MK Dons: ever so ‘umble

Image available under Creative Commons © Steve Rhodes

This hasn’t been a plum week in the history of MK Dons. Their dumping out of the cup at the hands of Premier League QPR on Tuesday night followed a weekend of sincere apology from all involved at the club after the farcical cancellation of their League One match with Carlisle. The game was the only weather casualty in the entirety of the professional game across England and Scotland – a mind blowing situation that owed much to bad planning and which was unbecoming for a stadium which was one the England 2018 bid’s chosen host venues.

To their infinite credit the Dons behaviour in the immediate aftermath of the game and in the days hence has been nothing short of exemplary. Club chairman Pete Winkelman delved into his own pocket to feed the 500 or so Cumbrians who had made the journey to Buckinghamshire, recognising the special sacrifice of a 6am start in his many obsequious appearances across sports media over the course of the day. On Tuesday they took the further, unparalleled step of offering all Carlisle ticket holders not one, but two free entries for the rearranged fixture and footing the bill for the travel of 100 or so Blues supporters.

And yet there remains lingering talk of a conspiracy amongst Carlisle fans, and the wider football community – that the lost game kept MK fresh for the cup tie. However tongue in cheek it begs the question whether such accusations would stick to other clubs.

A Carlisle supporting correspondent of mine who had the misfortune of attending the ‘game’ on a corporate junket dropped me a line on Monday morning to detail Winkelman’s rounds and proffer an unflattering comparison to the Dickensian villain Uriah Heep – it seems somewhat ironic that he was kowtowing on behalf of his own ‘umble abode’.

But it’s something that he seems to feel the need to do often – apologise. So does the entire outfit. Doomed to a lifetime’s discontent by their own Faustian pact with the devil, their name is seemingly fated to be prefixed with a ‘but’ for time in memoriam. Such is the perpetuity of their perceived woe that one even wonders if their collective morning alarm call were the strains of Sonny and Cher’s ‘I’ve Got You Babe’; if Saturday’s pitch problems had been caused not by staffing oversight but by a celebrated rodent – Bucksatawny Phil, the MK groundhog – one wouldn’t have been surprised.

Take their approach to management for example. The club’s rise to League One and JPT Trophy success came at the hand of one of the UK’s only black managers; the vibrant, young and forward thinking Paul Ince.  His replacement is a no less laudable appointment – Karl Robinson is exactly the type of coach who has historically had little chance of hooking a top job in the UK. An average non-league player whose career was ended by injury he became the Football League’s youngest gaffer upon appointment in the summer of 2009.

His installment, along with the gnarled backroom operator John Gorman, has been revelatory – transforming a formulaic mid-table outfit into perennial play-off jousters. He is also clearly an intelligent man – erudite, gracious and well spoken, his manner is that of a student of the game rather than an old school motivator. This has been noticed in footballing circles yet his potential as an English Arsène Wenger or Arrigo Sacchi or even as the next Eddie Howe hasn’t yet gathered the head of critical steam it deserves. Nor has the MK board’s outstanding judgment drawn praise. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why.

The short history of the Dons is littered with similarly puzzling examples.  Their reputation as the outstanding community club in the English leagues; past master in engaging with their captive audience, with offering a newly vibrant product and reaching out in support of local good causes stands chided as the actions of guilt. Philanthropy forever tarnished by THAT back story.

Indeed there even seemed a reluctance to accept that the club hierarchy were able to produce a homegrown product of the obvious quality and talent of West Ham’s Sam Baldock and yet more head scratching as the forward passed up a ‘proper club’ in Peterborough United to remain at Stadium:MK.  How could the ‘plastic club’ possibly contribute to the future of English football – even to those of empathetic bent like myself an element of that still sticks in the craw. I surely can’t be the only one who mouths ‘pity’ when the Wikipedia entry of a big summer capture reveals a 5 game loan spell with the Dons in 2007?

If you asked a random sample of football fans to state the first word that sprung to mind at mention of the Dons I’d wager that ‘hate’ would figure high on any list compiled.  I’ve never hated MK:Dons. I’ll forever hate elements of their inception and facets of their existence.  Before considering the reaction to this week’s proffering of a gigantic olive branch to their rivals fans I’d spared little emotional thought for them at all – their stadium was a nuisance to get to but was lovely inside was about the sum of it.  But this week I pity them – their timeless anguish, their wailing but ignored positivity and the fact that every one else disdains them – that kind of makes me sad.  And I can’t help wondering if they’d prefer my hate…

thinks about Carlisle United all the time. His stock in trade is viewing the world of football in embittered fashion with a Cumbrian bias. Seldom does he fail to invalidate an opinion by slipping into lamp-jawed gobshitery. Like any sane man, he prefers his defensive midfielders to read the play and only ever pass sideways.

