The Aged P

…just toasting and ruminating….

From Playing In The Park To The Major League In 9 Years – The Club Owned By Its Fans…

Since they were founded in 2002 they have one of the best playing records in English soccer, gaining 5 promotions in 9 years. They have done this with one of the lowest budgets in competitive football – and also excellent onfield discipline. Above all the team is actually owned by its fans.

Too good to be true? Not if you are AFC Wimbledon.

The big difference between professional football in England and pro sport in America is that for the loyal supporters who go out in all weathers to watch their team through thick and thin dreams can sometimes come true. This is because, unlike the US where places in the top tier are allocated by franchise, there is much greater fluidity of movement since we have a system of promotion and relegation – at the end of each season the top 2/3 teams move up to the next level and are replaced by the clubs who drop down.

Top level English football operates with four tiers. At the top is the Premiership (Man U, Chelsea etc), then the Championship, then League 1 and 2. Below League 2 are the semi pro teams in an assortment of minor and regional leagues.

In 2002 the bosses of one top level club, Wimbledon in South London decided to move to a better stadium in Milton Keynes, on the northern edge of London. They renamed the club MK Dons.

The local fans in Wimbledon were furious. They straight away formed their own new club called AFC Wimbledon and managed, eventually, to get a nearby ground share. But they had to start at the bottom of the ladder in a very lowly local league amongst works clubs and teams that played in parks.

The fans formed a Trust to run the club and appointed officers to manage the day to day operations. The officers were all unpaid volunteers who regularly reported back to the Trust – and that is still the way it is done today. It must be effective because not only has the club been victorious on the field next year it will have the lowest operational costs in League 2.

But cost effectiveness does not mean a lack of professionalism. In an age when sportsmanship seems to be a thing of the past the team plays hard – but has been the cleanest this season in terms of discipline.

Most pundits thought the club would fold after a burst of initial enthusiasm and forgot about them. But as the years went by AFC Wimbledon moved steadily up the ladder gaining promotion to the upper levels of the semi pro leagues until they ended up in the Confererence, one step below the top four.

Now their dream has come true. Two teams from the Conference are allowed into the big boys at the end of each season – and AFC Wimbledon, with Crawley (my local club, for many years a joke team) have clinched it.

The move from semi pro Conference to pro League 2 is a very big jump and many sides, after one or two seasons, fizzle out and return to obscurity. So, for AFC Wimbledon it is in the lap of the gods.

But who knows – 2015 they could be in the Premiership playing Arsenal and, sweet thought, MK Dons who this season just missed out on promotion from League 1 to the Championship.

Now, however good they are, nobody in Allentown Pa. will ever see the Lehigh Valley IronPigs play major league baseball…

Sorry, Americans, only in English football will you ever have the chance to see your local small town team step out onto the field of dreams….

posted by david in Sport and have Comments Off on From Playing In The Park To The Major League In 9 Years – The Club Owned By Its Fans…

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