Creating the the wrong impression is too easy in this Franchised World™

9 03 2014

I was clearing out my Hotmail inbox the other day when I came across one of those suggestive “If you’re following _____ you may know _____ & _____ & _____”  e-mails from twitter.

The dark forces that control twitter obviously weren’t looking too closely when they trawled through my internet cookies; they suggested that I follow some legitimisers of The Franchise, one of whom was a committee member of The Franchise Supporters Association. I was so intrigued by the fact The Franchise has a supporters association I googled them.

The website of the MK Dons Supporters Association has a special section – “Facts of the Move” – that comes with a helpful introduction;

Milton Keynes Dons are one of the most controversial football clubs in recent history and consequently have been the subject of constant interest from media publications and social networking websites. The reporting and discussion of MK Dons history has been tainted by inaccuracies and assumptions and often this is simply down to a lack of research or access to all the facts. This part of the website has been created in order to create a factual library of documents and articles relating to Milton Keynes Dons Football Club.

The factual library is filled by items like this letter.

ANNEX TO ITEM

18

19 January 2001

Helen Smith
Valuation & Estates Manager
Resources Directorate
Milton Keynes Council
PO Box 114
Civic Offices
1 Saxon Gate East
Central Milton Keynes
MK9 3HW

Dear Helen

Re: Milton Keynes Stadium

Further to our ongoing discussions, it is now necessary to move matters forward with Milton Keynes Council and English Partnerships in order to provide a relocating club with the legal certainty it requires before any firm commitment to move will be possible. This structure is necessary to prevent the ‘cart and horse’ problems of relocation, providing certainty on the one hand for the Council and English Partnerships that a football club is part of the conditions and for the football club on the other that planning permission will be obtained.

I am pleased to detail below a summary of recent progress, particularly with regard to s search for a permanent home with the Milton Keynes stadium development.

Speculation regarding the potential relocation of Wimbledon Football Club has recently reached fever pitch, with stories appearing in the national news media including lead back cover features in the Evening Standard and the Guardian, together with London BBC TV, Radio 5 and all the local media. Milton Keynes even had its first ever mention on Match of the Day. In response to the Wimbledon relocation issue, the Football League have recently gone on the record to say that the Board would consider an application by a Football League club for a relocation to Milton Keynes. A spokesperson went further to describe Wimbledon as a “wandering club” in need of a home after ten years outside of their borough at Selhurst Park.

As members know, as football fans we have been very clear all along that Milton Keynes can only be a solution for a football league club that is experiencing serious difficulties with their home ground facilities. It is not our intention to poach anyone’s football team and I believe the role we played behind the scenes during the latter days of Crystal Palace FC’s time in administration has helped to allay any concerns the football authorities may have had as to our intentions. For your information, in this case we helped both the Football League and the Administrator, Simon Patterson, to conclude a local deal for the club, by providing an option of last resort.

The Wimbledon story has, however, leaked prematurely, with a number of important issues not yet fully addressed, including the club’s full consultation with supporter groups, Merton Council and other local stakeholders. An early confirmation of relocation will certainly add to the momentum of the planning process and Charles Koppel, the club’s Deputy Chairman, has publicly stated that wants to see an early resolve in order to avoid continuing speculation. There is still the possibility, however, that the club’s stakeholders will convince them to take longer to consider their options and the club may wish to be seen to be fully re-evaluating all the local opportunities. In this event, it may be necessary to delay formal announcement until the planning process is further advanced and a realistic occupation date can be agreed.

Wimbledon are very much our preferred option, with the strong synergy between a homeless club with a Premiership history and Milton Keynes’ ambitions for a national standard stadium. We do, however, maintain contact with a number of Football League clubs as previously detailed to you. There is no doubt that Milton Keynes will provide a sustainable future for a club, whilst also enabling the enfranchisement of our 250,000 population with the cultural and community benefits professional football will bring. It is anticipated that the stadium provision will also encourage and accelerate the development of other team sports in Milton Keynes.

I have previously detailed to members the reasoning behind the desire to bring top-flight football to Milton Keynes and the considerable cultural and community benefits that will result. The stadium proposals benefit from strong cross-party support from many members of Milton Keynes Council and both local MPs, Dr Phyllis Starkey and Brian White, as well as great interest from local business and the media. I understand from Dr Starkey that ‘the solidarity of Milton Keynes’ has been noted at national government level.

