In nine days’ time, Wimbledon ‘host’ Milton Keynes Dons for the first time since ‘the great football theft’ of 2002. It’s a match that is eagerly awaited by some but dreaded by others. I’m a Wimbledon season ticket holder, but I won’t be there.
My view remains what it was in 2002: that this is a match against a club that shouldn’t exist. I couldn’t stomach watching it, and I won’t be returning my season ticket voucher so that the club can sell it on to someone else, either.
But I recognise that my stance is at one of the more extreme ends of the spectrum, and that many other Wimbledon fans will view the match differently. The truth is that Wimbledon supporters are not a homogenised collective and there is a huge variety of feeling amongst Wimbledon fans regarding this match.
Wimbledon fans at the first match in Milton Keynes, December 2012
Some, like me, wish it wasn’t happening and won’t go on a point of principle. Others view it as an indication of what we as a club have achieved in the 15 years since the move happened that we are playing them in the same division, having clawed our way back up through the ranks of senior football and into League One – the very journey that the FA Commission dismissed as ‘too arduous’ for the supposedly go-getting town of Milton Keynes to undertake when it sanctioned the move in 2002.
This isn’t the first time since 2002 that we’ve played them. The media lapped it up when we played there in the FA Cup second round back in December 2012. I have to admit, after being undecided, on the day I did venture to watch it on the live television coverage. It was a ‘no lose’ situation for us: if we happened to beat them, great. If we didn’t, so what? The result on the day would do nothing to legitimise them in my eyes.
Watching that match did help me ‘move on’ a little bit in my emotions, although I still couldn’t stomach watching them in the flesh – which is why I won’t be there on 14 March.
My feelings have become even more entrenched since we hosted Charlton Athletic the other week. They are managed by former Milton Keynes boss Karl Robinson, who has over the years said a number of things in the media that many Wimbledon fans have perceived as highly insulting.
Needless to say, he got a vocal reception that afternoon. Towards the end of the match, some Wimbledon fans smuggled in a banner saying ‘Karl Robinson is a lying c*nt’ and briefly held it up before it was taken down by stewards.
But the real nadir happened after the match when Robinson, perhaps in a bid to show how big and brave he is, meandered all over the pitch rather than heading directly to the changing rooms. Sadly, one of our volunteer pitch staff was seemingly unable to contain his emotions and said something, prompting Robinson to have to be held back by stewards in order to avoid a physical confrontation.
Some Wimbledon fans spill onto the pitch in Milton Keynes, celebrating our equaliser during our first match there, in December 2012
The volunteer has subsequently stepped down from his duties but I think it shows that, no matter how ‘in control’ we think we are, this is the sort of fixture that can make all sorts of emotions bubble to the surface.
Thankfully the club, the Metropolitan Police and the local council seem to be taking preparations extremely seriously, although any fixture like this illustrates the physical difficulties that Kingsmeadow presents when policing ‘high risk’ matches. Amongst other measures, Milton Keynes fans will be ‘bused in’ to the fixture and only given their match ticket on the coaches, while their owner Pete Winkelman will watch the match – if he attends – in with their fans. Ticket-buying eligibility criteria for Wimbledon fans have been dramatically tightened up.
There will be a fans’ forum at the ground this coming Thursday to talk through the policing plans. And in the recent match programme against Walsall, Wimbledon chief executive Erik Samuelson urged people to keep calm, conceding that people will 'make it very clear exactly how they feel' but urging them to keep it peaceful, saying:
“In deciding how to conduct ourselves as a club and as fans, let’s keep asking ourselves the same question – is what I am doing in the best interests of the club?”
But my big fear is that a Wimbledon fan will ‘lose it’ on the evening, a fear amplified by the fact that spectators at the ground are very close to players, especially if that player is taking a throw in and is right up against the perimeter barriers.
A quick dip onto the Milton Keynes message board makes me think that many of their fans still don’t understand the depth of feeling still felt by many Wimbledon fans. But then, really, why should they? They say how their fans are so well-disposed towards our fans – but why wouldn't they be? They’ve got no real reason to feel otherwise.
Sean Rigg celebrates scoring against Milton Keynes in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, October 2014
I think many of them in Milton Keynes don’t understand the depth of feeling that still exists amongst many (but not all) people who support our club, and think of it as a ‘rivalry’ rather than anything else. Even Karl Robinson, with his meander over the pitch after the Charlton match, didn’t really seem to ‘get it’ and seemed shocked that his decision not to tread a diplomatic route straight to the tunnel but to wander around might provoke a reaction.
Personally, I’m a mild-mannered person but I couldn’t trust myself not to ‘lose it’ at some point, which is part of the reason why I won’t be there: the emotions are still too raw, especially as they come tied up with feelings regarding the death of my father. Sadly, I think some Wimbledon fans will choose to go to ‘give vent’ verbally and might end up getting swept along on their emotions. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen.
This really is a fixture that nobody can win. The sooner it’s over, the better.