Kris Stewart is the founding chairman of AFC Wimbledon and recently detailed the club’s story to date at the Heart of the Game conference in Cork, an event which saw representatives from across the League of Ireland, English, Italian and Swedish football come together and discuss how supporters can have a greater involvement in the running of their football clubs.
I SPEAK ONLY for myself. But I want it to be very clear – I never want my club, Wimbledon, to play the scum-sucking vermin we politely call “Franchise”.
Neither do I want any other club to play them. Never. They are not a legitimate football club and they cannot ever be.
I have always hoped that they would crash and burn. Go out of business, properly. Have their record expunged. Die (the organisation that is – I am not referring to the people here).
And who knows — they may still. Hugely in debt and still a division lower than the league place they originally stole, they are by no means the least likely club to collapse and they certainly are the least likely to be rescued should it happen.
I believe that Wimbledon fans deserve a lot of the credit for their failures. Having poisoned their project through our fight in 2001/02, we hurt them badly in 02/03, killing off any possibility of Røkke, Gjelsten and their swivel-eyed puppet Koppel making their money back.
We got a lot of help, mind. Many fans of other clubs stayed home instead of going to away games against them — at Selhurst, at the hockey ground and at the Franchisedome. Some even came to see a Wimbledon game instead — that really was beautiful.
The Football Supporters’ Federation wouldn’t let the vermin’s customers’ association in. They found it hard arranging friendlies for a while, too. Possibly the most heart-warming moment was Spurs fans giving their club a hard time for a planned game. Spurs fans. We hate Spurs* and Spurs hate us.
Why did these people — no particular friends of Wimbledon FC — go out of their way to stick up for us and to hurt the Franchise? I’d say partly because it was just the right thing to do, and partly because we asked them to. Who is ‘we’? It was WISA. In May 2002 WISA had around 1,400 members. The specific decision to ask fans to boycott the Franchise was first taken at the historic WISA meeting on 30 May 2002, at Wimbledon Community Centre. Maybe you weren’t there.
Maybe you weren’t a member. Maybe you hadn’t even started following the Dons. But WISA was the representative body of Wimbledon fans at the time.
After we’d made that decision, I went on behalf of WISA to the annual meetings of football supporters’ organisations and argued hard for them to join the boycott officially and help keep them as pariahs. Having debated it at length, they agreed.
Whatever happens from now on – whether they die as they should, or splutter on, or even do better than that – I think all those who took part in inflicting that damage on them should be immensely proud of their efforts.
Franchise and their customers got so upset with all this that in 2006 they agreed to hand back some trinkets which they had taken with them as they ran off with our league place. In return WISA agreed not to continue with its boycott calls and the FSF followed suit. WISA organised a ballot of Wimbledon fans and those who voted were overwhelmingly in favour of accepting the agreement.
So since the end of 2006, there has not been a formal call from any organisation for anyone to boycott games at their place. What has that meant? Well, more away fans have visited, that’s for certain. But personally, I know a good number of people who have refused to go there, despite travelling to the vast majority of their clubs’ away games. I also know a fair few people who have not had to worry about it as yet, but are absolutely clear that they never would go.
What about me? Guess what — I’m not going. First, I’ve simply no desire to. I’m not one for humiliation — and being forced to play them, at their place, is pretty much the ultimate in football humiliation for me.
And it’s going to be horrible. I can’t even stand watching them on the telly. Watching the Football League Show I have to fast forward through their game. But there, among them? How’s it going to feel seeing some of them in Wimbledon shirts? Singing Wimbledon songs? Winkelman standing behind the dugout cheering them on? There’s a whole set of hideous images flashing through my head. And I don’t want them in front of my eyes.
Second, I’d much rather no-one went there. My ideal would be a completely empty away section. I think that would be the best way of showing that we still regard them as entirely illegitimate. Yes, I know it’s not going to happen, and that makes me sad. But it doesn’t make me change my mind.
And third, we asked people not to go. Back when there was no chance of our having to worry about going or not. Now it comes to our first time there, I think it would be a pretty poor show for me to go. I can’t and won’t do that.
As for everyone else – well, you make your own decisions in life and you live with the consequences. On this one, I don’t think the consequences are huge whatever each person decides. A Sunday in or out of the shops, a little respect lost or gained, some inconsequential support given or missing, a few quid in or out of our coffers and theirs. I honestly think some who go will be surprised by how rotten it will be.
But they’ll live – we all will. And then Barnet. A real football match against a real football club. See you there?
*As it goes, I don’t really hate Spurs, although I know I am supposed to.