IT IS perhaps fitting, although it won’t necessarily be appreciated at AFC Wimbledon, that their final game before returning to their spiritual home is a trip to Milton Keynes.
The former Wimbledon Football Club spawned two offspring. MK Dons took the club’s assets and Football League position but are considered so illegitimate in south London that had Covid-19 not locked them out, many fans would have boycotted tomorrow’s game anyway.
But it shouldn’t be forgotten professional football had left the borough of Merton 11 years before the messiest of divorces.
The original Plough Lane certainly didn’t have the splendour of the spanking new stadium a stone’s throw away that AFC Wimbledon will play at for the first time when they host Doncaster next Tuesday.
‘It was a dump, but it was our dump,’ recalls Metro columnist Terry Gibson, who was wined and dined by manager Bobby Gould in Wimbledon Village as he agreed a move from Manchester United in 1987.
‘I’d never played at Plough Lane and I’d never been there. It wouldn’t have put me off because I wanted first-team football for a manager that wanted me but it was an eye-opener after leaving Old Trafford
‘The changing rooms were appalling, the manager’s office was known as “the bunker”, the tunnel wasn’t wide enough for both teams, the players’ lounge turned into a nightclub at a certain time and there were hot dog stalls in each corner of the ground and all you could smell was fried onions.
‘We knew the big stars wouldn’t enjoy coming to Plough Lane and it played a huge part in the success Wimbledon had.’
After the Hillsborough tragedy led to all-seater stadiums becoming mandatory, a supposedly temporary ground-share at Selhurst Park in 1991 changed everything.
‘It was soul-destroying,’ says Gibson. ‘We only went there on matchdays and we lost a load of our supporters. They were furious, they held protests and refused to come.
‘We had games where there was no point opening three of the stands because there was no one to go in them. When we played the big clubs it was like an away game.
‘With hindsight, it was the beginning of the end for Wimbledon Football Club.’
Their old ground was sold off and after a proposed move to Dublin never came to fruition, the Football Association in May 2002 decided Wimbledon could move lock, stock and barrel to Buckinghamshire.
Within days, a phoenix club had been created and trials were held on Wimbledon Common to find players to play in the ninth tier of English football.
Eighteen years and six promotions later, they are now MK Dons’ equal as a League One outfit but Gibson could not be clearer about who he considers his former club.
‘I have no connection with the Milton Keynes club at all,’ he says. ‘That’s not me being disrespectful. I played for Wimbledon and this is Wimbledon and what they are achieving is absolutely ridiculous.
‘I really don’t know how they have done it because it’s been run by the supporters and they’ve raised the money to get the players and managers to get them promotions, to produce their own players and to build the new ground. It’s a lovely story.
‘I back them one day — hopefully in my lifetime — to be in the Premier League again because nothing is impossible for that club.’