AFC Wimbledon: The Original Phoenix from the Flames and a Footballing Triumph
21st May 2011 should be a date remembered as a footballing triumph, a true victory for the fans and supporters of a club that were effectively destroyed only nine years prior.
For those who are not fans of AFC Wimbledon, the club's promotion back to the Football League is a sign of optimism and hope in a time when the game is ruled by money and excess.
The original Wimbledon FC rose from non-league obscurity during the late 1970's and reached the English First Division (today's Premier League) in 1986. The club beat the odds to remain in the First Division and played top level football for 14 years.
Most famously, the club won the 1988 FA Cup against Liverpool when most had predicted an easy win for the then reigning English Champions. The 'Crazy Gang' included players such as movie star Vinny Jones, Dennis Wise and John Fashanu.
Although the club never really hit similar heights during the 1990's, Wimbledon were a mainstay in the top division and were a founder member of the Premier League in 1993.
But the club quickly went into decline and were relegated from the Premier League in 2000.
For several years, the Wimbledon chairman Sam Hammam had looked at relocating the club elsewhere, much to the dismay of the fans. After relegation, Hammam quickly sold his shareholding in the club which soon fell into the hands of two Norwegian businessmen.
Because of Wimbledon's quick rise during the 1980's, the club's ground, Plough Lane, became outdated. Wimbledon were forced to use Crystal Palace's Selhurst Park from 1991 to satisfy Football League requirements.
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The club were without a home, and relocation out of London was often discussed. A consortium led by businessman Pete Winkleman made numerous attempts to buy the club with the intention of moving it to Milton Keynes, a town over 56 miles away.
After Wimbledon FC appointed a new club chairman in 2001, the proposed sale to Pete Winkleman suddenly became a reality. After the move was initially rejected by the Football League and another panel, an independent commission voted in favour of allowing the move on 28th May 2002.
The decision was roundly criticised, not only by fans of the club, but by many in the Football League. It was widely seen that the decision would open the gates to 'francise football' in England, and clubs would be able to move wherever they chose.
The fans of Wimbledon FC had lost their club to a place 56 miles away. But in the great spirit of the game, a group of disaffected fans led by Kris Stewart formed their own club, now known as AFC Wimbledon. In June 2002 the newly formed club held player trials on Wimbledon Common to anyone who thought they were good enough.
The phoenix from the flames was born on 10th July 2002 when AFC Wimbledon played a friendly against Sutton United, losing 4-0. The club played at Kingsmeadow and eventually bought the lease to the ground in 2006. The team still play there today.
In the meantime the original Wimbledon FC would play its final season at Selhurst Park, London before moving to Milton Keynes. On 21st June 2004 Wimbledon FC became Milton Keynes Dons, better known as MK Dons.
AFC Wimbledon started six leagues below the Football League. The next few years would become football legend. The club achieved successive promotions and would record a run of 78 consecutive league matches without defeat, a record in English football.
After five promotions in nine seasons the club reached the Football League after defeating Luton Town on penalties in the 2011 Conference Play-Off Final. The message from the fans of Wimbledon that day to the FA was simple—'we won, you lost.'
Today, AFC Wimbledon are in League Two and occupy third place. The club is only three promotions from the Premier League, but this may be a distant dream for the future.
MK Dons are in League One. Maybe one more promotion will see AFC Wimbledon play MK Dons, and see them finally face the club that was wrongly taken from them.
The story is a triumph, with fan power being the true force for ensuring that the true spirit of the game survives. If AFC Wimbledon arrive in the Premier League one day, it will be a moment celebrated by all true fans of football.
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