Monday, 12 September 2011

The guilty parties

It's a common theme with Franchise customers that whenever you refer to one of the guilty parties in the move, they whine about you not blaming the others, as if every time something comes up one has to list everyone involved! Well, here we go... who was/is to blame, why and, importantly, where are they now:

Sam Hammam
Bought shares in Wimbledon in the 1970s and graduated to owner and chairman, replacing Ron Noades when he went to Crystal Palace. His guilt lies in persuading Merton council to remove the covenant on the Plough Lane ground that ensured it must be used for sporting purposes - a covenant applied when Sidney Black donated the freehold of the land to the club in 1959. ( Hammam got the covenant removed in 1983, claiming it was so the club could redevelop the land to benefit the club - this did not happen. After Wimbledon started playing home games at Selhurst Park, Hammam sold the land to Safeway for a supermarket development, which was blocked, and they later sold it on for development of flats, which now occupy the land.

Hammam's other 'crime' was selling Wimbledon FC on to two Norwegians in 1997, having sold them on the idea that the club could be moved to a more lucrative venue - Dublin. (

Hammam exited the stage in 2000 and went on to cause more chaos at Cardiff City. His legacy is as the prime enabler in the destruction of Wimbledon FC, through the covenant removal and the implanting of the idea of a move to a different town/city. As guilty as he is of creating the circumstances that others exploited, he had no involvement in the Milton Keynes move. (Although ironically he was previously involved with MK City, along with Ron Noades in the late 1970s. Maybe that's why he didn't consider MK as an option.)
Current involvement: None known of with either Wimbledon or Franchise. 

Charles Koppel
The man exposed as lying many times ( during his tenure as chairman of Wimbledon FC from 2000 to 2003, and was responsible for forcing through the Milton Keynes move. There are so many things one can say about Koppel, many of them highlighted in the link above, but it all boils down to one thing - his only aim during his time as chairman was to move the club to Milton Keynes and he never seriously countenanced any other option. As well as the many lies he perpetrated (many of which the Franchise customers still repeat, as I continue to highlight), he presided over a catastrophic period for the club in which key players were sold to rivals for promotion, a competent manager was sacked for no reason and a constant campaign was waged by him against his own club's supporters, even famously telling a residents' association that football fans were "not the sort of people you want on your doorstep", before providing his PR company (Brunswick) free of charge to help the residents' association fight against the return of the club to Plough Lane.

Mere words simply cannot express how despised this man is by Wimbledon fans for his actions. I could write another entire blog detailing solely the outrages perpetrated by Koppel in his quest to push through the franchising of the club to Milton Keynes. He lied to us, he campaigned against us, he betrayed both Wimbledon fans and the community, all in the name of trying to make money out of franchising the football team to another town. Koppel was the hatchet man, the ugly face of greed that looked to exploit Wimbledon's football club. That ultimately he failed to profit either personally or on behalf of the Norwegian owners who brought him in, is only of some small comfort. If it hadn't been Koppel though, it might well have been someone just as bad brought in by the owners and then subsequently exploited by Pete Winkelman.
Current involvement: None known of with either Wimbledon or Franchise, although there were hearsay reports of him sniffing around Franchise several years ago. He and fellow ex-Wimbledon FC director Matthias Hauger are now directors of Samco Gold, whose "principal business is the acquisition, exploration and development of precious metals resource properties in Argentina." ( So, football men through and through then! Still looking to make pots of cash though, obviously. No mention of 'hatchet man deployed to kill a football club' though. 

Kjell Inge Røkke and Bjørn Rune Gjelsten
The two Norwegian billionaires became co-owners of Wimbledon FC in 2000, sold by Hammam on the idea that they could relocate the team to Dublin, as detailed and linked above. They appointed Charles Koppel, they tried to move WFC to Dublin and then they tried moving it to Milton Keynes.

