Whenever Milton Keynes Dons play AFC Wimbledon, as will happen on Saturday at noon, it is difficult to ignore the history between the two clubs. Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) explores the situation and how we can begin to find a resolution to a very dangerous conflict.
Why the conflict between MK Dons and AFC Wimbledon must be resolved
History between the two clubs
In 2003, Pete Winkelman completed a deal to move Wimbledon FC, known as The Dons, 67 miles away to Milton Keynes and name the club Milton Keynes Dons – the move was wrongly sanctioned by the FA.
Supporters of Wimbledon responded by building a new football club – maintaining the fans, heart and spirit of the original – named AFC Wimbledon.
It took the phoenix club just nine years to get back into the Football League (now EFL) following reformation – and only 13 years to reach the same division as MK.
AFC Wimbledon’s rise is a wonderful story: it shows what be achieved through togetherness, people power and staying true to one’s own beliefs.
MK Dons do some good
While AFCW are undoubtedly the heroes of this story, that does not necessarily mean that what MK Dons did back in 2003 dictates the type of club they are now.
Currently, the club do a lot for their local community, they has a Sport and Education Trust that aims to assist the education of young people and encourages them to channel their energy through exercise.
They help the homeless, they help the disabled – and there are many people in Milton Keynes who benefit hugely from having a local football club.
The attack on Russ Martin
One person who believes strongly in the importance of helping the community is MK defender Russell Martin, whose family including children were reportedly abused outside Kingsmeadow, after August’s EFL Cup tie.
In this case, it seems as though as hoped, Russell and his family were relatively unharmed by the alleged incident – and that there were no further incidents of violence.
We can condemn the culprit in question, yet that will not prevent the same type of incident from happening again: more importantly, we must consider the consequences of the toxic relationship between AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons.
Changing the relationship
If anyone is pre-conditioned to feel that a certain organisation is ethically deplorable, then they are more inclined to feel detestation towards anyone associated and thus act in a vicious way.
For that reason, both parties have a responsibility to change the relationship over the next few decades – and the first step is to initiate more constructive dialogue.
There are MK fans out there who began following the club from a young age, when not fully mindful of the details of the club’s existence – they have privately voiced regret for how it has impacted Wimbledon fans but still have affection for their club because it is what they have grown up with.
If MK fans were to open up on those types of stances more, the two parties would find it easier to initiate progressive and meaningful discourse.
The problem is that MK fans often feel directly threatened by AFC Wimbledon supporters; they are therefore likely to engage in a way that is tribal, rather than express their true feelings.
The Dons name
The above matters feed into the issue of the ‘Dons’ nickname, which Wimbledon fans feel needs to be dropped by Milton Keynes for any sort of truce to take place.
The irony is that the more Wimbledon fans make derogatory comments towards MK, the more inclined they feel to use the ‘Dons’ name as a weapon to hurt them – thus we have a vicious cycle of hatred.
And yet, in many ways, Wimbledon do not need Milton Keynes to drop the ‘Dons’ name for AFCW as a club to be vindicated: that has already happened.
Wimbledon are going back to their spiritual home of Plough Lane in 2020, they have a professional football club in the EFL that represents the spirit of the original club – from their point of view, the battle has long been won.
It stands to reason, therefore, that Milton Keynes should be able to keep the ‘Dons’ as part of their name – but on the condition that it refers to the club in Buckinghamshire and that it is agreed they do not represent a continuation of Wimbledon FC.
Finding a solution
Conversely, MK Dons should acknowledge that what happened in 2003 should never be allowed to happen again in English football – chairman Pete Winkelman has admitted that it was not a good idea, but there needs to be a more respectful recognition of the matter from the club and supporters collectively.
This does not mean AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons have to become friends or even change the way they feel about the situation.
However, the assault on Martin last August shows that, somewhere, there needs to be a line drawn in terms of what is and is not acceptable – otherwise, any future meetings between the clubs, including Saturday’s clash, could lead to more violence.
As hard as it might be, both sides must begin to look for a resolution to the conflict – or risk potentially fatal consequences.