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40 Comments on "MK Dons: ever so ‘umble"

  1. Lanterne Rouge says:

    Well – what can I say? I had to make sure this went up in your name when I posted this John as it rather infringes on my previously stated ‘this website has a zero tolerance stance on MK Dons’. Of course I disagree with what you say in the main but you argue your points well and we don’t wnat to indulge in censorship unless we can help it. For any lurking Wimbledonistas (with whose cause I am 100% in sympathy), ‘this website reflects the views of the authors alone’.

  2. Jez says:

    One point you have not touched upon regarding the Dons’ migration is attendances.
    Despite being acknowledged as arguably the best passing side in League One the average gate of 8,200 is less than half that of promotion rivals Charlton and the Sheffield clubs.
    The locals have been slow to support the club & MKD’s biggest challenge remains to capture their hearts and minds.

    • Oli says:

      We’re 6th in the league behind five teams far more established than us, who have spent plenty of time in the past in the top two divisions. Hardly surprising or a sign of ‘slow support’ that we trail them.

  3. Mark from MK says:

    Two football fans from Manchester (tony1leg and The Rhino) are following the FA Cup from the prelim rounds to the finals, and as part of that journey they ended up watching the Dons. Here’s what they said:

    “Although we had a real soft spot for Northwich… and then Nantwich as we fumbled along the Wembley road, our impartial observers view of the cup came off the rails when we stumbled upon you guys (MK Dons)… we made an instant connection… (something i’m finding almost impossible to do on the QPR & Chelsea forums). You gave me info on where we was staying, curry houses, pubs, MK itself and even info on remembrance Sunday services in town… So for all the reasons above & many more, me & Johnny the Rhino would like to thank all the MK Dons for the last 4 games… it was one hell of a ride with you guys! X”

    Any football club (EVEN MK Dons) is ultimately about the fans. And the fans of MK Dons have made friends up and down the country. We thrive on the fact that some people choose to hate us in the same way that Leeds fans have done for many years. And people have come to respect our humour and passion in the face of the adversity you talk about.

    We won’t deny that the chain events that led to the move should never have happened, but we will also never turn our backs on the club that now represents our town. People are hypocritical when it comes to the Dons choosing to berate them whilst turning a blind eye the corruption that is destroying so many of our clubs up and down England..

    • BathWomble says:

      You may “thrive” on the hatred, but you make the mistake of presuming that applies to everyone else. By nurturing the idea that Franchise is a hated outcast, you do indeed cement a camaraderie among a core of customers. However, you also drive away others who have no interest in supporting an enterprise that revels in having done things the wrong way and that is despised by so many as a result. Instead of embracing the Milton Keynes community and looking to the future, you have embraced the hatred and negativity linked to the past. If you think that ultimately that’s a good thing for the football club, you are going to be sorely disappointed.

      • Junglecad says:

        The move was probably wrong the debate will go on for ever…… BUT my kids have never known MK without a football team, so the level of hate shown towards yongsters who support and have season tickets at the local team is beyond me. As for me hey i am a grown up i can take it !!

        The original article is prob correct dammed if we do and dammed if we dont, one day when chelsea locate to outside the M25 and others do similar then i supose the argument against the dons will die, until then lets not put footballs future stars and crowd off just because they were born in MK !

  4. MC 1970 says:

    Interesting read, as a ST holder at MK Dons we have grown accustomed to the “damned if we do, damned if we don’t ” view of our club and our support.

    Just a couple of poiunts to make if I may ?

    The last paragraph about what most peoples first word to spring to mind when asked about us would be ‘hate’ is IMHO very wrong – undoubtablly many Forum and keyboard warriors have that view – but when you actually get to games and meet fans of other teams many don’t ‘hate’ us- they might ‘hate’ what happened to WFC but we generally have a great developing banter with fans of most teams that when shared over a beer or three never descends anywhere near hate.