Despite the fact that they did build a stadium for their home town club Molde in Norway, there is not a shred of evidence that they ever seriously tried to find a location for and build a stadium in Wimbledon or anywhere else in south London. Every single claimed effort by Koppel simply does not stand up to examination, it was all PR and spin without any substance whatsoever. (I'll detail this in another post sometime.) Particularly with hindsight, their ownership is one of the most blatantly opportunistic and appalling pieces of dealing ever, and it has heralded more owners at the top of the game who use football clubs as bargaining chips in property deals and other financial wheeler-dealing. The fact that they were allowed to get away with the franchising of a football team may not have resulted in more teams moving towns, but the message that businessmen could do just about whatever they liked with a football team as long as they had enough cash and power to wield it, was received clearly by many and has resulted in a catalogue of other clubs being affected. Maybe that's where the game was headed anyway, but what happened with Wimbledon FC was clearly a contributory factor.

We can never know exactly how early or detailed the plans were between the Norwegians and Koppel - they were far too careful and intelligent for that ever to come to light - but there is no doubt whatsoever that from the moment Winkelman hove into view with his scheme in Milton Keynes, they never had any other intention than pursuing it and in so doing killing Wimbledon FC.
Current involvement: None known of with either Wimbledon or Franchise. Although Kjell Inge Røkke has a conviction for corruption and has served jail time for it. Clearly not the sort of person you want owning your football club. A shame his conviction came too late to stop him failing the fit and proper person test, although I have no faith in the test that he would fail it even now. 

London Borough of Merton council
Agreed to the removal of the covenant securing Plough Lane for sporting use. Could and should have done more to make up for this error by more actively seeking out a viable location for a stadium. And that's about it. Much as some have tried to blame the council further, they could not stop the owners of Wimbledon FC leaving the borough, nor could they afford to build the club a stadium. The council did grant planning permission for a ground in the Wandle Valley under Hammam's ownership, but this was never acted upon and the permission lapsed. No planning application from the club was ever rejected.
Current involvement: Closely involved with AFC Wimbledon in finding the club a site for a ground and partners to help build it. 

The Football Association
The FA itself never actually ruled in favour of the move. It submitted evidence to the independent Commission opposing the move (see the Commission report for details), but, along with the other parties involved, was legally bound by the decision of the Commission. Therefore, the FA's guilt lies in its inaction. The Commission took a decision that the game's ultimate governing body disagreed with. How can that possibly have been allowed to happen? The FA could and should have stepped in, rather than allowing events to unfold as they did.
Current involvement:The FA has never apologised to Wimbledon fans for failing them in 2002 and continues to maintain its silence on the entire affair. 

The Football League
The Football League board twice rejected the move to Milton Keynes, but after an arbitration panel said they should consider the matter again because they had not followed correct procedure, the FL passed the matter to an FA Commission to decide. In so doing,  they abdicated their responsibility to the game and to Wimbledon's fans. They also ensured that just 3 people would decide the club's fate, rather than the entire Football League board as it should have been. The FL then gave evidence to the Commission opposing the move, but by abdicating their responsibility they had already passed legally binding power to the Commission. As with the FA, their's is a guilt of inaction - the FL could and should have stuck to applying its rules as it saw them and not abdicated its responsibility to the game and to the fans.
Current involvement: The FL has also never apologised to Wimbledon fans for failing them in 2002 and continues to maintain its silence on the entire affair. 

Raj Parker and Steve Stride
The 2 men on the FA Commission who voted for the move. Parker was a lawyer and Stride was operations director at Aston Villa. They held no qualifications or other experience that qualified them to make rulings on the matter. The third member of the Commission was Alan Turvey, chairman of the Ryman League, FA Council member and with a huge experience of running grass roots football. Although he has never confirmed it, Turvey is accepted as having voted against the move. The one man with experience of running the game and able to assess all the different aspects involved, not just the financial or legal elements at one club, is the one man that was ignored.

To read the Commission report now is like reading an absurd work of fiction. It makes so many ridiculous statements, including impractical recommendations that were never going to be met. It was discredited from the moment it appeared, by journalists, fans and even the FA Chairman himself who described its verdict as "appalling". Parker and Stride are guilty of giving the final permission for the move, but such power should never have been placed in the hands of two men who were in no position and clearly did not have the ability to responsibly wield that power.
Current involvement: Parker is still a lawyer at Freshfields and Stride has retired and written a book. 

