Training ground conundrum ‘doesn’t really matter’ until Dons are in the Championship

Pete Winkelman
Pete Winkelman

It is almost a running joke after 15 years - the one about MK Dons and their training ground.

From buying the National Bowl, to the carparks behind TGI Fridays, from Tickford Fields to Cosgrove, it has been earmarked more times than anyone, including chairman Pete Winkelman, cares to remember.

With Dons promoted back to League One last season, the topic of the training ground continues to swirl, but the chairman has started to change his tune.

After years of admitting he should have built it before Stadium MK, Winkelman told the Citizen he has been using the training ground as a distraction in recent years instead of focussing on the performance of Dons on the pitch.

In fact, so much has his tune changed, he said: “It doesn’t really matter until we’re in the Championship, and then it really does matter.

“I’ve had to take a lot of deep breaths on the training ground, I’ve allowed it to be a bit of a distraction. I want to do something really well and I’ve set my sights high. If we just want football pitches, we can put them at Woughton on the Green. Putting a few pitches together has not been the issue. We’re trying to do something which will, one day, develop a training ground that is fit for purpose for the level of ground we have and the type of team we want in Milton Keynes.

George Williams and Callum Brittain at Woughton

George Williams and Callum Brittain at Woughton

“We’ve got Premier League ambition, and that training ground has to have that ambition too, otherwise, don’t do it. I still have the ambition to do something really good, but it’s difficult.

“But I‘ve not stopped working on it.”

In the meantime, it has meant more money has been pumped into their current Woughton on the Green base, with new pitches laid and new equipment for its upkeep.

And Winkelman was quick to point out: “We have the raw talent to create international superstars, and it’s our responsibility to give them that pathway. It happened when we were at Woughton. So stop panicking about it!

Lee Nicholls training

Lee Nicholls training

“In the meantime, we’ve massively upped expenditure at Woughton. Previously, I’ve been waiting for a training ground, and not spending there, I’ve realised that’s a naïve thing to continue to think and deal in the reality of now. People like Paul Tisdale expect certain qualities that we can deliver at Woughton. It has taken the immediate pressure off until we look at what else we can do.

“Woughton will do for the time being. At some stage, over the next few years, we’ll develop it.”

Dons own the site at Cosgrove, with plans to build there still very much on Winkelman’s radar. And although he cannot guarantee when plans will be taken to the next stage, he hopes there will be a resolution which will eventually see them move to a permanent training base.

“I want to deliver something special,” Winkelman added. “I’m building a relationship with Cosgrove, and I want to keep that green. I love that Cosgrove site.

Dean Lewington

Dean Lewington

“The training ground will not be delivered all in one go. The first team will go there, then the Academy to get the categorisation changed, the ladies, all the disability teams.

“I can’t tell you in two months, or even 12 months, but I hope to come back to you excitedly.”