Saturday, 20 August 2011

Why does anyone still care?

One of the things that seems to perplex Franchise customers (though it really shouldn't), is why anyone still cares about how their football club came into being. There are two answers to this, a short one and a long one. The short one:

Because it was wrong, still is wrong and no one has ever righted the wrong or even apologised for it.

And the long one, which is really just analysing in greater detail the short answer. There are several parts to deal with, as follows:

1. Why was it wrong?
2. Why is it still wrong?
3. Why has no one ever done anything about correcting the situation?
4. What needs to happen now?

1. Why was it wrong?
Even most Franchise customers that have looked at the history will admit that moving Wimbledon FC and the Football League place to Milton Keynes was wrong. It's really not in much dispute, but let me reiterate a few things to demonstrate just how wrong, because although there is no scale for 'wrongness', the sheer weight of opposition to and condemnation of the move helps inform why this isn't something that will go away.

a. The Football League board twice rejected the proposed move and never authorised it, deferring what should have been their reponsibility to the FA Commission, to which they submitted evidence opposing the move. The FL always considered the move to be against their rules and attempted to tighten them up subsequently to prevent a repetition, thus further confirming they considered the move to have been wrong.

b. The Football Association also gave evidence to the Commission opposing the move and its chief executive stated afterwards that it was "appalling" that permission had been granted.

c. The vast majority of the fans opposed the move, as demonstrated by the subsequent boycott of what was by then Franchise FC. Of course it was wrong to move their football team more than 60 miles away from them to a completely different town. Even the Commission didn't try arguing it was right for the fans.

d. Ironically, the FA Commission also laid out the great extent of the opposition, which two of them ignored, all telling them the move was wrong. This extract taken from the report:

"Objections to WFC’s proposal to play home matches at Milton Keynes
51. The proposal has met with considerable opposition, and not just from the WFC fans one might think would be opposed “root and branch” to such a move. Respected football writers in our national press were generally supportive of the Football League’s decision last August.
52. A Parliamentary All Party Committee (chaired by Alan Keen MP of the All Party Football Group) which comprises 150 members in the House of Commons and the House of Lords is opposed to the proposal.
53. Merton BC is opposed to the move and believe a stadium can be built in Merton for WFC.
54. And of course the Football Association, the Football League, the FA Premier League and the Football Conference Ltd have all provided statements which stress: the identification of clubs with community; the sacrosanct nature of the pyramid system based on sporting merit (English football does not allow a franchise system) and the precedent or floodgates argument, which all weigh against permission being granted for a move of this nature and distance.
56. Indeed most of the hundreds (over 600) of communications we have received have argued against the proposal. They have generally been from individual WFC fans.
57. Supporters’ associations and individual fans from many other clubs and people from as far afield as the United States, Australia (Wimbledon Supporters Downunder), Russia and Norway have also expressed similar views."

All these people and organisations opposed the move and said it was wrong and, importantly, continued to do so after the Commission's decision. Not one of these organisations has, in the past nine years, revised its stated opinion that the move was wrong.

2. Why is it still wrong?
This is fairly straightforward, because nothing has ever been done to either right the wrong or compensate those who lost their football club. Something does not become not wrong through the passage of time. It may gradually fade the memory or the intensity of the matter, but it remains wrong.

Some matters have been resolved - the 2006 Accord signed by WISA and Franchise FC has returned the honours and patrimony of Wimbledon FC to the London Borough of Merton. However, this in no way rights the wrong of the club and League place being taken away in the first place. The honours should never have left Wimbledon.

Nor does the success of AFC Wimbledon returning to the Football League right any of the wrongs. Wimbledon fans have achieved this feat without any assistance from those responsible for taking away the original club and League place, so why should they be let off the hook due to the efforts of Wimbledon fans? It has cost considerable sums of money and vast amounts of donated time by volunteers to achieve what Wimbledon fans have done and none of that should reduce the guilt that resides with those responsible for necessitating that expense of time, effort and money.

Finally, not one word of apology has ever been offered to Wimbledon fans by those responsible for killing their football club in 2002. The easiest thing to give is the one thing that has never been given. So when the wrong has never been righted and not so much as an apology offered for it, why would anyone seriously expect Wimbledon fans to consider the matter closed?

3. Why has no one ever done anything about correcting the situation?
WISA (Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association) and Wimbledon fans in general tried to do plenty about it both before, during and after the move, as chronicled on the WISA website and archive.

It is thanks to them that the 2006 Accord was achieved and they continue to press for changes that will prevent other fans having to go through the same things and also to get Franchise FC to take further action, notably by dropping the superfluous 'Dons' nickname from Franchise FC's team name.

No attempts have been made since 2004 to either return Franchise FC to south-west London or to return the Football League place to Wimbledon, because any such moves would, by nature, have to be legal and therefore prohibitively expensive. And that's regardless of the likelihood of anyone involved at Franchise FC being prepared to do either thing anyway - clearly it would be irrational to expect either thing to happen, which is why Wimbledon fans went about getting our football club and Football League place back themselves and without the assistance of anyone else.

4. What needs to happen now?
Clearly the time has passed for Milton Keynes to give up Wimbledon's League place - being the town that bought/stole (depending on your perspective) a League place from somewhere else is just a stigma Franchise customers and the rest of MK will always have to live with. However, there are two substantive things that can still be done. They won't right the wrongs of the past, but they can at least acknowledge them and enable all parties involved to draw a line under some of the ongoing issues. The two things are:

a. Pete Winkelman issues an apology to Wimbledon fans, on behalf of the Milton Keynes Stadium Consortium, for instigating the events that led to the destruction of Wimbledon FC.

b. Franchise FC drops the 'Dons' part of its team name, in recognition that it has no connection to Wimbledon and wishes to be seen as a Milton Keynes team.

How likely or desirable you think either of those actions is, very much depends on your view of things - there will be many on both sides of the argument that disagree with me. However, these are the only substantive actions that can now be taken to alter the situation, prior to a potential and increasingly likely meeting between Franchise FC and AFC Wimbledon on the football pitch. I would have thought that those at Franchise FC would be keen to ease the tension and animosity prior to such a fixture occuring, but at present there are no signs of them doing the right thing. I suppose one shouldn't be surprised, given what was done by Winkelman and cohorts, particularly between 2000-2004, but the onus is still on him to attempt to repair some of the damage that he himself caused.

To sum up... it was wrong, still is wrong and no one has ever righted the wrong or even apologised for it. That's why people still care and that's why Franchise customers should be getting their own club to do something about it instead of pointlessly whining about people still going on about it.

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