Milton Keynes Dons: a force for good in English football?

Posted by on Mar 28, 2011 in Milton Keynes, The Seventy Two | 39 Comments

Controversy Week kicks off on The Seventy Two with a divisive perspective on one of the most controversial clubs in the Football League – Milton Keynes Dons.


There were seven of them. No, eight. Nine. Forty-seven, it seemed like at times. All pushing forward. All going for goals. All ending up on the losing side. As Xavi recently said, “sometimes, in football, the result is the imposter”.

Peterborough United dominated for long periods at the Stadium:MK last Monday and still returned back to Cambridgeshire with nothing except the moral high ground. Not just given their side’s expansive, attractive, attacking approach, either. Most visiting fans leave Milton Keynes with a sense of superiority, regardless of the result. The place has no history, no tradition… But this is well-chartered territory.

Milton Keynes Dons have long been viewed as a negative entity by the majority of opposition supporters. Their story provides plenty of ammunition for detractors and the threat of franchise football should never be forgotten. Surely it is infinitely preferable for a club to wither and die than for its past to be forever linked, however tenuously, to an entirely different setup? Again, all well-documented.

Time is a great healer and attitudes have softened in some parts towards Milton Keynes Dons since their early days. Nonetheless, there were suggestions that this website should have been labelled The Seventy One and that no articles should have been written about the club.

Let’s get back to that title. What possible reasons could be given for the unsavoury notion of attaching positivity to Milton Keynes Dons in any way? Well, four actually.

Milton Keynes Dons are not the first club to unite opposition supporters in common hatred. Other clubs have been hated by many – Leeds United and Millwall spring immediately to mind. This had more to do with a reputation for violence, either on or off the pitch, than anything else. And given the competitive nature of football and the tribalism of its supporters, the only thing any notion of violence usually fosters is greater levels of violence. When a club with a certain reputation comes to town, there always seems to be a greater menace in the air as their mere arrival brings out the most unsavoury elements of each home support. So, while there may have been unity between supporters of other clubs in their dislike of Millwall, for example, it was never positive unity.

This is where Milton Keynes Dons come in. Because surely every supporter likes history, tradition and the moral high ground? Nobody likes the idea of switching allegiance, stealing league positions and Pete Winkelman. Any team that faces Milton Keynes immediately gains a small, temporary section of support for the afternoon from up and down the country. This can be viewed in two ways. It can be seen as small-minded and petty. Or it could be looked upon as being indicative of the growing empathy between supporters, particularly among lower league clubs. Non-league sides have long since enjoyed this enlightened view. In contrast, it still seems to be out of reach of the English top flight. This empathy seems to be drawn mainly from the financial struggles of many clubs outside of the Premier League and the recent vogue for supporter-maintained clubs, particularly in the non-league arena.

But it also gathered speed when Milton Keynes Dons came into being. Fans of a wide cross-section of clubs stood together and denounced the notion of franchise football in this country, the league position aspect being the most galling part of the whole episode. This positive unity can only be good for the future of the game. And Milton Keynes Dons supporters are certainly not violent. Some may revel in the unity against them, but this is only to be expected. Why should they care what others think of them any more than fans of other clubs do?

As time goes on, their supporters will become more genuine. Gone will be the fans of other clubs that migrated to Stadium:MK and the distaste that accompanies that concept. New generations will only have known Stadium:MK.

Which brings us neatly to the second point. Regardless of their history, although it is understandable that some people feel unable to see beyond this, Milton Keynes Dons actually do plenty of things far better than other football clubs. There is a real community feel to the club. Admittedly, this had to be the ploy from the start in order to gain support where previously there was none.

But without that captive audience to begin with, Milton Keynes Dons actually feel more like a football club should in some ways. That feeling of helplessness that you feel when your club makes a mind-boggling decision, knowing that you will still faithfully trot along to renew your annual sentence each summer anyway? Imagine having to earn that level of support. There must be far more emphasis on making decisions that appeal to the majority.