The stadium development is evolving as a key element in regeneration plans for Bletchley in the south of the city through the planned introduction of the sport, creative industry and retail employment opportunities. Working in tandem with other planned initiatives at Bletchley Park and the potential future development of Bletchley Station, the fully integrated approach we are adopting will generate significant planning gains for Bletchley, which we hope to target at inclusive community projects and improved public transport connectivity.

Our work on the stadium has already involved a high level of consultation with Milton Keynes businesses, neighbourhood councils and community groups, schools, youth football clubs, etc, as well as receiving operational advice and support from the outset from the police, fire and environmental health authorities. The local media are already providing public consultation platforms including radio phone-in discussions, regular features and updates and publishing a broad spectrum of comment.

The local community will be right at the heart of any professional team in Milton Keynes. As you are aware, in partnership with the Council and the School Sports Federation we have introduced the Milton Keynes Talent Identification Programme (MK TIP), which is currently producing a database of the 35,000 school-age children and their access to and attainments in youth football. This project is being warmly welcomed by the schools and is available for all pupils, boys and girls. It has led to the establishment of a football communication network between schools, youth football clubs, Milton Keynes Council and ourselves and from which the incoming club will benefit. It has already confirmed that there are, as I have previously detailed, Milton Keynes boys signed to 9 different Football League clubs, with most travelling 50 miles for professional coaching benefits, but there are still lots of Milton Keynes boys excluded from this opportunity for information, at Under 14 level, Milton Keynes team Bow Brickhill were the first MK team to be televised by Sky, when they won the Sky/News of the World National 6-a-side Competition last summer.

In Bletchley, we have been involved in an Asian Youth Film SRB project in partnership with Thames Valley Police, which is premiering later this month at Cineworld in the new Xscape complex.

Progress on the scheme is governed by Milton Keynes Council’s Emerging Local Plan process, as it is necessary for the stadium planning permission to share a co-ordinated approach. Discussions between our stadium planning consultants and the relevant council planning personnel are ongoing and work undertaken for the Transport Impact Assessment, Retail Impact Assessment, Bletchley Regeneration and Economic Development Report and full Environmental Study. A detailed planning application will be submitted following the publication of the Local Plan pre-inquiry report.

As you can see, we are committed to our task of bringing professional league football to Milton Keynes and the development of a landmark sports stadium within our borough. By working in partnership with the Council and English Partnerships, the reality of achievement draws ever nearer for us all. If you need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best personal regards.

Yours sincerely

PETE WINKELMAN

I’m proud to say that I’m part of this factual library’s target audience; I’m one of the bitter and twisted people whose view of The Franchise is clouded by negative assumptions.

MKDSA I’ll break it to you gently, your factual library has reinforced my assumptions rather than untaint my views. If the evidence in the factual library establishes anything it’s a business case for the relocation of a football club rather than a moral case for a club’s existence. Anyone can see that the above letter is little more than a sales pitch for the relocation. Look at this part;

“As members know, as football fans we have been very clear all along that Milton Keynes can only be a solution for a football league club that is experiencing serious difficulties with their home ground facilities. It is not our intention to poach anyone’s football team and I believe the role we played behind the scenes during the latter days of Crystal Palace FC’s time in administration has helped to allay any concerns the football authorities may have had as to our intentions. For your information, in this case we helped both the Football League and the Administrator, Simon Patterson, to conclude a local deal for the club, by providing an option of last resort………

………………Wimbledon are very much our preferred option, with the strong synergy between a homeless club with a Premiership history and Milton Keynes’ ambitions for a national standard stadium.”

Any potential moral element in the library disappears when you actually read it. Winkelman’s letter shows us that the MK Dons’ backers saw “failing” football clubs as opportunities. Before Wimbledon became “very much our preferred option” Milton Keynes was presented as “an option of last resort” for a troubled Crystal Palace and these ideas came straight from the horse’s arse.  See how he uses PR to frame an opportunity with morality;

“It is not our intention to poach anyone’s football team….

…..Wimbledon are very much our preferred option.”

