Thursday, 18 August 2011

Who stole Wimbledon's football club and League place?

One of the regular whines from Franchise customers is that they didn't steal anything. The trouble with that is that to my knowledge no one has ever accused an individual Franchise customer of stealing our football club and/or Football League place, and most Wimbledon fans differentiate between Milton Keynes as a whole and the people responsible for luring away our football club. Wimbledon fans and the media use the 'stolen' word for good reason and here are some salient facts to remember as to why:

1. Football fans are encouraged by their clubs (Franchise FC included) - even ones owned by wealthy individuals or corporate structures - to consider themselves part of the club and to help it out when it's in trouble.

2. Wimbledon fans received no recompense for their football club and Football League place being taken away.

3. Wimbledon fans did not give permission for their football club and Football League place to be taken away.

Put all that together and you have a situation where Wimbledon fans clearly did have their football club stolen from them. That is indisputable.

What is at issue is not whether the fans had the club stolen from them, it's who did the stealing. That's a much harder question to deal with and, since we aren't talking about any laws being broken, it isn't one with a definitive answer.

And I will digress on to the definition of the word 'stolen'. It does not mean any law has been broken. It means something has been taken without permission. The tired comeback of 'report it to the police then' and variations on that, are about the most witless, ignorant responses I've seen, yet that is surprisingly frequently what Franchise customers resort to. I usually ridicule it by asking them if they reported it to the police the last time someone stole their heart, but I think the richness of the language and the fact that I'm laughing at them is usually lost on them.

Back to the question... Who stole a football club and Football League place from the fans? Who you blame is a matter of personal opinion - there are plenty of culprits to look at. In my opinion all of the following bear responsibility to one extent or another and can be held accountable for helping steal Wimbledon's football club and FL place away from its fans and community.

1. Sam Hammam
In selling the idea of the Dublin move to the Kjell Inge Røkke and Bjørn Rune Gjelsten when he sold them Wimbledon FC Ltd, Hammam certainly paves the way for the events that followed. He's gone by the time Winkelman approaches the club though, but he's certainly a villain of the piece. One can delve further back to the removing of the covenant on Plough Lane and other matters, which have all irreparably tarnished his reputation with Wimbledon fans.

2. Charles Koppel, Kjell Inge Røkke and Bjørn Rune Gjelsten
Koppel was the hatchet man appointed as chairman by the Norwegian owners, who had paid Hammam an absurd sum of £30m for a football team that only really had playing staff as assets. Without doubt they must all be held directly responsible for taking the club away from its fans. They tried Dublin and then succeeded with Milton Keynes. None of them ended up profiting and all are no longer involved with Franchise FC.

3. Pete Winkelman
Headed up the MKSC and made the approach to Koppel, having arranged the deal with Asda/Walmart to fund a stadium in MK as an enabling development that would allow them to circumvent planning regulations in place at the time and build Europe's biggest (then) supermarket. The deal required a Football League club to play at the stadium (at the insistence of the local council) and this led Winkelman to approach numerous clubs to try to lure them into a deal to move to MK. His role is pivotal - without him, no move to MK happens. Would Wimbledon FC's owners have looked elsewhere without the Winkelman approach and thereby still stolen the club away from its fans? Possibly, but by no means certainly. On that basis, Winkelman's culpability in helping steal the club from its community is clear.

4. The 2002 FA Commission
In granting permission for the move, the three man commission is undoubtedly culpable in the stealing of the club and, most crucially, the Football League place. Their decision (by 2-1 vote - Steve Stride and Raj Parker are understood to be those in favour of the move) imposed the legal authority for the move and therefore for the transfer of a Football League place from one town - Wimbledon - to another - Milton Keynes. They argued that this unprecedented action did not set a precedent, thereby flying in the face of the facts - you can't simply claim you haven't set a precedent when your actions show that you have. They neither started nor finished the process of taking the club and League place away from the fans, but they could and should have stopped it.

5. Others involved - Merton council, MK council, FA, FL, Milton Keynes residents and so on.
There are many other minor players in the matter, all of whom have involvement and responsibility, but none can really be held directly accountable for stealing a football club and Football League place away from the community of Wimbledon and its football fans. They are all guilty of complicity to one degree or another though, whether it be through inaction or by being an accessory after the fact.

Blame whichever villain/s you choose for the theft of Wimbledon's football club and League place from the community and fans, (who had to re-form a club and took just nine years to regain the League place), but be in no doubt that when anyone speaks of Wimbledon's club and League place being stolen, they are speaking the truth.

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