Specifically, Milton Keynes Dons have forged strong links in the local community, with former midfielder Paul Mitchell becoming the club’s Community Ambassador two years ago after his premature retirement from the game at the age of 27. In this sense, Winkelman has remained true to his word. After their first game in Milton Keynes, at a time when they were still known as Wimbledon and the administrator was still the most pressing concern, Winkelman addressed the gathered media with this salvo: “I can tell you that over time this will be a proper football club, trying to be part of the community, like everywhere else.”

And the third positive contribution? You only need to look at the Stadium:MK dugout. At present, it is occupied by 30-year-old Karl Robinson. It is a dugout that has previously been home to Paul Ince and Roberto di Matteo, who joined Blackburn Rovers and West Bromwich Albion respectively. Ince returned to Buckinghamshire to weaker effect after failing in the top flight and di Matteo was given the boot from The Hawthorns earlier this season in slightly harsh circumstances, but the fact remains that Milton Keynes seems to provide a good breeding ground for ambitious young managers.

Not just managers, either – Robinson currently employs Robbie Fowler as a coach and recently lost Dietmar Hamann to Leicester City. The club are currently fifth in the League One table, suggesting that the young manager is doing something right. In short, Stadium:MK is ripe poaching ground and, whether this turns out to be Robinson or one of his successors, looks a good bet to supply a genuinely great football manager at some point in the near future.

Finally, finances. Milton Keynes Dons appear to be run in a sensible fashion with no large-scale financial backing or overambitious plans to spend their way up the leagues. Two of their most impressive performers this season – attackers Sam Baldock and Daniel Powell – are Academy graduates. In these days of enforced austerity, this kind of approach is not to be taken lightly and the main threat of franchise football in the future comes from the polar opposite – clubs losing perspective of their place in football’s grand scheme. Plymouth Argyle turned out to be hugely reliant on the eventually unsuccessful World Cup bid. For Milton Keynes, the failure to secure 2018 was merely a minor setback.

This will all be a step too far for some. And several steps too few for Milton Keynes Dons supporters. Maybe it is stuck in some horrible no man’s land and will remain there while missiles are flung back and forth between the two opposing parties. Maybe no-one cares any more. The former seems more likely…

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

39 Comments

  1. Ricey
    March 28, 2011

    Interesting view point.

    I think the whole Wimbledon/MK needs to be put to one side now, not forgotten about entirely, but largely ignored. Ask any AFC Wimbledon fan about MK and they won’t want to be uttered in the same breath as them, they don’t want Wimbledon to be apart of the MK history.

    As someone with a close link to AFC, I find it hard to feel any positivity to MK. I’ll never ‘like’ them, but credit where credit is due, they appear to be a well run club with a manager who I’ve got a lot of time for.

    Brave article though, I wanted to disagree with every point….but I couldn’t.

    Reply
    • theseventytwo
      March 28, 2011

      Cheers, it is about as brave an article as I have ever written actually! Usually not one to court any sort of controversial topic. I think my general view of MK Dons comes across, but it was interesting to try to write it from a slightly different perspective.

      Reply
  2. Footie Fan
    March 28, 2011

    From a Milton Keynes perspective I want to applaud your article. Not because it is pro-MK Dons which it is clearly not, but because it acknowledges some of the positives at the club, regardless of personal opinion.

    I work with an AFC Wimbledon fan who has more concerns about the extremists at the helm of his own club who are obsessed about MK, than MK Dons themselves. And having travelled the country with the Dons I would suggest its more a case of people not caring any more.

    The key for MK Dons is that eight years after the move, Peter Winkelman is still at the club and has made good on his promises.

    Reply
    • Craig Burley
      March 28, 2011

      “I work with an AFC Wimbledon fan who has more concerns about the extremists at the helm of his own club who are obsessed about MK, than MK Dons themselves.”

      This person does not exist, nor do the alleged “extremists” at AFCW. This is fiction, more tiresome nonsense from Franchise people looking to wind up football supporters. Sad, really.

