AFC Wimbledon was formed in 2002 following the FA’s hugely controversial decision to allow Wimbledon FC to relocate 56-miles north to Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.
Since their formation, the club have achieved promotion five times in nine seasons to become the first entirely new club to reach League Two from the Combined Counties League. The only other club considered to have achieved this feat is the now dissolved Rushden & Diamonds, who were originally formed by the merger of Rushden Town and Irthlingborough Diamonds.
The club also currently hold the record of 78 consecutive league matches without defeat, an all-time record in English senior football and are also the first club formed this century to reach the Football League.
Wimbledon Old Centrals Football Club were originally formed in 1889, and spent most of their history in amateur and non-league football before being elected to the Football League in 1976/77. The Dons then enjoyed a rapid and meteoric rise to fame, culminating in promotion to the First Division just 10 years later in 1986/87, the highest echelon of English football. Wimbeldon also famously clinched the FA Cup in 1988, beating newly-crowned Division One champions Liverpool courtesy of Lawrie Sanchez’s looping header. However, they were unable to compete in European competitions due to a ban of English teams in Europe following the 1985 Heysel disaster.
The club remained at their beloved Plough Lane ground since their inception, but it was believed that this severely hampered the club’s long-term future by several owners. In 1979, chairman Ron Noades explored the possibility of moving the club to Milton Keynes, a newly-formed town in 1967, alongside Charlton Athletic and Luton Town. The club remained at Plough Lane until 1991, when it was instructed by the FA to redevelop the ground following the Hillsborough Disaster and the release of the Taylor Report. However, the club’s owners could not afford to implement the necessary changes and arranged to ground share at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park. The club searched fruitlessly for a new ground for almost a decade.
At the start of the millennium, the Milton Keynes Stadium Consortium led by Pete Winkleman proposed a 30,000 all-seater stadium alongside a retail park, but with Milton Keynes City competing in the eighth step of English football the developers could not justify building a ground for a club of such small stature. The first club approached were Luton Town, but the Football League blocked the move stating that no member club was allowed to leave its hometown. Nonetheless, the consortium continued to propose the move to Crystal Palace and Barnet and after both rejected, the consortium offered the ground to homeless Wimbledon with the promise that the club name, colours and badge would all remain. However, on 23 June 2000, Winkleman registered the internet domain names mkdons.co.uk and mkdons.com through Tucows Inc. before the club rejected the proposal.
The consortium turned its attention to QPR, who were in administration at the time, but in spite of their financial plight the Loftus Road club dismissed the idea before newly-appointed Wimbledon chairman Charles Koppel accepted Winkleman’s proposal in 2001 amidst opposition from the majority of the club’s supporters. The club made a formal application to the Football League later that year, which was unanimously rejected on the grounds that franchised football would be disastrous and that any club based in Milton Keynes would have to earn league membership by progressing through the English pyramid system.
The decision was contested by Wimbledon, which led to an intervention from the FA and following the results of an enquiry from an arbitration panel, an independent commission voted in favour of the move. The FA announced that although the decision was final, it strongly opposed the move. As a result, many Wimbledon fans regarded the move as the death of their club and formed a phoenix club, named AFC Wimbledon, which they believed was a continuum of the original Wimbledon FC.
The new club entered a groundsharing agreement with Kingstonian FC and moved to their Kingsmeadow Ground, in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, adjacent to Wimbeldon’s home borough of Merton. The club were accepted into the Combined Counties League in 2002/03. Meanwhile, during Wimbledon FC’s final season at Selhurst Park, their gates began to fall below those at Kingsmeadow and as a result, the club entered administration in June 2003. A month later, Milton Keynes City folded. Following the end of 2002/03 season, Luton Town owner John Gurney proposed the idea of merging with Wimbledon FC, building a 70,000 capacity stadium on Junction 10 of the M1 and renaming the club London Luton FC after the airport, however, after just six weeks under his tenureship the Hatters were placed in administration resulting in Gurney’s departure.
At the start of the 2003/04 season, Wimbledon FC completed their move from Selhurst Park to the National Hockey Stadium in Milton Keynes, changing their badge from the Wimbledon Borough Coat of arms in the process. However, despite their relocation the Dons continued to struggle and finished bottom of the second-tier after spending the entire season in administration. In June 2004, Winkleman purchased Wimbledon FC and despite promising the club’s name and traditional colours would remain, they were rebranded as MK Dons. The newly-renamed MK Dons continued to play at the National Hockey Stadium, before moving to the newly-built 22,000 capacity Stadium:mk in July 2007.
Following the move, the history and legacy of Wimbledon FC, in addition to the honours won by the club was contested for five years until 2007 when MK Dons finally renounced any claim to the club’s history before 2004, following a boycott of the club’s home matches. All replica trophies won by Wimbledon FC were transferred to Merton Borough and put on display in the Morden Library in Merton in 2008. Since 2006, local newspaper the Wimbledon Guardian has run a campaign called, ‘Drop the Dons,’ which attempts to persuade the owners of Milton Keynes Dons to remove Dons from the club name due to it causing mutual ill-feeling. The campaign gathered momentum and was publicly backed by several former players, both Merton members of parliament and all 60 of the borough’s councillors. However, the leaders of Merton and Milton Keynes Councils met in Milton Keynes in April 2012 to discuss the campaign, but failed to come to an agreement.