Thursday, 1 September 2011

Poaching a football club

I want to take a look in greater detail at one particular claim made by Pete Winkelman. It comes from a letter written by him to Milton Keynes Council on 19th January 2001:

"As members know, as football fans we have been very clear all along that Milton Keynes can only be a solution for a football league club experiencing serious difficulties with their home ground facilities. It is not our intention to poach anyone's football team and I believe the role we played behind the scenes during the latter days of Crystal Palace FC's time in administration has helped to allay any concerns the football authorities may have had as to our intentions. For your information, in this case we helped both the Football League and Administrator, Simon Patterson, to conclude a local deal for the club, by providing an option of last resort."

"It is not our intention to poach anyone's football team..."

Let me read that just one more time to make 100% sure my eyes are not deceiving me...

"It is not our intention to poach anyone's football team..."

So what was the intention? To keep providing  "an option of last resort" forever, like an MK-based nuclear deterrent that you never actually wanted to use? Clearly that cannot be the case - the whole of the rest of the document and all the actions surrounding it are to bring a Football League team to Milton Keynes. Indeed, this very document makes clear that not only is Winkelman not acting as some saviour, but he has prioritised a preferred candidate:

"Wimbledon are very much our preferred option, with the strong synergy between a
homeless club with a Premiership history and Milton Keynes' ambitions for a national
standard stadium.  We do, however, maintain contact with a number of Football League
clubs as previously detailed to you."

So how can it not be the intention to poach a football team, when you identify candidates that could be brought to MK and then select a preferred candidate?

Could Winkelman honestly have believed that he was attempting to 'save' all of these different clubs he was keeping in contact with? If not, then the only other possibility is that he is being extraordinarily deceitful in the way he is portraying his actions. It beggars belief to think he truly believed that all those clubs were going to cease to exist without moving to Milton Keynes, but that is what we are being asked to believe by his claim of not wanting to poach a team.

The letter concludes thus:

"As you can see, we are committed to our task of bringing professional league football to
Milton Keynes and the development of a landmark sports stadium within our borough."

Yet Winkelman never made any attempts to get involved with local Milton Keynes' teams, so the only method he was attempting to bring professional football to MK was by relocating an existing Football League team. This makes a complete mockery of the claim that he wasn't trying to poach a football team, because that's the only method he had tried.

So, who is he trying to convince with this denial of poaching? Was he trying to convince himself that it wasn't what he was doing? If so, we'd have to conclude that the man is extraordinarily self-deluded - no reasonable person could possibly come to the conclusion that he wasn't trying to poach a football team given the evidence we had both then and now. And if it isn't self-delusion, then who does he think he's fooling? Not Wimbledon fans or those of the other clubs he approached, that's for sure. Was he trying to make it easier for those at MK council to justify their actions to themselves? 'Oh, it's OK, we're not poaching, we're helping.' That's certainly the lie that was sold to Franchise customers in the early days, though the scales have fallen from most people's eyes on that by now.

I am left more stunned than ever that events subsequently unfolded as they did. This letter and the other evidence of Winkelman approaching multiple Football League teams both could and should have been considered by the FA Commission in 2002, as it casts significant doubt on either Winkelman's stated intentions or his ability to understand the consequences of his own actions.

The FA Commission put considerable store by the evidence of Winkelman (see extract below), but here we are seeing a man who is either self-delusional about his actions or deliberately trying to deceive others about the intention of approaching multiple Football League teams to try to get them to move to MK. I suspect only Winkelman himself can reveal that particular truth, but whichever it is, even this one document casts a huge shadow over the Commission's decision and the integrity of the man at the heart of poaching Wimbledon's football team to Milton Keynes.

Extract from the FA Commission:
"75. Mr Peter Winkelman, Chairman of the MKSC, attended to give evidence. His
background is in the music industry. His other main interest is football. His energy
and commitment to the project were self-evident. His enthusiasm for the project and
it has to be said for Milton Keynes itself, was almost infectious, and obviously
76. MKSC is made up of various partners from local government, commerce and
industry (including retail and hotel groups), community groups, parish councils and
the like. Mr Winkelman spoke with passion of the benefits for the area, and for
football in general, of having a team of the stature of WFC in the new stadium which
will be ready for the start of the 2004/5 season. It will be owned by WFC and paid
for by commercial and retail enabling development. He believes that with over
40,000 school children in the area WFC will be fantastic news.
77. He is an advocate for retaining the identity of WFC and would work with the
Football League and WFC to achieve this, if we gave permission for the relocation.
He talked of renaming the area “Wimbledon Park” or renaming roads and of the
similarities between the new town of Milton Keynes (now almost 30 years old) and
78. MKSC would obtain a stake in WFC if the plan went ahead and he personally
was passionately committed (whilst promoting all that was good about Milton
Keynes) to maintaining WFC’s links to its history, traditions and community. He was
happy with all the practical suggestions we put in this regard relating to name, strip,
branding and the like. He believes the vast majority of WFC fans will travel and will
feel at home in the “National Bowl”.
79. We found him to be a passionate and frank witness, who is genuinely
concerned to promote the interests of Milton Keynes and WFC."

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