This week, Chester City FC supporters called for their own club to be put out of its misery and wound up, so they could start over under their own democratic ownership — to ensure they would never again be at the whim of owners who do not have the club’s best interests at heart.
To be forced to the extreme of calling for your club to be put out of business and having to begin again at the lower reaches of the English pyramid system is hardly a decision to be taken lightly. But the beauty of the English set-up is that such a drastic action can be taken yet still fans can have hope for their new club to rise again to former heights, and this time under an ownership system that does not put the club at the mercy of selfish individuals.
Take AFC Wimbledon, famously formed in the aftermath of the franchising of their club to Milton Keynes, an unforgiveable crime against football perpetrated by club owner Pete Winkelman with an eventual, killer rubber stamp from the Football Association as Wimbledon became the Milton Keynes Dons.
The fans’ new club began in the Combined Counties League, the nether regions of English football, but four promotions in seven seasons see them now in the Conference National, the fifth tier of the game and within touching distance of the Football League. They have their own stadium, and crowds that sometimes surpass those they had in the top tier of English football a decade ago.
And so Niall Couper, a former member of the AFC Wimbledon Trust Board, suggests Portsmouth follow the same path in a piece today in the Independent:
I’m an AFC Wimbledon fan. I will always remember being in the room when a bunch of naive South Londoners filled in a London FA form to formally register the club. Eight years on and that same club is now plying its trade in the Conference having been promoted four times.
Yes, I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss turning over the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and, most of all, Chelsea – but since AFC Wimbledon emerged from an FA Commission’s decision to allow my club to be stolen away eight years ago I have gained so much more.
I now support a club bedded in the local community. It is run by the fans and for the fans. Gone are the days of dodgy owners – and Pompey have had more than their fair share of those. Gone are the days of players with huge egos. Each new AFC Wimbledon player undergoes an initiation into the club that stresses its ethos, its commitment to fan ownership and its fervent opposition to football franchising. I seriously doubt Sol Campbell ever underwent such a similar experience at Fratton Park.
AFC Wimbledon also owns its own ground – bought by the fans – and now gets attendances around the 4,000 mark. Indeed, when we played Luton earlier this season our attendance was higher than the equivalent fixture years ago in the top flight.
Yes, there are huge logistic problems in setting up your own club, but there is help to be found through the likes of Supporters Direct, the masterminds of the growing Supporters Trust movement across the country.
Pompey fans should get in touch with them now, get organised and go for it. After all, Wimbledon were never the biggest club – and look what we have achieved. Portsmouth are a far bigger club than we ever were – just imagine what AFC Portsmouth could do.
Pioneers that they were, in some ways the decision to start over for Wimbledon fans was made if not easy, but logical for them by the move of their club to Milton Keynes. But their progress sets an example in the context of what would be an even harder decision for Pompey fans in some ways. Just as Chester City’s Supporters’ Trust this week called for their club to begin again with the help of Supporters Direct, it may be time for Portsmouth fans to consider similar, drastic action.