This was originally an article intended for NOLU written just after the AFC game. As it was, another contributor beat me to the punch and wrote a very similar article. Ratehr than re-hash it, or let it go to complete waste, I thought it may be a good one to kick off my HoF article posting career.
So I was rampantly drunk after drinking with two mates pre-match that I hadn’t had a beer with for ages. But how had it come to this? How had I found myself chanting the name of the newest, most plastic, and probably most reviled team in the country simply to try and annoy the opposing fans whose tiny club had risen from the Ashes of their once loved Wimbledon FC?
The truth is that I have always followed the crowd when it came to my thoughts on the whole Wombles affair – MK Dons were nobodies, to be hated for having no history and being the first example of how a club can be bought, and shunted around the country at the whim of a money man with the only intention being to make more money. When we played them last season, we let them know what we thought of them, and although I never feel that comfortable with chants of other teams names, I did join in with the chants of “AFC Wimbledon” after we scored.
When the draw was made for the cup, it was our most intriguing for years. I had a respect for AFC and the fact that they would bring more away fans that any team had done for years. I also had respect for the fact that they clearly loved their club so much, they were willing to traipse around the lower leagues in huge numbers for a number of years in order to see their team rise to glory once again.
When the night came however, my ‘respect-o-meter’ shifted several rungs. They were loud, I’ll give them that. We had barely passed The Venue when we first heard the chants of “AFC Wimbledon” floating on the wind. By the end of the night, I would have done anything to block that sound out of my ears. To say it had become repetitive would be like saying Paul Wilkinson wasn’t the best striker we ever had….
They only had two songs. That and……… I can’t even remember, such was the predictability of it. Nothing to set them apart. The predictable “Your ground’s too big for you” didn’t overly concern any of us. We knew how much it shook when the big boys were in town. Granted, we would all like a lot more regulars and for those in attendance to be consistently louder, but this was the first round of the FA Cup after all. We even treated them to a semi-decent monks chant at the end of the first half.
At half-time my feeling was of a set of fans who really did feel like Bertie Big Bollocks having larged it around the lower leagues for a while. Certain things started to irk me about them…… Weren’t Wimbledon getting crowds of 2000-odd just before their demise? All but 200 of them away fans? In fact, an average attendance graph to be found with a quick googling reveals that Wimbledon seemed very much to be a poorly supported team who saw a surge in fans around the time they were doing well in the Premiership.
Glory hunters then? It is certainly hard to believe that many of that 3,500 were committed fans in the early 90’s because their overall attendance didn’t really seem to suggest they had that many hardcore fans. The decline in their attendances started after their relegation in 2000 and although by this time the writing was on the wall for Wimbledon’s chances of staying within their traditional homeland, as the soon-to-become new owner would have it “the fans deserted the club long before the club deserted them”.
Don’t get me wrong, what AFC Wimbledon have achieved over the years is nothing short of a miracle in today’s football world and shows what drive an ambition can achieve in any field. I wouldn’t have minded sticking a tenner on them being where they are now when they formed!
But I don’t agree with all other fans treating them as some sort of messiahs. It’s as if you can’t say anything negative about them. Football fans are by their very nature often very sheep like, following a herd mentality, but I find the widespread love-in related to AFC a bit strange. Respect them by all means, but let’s not pretend they are the next blueprint for how football should be – a model to be followed by all other clubs in order to give the game back to the fans.
In fact, I think their fans are a bit of a pointer of just how much a “celebrity obsessed” culture is sneaking into football. It’s always been nice to be recognised for the team you support – we know that more than most, and very often get people tagging along, just because of our image. I reckon a vast majority of AFC fans do the same – they are the Manchester United of the lower leagues. Away games must be a hoot when you outnumber people to that degree and can pretty much do what you want. And everybody will know who you are. Far from ‘traipsing’ as I alluded to earlier, they are swanning about as if they deserve their place in whatever league is above them that season. They are a big shark in a Blue Square sponsored paddling pool.
The worry should be, what happens when they become the normal old boring goldfish in the lower echelons of the football league fish tank. Suddenly they will have reached a plateau. After years of rolling teams over with superior skill on the pitch and superior numbers off of it, they will be faced with the prospect of being in the minority, of losing a fair percentage of games a year, and of having to visit Crewe on a Tuesday night. How much fun will that be then? Rather than having to sustain with the fans they have got, they will have to attract new ones. How to do that when you have been a magnet for anybody disillusioned with the old order of nu-money football in the past few years, yet now find yourself trying to climb that same slippery pole towards the promised land of the Premier League?
The original plan says that the players should turn pro within the next two years if they are on target. So factor in nights down Voltz in Kingston (it’s probably not called that now, but I haven’t been there for about eight years so forgive me) being papped with the lead singer from the Saturdays, interfering with motivation, as well as the ructions any sort of wage structure will bring. AFC may be prepared for this, and if so, I doff my cap to them.
Maybe that isn’t the point. Maybe they want to remain in the lower leagues, and those fans will stay on forever more knowing that it is ‘their’ club the way ‘they’ want it, and that will be good enough in itself.
But the sceptic in me doubts it.
When I recounted my drunken chanting to a fellow ‘wall work colleague on the Tuesday after the game, he was aghast. “YOU DID WHAT?!?!?!? The DEVILS name itself??!!? MILTON KEYNES?!?!?” And all I could reply was; “Yeah”
Because all AFC were to me that night was another team. A barrier in the way of us reaching the next round of the FA Cup. A group of committed supporters who really did support their club through thick and thin (although they really only know thick in recent years), and in that respect were very reminiscent of us. That is a trait they share with other clubs too. West Ham for instance. But I doubt I, or anybody else, will be bothered what I chant at their fans next time they come down.
So MK Dons effectively bought a place in the league that was somebody else’s as has been happening in American sport for time immemorial. If it was us, I would have been mortified. And I would have gone to support AFC Millwall or whatever I felt most closely replicated the club I love or I may have given up. I’m lucky enough to be unsure as that is not a decision I have had to make. But if it did come to pass, and AFC Millwall did come about, I very much doubt their first game would be a 6,000 (rough amount of season tickets this year) sell-out. I also imagine some ‘new’ fans would be attracted by our ground, just over in Southwark Park and their passion for the club would maybe not burn as bright as mine had for Millwall.
Either way, AFC are not the messiahs, they are very boring boys.
Do I hate MK Dons? Yes in the way that I hate every other club that we will play, ever. In the way that will see me chant anything legal (honest guv’) I possibly can to wind them up. So what if they have no history and didn’t work their way up through the leagues to get where they are?
In a couple of years we may well be playing AFC and they will have done it that way. Let’s see if that respect is maintained until then. Alternatively, they may have become an entry in the annals of history having failed to survive with the business plan they have. Even more ironically, they may have had to move elsewhere in order to grow and sustain the club. Which way will the moral compass twitch then?
My view? Simple - Fuck ‘em all……