      Reply
      • Footie Fan
        March 28, 2011

        This person does exist but of course thats difficult to prove on a public forum.

        As to the extremists at AFCW, if you don’t believe my word listen to one of WISA’s own members. Horst Bullinger was a councillor at Merton, a Wimbledon fan and a member of WISA. He said;

        “In my opinion decent Wimbledon FC supporters were fooled into believing the Wimbledon FC follow-on lies dished out by WISA and are now AFC supporters, like one or two of my friends who were hoodwinked by the AFC propaganda”

        http://www.mkdsa.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=257&Itemid=202

        Reply
    • Laurence
      March 28, 2011

      Footie Fan

      Care to back up your allegation with hard facts about these ‘extremists’ you refer to?

      At least have the guts to put your real name up.

      Reply
  3. J
    March 28, 2011

    This article immediately caught my attention, I’m that rarest of football fans, the Wimbledon supporter who stayed (or left, depends on how you look at it i suppose) when the team migrated 60 miles north.

    Why? Well for one both my brother and I were involved in the youth set-up and at the time of the move were sweetened somewhat by the clubs board with free tickets and other incentives; with no fans left i suppose they treated us like VIP’s.

    It’s difficult for me, as i still live in South London when i’m not at university and i daren’t wear my club colours when i’m out and about at home, but back to the article.

    As a team, MK Dons are playing well and we look set for a playoff place, as far as the Peterborough result is concerned, fantastic result, win ugly if you have to. Posh are one of the best sides in that league and will be a major threat to us at the end of the season.

    As for the club as a whole, the new supporters have embraced the ‘franchise’, and in my opinion it will continue to grow, the stadium is brilliant and Winkleman et al are attracting big names to the club. Youngsters are coming through, Baldock and Powell and just two examples of this, but others are waiting in the wings.

    I know a lot of people might not like or agree with this, but the move is close to becoming a success story, if not for football fans. I’m happy to let Wimbledon’s history stay in the past, I sadly never really saw the best years of the club, an FA Cup semi final defeat to Chelsea at Highbury when 8 years old sticks in the memory, followed by relegation, administration and the subsequent demise.

    I wish AFC the best of luck in their quest for promotion, and hope that one day supporters won’t feel such animosity towards my club, though who could blame them.

    Reply
  4. mk dons citizen
    March 28, 2011

    It is refreshing to read a balanced report. So many so called journalists rely on a headline, incorrect facts etc. Hopefully more journalists like yourself will have the courage to report with accuracy

    Reply
  5. Matt R
    March 28, 2011

    As another of that rare breed, a former Wimbledon FC fan who has stuck with the club through the move to MK, I have to say it is nice to read a more balanced article about the club.

    I have to admit, I myself wasn’t sure when it first happened. Would the move be a success? Would Winkleman stick to his word? Would the support grow over time? But I have given it a chance, and been very impressed by the progress made. The club seems to be run in the right way. The chairman seems to have a genuine enthusiasm to build something for the long term, which is something that wasn’t the case towards the end of the Wimbledon days. Quite simply, Wimbledon didn’t have a future, where MK Dons do!

    I also like Winkleman’s approach to funding. This won’t work long term if he just throws endless amounts of money at it and hopes for the best. See what happened to the likes of Portsmouth, Leeds and Plymouth when the tried that!

    Reply
  6. ValeAdam
    March 28, 2011

    This was a good read. However, I still find myself irreversibly opposed to MK Dons. For every positive you raised I couldn’t help but feel that each of those could have been implemented while either remaining Wimbledon FC or as an entirely new club of MK Dons. I think one of the oppositions to the club fans of lower league teams have is that it seems like a brand new team that just happens to have started off in League 1, as opposed to working up through the divisions. I don’t wish to reignite this debate, but it’s a view that I suspect many still hold (albeit largely under the surface now that the team has been established for a few years).