The MKDSA desperately hope that their carefully assembled library will self-evidently justify the creation of The Franchise by painting a picture of football club hopelessness in south London. Consequently they try to document as many of Wimbledon’s problems as possible. For example here are the reasons why a new ground for Wimbledon was a problem in 2001. You can see this approach in these two examples;

4th July 1997 – Letter from Sam Hammam to Merton Council

  • Wimbledon FC had a mistrust of Merton Council
  • Hammam claimed that Wimbledon FC had been hampered and hindered by Merton Council for two decades and had been driven out of the Borough of Merton
  • Hammam wanted Merton Council to find Wimbledon FC a home in Merton. Ground Problems!
  • Hammam wanted the Council to stop playing politics with the club.

14th January 2000 – Letter from Sam Hammam to the Norwegian owners of WFC

  • Hammam stated that the stadium issue was critical as time was running out at Selhurst Park.
  •  The lack of fans had made the financial situation difficult. Money Problems!
  • Hammam had looked at every available site for a stadium in the Borough. Ground Problems!
  • He had actively explored 7 Boroughs surrounding Merton for a stadium site. Ground Problems!
  •  Wimbledon FC had been invited for discussions about moving to a new location by Watford, Luton, Birmingham, West Bromwich Albion, Portsmouth, Brighton, Milton Keynes, Cardiff and Scotland. Ground Problems!
  •  Hammam had given his time to Wimbledon FC for free
  •  The only way Wimbledon FC could survive with its low gates and no stadium was to stay in the Premier League. Ground Problems!
  •  Players were only put up for sale because of the dire financial circumstances Money Problems!
  •  Sam Hammam stated, “Asset stripping may be legally possible but I find it unacceptable morally and cannot participate in it or condone it.”

Any fan with a bit of nous would treat their litany of twisted evidence with disdain. This excerpt from The Dons in the League 1977-1982 shows the kind of barrel scraping that’s involved in their evidence production;

Page 102 – 1980/81 – “Off the field too, changes were threatened. Chairman Ron Noades claimed that the Borough did not want the club and that he was involved in talks to take Wimbledon to Milton Keynes!”

Page 105 – 1980/81 – “Once again events off the pitch dominated the thoughts of those who followed the Club. Chairman Ron Noades and three other directors – Jimmy Rose, Bernie Coleman and Sam Hammam – were voted onto the board of Milton Keynes City FC. The chairman stressed: “This is a move by four directors of Wimbledon and not Wimbledon itself. We’re there in an advisory capacity and for long term investment”. But he warned; “Unless the pre-emption is sorted out there is no future for us at Plough Lane. Milton Keynes has long term potential. It can support a multi-purpose stadium, the potential is there”

Did you notice the mention of ground development problems?

What does the last example tell us? That the Milton Keynes move was part of a long term plan? You could just as easily argue that such talk was a bargaining chip in a ground development process. Does the plan highlight a dream move to Milton Keynes or people trying to make a fast buck? Why is a couple of thirty four year old quotes considered relevant? Even the quote tells us that the move to Milton Keynes was the desire of four directors rather than the desire of Wimbledon FC. How can we take the MKDSA’s factual library seriously when their information cannot be accepted at face value?

Sam Hammam’s name seems to crop up a lot in the factual library. Was he trying to keep the spirit of the crazy gang alive or was he trying to do something less noble like safeguarding his investment? Hammam’s theatrical media appearances have lent him a hazy image of being a decent sort, a definite champion of the underdog and all that. We can see same theatrical bluster in his letters to the council as we heard when Saint & Greavsie covered his trademarked pitchside shenanigans in the 1980s. He tried the same schtick in Cardiff, is he too theatrical?

The Dark Knight Trilogy Batman shows us how theatricality can be used to mislead people, is his bluster merely an act? Going by the fact that Hammam appears to be Vincent Tan’s main cheerleader you can’t help wonder whether the pursuit of money has always been behind the theatricality, and they say a person mellows with age.

From this entry we can see that the MKDSA don’t view Wimbledon fans too highly;

  • The board of Wimbledon FC were working to a 3 year plan to put the club on a secure financial footing. This may necessitate the sale of players. More financial problems!!
  • The board of Wimbledon FC were seeking a site for a new stadium but there were difficulties in finding one.
  • The owners wanted the club to relocate back to Merton. If not they would look for a site as close to Merton as possible. They would not rule out a move to Milton Keynes.
  • Kris Stewart stated that WISA would campaign vigourously against any plan to move to Milton Keynes, but should the club complete such a move “I would wish them luck with their business venture and do what I could to build a new Wimbledon Football Club”

Don’t you hate it when bitter luddites disdain progress. This is what Kris actually said;

“Koppel then asked the question, should somewhere such as Milton Keynes prove to be the nearest possible location to build a new ground, what should the club do? This was a rhetorical question. I did however answer, by saying that any club based in Milton Keynes would simply not be WFC. WISA would campaign vigorously against any such plan, but should the club complete such a move, I would wish them luck with their business venture and do what I could to build a new Wimbledon Football Club, playing in Merton, in whichever lowly league would be appropriate.”

