Readers outside the United Kingdom might be unfamiliar with the tale of AFC Wimbledon, whose fans this week were delighted to reclaim part of their history. The historical honours of Wimbledon FC are to return to their home in Merton after their controversial tenure seventy miles away in Milton Keynes for the past few years.
To summarise briefly, in 2002, the Football Association decided to allow the owners of Wimbledon FC to move the club seventy miles away to Milton Keynes from their historic home in Merton. This enraged supporters of Wimbledon FC, who boycotted their games and eventually decided to set-up their own club in opposition to the Milton Keynes Dons.
Within a few months, the new club AFC Wimbledon was up and running, attracting a crowd of 4,700 to their first game in the non-league Combined Counties League. All Wimbledon FC supporter’s groups followed this team rather than MK Dons – who they daubed derisively as “Franchise FC” – and the AFC Wimbledon supporters’ efforts have served as an inspiration to other groups such as those of FC United.
One bone of contention between supporters of MK Dons and AFC Wimbledon has been where the collection of honours from Wimbledon FC’s past – including the 1988 F.A. Cup – should reside. The official AFC Wimbledon site has long listed the honours won by Wimbledon F.C. as “theirs”. As the official website explains:
We consider that a football club is not simply the legal entity which controls it, but that it is the community formed by the fans and players working towards a common goal. We therefore reproduce the honours won by what we believe was, and will always be, ‘our’ club, in our community.
The Football Supporters Federation, an umbrella organisation representing 142,000 grassroots fans, this week announced that negotiations had concluded between MK Dons and AFC Wimbledon supporters with an agreement that the honours would go to AFC Wimbledon’s home. Malcolm Clarke, Chairman of the FSF, said that “We never want to see another club uprooted and moved in this manner, and returning the Wimbledon cups, medals and general memoribilia to Merton, the community from which they were won, is certainly the right thing to do.”
Moreover, it was agreed that reference will be only be made to MK Dons since its formation in 2004: that is, they will no longer make any claim on the history of Wimbledon F.C. In return, MK Dons fans will be allowed into the FSF.
Apart from the pleasing result for the deserving AFC Wimbledon fans, this news has a larger significance: it will hopefully set a precedent that any future franchised teams, moving from their historic homes and cutting their ties to their community and local supporters, will also be severing themselves from the past stories and glories that give English teams such appeal: heritage should be non-transferable. The controversy MK Dons have generated and the successful work of AFC Wimbledon in reclaiming their history might just make any future potential club relocations a bit less likely.