PETE Winkelman admits he has some regrets about how Wimbledon’s move to Milton Keynes came about, but now, as chairman of MK Dons, he is extremely proud of what the club has achieved.
Speaking to local media after Dons beat Cambridge City to set up an FA Cup second round tie against AFC Wimbledon, Winkelman had a lot to get off his chest, and started by insisting that he is delighted to see the two clubs finally set to play each other.
He said: “It’s a fixture we’ve been waiting for. The whole of football has been waiting for this.
“I didn’t want to get too carried away (when the draw was made) because of course a couple of years ago we were close to this moment and we managed to turn victory into defeat that night, and the game didn’t happen.
“So I absolutely wanted the whole club to concentrate on Cambridge City. If we got the result we could then get around to thinking about what is going to be a massive game!
“To be honest I wanted this game the soonest it could possibly happen. I think it’s great, actually, that it’s happened now because AFC Wimbledon have done the amazing journey into the Football League.
“But in that time of course we have also built our stadium – built a home for our football club, and we’ll be very proud to show that off. So I couldn’t wait to get it done.
“With a bit of luck, for the whole of football, it will enable us to draw a line in the sand and start looking forwards rather than continuously looking backwards. And until this game happened, there would always have been an element of looking backwards.”
With talk of AFC Winbledon fans boycotting the second round tie at stadium:mk – now confirmed as being played at lunchtime on Sunday, December 2 – Winkelman accepts that, regardless of what he says, he is never going to change some people’s opinions about Wimbledon’s move to Milton Keynes.
Despite that, he offered his explanation of how the move happened, and said it was a case of trying to turn a bad set of circumstances into a good thing.
“I’m not proud of the way this club came to be,” he said. “It’s very hard for me to live with that because I’m trying to be a very good chairman of a football club.
“I’m trying to create an infrastructure that could take this club all the way to the Premier League. We are hugely proud of the home we have built for football in Milton Keynes.
“I hope the rest of football will see that, whilst we might have had a hell of a controversial beginning. And whilst it might not have the been the best idea in the world to move a football club – as the owner and chairman of a football club now, of course, I get that – but I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved over the last eight years.
“To most people in football, the way they imagine how the thing happened is so different to the way that it actually did. I suppose the biggest thing about that was the fans did win the battle with Wimbledon.
“We did do a deal with Norwegian billionaires, and we did mistakenly give them Milton Keynes as an option, when they were going to go to Dublin, because I naively thought that might be better.
“But they didn’t really have any other option, and the fans won because they formed AFC Wimbledon, and went and had their first promotion in their first season, and made sure that the club went into administration.
“So actually, it wasn’t the big Norwegian billionaire owners that moved the club to Milton Keynes, it was an administrator that said ‘I’m going to liquidate this club tomorrow unless you come up with the money to keep it going’. And the only way I could come up with the money to keep it going was to move it to Milton Keynes.
“For the first seven weeks of that administration we did nothing. I will never understand why AFC Wimbledon didn’t buy their club. That’s the bit that always confuses me, that we actually had the opportunity to buy the club in the end.
“Once we made that decision – a very difficult decision – we have never taken our foot off the gas. I’ve tried to make a bad decision a good decision by the things that we’ve gone on to do.
“And I think we have done that. It’s about the home we have created, but it’s also about the heart that we’ve created in Milton Keynes.
“This is a monumental happening. There is no other football club with the story of Wimbledon FC. It’s given birth to the most successful fan-owned club in the country and one of the biggest, brightest new football clubs in the country – all at the same time.
“We’ll never be friends. But we are related, and I hope we can go and have a great family get-together.”
Considering fears that the game could generate a potentially hostile atmosphere in and around stadium:mk, Winkelman wanted to ease any concerns from fans, and actually said he wanted the cup clash to be a friendly occasion for everyone concerned.
“I’m hoping every MK Dons fan is going to come out for it,” he said. “I think the irony will be that probably the loudest roar of the day will not be for AFC Wimbledon, not for MK Dons, but for Wimbledon.
“It’s our job to put on the safest, best organised, friendliest game that there has been in football. I don’t care about the result. I think what’s going to be important about this is that the game takes place and we draw that line, so everyone can look to the future.”