This sounds like someone that’s passionate about a football club’s place in a community rather than a bitter luddite, although you can understand why Wimbledon fans would be bitter about the MK Dons. The MKDSA don’t seem to be aware that Kris is actually saying “Go on then fuck off to Milton Keynes, we’ll make our own club”, his anger is the positive energy that led to the creation of a proper football club.

It’s easy to understand why MKDSA want the image of a discredited WISA; it creates the entire basis of their argument. They must have wet their knickers when they discovered the interesting views of  Horst Bullinger. Mr. Bullinger is an ex-Wimbledon fan and an ex-Merton councillor;

  • Merton was in dire straits financially.
  • The Labour Council was not interested in supporting Wimbledon FC’s return to Merton as they failed to win any seats in Wimbledon itself.
  • Merton is an artificially created borough, throwing together three areas. Wimbledon, Morden and Mitcham. These areas have not much in common and in the case of Mitcham, nothing at all.
  • The Wimbledon public was lukewarm about football
  • AFC Wimbledon will not be able to create a climate for football in that part of London.
  • The role of WISA wasn’t clear in the beginning but became clear soon afterwards when they dived head over heels into the AFC creation.
  • Wimbledon FC supporters were fooled into believing the Wimbledon FC follow-on lies dished out by WISA.
  • The fans did let the club down. Their behaviour was quite disgraceful and must have affected the team’s performance during all home matches at that time.
  • There was no sign of sufficient fan support for Wimbledon FC regardless where in the area a stadium would have been built.
  • “As an ex Womble, as far as I am concerned MK Dons are the proper follow-on club from the old Wimbledon Football Club, regardless of all the nonsense dished out on the ‘Franchise’ issue.
  • As a local Councillor in Merton I had the doubtful pleasure of witnessing the cloning of AFC Wimbledon.
  • This was a cheap way out for the Council and an easy way out for the fans. The Council avoided giving proper assistance to Wimbledon FC for staying in Wimbledon. In the end they couldn’t find a place for their AFC creation in the Borough either and they ended up in Kingston.
  • There was simply not enough money available for supporting the WFC.
  • The move away from Plough Lane was necessary, as the facilities were poor
  • The name died, but the ingredients survive at MK Dons as a new shell for them. One should look on the bright side of life, rather than death. Merton Council, Sam Hammam, the Norwegians and Pete Winkelman were involved in this process. But Peter Winkelman in a positive way, because without him the funeral would indeed have taken place.

I can’t really criticise this fellow personally but it behoves me to point out that he’s a Tory. I’ll let this blogpost fully demolish his arguments.

As the blogpost states some of his arguments hold water, however it’s his cheerleading for Winkelman and his rubbishing of people that were willing to fight for their ideas that sticks in the craw. How can he think that MK Franchise are the legitimate heirs to the club and spirit of Wimbledon rather than AFC Wimbledon? If your evidence relies on the jaundiced opinions of an apparently bitter Tory windbag then you haven’t really got evidence, you have opinion.

The MKDSA’s problem is that they obviously feel guilty about their seduction by the dark side. They desperately want to justify their own behavior and nullify their timid capitulation to the interests of corporate football. Sadly for them morality and business don’t coincide.

If you let a business mindset decide your actions you cannot use a moral case to exorcise your sense of guilt. You cannot use a moral argument when you justify the trampling of a tangible football culture for economic ends. In fact, as soon as you begin to think about football through a Thatcherite prism you’ve already lost the argument.

It’s simple, a football club is not a triumph of synergy or just another profit maximising machine, it’s a living breathing social entity with roots in a community. You cannot transfer a football club to another place and expect people to just go along with it.

It’s a good job that I’m an optimist and I look at this experience in a positive light. I’m glad I’ve got more evidence that proves my ideas are correct.

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