I'll get my personal opinion out of the way first - I never want us to play Franchise, I will never go to a game at Franchise's stadium and I will never directly financially reward Winkelman for his actions in instigating and completing the destruction of Wimbledon FC. So of course I will not be going to any game between the two teams. Many Wimbledon fans differ in their views on this. Some want to go and have a big presence there, some want a total boycott, some would go to a home game but not to Franchise, some want the game to happen and some don't. There are as many different opinions as there are Wimbledon fans.
Based on the above, surely the conclusion is that this issue will split the fanbase? Yes... Wimbledon fans will always be divided in their opinion of Franchise and what to do about it. But the key word there is 'always'. These are differences of opinion that have been there from the very start, have been discussed a thousand times and that come up every time someone mentions a fixture against Franchise. It's not new and the actuality of the fixture happening, while it will cause a great deal of emotion, will not bring forth any new divisions. The day after the game, we will all still be Wimbledon fans, we will all be looking forward to our next game that's not against Franchise and we will all still have our individual attitudes to Franchise and the prospect of playing them. Nothing will have changed. The result on the pitch will have been irrelevant, except to determine whether Wimbledon progress in the FA Cup. The day after, Wimbledon goes back to normal. But what of Franchise?
Franchise manager Karl Robinson is quoted in the press as doing a 'dance of joy around his living room' at news of the cup draw. A number of the usual suspect posters on Franchise forums are positively bursting with delight about the prospect of playing the real Wimbledon. To read some of the comments you would think that all their birthdays and Christmases have come at once. And why? The most sense I can make of many of the incoherent babbling is that they seem to think it's a great chance to rub the noses of Wimbledon fans in the dirt for the 10 years of pariah status that Franchise and its customers have had. Never mind the illogicality of it (pariah status was achieved by franchising another town's football team), does this glee at the fixture happening make any sense for Franchise?
Pete Winkelman has said he is excited at the tie happening, but thus far his response is quite reserved. Perhaps that's because he has realised some of the consequences of this fixture taking place in MK. Let's start with shirts. Wimbledon play in blue and yellow colours. Standard practice at all games is that away colours cannot be allowed in the home sections. Anyone turning up to the game in any Wimbledon top, will be refused entry to the home sections - a first for Franchise. For the very first time they will be forced to face, very directly, that they are not Wimbledon. It may not sound like much, but when Franchise inevitably has to announce that anyone wearing a Wimbledon top will have to go in the away fans section, then the message it sends could not be clearer about the delusions and denial that some have been under for the last 10 years. That's going to be a very bitter pill for some of the Franchise customers to swallow. Yet it does have to happen, Franchise cannot allow Wimbledon shirts in the home sections or they will be breaking one of the fundamental rules of crowd control in modern football. It's unthinkable that they allow the possibility of large numbers of away fans to infiltrate the home sections of the ground. And that's just the start of things.
The noisiest among the Franchise customers online are already gleefully planning all the songs and chants they will be aiming at whatever Wimbledon presence there is in the ground. Almost without exception these chants involve harping on about the past, who the 'real' Wimbledon is and spiteful attacks on Wimbledon fans actions. Not a problem you might think, but what about the customers from Milton Keynes who are just there to watch their football team? What about the families that Winkelman has been so keen to nurture as the future of his club and town? All the proposed chanting and vitriol is going to produce is an atmosphere of hostility. And since it's all based on past events, those new customers may well look on with disbelief at what's going on. It will be a very stark reminder for them that they are supporting a team that refuses to let go of its past and embrace its future in Milton Keynes. Every chant from Franchise about 'We're the real Dons' or similar will be a cringeworthy reminder to those in MK that it isn't really their team, it's still someone else's.
You may think I'm overstating the case, but however few people are put off by it, those are people being lost by Franchise. The more a core cabal of Franchise customers push the 'Dons' issue and the more vitriolic they become towards Wimbledon fans, the more they lose sight of the actual future of their club - a Milton Keynes team in Milton Keynes.
The media will, of course, be all over this game like ants on a sugar high, and that's not going to help Franchise either. All the old wounds will be ripped open, all the reminders of how MK stole Wimbledon's Football League place from its fans - all the negative publicity that Winkelman desperately doesn't want in trying to build up customer support. Nothing has changed remember, Franchise isn't suddenly in the right and Wimbledon in the wrong... nothing about the facts has changed and bringing them back up will only damge Franchise, not Wimbledon.
So picture it, in the aftermath of the match, Wimbledon fans emotions will be raw, whatever the result, but for Franchise customers the consequences will only just be starting. How can a customer base so obsessed with clinging on to the 'Dons' nicked-name ever really be a part of Milton Keynes? How can customers so obsessed with getting one over on a club nearly everyone admires for what it has achieved, expect to reap anything but condemnation and hate for their actions? How can MK residents faced with the bitterness and obsession of some Franchise customers with clinging on to the past ever really take Franchise to their hearts?
Much more may come out of the day, when it arrives, but as the grim reality of events unfolds for Franchise customers, we will see a very different outcome to things than many currently expect.