Bobby Gould, the manager who led Wimbledon to the greatest achievement in their history by winning the 1988 FA Cup, confirmed last night that he would be interested in returning to the club following yesterday's sacking of Terry Burton.
Wimbledon will insist that, unlike Burton, the new man supports their application to move to Milton Keynes, which has been referred back to the Football Association by the Football League for a final decision.
Gould, who was manager at Plough Lane from 1987 to 1990, leaving before the move to share Selhurst Park with Crystal Palace, would fit the bill on that score. He told The Independent: "I'm a pragmatist. I realise that the football club has to survive. They paid £26m for the club and they're losing a lot of money. If you look back over the history of Wimbledon, they were always looking for a home and Merton council didn't want to give them one. Whoever gets the manager's position will certainly know they've got a challenge. But I'd quite like that. And Terry Burton has left a good platform."
According to the club's chairman, Charles Koppel, Burton was sacked because of poor results over the past two years. He appeared, however, to have earned the displeasure of some board members at the final match of the season against Barnsley on Sunday, first by picking Peter Hawkins, a full-back whose 25th start entitled him to a £10,000 bonus, and then by saying publicly for the first time that the new ground should be local, rather than 70 miles away.
Burton, 54, first joined the club 13 years ago, after briefly serving as first-team coach at Arsenal. He was assistant manager to Joe Kinnear and then academy director before taking over as manager when Egil Olsen was sacked with only two matches left of the 1999-2000 season. Wimbledon drew the first but lost the second, at Southampton, and were relegated from the Premiership.
After selling Carl Cort and Ben Thatcher for £12m, they took several months to readjust, then rallied in the new year to finish within six points of the play-offs. Last summer, Jason Euell's transfer to Charlton brought in £4.5m, and with the Republic of Ireland international David Connolly signed on a free transfer the team managed to finish ninth, ahead of their more prosperous co-tenants, Palace. That was not good enough for Koppel, who said: "It was the overwhelming consensus of the board that we need a change to move forward. We have to look over a period of two years at the expectations of the club, and the resources put in place to achieve a return to the Premier League."
His greatest concern has been the club's financial position. It was parlous even in the Premiership, when gates were boosted by attractive matches and thousands of visiting fans to an average of 17,000. Last year, with players still on Premiership wages, that figure halved and this season it was down to below 7,000.
In February Koppel claimed the club were losing £2,000 a day. They are now set to lose the £3.4m parachute payment made for two years to relegated clubs and face a supporters' boycott of season tickets and merchandise. The previous owner, Sam Hammam, had once proposed moving to Dublin, before selling out to a Norwegian consortium for £28m – a deal recently described by a Merton council official as the most over-priced in the history of football.
Koppel's solution would be to go up the M1 to Milton Keynes, where he says a new stadium costing £35m could be financed by surrounding commercial development. The Wimbledon Independent Supporters' Association, infuriated by the proposal, believes Plough Lane can be developed as a 25,000-seat ground. It is now owned by Safeway, which paid Hammam £8m for the site but has repeatedly been refused planning permission to build a supermarket on it.Reuse content