I really did not think that at 1200 on May 28th, 2002, that the very day I write this I would be enjoying watching a team called Wimbledon playing in blue and yellow in South West London with little or no regard for a club that would still be plying its trade at Selhurst Park.
In various religions and sects around the world, death is used as a beginning, not an ending. In tarot card readings, the Death card is one that signifies major change, not necessarily for the worse. In effect, 28/5 was our 9/11 – when nothing would be the same again
To fully appreciate just how far things have come in since 28/5, just step back and do a quick analysis. Only needs to be brief, even a mere amount of seconds will do. Think it through – OK, so AFCW may be slightly twisting the PR machine slightly when it announced it formed immediately after 28/5 (AFCW itself formed, though I’m hard pushed to believe that a new club wasn’t already having its embryonic phase some while back) – but since then, we have had to employ about 20 players. Work out their contracts, expenses etc. We have had to find a place to play. Get local permission as well. Finding a league to play. We have had to address safety staff issues. Police liasing. And that’s before we could start getting on more pro-active stuff like ST sales, merchandise, web sites etc etc. Consider that this and more has been done in a matter of weeks – not months, lest we forget – and the whole thing is even more breathtaking.
We now know that so far, AFCW has worked. But why has it worked? The answer is surprisingly simple : people WANT it to work. The club has achieved beyond its means already simply because it has the hunger to do well. This is in no small part to the fact that anyone who is a member of the Dons Trust is a part owner – I think the Americans call it “civic pride”, in other words – it’s ours, it’s our responsibility.
The next question is of course, why do people want it to work? Surely just having a club and your mates around and having fun is merely enough, right? Well, in part, it is. But it’s much more than that, everyone (and I mean, everyone) is doing this with a point to prove. Our nickname is the “Dons” but we could also be justifiably called the “Rebels”. AFCW is a club formed on rebellion – rebellion against the poisonous avarice of modern-day professional football. Rebellion against those who brutally butchered to death the other club (yes, it claims it’s still alive but its soul has gone. Totally). Rebellion against those who employed such guttersnipe tactics in getting their way. True, some people may not like being called “rebels”, but being called such in other parts of the world is seen as a badge of honour.
Perhaps the most sub-concious motivation for wanting AFCW to succeed (nobody will readily admit this, not in public anyway) is that its very existance is a one-fingered salute to the club now lamentingly termed “Franchise FC”. When the first three AFCW games at home drew more than a professional outfit no less than six divisions higher, it was a body blow in severity that no amount of protests, letter writing etc could deliver. Mention “Wimbledon FC” now to an ordinary sports fan with a degree of intelligence, and they’ll either associate it with AFCW or as a club with zero fans. Every paper which shows shots of the crowd shows a deserted stand. No amount of Brunswick-assisted spin can ever hide that – after all, what grabs peoples attention first? Not the writing.
AFCW has lessened the blow of 28/5 to the point that instead of continued anger against Franchise, it’s now general indifference. True, some people are still wanting revenge on the perputrators of 28/5, though this is more motivated out of a personal revenge mission and a wider view of the professional game than of any continued desire to watch a team with Go:MK on their shirts. Revenge, as they say, is a dish served cold. If Franchise FC expected people to flock back en masse once they got bored with AFCW, it hasn’t happened. Now that they have finally got their beloved planning permission for a semi-permanent Plough Lane sized stadium (the irony is not lost here at SW19 Towers), any remaining hope they may have is rapidly dwindling. Soon, they will be gone and those still there are more likely to see what “that new club” is about.
One thing that AFCW has unintentionally done is force the spectre of the future of football into wider spheres. Praise from the Arsenal ISA, Man Utd ISA (and a nice bit in United We Stand as well) and MUFC Shareholders United for starters is proof that even at the very top of the English soccer tree, there is real fear of the future of the game. In that FA Commission Report, a document that could only ever be rivalled by Mein Kampf, mention was made that a new club like AFCW was “not in the interests of the game”. So, a club that has emphasised almost to regurgitation point its community roots, given renewed hope to people in similar situations (AFC Fulham, anytime soon?) and has made football enjoyable for its followers is clearly not doing what the FA considers correct for the future of the game. Did we hit upon the painful truth there?
The undeniable fact is that the FA has systematically all but destroyed football in this country. They devalued the top flight by the creation of the “Premiership”. They devalued the most famous club cup competition in the world by pressurising (with help from the just-as-cretinous government) their top team to withdraw to play in a worthless tournament for a failed World Cup bid. There are doubtless many examples of how the Soho Square tossers have buggered the non and lower leagues. Perhaps AFCW is rebelling (that word again) against the authorities in general? The old Wimbledon did, certainly.
Now, this is unusual for SW19 to ever write an article praising the club it supports. Even I’m not that churlish, at least not until certain people start calling people “my children” and adopt swivelly eyes. But then, this is a club worth supporting, and fighting for. After more than a decade of being treated so badly that Amnesty International would report Franchise FC to the UN Human Rights people, it’s nice to be genuinely wanted. It’s just a shame that death became the only option.