The incredible story of AFC Wimbledon illustrates the true power of the 12th man.
Money doesn’t buy passion, and without fans, a club is nothing.
This is the fairytale of how a 75% fan owned club managed to achieve five promotions in just nine years. In that time, the Dons have created history, becoming the youngest team in the 21st century to reach Football League status in England.
Fans in the area of Wimbledon were left without a club to support in 2003, after their original club Wimbledon F.C relocated to Milton Keynes, causing mass outcry.
The outcome of the move proved to be disastrous resulting in the clubs demise.
Pete Winkelman was the man to bring the club out of administration, but fans soon learnt that everything the club stood for had disappeared. The shirt colours had changed from it’s traditional blue and yellow to all white, the badge had changed, with the final straw being the clubs name change from Wimbledon F.C to Milton Keynes Dons. Founded in 2004, MK Dons had completely erased any connection to Wimbledon FC, along with its historic accolades.
Wimbledon F.C’s old stadium- Plough Lane
The aftermath proved to be positive for disgruntled fans. Leading the charge was AFC Chairman Erik Samuelson, Commercial Director Ivor Heller followed by the fans, inspiring a new community based club, AFC Wimbledon.
The club held an open trial for any uncontracted player, triggering a large interest from 230 interested players who showed up on the 29th of June 2002.
With the support of an entire community, the club staggeringly raised over $20,000 from season tickets.
In a non league that would only normally see 100 fans show up to a game, wherever Wimbledon went, fans followed in the thousands.
The snowball effect which followed saw AFC Wimbledon achieve the longest undefeated streak of league matches in English senior football. Wimbledon went 78 matches undefeated between February 2003 and December 2004, and eventually earned promotion to the Football League.
Much of this success is testament to current coach and former Wimbledon F.C player Neal Ardley, regarded as a club legend by the fans.
In 2013, Ardley managed to ensure AFC Wimbledon’s Football League survival, in a dramatic 2-1 victory over Fleetwood Town F.C. on the last day of the season in League two.
It’s quiet remarkable that just 14 years since the clubs inception, AFC Wimbledon will set foot in Wembley next Tuesday in the League 2 play-off Final against Plymouth Argyle.
If Wimbledon win the final on the last day of May, they will be in the same league as rivals MK Dons, who were relegated from the Championship this year.
Recent comments made by AFC Chairman Erik Samuelson will only add fuel to the rivalry that has been brewing for years.
“The FA said we would not be in the wider interests of football, now look at us.
“This is a further vindication of the decision we made to ignore the ludicrous decision to allow the move to Milton Keynes, and get on with having a proper community-based football club.
“I don’t want to make it about MK Dons, I don’t want them to get any publicity on the back of our success, but it just shows that fans and community-based football clubs are important and can be successful.”
AFC Wimbledon is loved by the fans, owned by the fans and for the fans.
Maybe in the not so distant future, we could see the Wimbledon Phoenix rise to the Premier League.