    Just to reply to JEZ – your point about attendance is a difficult one because many teams arte also suffering under the current economic situation we all find ourselves in – you use Carlton and the Sheffield clubs as an example – these clubs have been going far longer than us and will have a far higher number of hardcore fans- we will get their with the attendance – QPR 19,506 shows it can happen granted 6,000 were ‘R’s fans – compare us with Colchester United (Ave 3,803) and Oldham(4,723) were not doing to bad.

    • Matt R says:

      Those that will engage you in conversation don’t hate you. The rest of us keep clear, ta.

    • John Mc says:

      Thanks. I agree on MK fans. Always enjoyed trips up – guilty pleasures as they always seem to be. You’re a friendly bunch and really do appreciate your club.

      On attendance too – our own is much lower from a much bigger catchment. I take that argument with a pinch of salt myself.

  5. CowshedMKDons says:

    Wow, what a very original take on the whole MK Dons saga!! I have never seen it in that light before!! Why use facts when long words and literary references will do!!
    There is no nicer or more passionate Chairman in the Football than Pete Winkleman. A man who only apologises when it is the right thing to do. He, along with the countless Dons fans, have nothing to apologise for. Where in your article is mention of the Wimbledon FC Chairman who sold out his massive fanbase, oh hang on, if fans had actually gone to watch “their” club in its previous mould then they wouldn’t have had to move. The moved happened eight years ago now and it seems the only people still talking about it are people, like yourselves, who spread “Dons” hate in their blogs rather than talk about what is actually fundementally wrong with the game. I think maybe you need to get a more rewarding hobby or research factually and try a slightly less biased viewpoint before taking on the role of a “Keyboard Warrior”.

  6. BathWomble says:

    An interesting and thought-provoking piece. One is tempted to say that karma is at work, but that would be too simple. However, there is an old adage that comes into play here – you can’t build a good house on bad foundations. No matter how much ‘Uriah’ Winkelman may slither and slime about his shiny stadium ‘umble abode’ it’s built on the ruins of Wimbledon FC. It could so easily have had QPR, Luton, Northampton or Barnet buried in the concrete piles instead. And for all the obsequious grovelling he’s done, Winkelman still hasn’t ever apologised to Wimbledon fans for poaching our club away from us. I would pity Franchise customers, but for one thing – they continue to flaunt Wimbledon’s nickname as some badge of pride that they stole someone else’s football club, and that’s to their eternal shame. When they stop masquerading as anything to do with Wimbledon, then they might deserve some pity, but not before.

  7. John Mc says:

    Thanks for the (by and large) constructive engagement from all comers thus far. I had steeled myself for ire from both sides and am pleased that most have taken the piece in the spirit which it was intended – as something to provoke a few second thoughts and to give a little nuance to an irritatingly black and white debate.

    If I may just pick up on CowshedMK’s riposte though. I can’t but find your use of the phrase ‘keyboard warrior’ ironic – I personally associate that with a veil of anonymity and inset bile – I clearly don’t have the former and don’t feel I have the latter either. You seemingly do. If you took off your blinkers for more than a second you may appreciate that this is a piece celebrating the good things about your club (and there are many) and flagging the disappointment that it is continually tarnished by events 8 years hence.

    My personal view is far from pilliorying the Dons and painting AFC Wimbledon as saintly knights. I hate Wimbledon. I hate the fact that no-one remembers that they ‘stole’ their place in the league from my hometown club, Workington. I hate that they gave a public platform to the bilious Ron Noades and Sam Hammam. I hate that people selectively forget the actions of their own hierarchy in the entire farrago. I hated their playing style as a child and I hate the fact they made Peter Fear a professional footballer. But mostly I hate their own piteous snivelling – I’m glad they’ve got their fairy tale ending but found the reactions of their vocal fans at the time (and when they drew MK in the FA Cup) crass, ill-judged and pathetic. And I’m happy to say that in public (as I have before) and be slammed for it.

    Keyboard warrior my hairy red arse.

    • scarf says:

      John – good points here. I wouldn’t paint Wimbledon as a paragon of virtue (and would be interested to find out more about how they ‘stole’ their league place in 1977 – what happened?). But they are a proper club, who did rise through the leagues in the proper way. That’s not something that MK are. MK are undoubtedly one of the best football clubs in terms of the way they conduct themselves, community work etc – I’m not doubting that – but a theft is still a theft, and they stole a football club; that’s a fact.

