Wednesday, 21 August 2013
The Inside Line: MK Dons (substituted) 24/08/2013
This new series on The Exiled Robin threatened to come a cropper in its early days with a fixture against Franchise FC, as I wasn't prepared to seek an opinion on a club created in such a fashion.
Not that I doubt that those supporters who follow them do so in the same irrational and desperate manner we all do with our clubs, but the way they came about, with the corresponding direct negative impact on another community-based club, manes they are - ironically enough - disenfranchised from the football community as a whole.
Anyway, as a result I decided to instead focus on their predecessors, a club reborn and one that has found it's way back into the football league for a second time.
Chris Lines, (NOT the ex-Gas player, as far as I know!) writes his own blog and occasionally offers his view for the fabulous Two Unfortunates, as well as spending his weekends following the fortunes of AFC Wimbledon. You can follow Chris on Twitter @NarrowtheAngle:
How is the spirit at the club and the optimism for this season, bearing in mind last season's oh-so-near miss of relegation back to the Conference?
I think it's fair to say, after breathing a huge sigh of relief on the final day last season when we stayed up, there is a collective resolve to have a really ordinary, safe, boring, midtable season this year. Four points from our first two games meant morale was refreshingly high. But an abysmal performance at Exeter at the weekend has plunged us into a certain amount of uncertainty again. Our nerves can't take another relegation battle. We hope for better performances in the next few weeks or fingernails will be rapidly disappearing once more. On paper, our squad looks like a midtable squad. Let's hope they play like one too.
Neal Ardley – one of the last Crazy Gang members – is your gaffer. Is that an important, perhaps necessary, link with the history of the original club, or maybe a deadweight story that could do with being set aside?
Generally I'm not one for sentimentality when it comes to key staff members at the club (though I might make an exception for Chris Perry one day). But make no mistake, Wimbledon were definitely going down last season before Ardley and his assistant Neil Cox came in. That the club survived is squarely down to them and their astute signings. So I'm happy with Ardley – but his connections with the old Wimbledon FC are a nice bonus but nothing more. That said, there was something quite pleasing about Dave Bassett sitting in on the interview panel when the club sought a new manager last year. We felt the club would make a solid appointment with him giving candidates a proper grilling at interview.
Some may not know the story behind Glenn Mulcaire...are you able to summarise briefly for the readers please?
Your readers will doubtless know Mulcaire as the phone-hacking private investigator in the News Of The World scandal. But, curiously, he was also an early AFC Wimbledon player and scored our first ever goal. If you haven't seen it, it was an absolute rocket and well worth a look on YouTube. I suppose the club are quite embarrassed that he was ever anything to do with us now, but it's a good bit of trivia.
Low crowds were synonymous with Wimbledon FC and whilst your 3,000 average is good at League Two level, will this apparent ceiling always be an issue for you as you try to progress up the leagues?
Ahem, 4,000 average I think you'll find... but yes, we are under no illusions about the size of our club. But I do think that, with the club potentially back in a new stadium in their home borough of Merton (possibly even spitting distance from the old Plough Lane) by the next decade, we would draw bigger crowds than the old Wimbledon FC did at Plough Lane. Southwest London is a fairly affluent place, but not everyone wants to pay the prices they charge to watch Chelsea. There's a good catchment area and we will attract new fans if we keep progressing. I think Wimbledon can be a club of comparable size to Brentford if they were in a new stadium and playing in a higher league than League Two. Anything beyond that is probably too ambitious for a fan-owned club. Portsmouth are perhaps an exception as their supporter base is so large. If it happens that Wimbledon reach giddier heights, great, but we shouldn't be pinning our hopes on it.
Last season saw an immensely notable cup draw with yourselves drawing MK Dons at their stadium in the F.A. Cup Second Round and being edged out by a late winning goal. If possible, can you explain what that meant to fans of AFC Wimbledon?
It meant different things to different people. The sense I got from fans, message boards, social media, etc was that about 60% of fans just wanted to get the game over with and would rather not acknowledge the existence of the franchise in Milton Keynes, while around 40% were desperate to get one over on a club they see as an enemy. I can sympathise with both viewpoints, but I generally side with the school of thought that they should just be completely ignored. Not hated, just left to their own devices. I applaud your website's stance in that respect. If the football world just ignores them and refuses to deal with them, then eventually they'll get their comeuppance.
Ultimately, what is the end objective for fans of AFC Wimbledon for your own club, and for MK Dons (if anything)?
All we want is a league club that is enjoyable to support and which never becomes the plaything of a rich businessman who could jeopardise the club's future. Success is nice, but having a team to support at all must always be the most important thing. It's as simple as that. For the next few seasons we'll be content to simply retain our league status. Anything on top of that would be an unexpected surprise given the club's meagre budget (one of the smallest in League Two).
I don't know what the objective is for MK Dons, I don't really pay attention. The sad thing is that they apparently have staff doing great work in the local community. Imagine how proud the locals would be of their club if they'd earned their league place. The relocation of Wimbledon to Milton Keynes coincided with the demise of a local non-league club, Milton Keynes City FC. If MK chairman Pete Winkelman had spent the money on them that he's spent on MK Dons to date, they would almost certainly have made it into the league by now. And with a community of supporters with a young average age getting behind a local club that had battled up the divisions, what a fairytale story they could have written. You wonder if Winkelman ever regrets not going down that route. You'd certainly be interviewing an MK fan this week, rather than me, if he had.
Do you keep an eye out for their results in the way we might for Bristol Rovers results?
No. I couldn't begin to tell you how they've started this season. A long-range screamer from Jason Banton (he's a very good player) caught my eye on The Football League Show at the weekend, but I don't recall who they were playing or what the score was. I'd struggle to name a player on their books aside from Banton. Is Luke Chadwick still there?
And finally, even though our teams are yet to face each other, you do know Rovers fairly well. What do you think of their chances this season (careful now...)?
When I saw them against us on the opening day of 2011/12 season, I thought they'd go up automatically. The likes of Zebroski and McGleish were sublime that day, and Carayol caused problems when he came on as sub. I was a little surprised it didn't work out under Paul Buckle. They were unrecognisable from the season before when they came to Kingsmeadow last year. Eaves played quite well and scored, but nobody else stood out. They just look flat and lacking a bit of technique. But given they ultimately finished quite well last year I'd say they're an unpredictable side this season. I think Chesterfield and Fleetwood will be the top two, but Rovers could be anywhere from 3rd to about 15th. I suspect they'll just make the playoffs, but I don't know a great deal about a lot of their squad. I'm a fan of John-Joe O'Toole though. Used to rate him a couple of leagues higher – saw him boss Charlton at The Valley once – so he ought to be terrific at this level.
My thanks to Chris, and we wish him and AFC Wimbledon well whilst we hopefully defeat their nemesis in Buckinghamshire.
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