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A Critical State of Affairs

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 05/11/2006

BEING an avid reader of football fanzines over the years, and in particular "When Saturday Comes" (how ironic as less and less games take place on a Saturday), I’ve been brought up to the idea that Wimbledon were wonderful and fluffy and cuddly.

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Until that is they were taken over by this monster which is now the Milton Keynes Dons. From an outsider’s point of view, I don’t recall that Wimbledon were that well loved in the lower divisions, until they got to the First Division/Premier League/Premiership and starting dishing out lessons in team spirit and determination and embarrassing the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and the other footballing aristocrats of the day. OK, that’s the football side of it, but whilst there are issues of identity, tradition and fairness in terms of progression through the leagues, where were Wimbledon going? They had no money, no ground and a small but loyal group of fans. Of course I feel sorry for the true and loyal Wimbledon supporters, and cannot imagine where I would be psychologically if our Mariners were taken over and moved to Basingstoke, or worse still, somewhere in Yorkshire, but then the thought of financial disaster, going into administration, loss of points, relegation to the Dettol Teams from Dismal Places in a Deathlike State Mediocrity Division (North), receivership and bankruptcy is worse. I admire AFC Wimbledon and I wish them and their supporters success. But here’s the rub. What is this team we’re supposed to hate and despise, the Milton Keynes Dons? "No-one likes us, we don’t care". Hang on, isn’t that Millwall, or even Wimbledon? They’re ambitious, they’re making progress, they’re attracting new people from a place which has never been a hotbed of football or indeed anything except roundabouts. Perhaps controversially, I’m keen to see them take their place, grow and do well if the football is up to it. I’m sure we wouldn’t say no to any money they may have, as other teams haven’t - just think Blackburn Rovers and Fulham at this point. Good luck to the MK Dons, I say.

No such paradoxes where the Mariners are concerned. Tradition mingles with dire rubbish and the occasional but increasingly rare ray of hope. I’m not a psychiatrist, but it all smacks of schizophrenia. After a battling draw at Peterborough last week, a dismal but fairly meaningless defeat followed at Mansfield in the Johnstone Paints Extravaganza in midweek. Just dismal, dark grey colours with another home defeat to look forward to and relegation to worry about? At least the MK Dons have been struggling recently so it promised to be an afternoon of interminable struggle in the cold of Cleethorpes.

Accompanying me on this mission of nihilistic proportions were my children Merlin (13) and Revis (11). I decided to ask them what they knew about the Milton Keynes Dons, not having been exposed by virtue of their age to the view that they are impure heathens.

But first, some weather precautions were necessary. "It’s always cold in Grimsby, even in summer" announced Revis accurately. Gloves, hats, thermals, mufflers and thick coats were the order of the day as we prepared ourselves in military fashion for our day at the seaside.

I asked Merlin what he knew about the MK Dons. "They’ve only been in the league for 3 years and they come from Milton Keynes" he replied. "I’ve no idea what league they were in before that". So Wimbledon join the ranks of Small Heath, Woolwich Arsenal and Grimsby Pelham? We move on ...

... to Peterborough, the first changing point on this family trip to the Arctic. The station signs were full of warnings as seems to be the norm these days but one in particular struck me and Merlin: "Staff are here to help you once their safety critical duties are complete". Not just "safety" but "safety critical"? Merlin wasn’t impressed. It conjured up visions of bodies being heroically removed from the track in the face of the thundering iron horse. Peterborough station was quiet today - no signs of raging fires or passengers jumping like lemmings off the platform edge to occasion these safety critical duties. Just a bit of extra activity at the coffee bar on account of the cold. Our GNER train arrived and departed without catastrophic incident ... until we got on the train. Revis’s hair band snapped. We decided to use the 25 minutes in Doncaster to try and resolve this one. "Wow, it’s all changed", exclaimed Revis as we entered the gleaming, fresh-smelling and anonymous Frenchgate Centre. Doncaster’s hitherto unacclaimed "wow factor" did not unfortunately extend to selling hair bands, so we gave up and returned to the bitter cold, bleak and gritty Doncaster station - welcome to the real Doncaster to which we have become accustomed. People bound for Newcastle were exhorted to leave our train. One can only trust the guard had completed his safety critical duties when he said this. He failed to mention that the Cleethorpes train is for the elite and the foolhardy, not to mention those going to Scunthorpe.

The report continues in Part 2

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