Wimbledon’s warring football tribes: Peace one day?

December 3, 2012

It was more than a local Derby match when Wimbledon Dons met Wimbledon AC in the FA Cup. Fans carried placards, some refused to attend, and the boards of the clubs rejected the customary gestures of mutual respect and hospitality

I was reminded [December 2nd 2012] of the efforts of the Charity Peace One Day in arranging a football game in an attempt to end a feud that had been running for over sixty years.

Football wars

The Wimbledon football wars broke out relatively recently. Before that, Wimbledon had a reputation of a feisty, even madcap, team with characters such as Vinnie Jones who has gone on to translate his hard man reputation into film stardom. Wimbledon was the team other teams loved to hate, proponents of the long ball and the short left hand jab. Street fighters, who held their own, against clubs of lofty heritage and far deeper financial pockets.

When the club ran into severe financial difficulties fans faced a fresh start after bankruptcy proceedings. A rescue plan was somehow cobbled together involving a move from Wimbledon to Milton Keynes, an ambitious town fifty miles to the North West.

Preserving the heritage

The fans vowed to preserve the heritage of the club [“two smoking barrels and a packet of crisps?”]. In a move anticipating the one by disgruntled Manchester United fans years later, they formed a ‘spirit of Wimbledon’ team to fight its way back to the top of football’s pyramid. One of the injustices felt by the loyal fans was that Milton Keynes had got itself a football club and flaunted the old name of Wimbledon. And there the story would have ended but for the determination of both teams to make a success of their situations.

As a report in The Mail put it after the match, which the MK Dons won with an injury time goal:

As the MK Dons and AFC Wimbledon battled it out on the field in their FA Cup grudge match, both sets of fans did likewise in the stands.
The two sides met for the first time at stadium:mk, nine years after Wimbledon moved 54 miles to Milton Keynes and 10 years after AFC Wimbledon were formed.

Despite threatening to boycott the match, AFC Wimbledon fans packed into the stadium although the promised radiation suits looked to be absent. The visiting fans want MK Dons to drop the second part of their name but their supporters made it clear they have no intention of ceding to that request.

After the game, spokespersons for both clubs made dignified statements expressing hopes that the match will begin a process of healing.

Sibling rivalry?

This, like the feud at Manchester, has the special characteristics of sibling rivalry. It has echoes of ancient mythologised conflicts from Homeric and Biblical times.

Does it matter?

It does not take a great deal to kick off acts of individual violence in football matches. When that happens, the ‘cause’ lies in the fans, regardless of their deep sense of injustice and disrespect. Violence may break out if and when the two ‘Wimbledons’ meet again. I am inclined to think that the ‘feud’ will be retained in the way in which cultures provide a social identity for their members. For all the huffing and puffing, the emotions revealed are mostly ritualised, and not without a social rationale.