Niall Couper: MK Dons FA Cup draw is real fans’ worst nightmare
An AFC Wimbledon fan explains why he will shun tie against his club's nemesis
Thursday 15 November 2012
The moment it happened my stomach turned over. It was nothing short of horrible. The match had been close before. AFC Wimbledon were drawn against Franchise, as real Dons fans call that bunch from Buckinghamshire, in the FA Cup in 2010. Then, as now, both sides faced first-round replays. Thankfully back then Stevenage levelled against Franchise in the last minute before winning on penalties to make our tie the following night an irrelevance.
This time there was no reprieve. We spent most of Monday night's replay against York City desperately trying to lose. We all knew that it would take a minor miracle for Cambridge City to overcome that lot. I have been following Wimbledon since 1982, at nine I was a mascot against Hull City in the old Fourth Division, but here I was, half-praying for defeat. You could sense some players felt the same. Seb Brown, goalkeeper and life-long Wimbledon fan, even punched the ball into his own net. But however much we tried, we could not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It took the first 45 minutes the following night for our fate to be sealed – by then they were 3-0 up.
Now for those not connected with Wimbledon it could seem like the greatest game a Dons fan could ever want. AFC Wimbledon, the club created by the fans in response to the decision to allow Wimbledon FC to relocate to Milton Keynes, facing their nemesis. For the neutral this is all about revenge. But it is much more complicated than that.
This is not Liverpool and Everton or Arsenal and Tottenham – that is about geography. This is not Rangers and Celtic – that is about religion. Frankly, AFC Wimbledon against Franchise FC is more important than that. I suppose the best way to describe it is as a bitter, bitter divorce. They got the house and all the possessions and paraded it about in front of us. We got the soul.
Until Peter Winkelman, the chairman of Franchise FC, admits he stole a club, until Raj Parker and Steve Stride, who are believed to be the two members of the FA Panel who gave Wimbledon FC permission to relocate, admit they were wrong, and until the suffix "Dons" disappears, I can't forget the pain.
I'd quite like them to follow Pittsburgh's example and take the suffix "Steelers". In the meantime, every time I see a Franchise shirt or even hear their name, I shudder. Yes, it's irrational. But the past 10 years have also taught me something more fundamental. Football should be about fans. I have respect for those clubs rooted in their communities who care for their supporters, the Charltons and Brightons, and those clubs that have taken supporters' trusts to their hearts. Frankly that ain't Franchise FC.
So where will I be when the tie kicks off? I can't step foot in their stadium. For me that would serve to legitimise them. I hope to be at AFC Wimbledon's stadium in Kingsmeadow, surrounded by fans not just of the real Dons, but also supporters of clubs of all colours celebrating all that's good about football with a family fun day.
Niall Couper is author of 'This is Our Time: The AFC Wimbledon Story' (Cherry Red Books, £14.99)
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