    Just as a little aside, I do have a level appreciation for the Dons fans themselves. It must have been a tough choice to stay with the team after the move or to start following a club that had so much anger directed towards it from elsewhere in the footballing world and, though I may not necessarily agree with the decision, I respect the commitment of those fans. I also distinctly remember a grim weeknight at Vale Park, where the 50 or so hardy souls who had made the long journey to our grey city only to see their team getting resoundingly beaten broke into a song of “We’re s**t and we know we are”. Brilliant.

    Reply
    • GrayV
      March 28, 2011

      The best reply (so far).

      All of the good points about the franchised club could equally have been made had Winkleman purchased (or started) a non-league club in MK and built them up. AFC Wimbledon have shown how to go about this and are now only one potentially good/bad season away from being in the same division.

      And well done to Vale for giving them a damn good thrashing :-)

      Reply
    • True Don
      March 28, 2011

      Can’t say I enjoyed reading that piece as I am a true Don, a supporter of AFC Wimbledon. Any slight praise towards Pete Winkleman is shameful. The man is a parasite. People may view this as a rambling, bitter Wimbledon fan but in all honesty, MK are a distant memory now and the vast majority of fans who supported Wimbledon FC now follow AFC Wimbledon and are fully focussed on getting back to the Football League, which is where we belong. It has been highlighted above but if Winkleman wanted to start a football team in MK, then why not set one up and work your way up the leagues just like AFC Wimbledon have been forced to do? Before the club was moved to Milton Keynes, Winkleman sent a letter to all the fans saying the club will not change its name, colours, badge etc and it will remain as Wimbledon. Still, we didn’t want to travel to MK to watch Wimbledon, a team from London, play their home games in a hockey stadium. We all know what happened afterwards, Winkleman didn’t stick to his word and AFC Wimbledon’s retarded inbred cousin was born. MK also have a fairly decent stadium which always looks empty. Where are those supporters Winkleman said were “deserving” of a football club? I struggle to understand why MK fans could support such a horrible club but if they just want to watch a game of football then I can’t really begrudge them of that. I just find it sickening how people can praise the work is Pete Winkleman and try to point out plus points about that club. They fact of the matter is, the FA have now enforced a rule where it can’t happen to another club again and rightfully so. Wimbledon FC may have been in trouble and MK fans will always say the club would have died if it hadn’t have moved to MK but we wouldn’t have died. Crashed horribly down the leagues and struggled, yes but died? No. Wimbledon now lives on through AFC Wimbledon and the council are now giving us full support to build a stadium in Merton and hopefully in 5-8 years that will become an option. AFC Wimbledon are the real Dons and the sooner MK drop the “Dons” part of there name, the better.

      Reply
      • theseventytwo
        March 28, 2011

        I never thought I’d see myself writing this but it was interesting to try to put across a positive perspective on a club I’ve never liked.

        The main thing that continues to stick in my throat is the league position thing. That still feels like theft to me regardless of the passing of time.

        I’d always rather have the discussion than avoid things, though, and all comments so far (particularly the arrival of two Wimbledon fans that migrated to MK with the club) have made this a worthwhile exercise for me.

        Reply
  7. Bourne
    March 28, 2011

    Shame on you. MK Dons don’t deserve the light of day. Horrible club. Winkleman is a clown. All those “high profiled” appointments are to try and make the club look slightly more “acceptable”. It won’t work. There image is still the same. DISGUSTING CLUB. Come on Bournemouth!!

    Reply
  8. Wombledon
    March 28, 2011

    Just because the franchise have a community officer and are a springboard for middle-aged millionaires to go into football management doesn’t mitigate the fact that they are club-stealing scum who have no moral legitimacy in existing in the football pyramid.

    Reply
  9. David
    March 28, 2011

    Can I ask what is the main issue people have with the MK Dons?

    Is the moving the club from it’s home?
    Is it changing the clubs name?

    Let me ask you this…….what are your thoughts on Woolwich Arsenal errrr sorry Arsenal? Thats right the same thing happen to Arsenal a century ago yet nobody talks about that! People – look at your histroy – MK’s are not the first & won’t be the last!!!!!

    Reply
    • leeds don
      March 28, 2011

      The fact that our league position was stolen.

