 1991–92 season. This move was supposed to be temporary while the club arranged a new stadium of its own on a more local site.[4]

Taylor Report

Wimbledon leave Plough Lane

Luton Town, based some 15 miles (24 km) from Milton Keynes in Luton, were also seeking a new site at this time. As early as 1960, then-First Division Luton's attendances had been deemed far too low for the top flight by Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly, which also considered their ground at Kenilworth Road, in the middle of town, to be hard to get to.[59] At this time the club was already planning a 50,000-capacity ground near Dunstable, to the north-west of Luton,[59] but no new ground materialised. Luton were relegated in 1960 and, apart from the 1974–75 season, remained outside of the top division until 1982–83. With the team still based at Kenilworth Road, Luton's owners proposed moving to Milton Keynes, where, according to The Luton News, the relocated and renamed "MK Hatters" would play home matches in a new "super-stadium".[59] The idea was very poorly received by Luton fans, and viewed, in Bale's words, as "tearing the club from its most loyal supporters".[28] Vehement opposition from Luton's local support combined with the wide unpopularity of the proposed move to prevent it from occurring.[59][60]

Luton Town (1983)

Despite his early optimism, Noades soon came to the conclusion that a League club in Milton Keynes would not draw crowds much higher than those Wimbledon already attracted in south London. "I couldn't really see us getting any bigger gates than what Northampton Town were currently getting at that time, and, in fact, are still getting," he explained, in a 2001 interview. "I really couldn't see any future in it. I can't actually see that there is a means of drawing large attendances to Milton Keynes."[56] Abandoning his interest in MK City,[56][57] Noades sold Wimbledon to Hammam in 1981. Later that year Noades bought nearby Crystal Palace and briefly explored merging that club with Wimbledon.[55][58]

In 1979, when Wimbledon first won promotion from the Fourth Division after two seasons in the Football League, Noades's interest was piqued by the site designated by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation for a stadium next to the town's still-under-construction Central railway station.[56] Planning to move Wimbledon there through amalgamation with an established Milton Keynes club, Noades purchased debt-ridden Southern League club Milton Keynes City (MK City)[n 1] for £1.[56] He and three other Wimbledon directors—Jimmy Rose, Bernie Coleman and Sam Hammam—were promptly voted onto MK City's board "in an advisory capacity". Noades said that the four directors were making a separate personal investment. The acquisition was not relevant to a move, he said, though he also spoke at length about the superior long-term promise of the Milton Keynes location.[57]

The south-west London club Wimbledon, traditionally a semi-professional non-League side, won three successive Southern League championships between 1975 and 1977 and were thereupon elected into the Football League. They proceeded to perform strongly in fully professional football, winning promotion to the then-top flight First Division for the 1986–87 season.[53] The club's swift rise from obscurity through the English football pyramid, latterly described as a "fairytale" by the BBC,[4] caused the team to reach a level of prominence far above that suggested by its modest home stadium at Plough Lane, which remained largely unchanged from the club's non-League days.[4] Wimbledon's record attendance at Plough Lane—18,000, set "in the 1930s against a team of sailors from HMS Victory"[54]—was never broken during 14 League seasons at the ground, including five in the top flight.[54] Ron Noades, who purchased the club for £2,782 in 1976,[55] came to see Plough Lane as a potential limitation by 1979. He surmised that it could only attract a relatively small number of fans because of its location, close to large areas of sparsely-populated parkland.[56]

Wimbledon playing against Oxford United at Plough Lane during the 1981–82 season

Wimbledon (1979)

The south-east London club Charlton Athletic were linked with a move to "a progressive Midlands borough" in 1973,[48] a year after Charlton's relegation to the third tier.[49] The Gliksten family, which owned Charlton from 1932 to 1982 and had a history of proposing elaborate schemes for the club,[50][n 7] revealed plans to build a community sports complex at The Valley, and to hold a public market at the ground on weekdays. Greenwich Council refused to licence the market and insisted that the complex be built on public space at a local park. The club reacted by announcing by announcing the proposed move to the Midlands.[48] Fans inundated the local media and club offices with strong opinion against a move, prompting Charlton to print a statement in the 14 April 1973 match programme telling fans that the proposed move was because of the council's attitude regarding the market and complex plans, which the team said threatened its future. "You, the supporters, can make sure the club continues in Charlton by protesting as loud as you can to Greenwich Council over their refusal to grant us permission for our plans," the message explained.[52] No relocation occurred.[49]

Charlton Athletic (1973)

Early Milton Keynes relocation proposals

In English non-League football, events surrounding [45] Enfield's owner Tony Lazarou sold the club's ground at Southbury Road in 1999 and arranged several short-term groundshares before resettling Enfield 10 miles (16 km) west in Borehamwood—temporarily, he said, while he looked for a new stadium in Enfield. Two years later, after no site had been identified and a dispute had developed regarding an escrow account, the Enfield Supporters' Trust resolved in June 2001 that Lazarou lacked sufficient will to bring the club back to Enfield and so founded a new team, Enfield Town, which based itself locally and won the support of much of the original Enfield fanbase.[46] In a similar case in 2012, the supporters' trust affiliated to Northwich Victoria broke away to form 1874 Northwich.[47] In each of these cases, Stephen Mumford comments in his 2013 work Watching Sport: Aesthetics, Ethics and Emotion, "supporters have agonised over where their allegiance properly lies."[44]

[43].Livingston Football Club while Meadowbank renamed themselves [42] Clyde kept their original name,[43].Livingston, relocated amid fans' protests about 20 miles (32 km) west to another new town, fourth tier club in the Edinburgh, a struggling Meadowbank Thistle and a year later [42], about 16 miles (26 km) to the north-east, in 1994,Cumbernauld) to the new town of Glasgow in the south-east of Rutherglen (close to Shawfield Stadium moved from Clyde club Third-flight Scottish League membership therefore remained largely restricted to well-established cities as opposed to new towns. Two Scottish League teams left their metropolitan districts for new towns during the 1990s. [41] until then it was nearly impossible for sides outside the League to join.[40]

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