New Franchise vs Old Franchise as Bradford City go to MK Dons

Image by Mike Holdsworth

Image by Mike Holdsworth

MK Dons vs Bradford City preview

@Stadium MK on Tuesday 16 September, 2014

By Jason McKeown

As Manchester United were suffering the League Cup humiliation of being thrashed by a League One team – live to the nation – for most outsiders, the amusement was tempered by who the League One team happened to be.

The MK Dons. Disliked up and down the land for their dubious origins, and lack of humility over how they earned their status. The club who stole the identity of Wimbledon, back in 2003, in hugely controversial circumstances – a situation which exposed the impotence of English football’s governing bodies. Over a decade on, the storm has passed but the lingering resentment remains. You really shouldn’t be here.

And in a breathtakingly arrogant statement that sums up the club’s lack of self-awareness, following the Manchester United demolition manager Karl Robinson declared, “We get a lot criticism nationally for obvious reasons. But I don’t think anybody can talk about our birth or our existence in the Football League from now on. We’ve well and truly put ourselves on the map.”

Well Karl, I beg to differ. The idea that – because MK Dons have achieved something on the pitch – their history can be forgotten is ludicrous. Frankly, MK Dons can achieve promotion from League One this season, promotion from the Championship the next, and win the Premier League the year after and people will still deride their birth and existence. For as long as AFC Wimbledon are a football club, they will haunt the MK Dons. It is somewhat cruel that the Dons’ Manchester United pay day was achieved after they defeated Wimbledon in the previous round.

Of course, the people-in-glass-houses rule does apply here. Bradford City were formed exactly 100 years before the Dons – but similarly earned a place in the Football League without ever having played a game. Back in 1903, the FA’s desire to establish football in West Yorkshire – when Rugby League was the dominant sport in the region – led to City’s immediate election into the second tier of English football. Just like the MK Dons, City had no heritage and did not deserve their place in the second tier on merit. Cynical commercialism in football existed long before the birth of the Premier League in 1992.

Which has meant the fledgling relationship between City and the Dons is a complex one. Whilst there is a general disapproval amongst Bantams fans over the way that football came to MK, and the shameful manner in which Wimbledon fans were treated, it is rarely vocalised in the way that other clubs’ support bases appear to. Since the Dons were formed 11 years ago, City have visited Milton Keynes on five occasions – and not once was there ever talk of boycotts or protests.

We even have the dubious distinction of being the first opposition team to lose in MK, following a wretched 2-1 second tier defeat at their temporary National Hockey Stadium home in November 2003. And then in April 2008, MK Dons celebrated their first – and only – promotion by clinching the League Two title at Valley Parade, and the City fans who stayed back that day to watch their own team’s end-of-season lap of appreciation took time out to applaud their opponents and supporters.

I remember it as a strange uncomfortable moment where you were glad the football world wasn’t watching us clapping the MK Dons. We’ve always been a sporting bunch at Valley Parade – witness the home applause that greeted Ajay Leitch-Smith’s brilliant goal that clinched Yeovil’s victory over City a week ago. It didn’t seem to be in our nature, back then, to have booed or derided the MK Dons’ moment of triumph.

And perhaps, unlike MK Dons, our greater self-awareness over our history means there is an element of looking in the mirror and as we judge them, preventing exterior dissent.

We are fortunate that, back in 1903, such a franchise movement would have barely raised an eyebrow. And as generation after generation has kept football so popular in this country, City’s origins are barely known. Perhaps this is all that MK Dons can hope to rely on also, in terms of shaking off their unpopularity: for sufficient time to pass.

In the more immediate term, City face the first of two Tuesday night visits to Stadium MK with league points and a place in League Cup’s fourth round at stake. With a Saturday trip to Colchester sandwiched in-between, the players are on a mini-Southern break and – probably – facing a great deal of time on the motorway.

There are inevitable conversations around which MK Dons game is the more important to City, but in reality it shouldn’t be a choice – they both matter.

Three points this Tuesday will be the perfect Bantams’ response to back-to-back home defeats – and will also lay down a marker for the cup match seven days later. Equally, a defeat in the league will make the cup tussle all the more daunting. After defeating the Dons home and away in the league last season, City will be desperate to maintain their dominance in this fixture.

The visitors’ team news centres around defence, where they must do without Alan Sheehan for three games. Christopher Routis is primed for a league debut in the Irishman’s absence, and Routis will be familiar with his back four team mates after they all figured in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie at Oldham alongside him, two weeks ago. Had Sheehan remained available, Routis may have been brought in anyway with Meredith dropped or pushed into midfield.

