As a football fan, you get used to the underhand tactics or incredible hypocrisy of the clubs and the authorities governing the game. They are rightly lambasted from all corners by those who want the ills of the game put right. Football is a unifying force for people, an icebreaker in conversation, the gambit, “Which team do you support?” elicits a reply ranging from hearty backslaps to complete derision. The dark ages of supporters beating ten bells of whatever out of each other are a memory, not quite forgotten as the spectre of violence is still looming but now swept under the carpet at club level whilst nervously anticipated at international level. But supporters hold themselves up as the true Guardians of the national sport in many countries.
For many years the supporters of a disparate selection of clubs have carried buckets or organised events to save other clubs for whom they have no connection. And these are laudable. The emergence of Independent Supporters Associations in the 80’s and 90’s to raise awareness of the issues facing individual clubs, be they predatory purchasers or ill-conceived Bond schemes, have given birth to Supporters Trusts, who follow the path of ownership for the supporters. Notable successes at Stockport and their ilk spur others on. Perhaps the most extreme example of ownership is AFC Wimbledon, the path of moving to Milton Keynes did not appeal to many so they have trodden the path of building a club from the basics, consistently gaining promotions and consolidating positions at the myriad levels of the Non-League Pyramid to such an extent that a return to the professional structure cannot be ruled out within the next decade.
But what of those who follow MK Dons, labelled “Franchise FC”? This summer saw a concerted campaign by a number of Trusts to prevent their clubs from playing MK Dons in pre-season friendlies. Some succeeded, QPR for one, but others failed. The history of MK Dons is controversial. The decision by the English footballing authorities to permit the move is still one that rankles and is bizarre even by their standards. Clubs have moved within boroughs or more often now to out-of-town sites but never the 70 + miles that Wimbledon. This was not one of convenience, this was money motivated. There are many side issues that need to be addressed, such as relationships with Local Councils, but the move was approved and made.
So this summers campaign seems difficult to fathom. The Trusts are entering into shark infested waters by their actions. In preventing their clubs from playing these matches, there are several problems they will encounter but not necessarily straight away. The first is the deterioration of their relationships with the clubs themselves, platitudes at the time of cancellation, “We bow to our supporters wishes”, will lead to unspoken resentments in some quarters – this cannot be avoided. The second is charges of hypocrisy which the Trusts, requiring some naval gazing on their part. The first aspect of this comes when the Carling and FA Cups return. Will these same supporters press the clubs not to play them should they be drawn as opponents? Of course not but they should if they had the courage of their convictions. Similarly, League matches should be baulked. If these Trusts are truly serious, they should follow things through to their conclusion not carry out petty vindictive strikes at another club.
And what of the next club in trouble financially? Presumably they will not be collecting or accepting any gifts from MK Dons supporters or does that not count? The hypocrisy stinks. Do not get me wrong, I disagreed then and still do with the concept of franchising on the football pitch. Economics can be a hard task master as Accrington, Maidstone and Aldershot all know but they have bounced back to varying degrees. If Wimbledon were going under in South London, so be it. Efforts would have been made to save them and may have failed leaving a new member to come into the League that summer. This is the way it should have been done. It was not but forcing a club out of existence because you disagree with the way of the decision making process is turning your back on your fellow supporters. And that is not the done thing.