The Roland Harris Column

Saturday 08 February, 2003.

Note This article represents an amended versions of the original page.

Why I went to Wimbledon

I got the call from the BfB head office to ask which game I was going to this weekend. The one at Selhurst Park with Wimbledon FC or the one with "The Real Dons", AFC Wimbledon. The fall out from The Don's chairman Charles Koppel wanting to move the team to Milton Keynes has Wimbledon fans asking away supporters to go to the non-league version of the Dons and not to see the Division One fixture.

I didn't dither, I'm going to Selhurst Park.

It's not that I don't see the problem that the Dons fans face. Yeah it sucks that their club is being moved up the road and yeah if it was happening to Bradford City I'd be 100% against it but the fact is it is not happening to Bradford City, and it never could. We have less of a fan base to fight over compared to the scrap for supporters in the London area.

There are two things about this Wimbledon problem: Firstly there is the idea that the Wimbledon fans are worth backing, and I have my own issues on that, and second that the idea of moving the club out of London is a bad thing.

Second point first. We all know that Wimbledon don't play in Wimbledon. They are unloved by Merton and the people of Merton. For ten odd years they have wandered London turning up Selhurst Park. To be honest they are nearly permanent residents at Crystal Palace's ground. It might be worth asking the question that when Wimbledon were taking the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United to that corner of London how much of the football money of fans in the Palace heartland was soaked up. Why is it fair on Palace, who to be honest I can't stand really, to have another club tapping at their fans? Only a fool would believe that every Wimbledon fan who went to Selhurst Park had been to Plough Lane.

Crystal Palace have had Wimbledon tapping their fan base and the pockets of the locals for years. It's time they stopped. Want to know why? Imagine if someone like Barnsley or Mansfield moved to Odsal taking football money out of our catchments area, taking our potential attendance.

The first point is more personal. I just don't think Wimbledon fans are worth feeling sorry for. Ask yourself where Wimbledon fan's were when City were almost out of business in the summer? How much support did we get then and how much of the problems we were facing were the fault of Wimbledon?

Think back. You can put all football's financial problems, all it's unbalance and gaps between the top of the Premiership and the top flight from the one below down to the formation of the Premiership. More money for those at the top and sod the rest was the message. City have been lucky and tasted both. Wimbledon never wanted to do that. They wanted to stay supping at the top table. They climbed the football ladder and tried to kick that ladder away.

Where were the Wimbledon fans protests that the Premiership and this rise of cash as the main factor in football would have stopped another club from emulating the Dons? Why did they not cry foul and start a newer, fairer club then in protest? Because they were greedy, enjoying the success at the expense of the clubs that they now ask for support.

The problem with Wimbledon fans is not that they have been hard done to, it's that they have failed. They were relegated from the Premiership and suffer as a result. The Don's chairman is not an idiot. He knows they can't exist for long on the First Division money and the bare stadia they play in front of. Milton Keynes offers a way out. The Dons fans secretly think that they could stay in London with the fans they steal off other clubs and sneak back into the Premiership. It's unrealistic, it's like City fans thinking that we could keep Benito Carbone when it was his wage that pushed us down.

Dons fans need to realise that they are the architects of Wimbledon's downfall are Wimbledon. Wimbledon were one of the clubs that worshipped money, that put money at the top the tree. Why should we feel sorry for them now that the realities of that have come back and bitten them on the backside?


City fan reader Richard Silverman

Dear BfB,I am a regular reader of your website, which I rely upon for news, reports and regular doses of humour. I usually find the opinions of your columnists to be unilaterally sensible and in line with my own.

However, I must disagree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed by Roland Harris over after the game at Selhurst Park earlier this month.

That said, I felt it important to offer an alternative City fan's opinion on the situation at Wimbledon. Please bear in mind that I didn't travel to the game, I've only met a couple of Dons fans in my lifetime, and my opinions are based purely on what has been reported in the media as opposed to personal experience. I may be in no position to comment, but I feel so strongly on the issue of football franchising that I was moved to send the following e-mail to the Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association, who replied asking if they could publish it. I feel it only fair to forward a copy to your website first.

