Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Story Of Football In Milton Keynes

On Tuesday night, Milton Keynes Dons (and that, I guarantee, is the only time that they will be dignified with the use of their official name on here) won 2-1 at Mansfield Town to continue their (hopefully temporary and much despised) stay at the top of League Two. They moved into their 30,000 capacity stadium during the summer and their crowds have risen accordingly, but the question remains the same: who are these people? I've asked this question to more or less everybody I know that might have the answer, and they are singularly at a loss. Children that support them, I can understand. They are easily impressed by shiny things and, in their innocence, have easily malleable brains that will succumb to the marketing machine behind the club. But adults? There must be at least a couple of thousand of them, and the only rational thing to think about them is that they fall into one of three categories. The first category is people that had no prior interest in football (at least not live football), but started going along because it was an entertainment option. A bit like going ice skating. The second category is people that are presumably so passionate about Milton Keynes that they refused, as a point of principle, to go to any football matches until they had a League club in their town (I don't think there were many of these). The third sort are those that supported other clubs but jumped ship like rats when something closer to home came along. Traditionally, football supporters in Milton Keynes made the short trip to Luton Town or Northampton Town, or alternatively travelled south to London to follow the big Premiership clubs. I don't know that I'd want to watch a football team whose support consisted of those sorts of people.

That particular corner of Buckinghamshire, you could be forgiven for thinking (if you believe the club's own hype) was absolutely gasping for a football club, but the fact of the matter is that it has had several, one of which started playing in the nineteenth century, but the locals weren't interested. First up were Wolverton FC, who played at Wolverton Park of the outskirts of what would become Milton Keynes (there's a picture of it as it was in the 1990s - the stand to the left is believed to be the oldest football stand in Britain, though in the last photograph that I could find of it, it looked like this and was due to be demolished). They were, initially, reasonably successful, and played in the Southern League alongside the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, but crowds dwindled and the club slipped slowly down the ladder. As recently as the late 1980s they were playing in the Isthmian League but, after a series of increasingly desperate name changes (Wolverton Town (MK) and MK Wolves), they folded in 1992, frustrated at a lack of interest in the town. They reformed last year.

So, okay, let's give the people of Milton Keynes the benefit of the doubt here. Wolverton is nearby, but for all of the name changes, it wasn't Milton Keynes. Maybe the town never had a successful team because it never had a team based in the town itself. Well, no. Not really. Because there was another team in the town that played at a higher level than Wolverton for a number of years, but they also failed because of a continual losing battle to attract people to go and watch them. Formed as Bletchley & WIPAC in 1956, they changed their name to Bletchley Town a year later, joining the Southern League in 1971 and changing it again to Milton Keynes City in 1974 (to clarify, let me just remind you all that Milton Keynes is not, in any sense, a "city" - Wiki says this on the subject: "In its planning, the government of the day intended Milton Keynes to be a "new city" in scale, it was referred to as such in contemporary supporting papers, but was gazetted in 1967 as a New Town. It has used the term "City Centre" on its buses and road signs for many years, mainly to avoid confusion with the centres of its pre-existing constituent towns" - yeah, right). Milton Keynes City played in the Southern League brought about by massive financial problems. Their league record was admirably abysmal. They reformed briefly in the late 1990s, playing at Wolverton, but folded again in 2003. On top of these two clubs, nearby Stony Stratford Town and New Bradwell St Peter play in the South Midlands League, and Newport Pagnell Town play in the United Counties League.

So, Milton Keynes had plenty of chances to build its own team but, to put it bluntly, it couldn't be bothered. Seven thousand or so its residents, though, were more than happy for someone to steal someone else's club and give it to them, though. Finally, in August, they handed over the history of Wimbledon FC to the London Borough of Merton, with the Football Supporters Federation allowing their supporters club to join their organisation and ending the call for away fans to boycott matches there. Is anyone heeding their calls? Well, not many, no. Once you cross off the local team winning, and Chelsea/Manchester United/Arsenal/Liverpool losing, Franchise losing still gets the biggest cheer in any clubhouse or pub in the country. Most people still hate them. And the next time one of their supporters tries to tell you that Wimbledon fans don't "deserve" their club, you might wish to ask them what exactly they did to deserve theirs.


curranhung said...

Franchise doesn't have fans, it has customers. Someone saw a marketing opportunity in Milton Keynes and decided to open a football club. It had to have League status to attract new customers.

matsimpsk said...

I know I keep on going on about it, but moving into a new area and trying to nick supporters of local sides is really nothing new.

Where did all these north London Arsenal fans come from? Do they really all have connections with Woolwich and the area?

sp3ktor said...

No fans DESERVES a club - the whole point of unconditional love for a club is that they're free to shit on you whenever they like. And if you don't like it there's cock all you can do about.

The Wimbledon/MK Dons episode if anything is a fine kick up the arse to any group of fans who think they have a say in the way a club is run. You don't live, with it.

The Wimbledon/MK Dons isn't the thin end of the wedge it's something that was waiting to happen. Club with low supporter base but with a modicum of success. It's an immense business risk to cut off a major supply of revenue on the off chance that you may be able to attract another. MK Dons appear to be pulling it off, but I can't see many other finance people attempting the same - for the moment.

You'll probably find the supporter base for MK Dons is made up of families: men in their late thirties/early forties (who almost certainly supported a club but lost interest in football just before they got married) taking their kids along for some quality time. Going along to enjoy some football, I don't begrudge them that.

Duffman said...

I think that AFC Wimbledon have done quite well out of all this. They got their club back in their own borough (if not in Wimbledon)in a decent ground. Something that would not have happened had they stayed in the league.

It is extremely unlikely that Merton Council would have sanctioned a move while Wimbledon were a league club. And if they had, the Dons may have found themselves on some piece of contaminated land near an industrial estate in the arse end of the borough. Mitcham Maybe.

Now Dons supporters have their club back and their heritage too. OK its cost them their league status. But is that really such a big price to pay? I know I'd support my club whatever league they play in. In fact I could probably afford to go to more games.

Scottie said...

Since when has Kingston upon Thames been in the London Borough of Merton.

Buy a map!

Duffman said...

My bad

Anonymous said...

Re.comment about the boroughs of Kingston and Merton being different areas...yes, they are but Kingsmeadow is just half a mile from the Merton boundary, just a few minutes drive (and AFCW and the fans recognise that it is a base for now and the intention remains to return to Wimbledon one day)

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