Wimbledon vs …them: Not Something To Get “Excited” About
Most people know the way that Milton Keynes obtained their football club. It was wrong then and it is still wrong now, which makes this fixture very painful for us. However, when we entered the FA Cup we understood that this might happen and we will go about our business professionally and complete the fixture. But we would have preferred that it hadn’t happened. We have no further comment to make at the moment.
The response of AFC Wimbledon was as dignified as we would expect from the club. The FA Cup draw, however, has been made and, should they both win their replays the week after next, Wimbledon will meet the organisation that took their league place in 2004 in the Second Round of the competition. Predictably, the press reaction to the draw has been somewhat breathless, although most have stopped short of the crassest comment of all, to say that this is “the match that everybody wants to see”, or somesuch. There is absolutely no question that this draw was absolutely not the draw that supporters of Wimbledon wanted to see. Some are muttering under their breath that they would prefer Ebbsfleet to win the replay. Some may boycott. Some may turn to violence. The media may want it, but Wimbledon certainly doesn’t.
The club, however, has stated its position in clear terms. The potential sanctions for withdrawing from the competition could be severe, and it would be a defeat in itself to find the wellbeing of the club in any degree of jeopardy on account of them. They entered the FA Cup in the full knowledge that this draw would be a possibility. Both clubs have replays to come through in order for this scenario to play out in full. Wimbledon travel to Blue Square South club Ebbsfleet United a week on Tuesday, a match that should be winnable but will have left many of their supporters wondering in the back of their minds whether they even want their team to win the match. The others, meanwhile, are at home against Stevenage. Again, a winnable match. It’s not certain that this match will come to pass, but it would be a fallacy to suggest that it is unlikely.
Such a match would also be a logistical nightmare for the Metropolitan Police. It is not a comment on whether violence should be meted out upon those that have somehow to support the other team – violence of any sort is pretty stupid – but the fact of the matter is that this match would be a tinderbox ready to be lit. Could the police guarantee the safety of those that have come to support the other lot if this match was to be played under normal circumstances? If not, what would have to be done in order to get this match out of the way? Might they suggest that the venue be switched? Might they suggest that it be played behind closed doors? Both are possible, and the situation is further complicated by the fact that no-one will know whether the match is actually going to be played until a week and a half before the weekend of the Second Round of the competition because of the replays involved. The other team might earn themselves a sliver of respect if they refused their allocation of tickets, but there has been precious little contrition from their supporters since 2004 and they would be likely to demand that the club takes up its allocation.
Wimbledon supporters are ultimately resigned to the fact that if they are to get back into the Football League, the likelihood that they would eventually have to play them is high. Playing them for the first time in a league fixture, as equals, may be palatable to some (many, even), but drawing them in the FA Cup doesn’t pit them against each other as equals. It pits them against each other with the other team still reaping the benefits of what they took in terms of being able to pay considerably higher wages for players. Wimbledon would start the match as underdogs and, much as we may wish to see them win the match, the likelihood of it happening would be low. And regardless of that, even if it were to happen, should Wimbledon winning one football match really be considered sufficient for them to have to “forgive and forget”? If this is to be considered a matter of principle, it would seem somewhat odd that one win, one place in the Third Round of the FA Cup, should be considered enough for Wimbledon supporters to be considered to need to “put it all behind them”.
The television companies are doubtless frothing at the prospect of the match taking place. Perhaps all that we can do is keep our fingers crossed that one or other of the two teams comes unstuck in their respective replay the week after next. It may be an opportunity for Wimbledon to go some way towards lancing this particular boil, but in the overall scheme of things the likelihood of this happening will be considerably outweighed by the ugliness that would surround such a fixture. This isn’t a rivalry and it certainly isn’t a local derby. This could turn out to be the next chapter in one of the most unfortunate and ugly episodes in the recent history of English football, but the time isn’t right for it. It’s too much, and it’s too soon.
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