Mark Yeates is also a big injury doubt after being forced off during the Swindon defeat, meaning it is likely Billy Clarke will revert back to the tip of the diamond and Aaron Mclean recalled up front. The temptation to make any further changes may be tempered by the growing injury list that limits alternative choices. Filipe Morais may have a chance of starting, after impressing from the bench on Saturday.

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16 replies

  1. People should lay off MK Dons. Pretty much every club in football has some kind of murkiness in its formation or subsequent history so why punish one just because its formation was more recent than another?
    – Liverpool were formed in a dispute between Everton and the owner of Anfield
    – Arsenal are a long way from their original home of the Woolwich Arsenal having moved for financial reasons
    – I seem to remember Bradford City started out as a rugby league club and changed games to join the Football League
    – Sheffield Wednesday are no longer a cricket club and tend to play on a Saturday these days
    Fans like to talk about tradition and pretend that their club has been around in its present form since time immemorial, but the modern game itself is only about 150 years old and has changed considerably in that time. You can criticise the FA and others for what happened to Wimbledon but MK Dons are a legitimate club with legitimate fans, who previously had little opportunity to support a local team or actually go to a game.

    • Drop the Dons and most people will be able to let them be. They officially claim that they started in 2004, as such, they have no right to use the name “Dons”.

  2. I reserve as much contempt for the supercilious attitude of AFC Wimbledon as MK Dons. The former have got much to thank for the fact that Wimbledon FC was the darling of the metropolitan press notwithstanding the boorish nature of the Dons in the 1980s and 1990s. Had it been a northern club subject to the ‘MK/Dublin/Crystal Palace and anywhere but Plough Lane’ fiasco it would not have received half as much attention and it would have soon been forgotten.

    The whole reason that the circus began is that Wimbledon FC was the plaything of Ron Noades. The suburb of Wimbledon was never going to support a big club and therein the issue. Wimbledon FC became a franchise when it went to Crystal Palace, not when it relocated to MK. Besides, there is a strong argument that MK Dons is the legitimate descendant of Wimbledon and it is AFC W that is the artificial construct – which happens to be doing an MK Dons at Kingstonian.

    I have long considered Wimbledon, AFC W and the MK Dons to be aberrations. Yes, FL history is murky and in the 1930s there was an approach from a southern consortium to buy and relocate Bradford (PA). However football is also a passionate affair and it will remain a long time before the average soccer fan will ever say that they love or admire MK Dons, a plastic artificial club.

    • We are not doing an “MK Dons” at Kingstonian. They get all their gate money, all their bar takings to keep, despite it being us who maintains the ground and organises stadium cleanup weekends. No Kingstonian fans turn up. We have paid for ground improvements which they benefit from. We are only at Kingsmeadow until we are able to return to Merton.

      As Milton Keynes itself renounces all history before 2004, the argument is in fact very weak. Having a small number circa 100 of ex-Wimbledon FC fans who live in the area and attend MK games, doesn’t increase the strength of that claim when in comparison, AFC Wimbledon have a significant,landslide majority of Wimbledon FC fans supporting them. Another big giveaway is that AFC Wimbledon is called AFC Wimbledon, and that it is in south London.

      • AFCW fans can call themselves what they want, frankly it’s tedious and I couldn’t care less. My point is that they shouldn’t take it for granted that everyone subscribes to the metropolitan media story of poor hard-done-by Wimbledon. It might be trendy but it’s not authentic.

        Why didn’t the AFCW luvvies commit as much effort to saving the original Wimbledon in 1991 when they relocated or in 2003 when it was insolvent (the MK Dons website has much to say about that theme)? I seem to recall that when Wimbledon were relegated from the Premier Lge all their ‘fans’ disappeared. Wimbledon only survived on the back of floating spectators who only came to see the opposition.

        The Wimbledon FC that I remember at Plough Lane and at Selhurst Park was consistently one of the most cynical and ugly sides in the Football League but no doubt that theme has been omitted from the Wimbledon nostalgia myth perpetuated by AFCW and its press office.

  3. … historical context re BCAFC as a ‘franchise’:

    1. Manningham FC had been established since 1880 and to that extent that it did not appear from nowhere and without a ground to gain entry to the Football League. In 1903 it was Manningham FC trading as Bradford City; a new club was not formed as such.

    2. Manningham FC had been active in helping to promote soccer in Bradford as a venue for soccer prior to conversion in 1903 and in 1895 had joined the West Yorkshire FA.

    3. Manningham FC had to apply for election to the Division Two in 1903 in competition with others clubs by getting support from members of the FL. It did not gain unconditional entry at the behest of a small committee.

