Offside, 10 AugustOffside, 10 August
Wimbledon have no fanbase - and they'll never acquire one as long as they stay in London.
‘We hate Selhurst!’ chanted Wimbledon fans during a derby match against Crystal Palace last season.
Wimbledon have shared Palace’s Selhurst Park ground for 10 years and have resented every minute of it. The whingeing Wombles couldn’t wait to leave and on 2 August 2001 their wish was granted. There was just one snag: the club is relocating 80 miles away to a 45,000-capacity purpose-built stadium in Milton Keynes.
Wimbledon fans are incensed. ‘A move to Milton Keynes will be the death of our football club and the beginning of the end for football in this country’, raged the Wimbledon Independent Supporters’ Association (WISA). The end of football in this country? I don’t think so. The move might even do them a favour – no other professional club in Britain needs to switch towns to acquire a fanbase like Wimbledon, and no other large town is desperately seeking a football club like Milton Keynes.
WISA is adamant that people in Milton Keynes will not come to watch Wimbledon: ‘They are either not interested in football or already support another club.’ It’s true that Wimbledon no longer attract many casual fans since their relegation from the Premiership in 2000, but the alternative – with neither stadium nor new fans to generate income – could be catastrophic. Wimbledon’s average home gate last season was 7900 despite WISA’s claim that ‘there is no fanbase in Milton Keynes, [but] there is one here in south London’.
Wake up and smell the Bovril, chaps. Wimbledon have no fanbase – and they’ll never acquire one as long as they stay in London, even if they had their own stadium.
Invariably, the relocation has been spun into a morality tale in which the evil money men who run football are riding roughshod over its hallowed traditions. ‘Londoners see Wimbledon as one of the capital’s historic clubs and a move would go against football tradition’, said London mayor Ken Livingstone. ‘The football club isn’t just about pounds, shillings and pence. It is about tradition, it is about fathers and mothers and children going to the matches together’, lamented WISA spokesman Lawrence Lowne. Can’t you just picture those bobble-hatted, shilling-clutching families streaming through Wimbledon’s cobbled streets to Plough Lane? No, neither can I.
The only tradition I’m aware of is the time-honoured south London custom of not supporting Wimbledon FC. Merton council leader Andrew Judge claims that ‘Merton values the link with the club’, but the truth is that Wimbledon are homeless because the people of Merton do not want a football club in their backyard.
Wimbledon fans should stop bleating about tradition and admit that they can’t be bothered to travel 80 miles to support their team. Yes, getting there from Merton is a hassle, but Milton Keynes isn’t exactly the Outer Hebrides is it? It’s 40 minutes by train from Euston. I’m sure the club could even lay on cheap transport from Merton – a couple of mini-buses should suffice.
London-based Manchester United fans are the butt of many jokes, but thousands of them make a journey three times as long to every home game. But, rather than venture down the M1, Dons fans are now threatening to withdraw their support altogether if the club relocates. One typical contribution to a web discussion forum said, ‘I’m sure all Dons fans would much rather watch the team compete as Wimbledon in the lower divisions than as Milton Keynes in the first’.
Wimbledon stopped playing non-league football in 1977 – but it looks like their fans still retain a non-league mentality.
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