      I will not forgive or forget what that man did to our club, however I can catagorically say that I’m enjoying watching and supporting Wimbledon now more than I ever did at Selhurst Park. I cannot wait for us to get into the football league, and hopefully one day climb above the Franchise.

      “not in the wider interests of football”

      Reply
      • StephenC
        March 28, 2011

        Um, I do believe that Arsenal “bought” Spurs’ league place a century or so ago – and of course those 2 sets of supporters really have “forgiven & forgotten”. For those who say “move on”, I’d say, “why”? I don’t spend my life worrying about MK, but neither will I ever forget or forgive those that enabled a businessmen to steal my club, its league position that it (like every other club in English history had – previously) earned, and transport it 60 miles away to somewhere that already had a football club (which has now folded). It was wrong then, it was wrong now. No matter what they do from 2002 onwards does not change a thing.

        Reply
  10. David
    March 28, 2011

    Can I add….

    Wimbledon FC are dead. 2 new teams have been created – AFCW & MKD – SIMPLES

    Reply
  11. Ray
    March 28, 2011

    Seventy years ago and this sort of stuff would have been peddled over the airwaves by William Joyce.

    Whatever happened to Milton Keynes City FC?

    Reply
  12. Dean
    March 28, 2011

    Wimbledon are not dead, I supported Wimbledon as my local club form the age of 8 I am still supporting my local club Wimbledon, the only thing dead of Wimbledon is our league position, that was taken by an illegitimate bastard club, who swans about refusing to stop using our surname, the sooner they drop the Dons from their name, using it under any pretence the better.

    Reply
  13. Tart
    March 28, 2011

    @Bourne – Winkelman, not Winkleman. *cringe*

    Reply
  14. Laurence
    March 28, 2011

    Quite shameful.

    So where is the balanced perspective from the point of view of the Wimbledon FC supporter, who had followed his/her club from the 1950s, 1060s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and so on, and then found due to deeper pockets, their club and league place had been stolen by business people, who had no sense of history?

    Suggest you pop down to Kingsmeadow and meet some of us ‘extremists’ one of your contributors refers to without the good grace to attach their name.

    Mine is real and I am pretty well known amongst AFC Wimbledon fans, only started following Wimbledon FC is 1968.

    Reply
  15. Dave in MK
    March 28, 2011

    Thanks for this balanced post.

    I’ve lived in MK for 25 years. I’d previously been largely an armchair supporter of Liverpool, then someone (Winkelman) dropped a Championship club on my doorstep. I went to the odd match with my children and gradually got drawn in. Now I have a season ticket and travel to many of the away games. I’ve followed them down to League 2, winning the Johnson’s Paint Trophy and back up to League 1. MK Dons have turned me from an armchair supporter of a premiership club, to an active fan of my local team. Meanwhile, my children have been brought up supporting the MK Dons. That is their club.

    I do feel sympathy for AFCW fans, and, if they didn’t come across as so aggressive to me and MK Dons fans, would genuinely like to see them succeed. You have had a raw deal – though of course it is not quite as simple as some of you like to suggest.

    For some AFCW fans, however, hating all things MK is part of their identity. This is not healthy for them or for football in general.

    Reply
    • Ray
      March 29, 2011

      But you had a local team – in fact you had several over the years – MK City, MK Borough, Bletchley Town, Wolverton Town etc – why didn’t you get your backside off your armchair and support one of them?

      Reply
  16. randomwomble
    March 28, 2011

    “Finally, finances. Milton Keynes Dons appear to be run in a sensible fashion with no large-scale financial backing or overambitious plans to spend their way up the leagues.”

    Hilarious! The large-scale backing came from Asda funding the Wankiedome, just so they could build an out-of-town superstore in contravention of planning laws. You’ve obviously not spent much time researching their ongoing and cumulative operating losses. Not hard to discover, if you can be bothered.

