Sunday's FA Cup draw produced a potential FA Cup tie that every right minded football fan, with every respect to those supporters of Stevenage Borough and Ebbsfleet United, would want to see. I also suspect that, outside the 8,000 or so followers of MK Dons, there is one result that most football people would like to see, should it happen. Yet it is a match that should have never had the remotest chance of taking place. Because what happened back in 2002 should never have been allowed to happen and, god-willing, a match like it will never happen again.
It is hard not to dredge up the horror story behind the arrival of professional football in Milton Keynes. The simple facts are that Milton Keynes had a team (Milton Keynes City FC), just like Stevenage did, like Burton did, just like Morecambe did. And the way for them to achieve league football was the hard way, on the pitch, by being successful, just like Stevenage and Burton. Having a big urban conurbation doesn't justify the need to have a league team, you have to earn it by winning football matches.
It may also require a reasonable level of investment to achieve it, take the example of Max Griggs and Rushden & Diamonds. Unwilling to invest money in a long term project, the "entrepreneur" Pete Winkelman and his consortium looked for an opportunity to buy and relocate an existing league club. This was something unheard of in English football and several clubs were considered, but the willingness of Charles Koppel to relinquish the loss making club he bought from Sam Hammam meant that the Wimbledon fans were sold down the river.The gutless F.A. have continued to vindicate their decision to allow Franchise FC to exist, by playing England Under 21 qualifiers there and then promoting Stadium MK to the list of potential 2018 venues. It makes you assume that they have not seen the white elephant stadiums left in Japan and Korea, where they were selected/built in areas where local teams have neither the stature or the support to justify the magnificent legacy left to them? The stadium:mk is generally two thirds empty every week to watch League One football and that is before an extra tier and an extra 10,000 seats are added. Never mind the further development and growth in capacity required to meet host city requirements.
Despite supposed objections from the F.A. and Football League, the door was left open for Koppel to appeal to an arbitration panel and then an independent commission. Wimbledon FC were playing in Milton Keynes within 18 months. Senior F.A. big-wigs bemoaned the decision, yet they were as culpable as any to the creation of MK Dons and the desecration of football.
The blurb on the 2018 bid website makes me nauseous, referring to the "vision and willingness to think differently that in 2004 saw Milton Keynes become England's newest football city with the formation of the MK Dons" and great play made of the infrastructure and transport links that seemingly compensate for a complete lack of sporting heritage, never mind football heritage.
Whilst the publicity hungry Winkelman has sought the media glare to promote his new franchise, AFC Wimbledon have quietly covered themselves in glory since their inception with little fuss or attention seeking. Joining the Combined Counties League (the same level of the football pyramid as the South Midlands League - which housed Milton Keynes City prior to their collapse following the franchise's arrival) they held trials on a local playing field to establish a squad for their first friendly against Sutton. Although they have benefited from a level of support that any other new start teams can only dream of, their rise through 4 tiers of the football pyramid over the next 7 years was a fantastic achievement. Sitting atop the Conference table as I type, they have a level of popularity amongst the everyday football fan that Wimbledon F.C. struggled to ever achieve - even when winning the F.A. Cup.
The only real issue that has arisen in the last 8 years related to apparent annoyance at their sharing of Kingstonian's Kingsmeadow stadium. However, when financially stricken Kingstonian's administrators sold the ground to businessmen, it was AFC who arranged the borrowing of funds to buy back the ground and preserve a future not just for them, but Kingstonian as well. After all, the ambition to return to the Borough of Merton, something that was denied their predecessors, still burns strong. Given what they have achieved the borough council should be doing everything in their power to reward perseverance, effort and success and provide the opportunity for a true community club to have a home in its community.
This measured approach to running the club has continued with the club's official response to the cup draw; "Most people know the way that Milton Keynes obtained their football club. It was wrong then and it is still wrong now, which makes this fixture very painful for us. However, when we entered the FA Cup we understood that this might happen and we will go about our business professionally and complete the fixture. But we would have preferred that it hadn’t happened. We have no further comment to make at the moment."
The hurt is still there. I know it would be for me if it was my club. So in keeping their counsel and avoiding emotive responses, they can leave it to the rest of the footballing world to say it for them. I only hope that ITV, who have already committed to showing the 2nd Round tie - regardless of replays, do the club justice should they find themselves at Kingsmeadow on the 27th November. AFC Wimbledon have regained their club's history and retained a level of dignity others would do well to follow.
I have to say I hope that the best teams win their respective replays and if the second round match-up is Ebbsflett vs Stevenage, then so be it. After all, if this match doesn't take place this year, it cannot be long before AFC Wimbledon take their rightful place back in the football league. Hopefully, they would then be a season away from the opportunity to beat Franchise FC twice a season. Maybe, with a drop in form for the other lot they could face each other in League 2 next season. Here's hoping.......