The Problem with Franchise Football

The Problem with Franchise Football

Room 101, Foster Court, UCL
(Off Torrington Place WC1 opposite Waterstones Bookstore)

Wednesday 12th January 2005, 6pm-8pm

Given by:

Kris Stewart, Chairman, AFC Wimbledon


Wimbledon Football Club is one of the most famous names in the history of modern English football. Beginning with an extraordinary FA Cup run of 1974-5 – including beating First Division Burnley and drawing with Leeds United, complete with extraordinary goalkeeping heroics from their keeper Dickie Guy – they went on an amazing journey from non-league football all the way to the top division in English football. The spirit of the club was epitomised by the `crazy gang’ culture of the side of the late 1980s and early 1990s which included the likes of Denis Wise and Vinnie Jones. The success of this spirit culminated in their now celebrated FA Cup triumph of 1988 over a great Liverpool side. Their ascent seemed to illustrate everything that was great about English football – that it was possible for clubs with limited financial resources but possessing a committed group of players and coaching staff and a passionate set of supporters to consistently compete against the monied elite. And to even sometimes win the highest honours. Wimbledon had become part of the myth of what English football was all about.

However, in January 2001 a series of events was set in train which challenged many of the traditional assumptions of what English football meant and how it should be governed. In January 2001 a story appeared in the media that Wimbledon FC might be moved by its Norwegian owners to Milton Keynes on the grounds that it was financially unsustainable for it to remain in London. This was denied by club chairman Charles Koppell, but in the following August all club season-ticket holders received the news that this was indeed the plan. In September 2001 the Football League made a ruling that such a move would not be possible. But this was referred back to the Football League on an appeal by a Football Association (FA) tribunal which included amongst its members Douglas Craig, Chairman of York City, and David Dein, Board member at Arsenal. The Football League then declined to rule on the issue again, instead referring it to an FA-appointed special commission consisting of Alan Turvey (Ryman League) Steve Stride (Company Secretary of Aston Villa) and Raj Parker (a lawyer at Freshfields law firm). In their submissions to the tribunal both the Football League and the FA, the latter represented by then Chief Executive Adam Crozier, indicated that they did not think that such a move would be in the interests of the game. However the tribunal decided by a vote of two-to-one that the club could go to Milton Keynes, announcing their decision on the 28 th May 2002 just before the start of the World Cup. Outraged Wimbledon FC fans immediately began steps to form their own club – AFC Wimbledon – vowing that their club had been stolen from them and that American-style `franchise football` was being introduced to Britain by the back door.

Wimbledon FC moved to Milton Keynes in October 2003 having gone into financial administration in August 2003 from which they have now emerged. They were relegated from Division 1 of the Football League at the end of the 2003/2004 season and are currently at the bottom of Football League 1 (formerly Division 2 of the Football League) playing under the name of the Milton Keynes Dons. They are playing in front of smaller crowds than when they ground-shared at Selhurst Park in South-East London.

AFC Wimbledon re-entered non-league football at the bottom of the pyramid and have since enjoyed promotion. In November 2004 they lost for the first time in 79 league games. The club is controlled by supporters trust, the Dons Trust, and in 2003 they purchased their own ground at The Fans’ Stadium – Kingsmeadow.

In this lecture Kris Stewart, Chairman of AFC Wimbledon, uses the case of the metamorphosis of Wimbledon FC into MK Dons and the emergence of AFC Wimbledon to present the case against `franchise football’ in English football. Critically he asks:

  • Is the ultimate responsibility of the football club to deliver glory to its supporters or profits to its financial shareholders?
  • Is a key role of the Football League and the Football Association not to protect the traditional structures of the game and did they neglect that duty in allowing Wimbledon to move to Milton Keynes?


A summary of the case can be found at:

  •  – See section at bottom of home page: “Why they are at Milton Keynes.”
  • Conn, D. (2004). The Beautiful Game . Yellow Jersey Press. Chapter 11.

Other useful information can be found at:

For further details contact:

Sean Hamil
Tel: 020-7631 6763

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