Wimbledon fans 
About the most you can blame Wimbledon fans for is not seeing through Hammam early enough or recognising the Norwegian owners' intentions early enough. Whether that would have ultimately made a difference is impossible to know. Otherwise blameless, despite what misinformed Franchise customers have been led to believe.
Current involvement: Supporting Wimbledon of course. 

Other Wimbledon residents
According to some, these people can be blamed for not attending Wimbledon games in sufficient numbers and of not making the club welcome in the town. If you believe that, then it's all about consistency of argument, because you then have to apply exactly the same expectation to every other town, including Milton Keynes. And on that basis, MK is supporting its club even less well than Wimbledon did, so must be guilty of this as well. So which is it? Personally I don't think this argument stands up at all, but I include it for the sake of completeness.
Current involvement: None. Rather self-fulfilling this one. Either you're a Wimbledon fan or you're not, so those who aren't Wimbledon fans, but live in Wimbledon, by definition have no involvement with things. 

Milton Keynes council
Were an active part of the Milton Keynes Stadium Consortium (MKSC). Their representative, John Cove, attended many of Winkelman's meetings with football clubs, trying to lure them to MK. The council provided Winkelman with the land for the stadium development. The council is also responsible for the insistence on the football team involved in the deal being of Football League standard.

MK council hasn't received nearly the opprobrium it should have over this entire affair. While Merton is blamed by some, MK council has escaped the wrath of all but a few. Yet they encouraged Winkelman's scheme, insisted on the FL team, gave the land for nothing and were involved in the negotiations, all so that Asda/Walmart would pay for MK to have a stadium. Should be held far more accountable than they so far have been.
Current involvement: John Cove was seconded from MK council to work at Franchise and is now employed their full time as Chief Executive. The council continues to work with Winkelman over the stadium development site. 

Part of the MKSC and the prime source of funding for the stadium development and early funding of Franchise FC under Winkelman's ownership. Under planning regulations in force at the time they needed to provide an enabling development (the stadium) in order to build their supermarket. An integral part of the scheme, without them it simply couldn't have happened.
Current involvement: The supermarket was finished long before the stadium and, like all supermarkets, is many times more lucrative to run than a football club. Laughing all the way to the bank. Ironically, Franchise customers are not allowed to use the Asda car park on match days. 

Franchise customers
Provided financial support to Winkelman and thereby gave tacit approval of what was done to put a Football League team on their doorstep.
Current involvement: Still providing that financial support to Winkelman, because he's still there. 

Other Milton Keynes residents
Again included solely for completeness. If you believe Wimbledon residents were guilty of not supporting their football club, then give a round of applause to over 200,000 MK residents for boycotting Franchise FC. Silly, right? But that's the argument some still make about Wimbledon.
Current involvement: Still staying away in their droves. Maybe the team should be moved to a more deserving town eh? 

Peter Winkelman
I left him until last for good reason - he's the one, out of all the major players, who is still most involved and who has benefitted the greatest from a scheme that he cooked up in the first place. According to the FA Commission itself and based on Winkelman's own evidence, he instigated the move in 2000 by approaching Koppel and, through InterMK, he now owns both the football club and the stadium development. Without Winkelman the entire MK scheme never even gets started. Wimbledon would still have had problems and suffered at the hands of Koppel and the Norwegians, but there would have been no mirage of riches in MK for them to grasp at.

Winkelman's guilt is established beyond a shadow of a doubt to all except the most blind of Franchise customers who claim he 'saved' Wimbledon FC. The fact that nothing of Wimbledon FC was saved in MK seems to escape their notice. I'll return to Winkelman's actions in this blog again and again, because while he remains in charge at Franchise, we still have one of the biggest villains of the piece at the dark heart of the matter.
Current involvement: Chairman of Franchise FC. Owner of Franchise FC through parent company InterMK. Beneficiary of all the stadium site developments through InterMK and owner of the stadium, a capital asset worth in the region of £50m. Has never once apologised for luring a football team away from its fans.

So there you have it. There are many minor players within the grand scheme of things, but it would take several books on the subject to list them all. So the next time someone says, 'But what about...', you know where to send them for a list of those to blame and those who have been wrongly blamed.

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