    • BathWomble says:

      You were doing so well, bridging the gap… and then you went and wrote a bunch of shit about Wimbledon. Oh well. Seriously dude, if you’re going to try to do a piece suggesting Franchise is being unfairly victimised, then why would you put up a post where you produce every prejudice in the book about Wimbledon? If you were going for irony, then well done, but all I got was prejudiced bullshit about Wimbledon. Maybe that IS the point, but if it is, then I think it’s you that has truly missed the joke – the one where the franchisers actually get away with it because no-one liked Wimbledon. Not funny? Well… you came up with the script.

  8. dan says:

    I have had some dealings with franchise in the past, when I was a director of Stockport County. Because I was on a freebie, I could go to their place without guilt. It is a very well organised club, and with the exception of one leftover director who had been at Wimbledon and kept talking about “getting back in the Premier League”, everyone was suitably humble. And I hate to say this, but Winkleman is really nice bloke. He was very happy to chat with Trust members at County when they came to our place – he doesn’t hide away.

  9. scarf says:

    Isn’t it ironic how a club so lauded for its community work was founded by stealing that club from someone else’s community? If W@nkleman was so interested in community then why did he steal a football club from a community, rather than building his own? MK City (who died about the same time as MK Dons arrived) could have really done with the money and could easily have been bought, after all. A theft is a theft, and nothing that has happened or can happen in the future will ever change that.

    • dan says:

      You are of course right, Scarf. But there also has to come a point when we all move on.

      Wimbledon have a league team. MK has a league team. The League and FA have said that they won’t allow another theft to take place. Everyone is happy. Even if there is a wrong that can’t be righted, there isn’t any point in not leaving that wrong behind.


      • John Mc says:

        That’s kind of my point Dan, I wanted to cut through some of the dialectic to suggest that it might be time just to get on with it. Heaven knows we all have the same view on their inception (I’ve said it in the bloody piece!) and they will forever pay for that – shouldn’t we acknowledge tiny positives though?

        Seemingly not.

  10. Lanterne Rouge says:

    So you’ll be looking forward to a Wimbledon: Great Teams post that is ready to go up over the next couple of weeks John? I am sympathetic to Workington but I don’t think Wimbledon stole their place – they were just the beneficiaries of the re-election system and they and Wigan more than justified the league place that came to be their’s – the clubs which voted Workington and Southport out should be the subject of your ire. Also, I remember Peter Fear as quite a hard running, decent player!

    • John Mc says:

      I think you’ve got me there Rob! Workington were, indeed, utterly pitiful when they lost the re-election and there is plenty of good things to say about Wimbledon and Wigan in their time in the league. Many Worky fans will never, ever forget who voted against them – Carlisle were one such team.

      There is a little more to it, though. There was no proper national non-league hierarchy at the time and though Wimbledon were one of the pre-eminent clubs through FA Cups scalps and the like they waged a pretty dogged PR war to bag their spot. Mr Noades was at the forefront of that. Not that I want to suggest gerrymandering but Wimbledon is a far more pleasant journey for most football clubs than a schlep to the wilds of West Cumbria isn’t it?

  11. Paul Thomas says:

    Everyone needs to remember that many other clubs have relocatd. For example,

    QPR has relocated 18 times to 14 different locations in its history

    There is a British precedent for a move and change of name in the succesful relocation of Meadowbank Thistle to Livingston

    Other professional sports teams in England have relocated – for example, Rugby Union.
    This idea that Wimbledon were some sort of ‘Community club’ is a complete false one –

    Less than 20% (640) of Season Ticket holders lived in Merton and only 10% (340) lived in Wimbledon!

    MK Dons are a community club.

    Winkleman stole nothing, infact he saved a club that would have ceased to exist and that is a fact

    • SAVA says:

      ‘Winkleman stole nothing, infact he saved a club that would have ceased to exist and that is a fact’

      Wimbledon wouldn’t have folded, they would have dropped down the leagues. A bit like Plymouth and Luton. Better that then moving a club away from it’s home and trying to fend it off as yours.

      MK Dons fans are hilarious. Their reasoning on the whole issue is massively delusional. Winkleman has clearly brainwashed them with his media frenzy.

    • GrayV says:

      Not fact. Not fact at all. You have shown yourself up. Wimbledon would not have ceased to exist – they would have plummeted down the football league, possibly even into non-league. But they would have survived. If you need any proof of that look at what AFC Wimbledon have achieved from lower than Wimbledon would have plummeted.

