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'Franchise FC' (AFC Wimbledon)

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.

 

Despite intense opposition from the fans, an FA Commission announced that Wimbledon FC, of the English First Division, be allowed to relocate to Milton Keynes, a town over 60 miles away. The decision was massively criticised by the fans of the club, to the point where they will no longer follow them, and have set up a new club, AFC Wimbledon.
 
"It's simple," says Kevin Rye, spokesperson for the Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association, "any football club based in Milton Keynes will not represent the 113-year history of Wimbledon FC."
 
Kris Stewart, the Chairman of the new club agrees that a club has to represent the people of the area, that it's about community and identity, not money. "Wimbledon supporters have no interest in following the stolen shell of a football club in Milton Keynes."
 
The passion of the fans for their club is clear to see. The new AFC Wimbledon have had to start at the bottom again, and now play in the Combined Counties League, six Divisions below the original club, or as Kevin calls them ‘Franchise FC’. More derogatory terms for the club are often used.
 
Emily Stanton, a fan of Wimbledon for the last ten years said, "we are this club, we, the fans and Wimbledon belongs to us, not the money men. We are determined to support this club and help it back to its rightful place, the First Division, in it's rightful place, South West London."
 
It's not just Wimbledon fans that feel so strongly about this. Fans of other clubs from all over the country have shown their solidarity with the Wimbledon faithful. Many have boycotted games when Wimbledon FC have played their teams. The feeling is that if the money men can do this to Wimbledon then it could happen anywhere.
 
Kevin Rye points out that the other big issue "is the fact that England's pyramid system will be irreversibly damaged by allowing a town to buy a Football League place."
 
But creating a new club isn't easy, and it isn't cheap. Nothing has epitomised the determination of the fans more than the way they have manoeuvred to secure the future of senior football in Wimbledon. The Dons (Wimbledon's nickname) Trust was set up to manage a fund of monies to create a football club to continue the tradition of football in Wimbledon.
 
A minimum of £20,000 was needed to rent a stadium on a ground-sharing basis in the area. The fund was raised through both donations and advance season ticket bookings for AFC Wimbledon.
 
The response was massive, though Kevin Rye asserts that it was never in doubt. Over £70,000 was raised against the target of £20,000 in just 11 days. The Dons Trust is made up of the supporters so it means it’s the fans that now own the club. As Kevin says "the biggest buzz now is supporting a club that you part own, it makes you feel even more involved and dedicated."
 
There seems to be a solid future for AFC Wimbledon, as a club owned by the fans and run by the fans. They are now playing in a League with average attendances of between 50 and 100. They average over 3,000. The club has the professionalism, and more importantly, the fans to see them grow, and get back to what they see is their rightful place.
 
In the meantime, a club this size will undoubtedly bring money to the other clubs in their league and help them all progress.
 
Joe Sheerin, AFC Wimbledon striker, and former Chelsea player, pays homage to the fans, "I'm a local lad, and I've been brought up around here - it's a great opportunity for me. I love doing this and I think what the fans have done is quality."

 

 Jon Wilkinson, October 2002

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