Sunday, 18 September 2011

Who abandoned who?

One of the oldest lies that Franchise customers still repeat, is the one largely born out of the handful of so-called 'Wimbledon fans' (frankly, I consider them to never have actually been fans at all, they were obviously always just customers) that became Franchise customers. It is the lie that Wimbledon fans abandoned their club. Most football fans recognise this lie of abandonment instantly for the complete nonsense it is, but I'm going to take it apart anyway to hammer home to those who would attempt to re-write history that they cannot and will not be allowed to do so. Fundamentally, what you have to do is place yourself in the position of a Wimbledon fan on 29th May 2002, straight after the FA Commission had given permission for the MK move. Obviously that's easy for any Wimbledon fan of the time to do, but time and faulty memory can distort things, which is what the revisionists are relying on to try to alter the perception of history. So, it's 29th May 2002 and you're a Wimbledon fan...

What does the FA Commission verdict mean?
It means that Wimbledon FC has permission to move to Milton Keynes. It does not force them to. The hindsight revisionists have grasped this aspect of things as indicating that Wimbledon fans should have kept trying to stop the club moving, which ignores two things... Firstly that fans did continue trying to stop the club moving (note the continuing efforts of WISA post-28th May 2002 and secondly that there's no point continuing with approaches that have already failed. It is illogical in the extreme to think that continuing to do what had been done before the Commission would somehow miraculously work after it. Yet that is what the history re-writers would have us believe. Rather than accepting that things would have continued as before, they are asking everyone to believe that something would have magically changed, but, crucially, they have never explained how. I would love to link to one of the revisionists claiming what could have been done, but not one of them has ever put forward an even remotely plausible scenario. On 29th May 2002, nearly all Wimbledon fans knew precisely and correctly what the Commission's verdict meant - it meant their football club was gone, because the owners had chosen Milton Keynes instead of the fans and community and nothing could now stop them.

Can the Commission's verdict be challenged and who by?
The club, the FA and the Football League were all legally bound by the Commission's decision. By the terms of the Commission there was no appeal process for any of them, either through the game's governing bodies or through the courts. (  "However, this is binding on everyone under the Football League rules - there is no appeal.") Who does that leave in a position to challenge the decision and how? Clearly, the only party with any interest in preventing the move is the fans. And what mechanism could have been used, bearing in mind there was no route now available through the sport's governing bodies? The only legal route would have been a judicial review. And how practical would that have been to do? Let's take a look at some aspects of that process...

"The cost of bringing a judicial review claim is considerable: in the region of £10,000 to £20,000 for a straightforward case, higher for a more complex matter. If the claimant is unsuccessful, they are likely to be liable for the defendant’s costs as well as their own. They are therefore looking at a legal bill of upwards of £30,000 if they lose, and they must be prepared for this eventuality, bearing in mind the unpredictability of judicial review proceedings and costs orders."

So Wimbledon fans would have had to have gathered tens of thousands of pounds and then had to face the prospect of paying the club's legal costs (Koppel's lawyers would not have come cheap of course) if we hadn't won the case. So, straight off we'd have been looking at needing £50,000 or even more, and absolutely no guarantee of what the outcome would be. And bear in mind a judicial review would have had to have been sought quickly (within 3 months) and would not have been an option after that, so effectively no legal challenge could be made to the Commission's decision past the end of August 2002.

Given that at this stage neither WISA or The Dons Trust had the finance available to take the matter to judicial review and that even if the funds could be gathered there was absolutely no guarantee of success, you can see why the matter was suggested but not pursued. ( There is still nothing to indicate that a judicial review would have succeeded either. Plus, the funds used on a judicial review would have left nothing over to re-form the club and ensure that there was a Wimbledon football team playing the 2002-3 season. And to put the tin lid on it, a judicial review would have taken considerable time to work through all the necessary stages of, long past the expected date of the team actually playing in Milton Keynes.

So, any legal challenge would have probably crippled any attempt to re-form the club and had no guarantee of success. Clearly, no sensible person would have pursued that route. If even the FA and FL weren't prepared or able to afford to take the legal action necessary to prevent the club moving prior to the Commission, then how were the fans expected to do so after it?

