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Us and Them

By: Tony Butcher
Date: 12/08/2002

KICKING around on a piece of ground in their home town is something fans of Town's next opponents Wimbledon can only dream about now.

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Their dreams of returning, if not to Plough Lane then at least to a bit of green, green grass they can call home in South West London, have been destroyed. by the Football Association permitting the relocation of the club to Milton Keynes. Some romantic, but determined, supporters have even set up a new club, AFC Wimbledon, to keep the flame burning in a very, very lowly league.

But it’s only a little local difficulty in a land far, far away, where semis are detached, curtains twitch and trains are late. What’s it got to do with us? Everything. Imagine, if you will, a bunch of bright eyed, bushy haired visionaries taking over the club and moving Grimsby Town to Scarborough. "It’s the only way to save the club you love". "There is no alternative". You can almost hear besuited businessmen oozing platitudes and dribbling homilies.

There is a lot of condescending cant uttered by "those in the game" about what is "best for the game". The game is a sport organised around clubs based in specific geographical areas. It’s part of the Football Association rules. It isn’t a franchise operation like American Football. Merton Council’s reluctance to permit a new stadium to be erected exactly where the present owners have proposed is a convenient fig leaf for the onward march of the fickle franchisers.

The principal characters behind Wimbledon FC’s metamorphosis into the "Milton Keynes Mercenaries" are described, variously, as entrepreneurs or venture capitalists. Attracted by the big bucks of the Premiership they now see the prospect of profits receding quicker than Ray Wilkins’ hair. Ain’t that a shame. They gambled and lost. Poor old Wimbledon directors and shareholders can’t make ends meet. They don’t make enough from their supporters to throw wads of used fivers at players. And that’s what it seems the new breed of directors in football believe is the quick fix needed to bring immediate success and a rapid rise to the Premiership, land of plenty.

So how do they hope to achieve this dash for cash? By attracting a new market for their "product" in Milton Keynes. An exciting opportunity to take the game into the untapped hinterland of the dislocated commuter. Poppycock! This sounds exactly like the logic that sent the World Cup to the good old US of A, where "sokka" has hardly made a dent in the national psyche, let alone made itself financially viable. An example closer to home would be the wandering minstrels of the London Bronco’s Rugby League operation.

But what happens if they don’t achieve "success" with this move? Move on again to Basingstoke, Dublin, or maybe America, where Wimbledon is a recognised brand (providing a few cosmetic changes are made - like the shape of the net, the size of the ball, using a racket, maybe change the club colours to purple and green - who could argue with minor tweaks which bring an ailing old pastime into the modern gleaming, happy-clappy world of Starbucks and Gap)? After all, that’s the logic if you treat football as a business in search of a market.

But football isn’t only about success, however you try and define it. It’s about a sense of belonging, of identity. These aren’t abstract concepts but the very stuff of football – the reason why every single one of us is today. Clubs are named after something, they represent something. A town, a city, a distinct area. Even Arsenal and Everton mean something to you. They represent areas in proud cities. Take the club from its place and what have you got. Just a name. And we’re back to the American system of franchises again, aren’t we. Would you be happy to follow the whims of an arbitrary rich man, his present folly? When he loses interest what happens. Ah, we‘re back to Wimbledon again. Bye, bye Sam, here comes trouble.

Wimbledon were a shining example of what could be achieved by the underdog, the little man. From non-league to FA Cup winners in a decade. But another decade of cruising Hollywood Boulevard resulted in transient, here today, gone tomorrow, owners believing they are Brad Pitt when they’re really Bradley Woods. The "success" has gone, if the identity goes too, what is left?

Too many years at the top of the footballing tree and they have, literally, forgotten their roots. Without roots a tree dies.

Support the sapling, viva AFC Wimbledon!

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