Monday, 5 December 2016

One-nil to the Wimbledon

It seems like a good time to update and re-publish this piece from 4 years ago. This piece was originally written for and reproduced with permission from the commemorative issue of Yellow & Blue in December 2012...

We won. It's that simple. We won. No matter what the result of the 2nd round FA Cup tie against Franchise FC, we won. And we've been winning for a long time now, we've been winning ever since 28th May 2002, which is when we last lost. Admittedly what we lost that day was an entire football club, but the response of Wimbledon fans to that loss has been nothing short of magnificent.

28th May 2002 was the last time that we were victims and since that date, starting with the meeting at Wimbledon Community Centre that effectively re-created our football club, we've been winning. When the manager and players representing Wimbledon, representing us the fans, representing our club, step on to the pitch next door to the supermarket that effectively killed Wimbledon FC, it will be with the knowledge that we took all they could throw at us, survived the death of our club and came back to create something glorious from the wreckage. Our very presence on that pitch, in the stadium a supermarket paid to build on Wimbledon FC's corpse, reminds the whole football world that we've won, we refused to stay dead, we refused to go away and we refused to sit down and shut up.

Winkelman will goad us (he did, with lies about the administration period), Winkelman will use weasel-words about family (he did), Winkelman will fail to apologise for what he did (he still hasn't, despite admitting what he did was wrong), but as he watches Wimbledon walk out on to his pitch, as equals (even more so now as we sit above them in the Football League), he'll be watching the victors, he'll be watching the club that really could do it all, he'll be watching the fans who really did stick by their club through the worst times – and he'll know. We won.

To those who want to stick the proverbial two-fingers up to Winkelman, Koppel, the FA, the Norwegians, Hammam, Stride, Parker and anyone else that brought us down to that crushing defeat of 28th May 2002, you should glory in the fact that our mere existence has been a permanent two-fingered salute at them for the last 10 years. Every achievement we make, large or small, has built on that initial refusal to accept the destruction of our football club just so Winkelman could facilitate his property deal in Milton Keynes.

It's not easy to list all the things we've won – the list is just too long – but here are some reminders of just how total our victory has been:

* Our club exists – that's the greatest victory of all over those who thought we weren't “in the wider interests of football”.

* We're back in the Football League, five promotions in nine years – meanwhile Franchise FC is one division lower than it started. Make it 6 promotions in 14 years now.

* We have more season ticket holders and twice the attendance than the average attendance at Plough Lane the last time we were in the fourth division of English football.

* We play as close to Wimbledon as is possible, as close to the Old Centrals birthplace as Plough Lane is – no small victory in London, and with ongoing plans to embed ourselves even more closely with our community. Plans that have now been approved and will go ahead.

* We own the ground we play at – and not just that, we have helped another football club survive and keep playing at their ground along the way. Franchise FC does not own the ground it plays at.

* We've resurrected a successful FITC scheme from absolutely nothing – Franchise FC destroyed Wimbledon FC's scheme in south London, despite Winkelman's promises.

* Thanks to WISA the honours of Wimbledon FC are back in Merton. Franchise FC considers itself a new club born in 2004.

* The trademarks for Wimbledon FC are owned by AFC Wimbledon.

* The vast majority of ex-Wimbledon FC players consider AFC Wimbledon to be the true inheritor of the Wimbledon legacy – none now claim that a club in Milton Keynes is the Wimbledon FC they played for.

* There's still a huge groundswell of popular support for Wimbledon, even after 10 years – the precise opposite is still the case for Franchise.

* AFC Wimbledon and The Dons Trust has advised other groups of fans on re-creating or saving their clubs, making many great friends along the way. What we have achieved has been recognised and inspired others across the country.

* Everything has been achieved while the club is still owned and run by its fans – Franchise is still the plaything of a property dealer.

There have been lots of little victories against the Franchise customers along the way too, ones that not everyone will have been aware of. Little things that have built up over the years and resulted in a complete bunker mentality among a core of the customers that they believe, wrongly, has strengthened them. We will see the culmination of that denial and delusion on 2nd December, when they unveil their 'We're the Dons' flag to a national TV audience that will look on with, at best, bemusement. They will follow it up with many goading chants that no one but a core of the customers will understand either – chants about Kingston and other obscure trivialities they have grasped at as straws of legitimacy or just to spite us over the years. Crucially, it won't just be the neutrals watching that will be bemused by their behaviour, it will drive a wedge between that core of Franchise customers and those in Milton Keynes who want to support an MK football team, not an anti-Wimbledon protest group or a club delusionally clinging on to a nicked-name link with another town. Whether the Franchise customers want to face it or not, and even whether Winkelman wants to admit it or not, this will be a watershed moment for the ludicrous 'Dons' nicked-name. (And so it has proved. They still cling to the 'Dons' nicked-name, but its inevitable dropping is now just a matter of time.)

Take strength and heart from every single chant and goad we get from the customers, because every single thing they do just demonstrates that what they started out deriding as a 'pub team' is now such a huge focus of their attention and has turned into their obsession. It's understandable for us to be interested in our old Football League place and those that took it away, but seeing the rabid froth emanating from some of the Franchise customers about us is a massive compliment to what our club has achieved. If we really were a pub team they wouldn't have to give us a moment's thought, but instead many of them are obsessed with us, because they know how much we've achieved, how far we've come and how completely we've won on all fronts.

If, as I expect, we lose the football match (who knows this time around?), it will of course be momentarily depressing as the Franchise customers celebrate winning their cup final (like Hampton & Richmond, Bromley, Withdean 2000 and others we have left behind, just like we'll leave Franchise behind) and we exit the FA Cup for this year (we haven't, miraculously, we're in the 3rd round draw!), but what will follow is far more important. Our players will leave the pitch built on Wimbledon FC's corpse... and AFC Wimbledon will still exist. We could lose 10-0 and walk away having still won what's most important – a football club for Wimbledon fans. In defeat, the true extent of our victory will be apparent, because most of us have been through far worse than losing a football match. We'll wake up the next day with our football club intact, our victories still in place and our hopes for the future undimmed.

AFC Wimbledon has proved over the last 10 years that not only was the FA Commission wrong to grant permission for franchising a football club, but that we are the very definition of being “in the wider interests of football”. It's one-nil to the Wimbledon and, just like the 1988 FA Cup Final victory, no one can take it away from us, the fans. We were there, we're still here and we are Wimbledon.

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