I must be the only person in the world to have stopped supporting AFC Wimbledon this season.
A campaign in which, consistently competitive in a national league for the first time in decades (an incarnation ago), the Dons (re)gained Football League status through their play-off final victory over Luton Town.
Indeed, if it hadn’t been for Crawley Town being the Met Police FC of the division, the Dons would surely have walked automatic promotion.
And I was there, at the beginning.
Starting the season living on South London’s historic Garratt Lane, and ignoring the existence of clubs like Fulham on the other side of my other side of the river, and given the recent move of Tooting & Mitcham FC from the former to neither, AFC Wimbledon were my local club. (They would have been my huperlocal club if they still played at Plough Lane, but oh well…)
As documented previously, I had started seeing the Dons in January 2010, taking in the second half of their debut Conference season in which they ultimately fell shy of the play-offs.
The new season, however, started brilliantly. The Dons looked bolt-on for a special year – a season of Excalibur proportions with the modern mythology round these Wombling parts: AFC were going to get their league status back.
But as the football (which of course never stops) learched to one of its annual business ends I moved eastwards from Garratt Lane to the Dog Kennel Hill Estate. And the Dons were no longer my local club. I now live three minutes’ walk from Dulwich Hamlet.
And this came at a time when I had been thinking a lot about locality, and it’s relationship to football…
I’m not interested in bullshit notions of ‘authenticity’ regarding “support your local team”. Rather, it had occurred to me that a basic foundation in the inequality of the football economy was how acceptable it is to not support your local football club. Now, obviously, this process is multiplied at a geometric rate by the technological possibilities of television, computing etc. and the regulatory liberalisation of globalisation, but its founding stone lies in the simple act of a sepia-tinged flatcap’d man walking past one football ground to go to another, more popular.
Indeed, a massive contributing factor in Wimbledon FC’s original (and still continuing) problems of place was that swathes of matchgoing southwest London handily ignored them to support other ‘local’ clubs such as Chelsea, Fulham, Arsenal. The Dons were dismissable. And even now, with the Milton Keynes move widely derided and now firmly institutionalized against, Merton council are still seemingly disinterested in the club, who – as they did throughout the ’90s – have to make do playing miles from anything like a ‘spiritual’ home, groundsharing again (though this time as dominant partners) in the relative backwater of Norbiton.
For these reasons, combined with the difficulty of fitting travel to Norbiton around work, I stopped going to AFC Wimbledon.
I could have chosen to have enjoyed the glory, and it was exquisitely tempting. But I felt to carry on at Kingsmeadow, an approx. 80 minute trans-transpontine journey rather than the hop, skip & a jump to Dulwich Hamlet’s Champion Hill, would be to play my small role in the contemporary capitalist logic of consumption that was itself the breeding ground of the madcap move to Milton Keynes.
I did it for you, Dons…
1) The Status Quo Returns? For many, Wimbledon’s return to the Football League just that, but it simply isn’t the case. The past decade has made the Dons everyone’s second favourite club (particular fans of big Champions League level teams – like an anti-guilt mechanism) rather than the inconvenience many regarded them as previously.
Wimbledon, having spent years as a gigantic whale in a garden pond, now view themselves as synonymous with ‘good’ football, short passing rather than desperate long hoofing of their days in the top tier of English football.
2) Arrogance & Oddity There was certainly a feeling amongst some fans that rising through the non-league pyramid was an absolute inconvenience as they approached that which they were righteously owed. And sometimes this arrogance grated on non-league fans. But others, both Dons & (blown away) rivals, embraced the oddity of it all, particularly in the first few years where thousands would invade afterthoughts of pitches more used to the proverbial two men and a dog.
3) The Power of a Creation Myth AFC Wimbledon have the most powerful facilitator in the development of a strong fan culture: a sense of profound injustice at the heart of their foundation. The Milton Keynes mockery unites ALL football fans more than anything I’ve ever come across, thus allowing the Dons a position of unequaled righteousness. It is another reason why they are culturally a far stronger unit than ever before.
4) A Political Act? Well, of course, in a world where everything is political, of course the formation of AFC Wimbledon is. Even an idiot could apply new social movement theory to it. But for me, it wasn’t outright ‘political’ enough. It was, after all, the richest (in terms of average salary) matchgoers of the late ’90s Premier League setting about bringing back the status quo.
Don’t get me wrong, the move to Milton Keynes was ridiculous. I have no time for anything surrounding a subterfugeous redevelopment scheme (which is in essence what was going on in Milton Keynes. Ask Asda.)
What was noteworthy about Milton Keynes wasn’t that it heralded the invasion of capitalism into our sacred and unspoilt football, but that it was done so cackhandidly that people were appauled by it rather than lapping hungrily from the bowl as they usually do with, for example, the restructuring of the Champions League to facilitate monopolisation by big clubs.
AFC Wimbledon do not challenge this.
I think – or hope – football can go deeper as a canvass for cultural resistance. FC United are a ‘reformed’ club who take the idea of footballing rebellion an ideological step further into the abstract, responding instead to a change of ownership at the ‘parent’ club. But I’d like to explore even more possibilities. Why form clubs in the idealized image of the ancien regime? Why adhere to the footballing aesthetics & values that now seem so distant, so privatised, so globalized?
We should form a truly new club for all London’s discontented football fan. And groundshare somewhere other than bloody Norbiton. If the club was truly rebellious I would get off my arse and travel. As it stands, football clubs seem so homodox that to visit any other than your nearest one is frankly a waste of effort.