The e-mail

Dear Sir/Madam,
I feel compelled to write to you after having read an article written by Bradford City fan Roland Harris following the game at Selhurst Park on Saturday 8th February. The article appeared on the excellent "Boy from Brazil" website which, being a staunch City fan, I regularly read with interest. The article can be found at

If those at WISA were previously unaware of this article, I'm sure it will arouse their interest. If, on the other hand, your organisation has already had the pleasure, I would like to offer a slightly alternative view from Valley Parade.

Whilst I have no quarrel with Mr Harris, and accept that he is perfectly entitled to publish his opinions on the internet, I am one of what I can only suspect are a large faction of City fans who wholeheartedly disagree.

In many respects I am ill-qualified to leap to your collective defence (by "your" I refer en masse to all fans of the OLD Wimbledon). Despite being appalled by the plight of your former club, I have done almost nothing (aside from signing the odd petition) to help or offer my support. Realistically, my reasons for not attending the game on February the 8th had far more to do with time and distance than principle, and I was actively glad that representatives from Boy from Brazil and Pulse Sport attended the game so that I could be furnished with a match report.

However, all this does not mean that I (along with many other City fans) do not have an enormous amount of sympathy for you. Mr Harris seems to suggest that our recent relationship with disaster (flirtation is far too delicate a term) gives us the right to point the finger at Dons fans for not somehow offering us their support. The fact that those fans had an equally iminent apocalypse making steady progress towards them is used as an excuse for the kind of "us-versus-them" attitude which is enormously counter-productive between any two sets of football fans. If any City fans are looking to make enemies (or worse, scapegoats) in football as a result of our recent woes, the list of directors, managers, players and related companies which provide suitable candidates is quite long enough without having to pick a fight with supporters of another club.

Mr Harris also seems to believe that Wimbledon's miraculous rise to the top of English football, and subsequent consolidation of their Premier League status is somehow an indication that their fans are of a lower quality than those of our own club. In some respects City are fortunate for our support. Although performances and attendances have been drastically below what could be expected from the only club in a large city for the vast majority of the past 40 years, there has always been sufficient potential that the idea of relocating the club elsewhere has never even entered the head of our most money-hungry of chairmen.

Mr Harris has failed to realise that Wimbledon survived for many years in the Premier League on the same sorts of crowds that City enjoyed at times in the Second Division. Excuse me if I'm mistaken, but it seems to me that had the Dons' last 20 years not been so successful, the issue of relocation or liquidation would have reared its head long before the current millenium. To me, those who support a successful club in the knowledge that if and when their bubble bursts the results will (in all probability) be disastrous are far more committed than those who support an unsuccessful one knowing that statistics predict for them some eventual success. I'm not suggesting that being a City fan is a bundle of laughs, but until last summer it was merely disappointing, as opposed to terrifying. How quickly things change.

Roland Harris also uses the issue of competition for support to justify his endorsement of the Milton Keynes relocation. I'm sure that whatever the relationship between fans of Wimbledon and those of Palace, the Dons' supporters appreciate that they are sharing another club's ground, and would rather have a home of their own. North London seems perfectly capable of sustaining the vast combined fanbases of Chelsea, Fulham, Arsenal, Spurs and West Ham, so quite how Wimbledon's presence south of the river is a threat to Crystal Palace or the distant Charlton is beyond me. I confess to being unaware of exactly how lines of division are drawn in football terms in the capital, but considering Greater London's population, there is surely enough potential support to go around.

Mr Harris's comments are particularly surprising considering how our club prospered in the late 90s despite having had its potential support systematically seized by some side from Leeds over the previous ten years (guess who star export Gareth Gates supports). In a county whose population numbers in the millions, any City fan must surely believe that we could attract crowds close to 20,000 again in a few years if matters on and off the pitch improve, regardless of how well Leeds Utd, Huddersfield Town, Burnley or anyone else are doing. To deny a team called Wimbledon the right to try to move back to Wimbledon for fear that they might tread on a few toes seems ridiculous.

