Thursday, November 15, 2012
Grudge match looms in 2nd round of FA Cup
By STEVE DOUGLAS
AP Sports Writer
LONDON -- Nicknamed the "Crazy Gang" because of the team's eccentric style and ragtag mix of players, Wimbledon became one of the most unlikely winners of the FA Cup when it defeated Liverpool in the 1988 final.
Twenty-four years later, the club no longer exists in the same form after its controversial move from south London, but a team resurrected in its place by angry fans will play a high-profile match in England's top cup competition.
AFC Wimbledon, created in 2002, will play Milton Keynes Dons, the club that took over the identity of the original Wimbledon. They will meet in the second round of the cup on the weekend of Dec. 1-2 after both won first-round replays this week. It will be the first time they have met, and the game promises to be a highly charged, emotional affair.
"This has reopened a lot of scars," said Simon Wheeler, chairman of the Independent Wimbledon Supporters Association. "We never wanted this to happen and frankly I feel numb."
Much bitterness and acrimony lingers.
Wheeler is like many AFC Wimbledon fans in saying the move of the original club 56 miles to a commuter town in Buckinghamshire -- a county north of the capital -- devastated the community. Unlike in the United States, transplanting a team to a different town or city is uncommon in English sports because of deep ties to the local area.
"England's greatest cup competition has produced a very historic moment for Round 2 and I can't wait," MK Dons manager Karl Robinson said.
"I think the whole of football will be watching," he added, "because people will be aggrieved, will have anger whereas others will see it as exciting."
The original Wimbledon was promoted to England's top level -- then called the First Division -- for the first time in 1986, having spent most of its 97-year existence as a semi-professional club in the non-league ranks. By racing up the divisions after election to the Football League in 1977, the club grew in stature more quickly than expected and retained an amateur feel to it when it reached the 1988 FA Cup final.
There it met Liverpool, then the biggest team in England, in a match one commentator described as "the Crazy Gang versus the Culture Club." Wimbledon won 1-0 in one of the biggest upsets in the competition's history.
Wimbledon soon encountered financial problems, leading to its relegation from the Premier League in 2000. Its owners were approached the following year with a plan to import the club to Milton Keynes and after the move was ratified by an FA-appointed commission, it was completed in 2003 and the team was renamed Milton Keynes Dons in 2004.
Meanwhile, in 2002, fans angry with what had happened to the team created AFC Wimbledon, which started out in the ninth tier of English soccer. It took the club nine years to get promoted to the Football League, where it became likely a match against MK Dons was going to happen at some point.
"It was inevitable at some stage -- we enter three cups together," Robinson said. "It's something the football world has been waiting for. Somebody told me it's the biggest second-round draw in FA Cup history and if that's the case, we can't wait for it."
Many AFC Wimbledon fans will boycott the match against the club they have christened "Franchise FC." Indeed, after the second-round draw was made, the club's supporters' association released a statement in which they reminded fans that MK Dons "stole a Football League place through the theft and franchising of Wimbledon FC."
In 2007, MK Dons gave up its claim to the pre-2004 history in the original Wimbledon by returning the old replica trophies and other memorabilia, declaring no links to the 1988 FA Cup final victory.
AFC Wimbledon, which claims on its website to be the "continuation of the spirit which formed Wimbledon Old Centrals in 1889," plays in the blue-and-yellow colors of the old team and some of its fans are still campaigning for the MK Dons to drop "Dons" from its name.
AFC Wimbledon reached the second round on Monday by beating York 4-3 in overtime. MK Dons joined them with a 6-1 win over Cambridge City on Tuesday.