Read all about it: Avram Grant sacked, Carlo Ancelotti sacked, FA role model Ryan Giggs launches injunction over farcical affair. It seems as though the modern day football fan has become a guinea pig for a Harold Pinter-esque experiment; how much immaturity and immorality can someone take before they finally crack, stick two fingers up at the bland commercialism of the Premier League and start following handball?
For most football fans, the embarrassment will never end. You are trapped because you simply love your club; no matter how badly Kelvin Etuhu damages the face of a fellow drunken gambler, no matter how much money Bruce Grobelaar charges to lose a game, no matter how many underage girls are involved in Leicester City’s late night orgies. The concept of the fan being the priority is totally alien to most. Maybe the footballing world is doomed to lie in the hands of those who put money over integrity.
But there is one single flicker of yellow and blue light within the whirlwind of over-priced transfers, tickets and pukka pies. That light is AFC Wimbledon, the club who were promoted to the Football League on Saturday 21st May 2011 after beating Luton Town, having been in existence for only 9 years.
12 days after the F.A granted Peter Winkelman’s case to move Wimbledon F.C to Milton Keynes in 2002, a group of disillusioned fans founded AFC Wimbledon and within 24 hours trials were had on Wimbledon Common to establish a first team. Eight seasons and five promotions later, the club are eagerly awaiting their League Two fixture list, which will see them play the likes of Peter Reid’s Plymouth and Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon. It is a club run by the fans, for the fans (with a little help from over 250 volunteer staff members); over 2,000 of them own shares in the club, with no major decision made by manager Terry Brown allowed to slip past the Board of Directors or the Don’s Trust.
I have followed them since their first competitive match against the mighty Guildford and Godalming in the Combined Counties League in 2003. Good quality football? No. Entertaining football? Yes – watching the game from behind a rope, my father and I saw some lively football on a perfect pitch. Oh, and there was also a 15 man punch-up in the dugout, three red cards and four lost balls (booted into the neighbouring golf course). And I paid the equivalent of seeing Chelsea for 9 minutes. Not bad at all.
Something about that first experience made complete footballing sense. In the light of the supporters’ treatment by the F.A and the directors of MK Dons, seeing a team playing solely for their benefit less than a year later was magical. The sense of power, control and responsibility was so palpable that everyone was happy to rise above the poor quality of football; just as well, because one of our strikers (nicknamed ‘Jesus’ due to facial hair) was red-carded for viciously elbowing his defensive counterpart in an off-the-ball incident. The occasion clearly got the better of him.
During the course of the first two seasons, innumerable amounts of records were smashed: 37 year-old star striker Kevin Cooper bagged a record 66 goals in a season, including 10 hat-tricks. The Dons went 78 matches unbeaten. They had crowds of 4,000 showing up for a league that previously had an average attendance of 14. Single-handedly, the fans had breathed life into the ashes of a club burned by the promise of money.
Back in 2001, Pete Winkelman claimed that Wimbledon F.C had to move to Milton Keynes because the local club, Milton Keynes City, would have taken too long to be transformed from a Spartan South Midlands Premier Division side to a professional one. With AFC Wimbledon now only a league beneath him, that oh-so distant possibility of AFC and MK locking horns must be fast becoming a stark reality.