    Manningham was not alone in being a rugby club converting to soccer at the turn of the century but its circumstances were vastly different to those of MK Dons. I shudder that our club could be considered in the same breath as a creation such as MK Dons.

  4. I’m not sure I agree with your analysis that City fans are in some way “in glass houses”, nor that any “looking in the mirror” has prevented exterior dissent.
    I’d suggest that the distain for MK Dons is not primarily due to them being fast tracked into the League, though I’m sure that does rankle with many a club who consider themselves to have been unfairly leapfrogged. Instead, I’d suggest the aspect which strikes a chord with many supporters is the contempt the owners exhibited to the fans, history and traditions of a club that had been in existence for over a hundred years.
    I don’t think there’s any suggestion that our formation in 1903 caused any such anguish. And if, as you say, “back in 1903, such a franchise movement would have barely raised an eyebrow”, then I’m not sure what it is that City fans need to be ashamed about 110 years later. I’m also not sure of the evidence that City fans are any more or less vociferous against MK Dons than any other club. Fans of which clubs, for example, would you cite as providing a greater level of dissent?
    I do agree with you, however, that the resentment towards MK Dons will linger. As well it should.
    It’s ironic that fans of Coventry City, who know a little bit about being held in contempt by club owners, chose MK Dons as the away match to take 7,500 by way of a protest. Perhaps they should be the ones looking in the mirror.

  5. I think there are few elements about the way football used to be in the past that don’t necessarily seem fair, when you judge them on today’s standards. The idea that the bottom club in Division Four had to apply for re-election – and other clubs voted on whether to keep them in the league or bring in the team that had won the equivalent of the Conference – always seems strange to me. From what I have read about it (and older readers can correct me) the decision used to largely hinge on commercial reasons. Ie if the team seeking re-election gets decent crowds (remembering that 50/50 gate sharing existed back then) compared to the club seeking election, they would invariably retain their place in the FL.

    Even in the 1990s, there were instances of clubs from the Conference who had earned promotion being denied their spot due to their ground ruled as not good enough for the Football League, again saving the club who had finished bottom of the Football League. From our stint in League Two visiting some ‘quaint’ grounds, I can only assume this rule no longer applies and certainly you never hear about it these days.

    Which I guess is to say there would have been nothing out of the ordinary about Bradford City in 1903; but when you look at it through today’s lens it does seem quite incredible. Imagine if Keighley Cougars (a club who have been hard done to on two occasions by Rugby League’s governing bodies) decided to switch to football, change their name and were granted a place in next season’s League Two (and yes John I appreciate this fictional scenario is not the same thing as Manningham becoming Bradford City)? It just wouldn’t happen in this day and age. I’m not saying we City fans should be embarrassed by our history, but it does provide an interesting context.

    And I completely agree about Coventry fans. It really surprised me when that happened last season.

    • I think the logic about the old pals act was that if a club was relegated from Div 4 it was effectively condemned to financial failure. The opening up of promotion from the Conference makes a lot of sense but ultimately because it reflects the fact that the gulf between D4 and D5 is much less than in the 60s. Workington were effectively cut loose from the FL in 1977 because it was a journey too far for most clubs and a trip to Wimbledon was cheaper. Ditto Barrow in 1973. Sadly Workington have done nothing since relegation, ultimately because few players can afford to commute there so it relies on local talent.

      If you look at a map of FL clubs 50 years ago compared to now you see the ascendancy of southern based sides. D3S clubs were always stronger than those from D3N but it does stick in my throat to see long established northern clubs having disappeared. I never did like Wimbledon and the media hype and I have similar feelings towards MK. And for all the supercilious ranting of AFCW fans I remember the cynicism of the original Wimbledon when they were yo-yoing between D3 and D4 and playing us. They were a horrible side.

      My objection to MK Dons is not that a new operating company shouldn’t acquire the assets of an insolvent football club, but that MK Dons was allowed to acquire the Football League status of Wimbledon given that the new operation was essentially so much different to the original. It was, after all hardly a case of BCAFC 1908 being replaced by BCAFC 1983 in an insolvency process that left the substance of the former still in place. Going back to 1903, BCAFC had to start off at the bottom.

      In my opinion Wimbledon FC should have disappeared altogether in 2003. It is the only club that I have ever wanted to go bust and go away. It had become an aberration, without a stadium, without support and long since cut-off from its roots having become a plaything of Ron Noades and relocated to Selhurst Park in 1991. The fact that Wimbledon was a darling of the metropolitan media has a bearing on my opinion: I doubt for one moment that a northern club would have had so much heart-wrenching sympathy in the same circumstances.

