Saturday, 21 May 2011

Pheonix from the Ashes

It was a historic day today if you are a Womble. AFC Wimbledon won their play off final at the City of Manchester Stadium against Luton Town to make it into the 92 club Football League.

I can hear you yawning but wait just one cotton picking moment. This is a truly remarkable story. Back in 1991 Wimbledon FC moved out of Wimbledon to the home of Crystal Palace (Selhurst Park) and then in 2003 it relocated to Milton Keynes, an area not known for it's close links to South London. Not only that, but Wimbledon were in serious financial trouble, spent a season in administration and when they came out of administration, renamed themselves Milton Keynes (MK) Dons. In 2007, the MK Dons stopped claiming the Wimbledon history as it's own. Even the FA Cup triumph of 1988 (my worst experience watching a full football match ever by the way) was no longer on their roll of honour.

Ironically, the Wimbledon supporters had never felt like the MK Dons was their club. The Football Supporters Federation put pressure on the MK Dons to relinquish their historical rights to the Wimbledon archive. In 2002, the supporters started their own club, sharing a ground with Kingstonians, only a stones throw away from the original Plough Lane ground and entered the Premier Division of the Combined Counties League. They were instantly attracting crowds that were larger than that of the team they had left behind. In just 9 short years they have progressed through the non-league pyramid, gaining promotion no less than 5 times and next season will be playing just one division below the club formerly known as Wimbledon FC.

The thing that makes me love this achievement more than anything is that in this greed ridden business, this phoenix club leads the way of others that have been borne of fans love of their own team. Wimbledon is committed to having 75% fan ownership and only allowed investment to take the other 25% when it became necessary to raise funds to ensure the Kingstonian Stadium didn't fall into property developers hands.There are other clubs, more local to me, that have also risen because of fans determination to ensure that they have a team to follow. no matter what happens.

In 2010, Chester FC was founded to make use of the council owned Deva Stadium which had been vacated by the disastrous ownership which had seen Chester City FC go the the wall. After one season in the Northern Premier League Division One, they too have been promoted and will play just three levels of the pyramid lower than the defunct outfit they replaced.

But it's not just in the lower leagues that fans have shown their dissatisfaction with parent clubs. Supporters of Manchester United and Liverpool for example, have both formed clubs for the fans at a time when the ownership of their Premier League favourites was, to be kind, unwelcome. The American ownership of both clubs, The Glaser family and Hicks and Gillette, spawned FC United of Manchester and AFC Liverpool, who have both achieved some success. FC United have achieved promotion twice in it's short 6 season history whilst in the three seasons that AFC Liverpool have been playing they have reached their league cup final in each of the seasons, winning it twice.

So in this cynical world of football where money seems to be the holy grail rather than success, it's good to know that somewhere in the system, there are fans of the beautiful game that are succeeding where money didn't.

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