Friday, 2 September 2011

Think of the children

Here's a contentious one, guaranteed to raise the hackles of any Franchise customer and very often their attempted last line of defence - 'think of the children!'

The customers' argument goes something like this... 'My son started going in 2004 when he was eight. He never supported anyone else and now he's a season ticket holder and been a fan effectively for half his life. All he has been doing is supporting his local club, like any other fan, so why does he have to put up with all this abuse? He had nothing to do with making the move happen and just goes to watch his local club play, so it's wrong that he should be expected to answer for things in the past.'

On the face of it this is a reasonable enough position to take and a reality that anyone following things since 2002 will have been well aware of. If Franchise didn't die quickly in MK, then a generation of children were going to grow up knowing only Franchise FC as their local club. However, it was never likely that Asda/Walmart were going to let the key enabling part of their supermarket development die (without a Football League team there would be no stadium and no supermarket, the S106 form stipulated this), so those of us paying attention to the details of the supermarket property deal always knew this scenario was likely to develop. Now the supermarket is built and Asda no longer need the football team, we are in a different phase and one which Franchise FC is far from guaranteed to survive, but that's for another post. Back to MK's children...

First, let's get a side issue out of the way - The parents who initially took the children along to watch Franchise do indeed bear some moral responsibilty for their actions. Hiding behind the 'but they wanted to go so badly and didn't understand all this franchise stuff' argument, is abject cowardice and shirking of an adult's responsibility. And that's that, because this is now a moot point and has been for some time. Like Hammam, Koppel, Stride, Parker and others, these particular players have left the stage. We can despise them for their actions in the past, but largely that's where they are. Those parents let Wimbledon and football down by letting their children financially support and become attached to a business enterprise that caused huge heartbreak, confusion and loss to many young Wimbledon fans. They should have considered that and thought of our children. They didn't. That's all basically done with though, so we move on to the present.

The problem now is not that these children - some will be late-teens or even early-20s - are Franchise customers, it is what they have been brought up believing. Most Wimbledon fans don't frequent the Franchise forums, but if you do, it is quite astonishing to see the lies of 9-11 years ago being parroted back as 'facts' by people who didn't even know Wimbledon FC existed in 2002, never mind the events that took place and the background to them. What we have is a generation of children, many of whom have been fed a constant diet of lies and misinformation about Wimbledon FC, WISA, AFC Wimbledon, Merton council, Wimbledon as a town, Kingstonian and more. Meanwhile they have also been fed a stream of PR, hype and spin about Winkelman and the role of others in MK. The result is some catastrophically ill-informed individuals who genuinely believe the lies they have been taught. And more insidiously, some of these customer zealots have set out to re-write history to impose the twisted, lie-strewn version that they've been brainwashed with.

I could pick innumerable examples from their forums, but, particularly in this instance, I don't want to single out an individual for humiliation - I'm sure you can understand why, no one needs a crying child on their conscience. So, let's keep this anonymous, but you can find your own examples of this easily enough:

'Wimbledon was poorly supported'
Still comes up all the time, as if it made any difference whether we had 300, 3,000 or 30,000 fans. Has it not occurred to them that they have less than 5,000 season ticket holders, so that makes them 'poorly supported' in a conurbation of over 250,000 people?

'Wimbledon was going bust anyway'
They've been fed this one so much, almost chanted as a mantra for justifying the move. You can throw numbers and facts disproving this at them all day long and they still simply parrot this lie. Mostly because of...

'Winkelman saved Wimbledon'
And when you point out that nothing of Wimbledon FC was saved, there is only blank incomprehension. They genuinely cannot cope with that truth.

'Franchise FC is sustainably run'
Check here for why that's nonsense, but they really do think they are being run sustainably and simply will not face facts when presented with the numbers and the truth.

'Winkelman only took advantage of Wimbledon's problems he didn't cause them'
Probably the worst bit of brainwashing of the lot, trying to absolve a man of guilt when it's down to him that the entire thing happened. No matter how much you prove that Winkelman approached WFC, that Winkelman led the Stadium Consortium, that Winkelman came up with the enabling development, that Winkelman was pivotal to the 3 man Commission or any of the other facts that damn him as a prime mover, they simply cannot accept his guilt.

'The media never presents a balanced view'
Seen this one a lot recently. Trouble is, their idea of 'balanced' involves ignoring the actual facts. What they mean is 'be nice about us', but they have warped it into this complete lie that they are being lied about. It's a total state of denial - and it's extremely damaging... for them.

I could go on listing stuff all day of course, but what's to be done about this new generation of Franchise customers spreading the lies, denying the truth and, sometimes quite cleverly, trying to re-write history?

Putting it right wherever you see it is of course the primary method of response. It's always heartening to see fans of other clubs jumping in and doing just that as well, and I am often amazed that after nine years there are still so many people who were paying attention, do understand, do know the facts and help us counter the lies.

Dealing with the perpetrators direct is nigh-on impossible - and it's part of their problem. The bunker and tin hats mentality means their forums are either members only or they are moderated to exclude contrary opinions, which in this case means they really do swirl around in a cesspit of their own making, with lies being repeated and then ingrained as fact. Any contrary opinions that do sneak through are simply drowned out. They claim this is what happens to them elsewhere, mistaking a deluge of facts and truth (and abuse, I have no illusions on the matter) with their deluge of old lies, baseless opinions and wishful thinking. Accept one thing though - you cannot change the mind of the brainwashed zealot, you can only present the actual facts, use reason and logic, and trust that those things will win out in the end. Neutrals do read this stuff and it's them one can influence - the brainwashed customers are, sadly, lost.

Ultimately, I hope that someone within the Franchise customer ranks recognises the damage that their approach is doing to their own customer base. I genuinely believe there will have to come a time when the truth will have to be faced up to and those within the Franchise ranks will have to take the lead in educating their own about what really happened. Sadly, I suspect it won't happen until after Winkelman is gone or revealed to them as the conniving property dealer he is, so I won't be holding my breath! And why will this have to happen? Because otherwise, they will end up with yet another generation brought up on lies and irrational hate, and that's really not going to work out well for them.

NB I'm happy to explore further the 'hate' motif and why it's been used as a positive at Wimbledon but a negative at Franchise, but take on board that differentiation. Wimbledon fans have used their anger productively to create an incredible tale of success and joy. Where are the lies about Wimbledon, the deceit about Winkelman and the hatred of the truth, taking Franchise customers? It isn't going into making the football club a success or making Franchise customers feel good about themselves, now is it? So think on before you imagine that Wimbledon fans are the ones with the problem. We get to deal with the rippling out of the nonsense being generated by some Franchise customers, but the heart of the turbulence and disruption is within the Franchise ranks and that's where the most damage will be caused.

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