In summary, I would like to think that our collective woes over the past twelve months could lead to a stronger bond between the two clubs - as opposed to any sort of rift. Whether or not Wimbledon FC could have continued in their present form in South London is akin to asking whether or not Bradford City could survive administration when it began. In football there are no guarantees, but at least our money-men had the conviction to try to lead our club out of darkness, despite crippling debts and a proliferation of frankly abysmal performances. I am desperately sorry that those who dreamed up the MK Dons didn't have the same sort of faith.

I wish every success to AFC Wimbledon and look forward to our two sides meeting sometime in a decade or so (preferably at the top end of the football league!).

Richard Silverton

From Kevin Watson

I am an AFC Wimbledon fan (from Wimbledon not Crystal Palace) and met a few 'real' Bradford fans at our last home match. They came to watch our match rather than give money to Wimbledon FC chairman Charles Koppel.

I spoke to them as they wandered through our crowd at half time collecting money for 'Bradford City's Loan Player Scheme'.

We joked about Bradford sinking us from the Premiership a few seasons ago, but still put money into their hat. Unlike you Mr Harris we didn't use spiteful language to blame other football fans for our club's predicament.

P.S. For your information Wimbledon FC were never based at Upton Park, that was Charlton, we were moved 'temporally, by our chairman, and our only crime was to want to move back to our 'catchment' area of Merton, where by the way we are wanted, as you would soon find out if you bothered to check your facts.

Good luck to all the 'real' Bradford fans, I hope you can get your club back on a sound footing.

Kevin Watson

Roland's reply

First just cause I don't agree with you does not make me a real fan. I would remind you that I have stuck with my club and went to the same between my club and Wimbledon. You were not there. I'm not saying you are not a 'real' fan but what I am saying is one of us has supported the same team all his life and one of us, for whatever reason, switched clubs.

I get the Charlton thing now. It was a mistake, just like you made a mistake writing to me cause I am not a Bradford fan. I am a Bradford City fan. I find it really ironic that you Dons fans with all your talk of maintaining your identity get such a basic thing wrong. Bradford were and still are Bradford (Park Avenue) and we have and always will be Bradford City. It's like you called the team who play at Orange in Scotland's third City "Dundee". Just wrong. I guess since Bradford are a non league club people from outside this area cannot be expected to know anything about it. Lesson for you there.

Your mistake does not make your mail irrelevant though, but then again neither does mine make my article nonsense.

Personally I was under the impression that Merton kept knocking you back but I hope you can get back there. My points are valid though. The reason you and us and the rest of football from Newcastle United down is because of Premiership greed that you had a hand in. You can't deny that.

Also, I hate giving my money to any other club's chairman but I also feel sorry for all the other clubs who work damn hard to get ahead in that lower league AFC play in only for you to come with your 3,500 and basically ruin the division for a year. Bit harsh of you.

From Geoff Seel

Having chastised Kevin for inaccuracy, you have made one contentious statement in your reply and another which shows lack of research.

Firstly, you imply that AFC Wimbledon fans have not stuck with their club. The truth of this statement depends upon what you define as a club. If it is a name, a league position and a board of directors you are correct. However, many people would consider a club to be the fans, the generations of players who have played for it and its local community. With the latter definition, the AFC Wimbledon fans are the ones who have stuck with their club.

You then suggest we have ruined the Combined Counties League (a league not a division but let that pass). I presume you have not spoken to many people in the CCL so I will supply you a few facts:

If that is a league ruined, I suspect many leagues would like to face ruination.

Geoff Seel

Roland's reply

Hi Geoff

Please do not deny that your 3,500 fans a week does not mean that you will murder everyone else in that league who gets about 50 people a week. It is like someone with 4,000,000 fans in the stadium being proud that they can out spend Manchester United and win the Premiership.

Whoever just missed out in the league last season and thought that this year was their year until you turned up will be very pissed off and you can't deny that. The league is ruined from the competitive point of view, which is what I meant.

You should note I have no axe to grind with AFC Wimbledon, good luck to you, and although I don't like Wimbledon FC and it's chairman I don't like most other football clubs or chairman.

I don't mean to be mean either but you have not, by definition, stuck with your club but I'm not arguing semantics.


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