Where will 'Wimbledon FC' be playing the 2002-3 season, kicking off in just 2 months time?
Wimbledon FC was expected to kick off the 2002-3 season in Milton Keynes. Now, if you are new to this or been lied to in the past, read that again and take it in - Wimbledon FC was expected to kick off the 2002-3 season in Milton Keynes - a mere 2 months after the Commission verdict. That is how it was... that was the harsh reality facing Wimbledon fans - that when the new season came around, we would not have a local club to support, because it would be playing in MK. Need proof? Easy...

"Although the new stadium at Milton Keynes will not be ready for next season should the FA say yes, Koppel has two temporary sites where he says Wimbledon could play next season. One belongs to the English Hockey Association. The other is the Milton Keynes Bowl, more famous for rock concerts."

"Wimbledon could be playing in Milton Keynes as early as this August after they were today given permission to move by an independent Football Association commission."

So be in no doubt, what Wimbledon fans had hammered into them (the above links are just a sample) was that if permission was granted, the team would be playing the following season in Milton Keynes. That was the reality faced by Wimbledon fans on 29th May 2002 - travel to Milton Keynes to see Franchise FC play or... do something else!

What happened next to WFC could not be predicted by anyone - and only the most foolish of idiots now would claim they would have expected Koppel and Winkelman to botch the move for a further 18 months. Anyone who tells you they knew there was another 18 months, administration and other factors to come, is simply a liar.

Why has no one come in to 'save' the club in London?
Simple... because it was never for sale and the owners never looked to bring anyone else in prior to the Commission. No one ever had the chance to save the club. Claiming no one in London tried to save the club prior to the Commission is like claiming no one offered to buy your house before you even put it on the market.

And after the Commission? Well why would anyone try to 'save' a club whose owners still hadn't put it up for sale and remained focused on trying to reap the rewards of an MK move, right up to the point they placed the club into administration. But, don't lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with the 29th May 2002 here and at that point the club isn't in administration, isn't for sale and there is absolutely no reason for any outside investor to even think there's an opportunity to get involved with the club. Koppel never appealed for a buyer or new investors to keep the club in London. Read the contemporary pieces linked above - Koppel warns of dire consequences but never appeals for investors or for a solution in London. No one ever had the chance to save Wimbledon FC, because the owners simply didn't want it saved, they wanted it in MK.

Can Wimbledon FC's owners be persuaded to change their minds?
No. What else was anyone supposed to conclude? The fans had battled Dublin previously and had been fighting the MK move for 18 months. All protests and attempts to negotiate with the owners had been met with total refusal, so who in their right mind would expect that to suddenly change? Check out this contemporaneous account of an Official Wimbledon Fans Forum (OWFF) meeting, for the full horror of the club's attitude:

Frankly, it is insane to suggest that after being granted the very thing they had been fighting for (permission to move to MK), that Koppel and the owners would then somehow be more amenable to what the fans wanted. Seriously, anyone that at this point (29th May 2002) suggesting to me that trying to persuade Koppel to change his mind was a worthwhile exercise - I'd have had them sectioned.

Why couldn't the fans step in to save the club?
Again simple - the club wasn't for sale or in a position where the fans could play a part until long after 29th May 2002. All attempts at fan involvement had been rebuffed by the club, precisely because they wanted the MK move and we didn't. You can't save something that refuses all attempts from those that want to actually save it.

On 29th May 2002, any Wimbledon fan aware of the facts and paying attention knew that Wimbledon FC was moving to Milton Keynes, that the owners couldn't be dissuaded, that there were no practical ways to stop the move and that they faced the coming football season without any club to support. Wimbledon FC was dead, it was an MK club, and if Wimbledon was to have a club for the 2002-3 season, then something had to be done and done in a hurry, because the new season was less than 8 weeks away.

That is the truth, that is the reality. AFC Wimbledon wasn't formed even so much as a minute too early. Wimbledon fans didn't abandon their club - the owners of the club conducted a protracted, vigorous and successful campaign to abandon the fans. Those who seek to revise the real history and claim Wimbledon fans abandoned their club, are simply liars, charlatans and pond-scum.

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