      I agree, life’s not fair but heavens, please don’t put us in the same bracket as MK Dons!

      BTW The sobering thing about Keighley is that in 1902-03 they finished champions of the RLD2 above Manningham and gave Mann something of a stuffing in the process.

  6. Don’t profess to know much about the MK Dons but from what I can remember, didn’t a large part of the uproar come about because they overwrote Wimbledon’s history? Wikipedia tells me the following:

    “On buying the team, Winkelman changed the club’s name, badge and colours. Milton Keynes Dons initially claimed Wimbledon F.C.’s heritage and history as its own, but renounced this in 2007, soon after its new stadium opened.”

    No wonder they were annoyed if their history was eradicated in some way. We may have been put in the league without ever playing a game but we didn’t discard another team that way. As I said, I don’t really know much about this, so if anyone can prove / disprove…

    • This is the crux of the ideological issue with AFC Wimbledon/MK Dons. The Wimbledon FC side as it was in 2002 – playing at Selhurst Park – was relocated to Milton Keynes after the FA ruled in favour of the move. After a season playing in Milton Keynes, the club was renamed MK Dons and the shirt colour and badge changed. Meanwhile Wimbledon fans, understandably very upset at this relocation, opted to serve links with them and start again, setting up their own club at the bottom of the pyramid: AFC Wimbledon.

      Technically, you can see why both clubs can therefore stake a claim on the history of Wimbledon FC, and it’s down to people’s opinions on who deserves it. Ultimately, you can’t separate the MK Dons’ history and heritage from Wimbledon FC, although I personally agree that AFC Wimbledon deserve to keep the roll of honours and the trophies etc.

    • The MK Dons supporters website has an interesting summary of evidence which provides a convincing case in their defence viz-a-viz AFCW:

      However legal form is one thing, the substance is another. Apply the sense test – MK Dons never looked like Wimbledon and never sounded like them. And the circumstances of their creation stinks.

      Interesting feature in the current WSC about AFCW occupying Kingstonian. Frankly I think they are both as bad and find it disappointing that the FL now has two sets of Dons when one was bad enough.

      • Maybe we should have a facts about Kingsmeadow and Kingstonian too.

        The ground had been separated from the football club before AFC Wimbledon came into existence, due to overspending by a previous Kingstonian administration. Mr. Khosla who had bought the club and lease on the ground, sensed an opportunity to make a large sum of money, first by renting to AFC Wimbledon for a season and then suggesting a sale or significantly increased rent. There have been rumours of a projected joint bid by AFC Wimbledon and a putative Kingstonian consortium for the lease but it seems that Mr. Khosla would not have been interested and in any case it would have been hard assigning percentages of ownership and costs of ground improvements and maintenance.

        After purchase, Kingstonian were given a very cheap rental deal and the rights to keep match-day bar profits (most unusual in a ground sharing deal). It then transpired that a lease on the perimeter of the ground, required for improvements had never been properly assigned. The local council eventually assigned the lease in exchange for Kingstonian having an entirely rent-free period of, I believe, 10 years – some would argue this distorts competition in their league.

        Now that AFC Wimbledon hope to move, Kingstonian are kept involved in the discussions about what to do with Kingsmeadow and I can assure you a large number of members of the Dons Trust will do their utmost to ensure Kingstonian get a good deal should our move happen.

        The other argument is that we are stealing their fans and this may be true to an extent but far more people go from the Kingston area to watch Chelsea than come to see us so are Chelsea even more to blame? Also in the 27 years I have lived in Kingston, Kingstonian have never explicitly marketed to me once. You need to make some effort to build your fan base. How many kids given the choice want to go to an 80% empty stadium rather than an almost full one with a very popular mascot and many other activities?

  7. An insightful article on the origins of our clubs. The sour note of MK Don’s existence will always linger so long as AFC Wimbledon have anything to say about it, but the League couldn’t help but lick it’s chops at the prospect of having a Milton Keynes based team (hungry hippos!).

    As a side note: Where has all of the wonderful Claret and Amber, that used to adorn this wonderful site, disappeared to?

    Hope everything is well!

  8. Difficult to avoid a sense of opportunism on the part of the phoenix Wimbledon moving into Kingstonian and inevitably a holier than thou defence of their actions. It will be interesting to see how that club progresses once it relocates to Merton. Can it achieve viability where the predecessor failed? I hope that relocation comes soon so that the media circus can lose interest and with a bit of luck Wimbledon will fade away and be forgotten about. If they could take MK Dons with them I’d applaud.

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