      You cannot quote fact when there is more evidence against your vision of the hypothetical future than for it. I suppose you use the same reasoning skills to keep telling yourself it’s ok to support Franchise. It’s ok to support this lot, fact. Idiot.

    • Paul Thomas says:

      Funny how all these dilusional “football fans” have not mentioned anything about Wimbledon being considered a community club, just look at who supported them…

  12. SAVA says:

    Did I just read an article practically praising coke sniffing, franchise founder Pete Winkleman? The man may come across well to some, but fact of the matter is, he was instrumental in stealing a club from one community and moving it to another ‘deserving of a football club’, yet that same club get abysmal crowds. Perhaps that is the reason he offered those free tickets out? Their stadium needs filling.

    It’s extremely difficult to justify MK Dons and their existence. That goes for Mr. Winkleman, too.

    He’s a parasite. The worst kind, though. One that will come across as a lovely man, smiling his way to the press area, but the fact of the matter is, he’s a slimy. devious man with little care for football fans as a whole. As soon as he lines his pockets, he’ll be laughing. That’s all he has ever cared about.

    UP THE WOMBLES! And no, I’m not an AFC Wimbledon fan.

    • SAVA says:

      May I add, those of you who are saying Wimbledon should move on because both sides are in the League now – Wimbledon EARNED their place in the league, MK Dons had it given to them.

      Does that make it right? No. AFC Wimbledon did it the correct way through hard work and dedication of their fans. The same dedication that Pete Winkleman could have easily employed with Milton Keynes City. Fact of the matter is, many MK fans supported Premier League clubs before MKD got plonked on their doorsteps and the thought of watching non-league football was a horrible one, hence Milton Keynes City folding.

      AFC Wimbledon will never just forgive and forget, and rightfully so.

      As a Brentford fan, I hope MK Dons give up anything to with Wimbledon (Dons in their name) or, better still, fold altogether.

  13. Martin says:

    With all due respect, to compare Workington’s demotion out of the Football League with what the FA allowed to happen to Wimbledon is stretching things a hell of a lot. To describe Wimbledon’s fair and square election into the league as ‘stealing’ Workington’s place is simply wrong.

    Otherwise, an interesting piece. I sympathise with the youngsters of MK who will grow up knowing little of how a football club came to be on their doorstep, but I will never understand how intelligent adults can conclude that Winkleman should ever be excused for choosing to bring league football to the town in the way that he did. Love them or loath them, AFC Wimbledon will ALWAYS have the respect and moral high ground from most people for creating what they have from scratch.

    • John Mc says:

      ‘With all due respect’ – the most disingenuous phrase in the English language!

      ‘With all due respect’ my tongue was planted firmly in my cheek when making the point about Workington. Still hate Wimbledons though.

  14. pete says:

    John Mc – The very first paragraph in your piece is almost a carbon copy of an email I sent to the FA just after the match with Carlisle was called off. If I didn’t know differently I’d say you were looking over my shoulder when I wrote it :) My point? The reply I got from the FA contained much b/s, but no real answers. How could a stadium be of WC standard one minute, but be unable to host a league match only a short time after? As I said, all they gave as an answer was tosh.

    ‘moving on’ , a phrase used by the infectious Winkleman , and still used in various posts here, I see. No doubt ‘roadmaps’ and ‘frenzy’ will be due an airing soon too.

  15. Ed says:

    I was wondering how someone seemingly so intelligent could praise Mk Dons, then he lets slip that he hates Wimbledon, and it all makes sense. Franchising in football is probably the biggest issue in our game today. What happens is Barnet can’t find anywhere to play in north London? The FA saying it’ll never happen again isn’t enough for me…

    Should we celebrate the small community contribution that MK Dons have made? is this a serious question? Any sort of acknowledgement only gives them the legitimacy and tacit approval they crave.

    Do i hate MK Dons? No. I hate ColU, i don’t much like Reading, or Slough or Oxford, but MK Dons? The best thing to do, as far as possible, is to just ignore them…

    • John Mc says:

      Bloody hell, how patronising is this?

      The way you’ve spoken there praising MK is a congenital defect! And I’d suggest I didn’t go so far as praise, merely suggest that they’re paying a lifelong debt for their actions.

      My hatred of Wimbledon has absolutely nothing to do with it. Did I not, in the article state that I hated their inception? I’d think the same were it Wimbledon or Preston or Newport County.

      Of course, you’ve given your own prejudices away with your acknowledgement of your own position – ‘just ignore them’. How utterly pathetic.

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