The magic of the Cup - MK Dons style

Daily Echo: Stadium:MK in Milton Keynes Stadium:MK in Milton Keynes

First published in The Pink, December 5, 2009

THE programme said it all.

Actually, it didn’t say anything, but that’s my point.

Confused? Let me elaborate.

Last weekend I made my first visit to stadiumMK, the home of the Milton Keynes Dons.

The club whose entire creation was blanketed in controversy.

The first American style football franchise in English league history.

Born out of the demise of the former Wimbledon FC, the Crazy Gang who stunned world football by winning the FA Cup against Liverpool in 1988.

It’s a fair bet that hardly any of the MK Dons fans last weekend – and there were just over 4,000 in a stadium which holds 22,000 – would have been at Wembley on that glorious day 21 years ago.

It’s well documented that most of the Wimbledon fans turned their allegiances to AFC Wimbledon rather than trek up the M1 to a ‘new town’ only built in the 1960s with a road design based upon the stateside grid system.

As a result, football fans find it hard to dredge up any sort of liking, let alone love, for MK Dons.

Even the name, the shortening of Milton Keynes, smacks of Americanisation.

When Saints go there later this season, you will see it all falls into place.

The new stadium – two tiered, but only the lower one has seats in it, all 22,000 of them – is adjacent to a massive Asda Wal-Mart which in turn is right next door to a huge Ikea.

Inside the stadiumMK car park is a McDonald’s and a KFC.

The Milton Keynes Lions basketball arena is also inside the stadium car park.

A Hilton hotel is actually built into the stadium.

The whole area has ‘product of United States’ stamped all over it.

This is no accident, though.

This is what Pete Winkelman wanted all along.

This is his dream.

Back in 2000 the Dons chairman was part of the Milton Keynes Stadium Consortium which proposed a large development in the Denbigh area including a hypermarket, a hotel, conference centre, retail park and a football stadium.

Everything was in place, apart from one slight problem – there was no decent football team in Milton Keynes.

The town, with an urban population of almost 190,000 – bigger than the likes of Portsmouth, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Norwich, Ipswich and West Bromwich – could only boast a team in the Spartan South Midlands League, a level similar to the one Totton and VTFC play at.

The Milton Keynes Stadium Consortium – fronted by Winkelman, whose property developing firm were overseeing the proposed building, and also containing representatives from Asda – therefore decided there was only one thing to do.

They would find a professional football club and attempt to relocate it to Milton Keynes.

It sounds crazy, but against all reasoned logic – after Luton, Barnet and QPR had been approached – it worked.

Wimbledon’s management sold their club’s history down the river and agreed to move.

As a result, I had my first ever prematch meal in Asda last weekend.

There are no pubs within a short walk of the ground and, as I had my seven- year-old son with me, it seemed a good idea to queue up with the local shoppers.

I might have been denied my regular pre-match pint of cider – and believe me if you watched Exeter on a regular basis you’d need a drink too – but Ben enjoyed his lunch, which came with a free dinosaur activity book and colouring crayons, so that was alright.

After that Stegosaurus-related lunch, it was but a short walk to the ground (and don’t waste £5 parking in the stadium car park, you can park for nothing in Asda 20 yards away …) I don’t wish the MK Dons well, but I’ll say one thing in their favour – they’ve got a great stadium. It’ll be even better when it’s finished.

Needless to say, given Pete Winkelman’s ambition, Milton Keynes are among the towns and cities bidding to host World Cup games if the England 2018 bid is successful.

They might have a chance, too.

The stadium holds over 20,000 at the moment and the extra tier already built is just waiting for some seats to be bolted into place.

The views are great from anywhere in the ground and the toilets, bar and catering facilities are so easy to reach from your seat. You can watch the game while you queue up for a burger.

I’ve never been to a major sports stadium in the States, but I’m guessing it wouldn’t be too much different from stadiumMK.

Milton Keynes’ position is no accident either. Town planners deliberately chose a place within easy reach of London, Birmingham, Oxford and Cambridge when it came to deciding where England’s biggest ‘new town’ would be built.

Therefore, it is within fairly easy driving distance of the two biggest conurbations in the country.

Rock music fans will be familiar with the Milton Keynes Bowl, which has held concerts for many years now. Perhaps one day the top names in football will be appearing in the town too.

Be that in the World Cup or in the Premiership, for get one thing straight – that is where Winkelman wants to take his unloved MK Dons.

As I’ve said, there are enough people in the MK area to support a top flight club should they ever get there.

MK packed in 21,000 when they hosted Leeds last season, though the visitors brought over 5,000 with them.

They managed over 9,000 on a Tuesday to watch Carlisle a few days before Exeter’s FA Cup visit.

Because the Grecians are a stellar attraction wherever we go, less than half that amount returned to watch us last weekend.

Once inside the ground the City fans enjoyed singing ‘you’ve got no history’ and ‘where were you 10 years ago’ to a bunch of football fans unique in the English game.

The programme, as I’ve already mentioned, said it all. It was little more than a glossy commercial brochure highlighting tickets to buy, sponsorship opportunities and the like.

There were no interviews with former players or nostalgia sections.

No 10, 20,30 years’ ago features.

There can’t be.

They haven’t got a history.

Shortly after their first game in Milton Keynes, at the national hockey stadium in 2003, the MK Dons (rightly) severed their ties with Wimbledon FC.

There is no mention of the former Wimbledon club in the programme, nor should there be.

It was an FA Cup tie last weekend but there were no pictures of Lawrie Sanchez, Dennis Wise, Dave Beasant or anyone else from the Crazy Gang.

There was a short interview with ex-Saint Nigel Quashie, now on loan to the Dons from West Ham.

There was little else.

In time, MK Dons will have their own history. They will have a proper fanbase and local kids will want to go because their fathers and their grandfathers follow the club.

Their programme will one day feature a ’down memory lane’ section.

And no doubt the occasion when the MK Dons came from 3-1 down with 20 minutes left to beat the mighty Exeter 4-3 in the FA Cup in November 2009 will be mentioned…

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