    Reply
  17. mistrollingin
    March 29, 2011

    The point remains, as others have said, that MK Dons should not have been allowed to happen, however well they are run now (if they are). If Wimbledon had died then so be it and they would have been replaced by a non league club that had got to the fringes of the league on merit. MK Dons essentially stole a league place either from the old Wimbledon or from an existing non league club.
    If Winkelman had taken over or created a non league club in Milton Keynes and progressed into the league then he could be congratulated on whatever good he did with them, but if a man steals your money and then gives half of it back as charity you don’t applaud his philanthropy.
    I feel bad saying this because confrontation is absolutely not my thing but this statement quoted from an above post sums up everything that is wrong with MK Dons and I think people who love the game will know why: “I’ve lived in MK for 25 years. I’d previously been largely an armchair supporter of Liverpool, then someone (Winkelman) dropped a Championship club on my doorstep.”

    Reply
  18. Reg Davis
    March 29, 2011

    Dear oh dear.

    Was Winkelman sat on your lap stroking your hair whilst this was being written?

    Reply
    • theseventytwo
      March 29, 2011

      No.

      Reply
  19. Peter
    March 29, 2011

    I hope Franchise & Winkleman go bust and die…. soon.

    Reply
  20. Lanterne Rouge
    March 29, 2011

    I think an attempt to get to grips with this topic in a different way is interesting David and provides an interesting counterpoint and contrast to our href=”http://thetwounfortunates.blogspot.com/2010/08/political-economy-of-hating-mk-dons.html”> more uncompromising take on things.

    Reply
  21. Mirko Bolesan
    March 29, 2011

    MK Dons aren’t run well financially, they make a loss every year, and has been mentioned earlier in these comments the whole stadium build was facilitated by Asda more than anything else. Where did the money come from if they weren’t backed by a large amount of finance?

    People dislike football clubs for a huge variety of reasons. A lot of people despise Manchester United for their supposed arrogance/success or they hate Chelsea/Man City for “buying success”, or more simply they dislike their local rivals. Bearing those rather silly reasons for disliking teams I think that hating MK Dons is perfectly acceptable.

    I wouldn’t shed a tear if they went bust – and that’s the only team I’d say that about. In fact, I think it’s only logical that if they get into financial difficulties that their franchise should be up for sale for other towns around the UK.

    Reply
    • theseventytwo
      March 29, 2011

      As you can probably tell from the use of the word “appear”, that was a last minute inclusion that I regret. I don’t know the ins and outs of MK Dons’ finances and shouldn’t have mentioned it at all.

      Reply
  22. Damon
    March 29, 2011

    It is good to read such a piece. All valid points too. I have wondered, for several years now, ‘how long is long enough to grieve or be angry?’. Although not the same situation in terms of stealing of a league place, Arsenal are a very high profile example of a club franchised away from its roots. No one bats an eyelid now and, from what I can gather, it was only a few years afterwards that grumbles abated. Those grumbles, understandably, continue here but for how long?

    Damon.

    Reply
  23. Lanterne Rouge
    March 30, 2011

    Damon makes a good point. It’s also presumably easier for clubs to move lower down the pyramid.

    For me though, It’s also about the fact that MK is a the kind of soulless, US style city without a downtown community or city core that promotes properly interwoven social relations between people – Wimbledon may not have been a footballing hotbed (although on the one visit I paid to Plough Lane, the atmosphere was tempestuous) but planting a ready made club from nowhere will do nothing to offset the manufactured nature of the place. Organic growth will have eventually achieved the same thing but people got greedy early.

    Reply
  24. mark
    April 14, 2011

    A plastic club full of Spurs/Arsenal/Manure/Liverpool fans and a pennyless chancer hobo chairman with a half finished building site of a ground and no legal right to be in the FL.
    Don’t lie about your attendances. When you state 9,000, the reality is nearer 5,000. I’ve witnessed it.
    All in all, rather sad don’t you think in keeping with your contrived dull American stadium style atmosphere.A distinct lack of class out of keeping with English football.
    Oh, and sort your match day car park out, it’s a disgrace.

    Reply
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