Surely, the strongest and most obvious component of any football club’s ‘brand’ is its local identity. You could argue that in the modern era, the global reach of the Champions League means the largest clubs have significant appeal beyond their immediate surroundings. But, even the giants of European football have a history and identify forged from their place of origin. And for the majority of clubs, that’s pretty much all there is. How then do Milton Keynes reconcile the use of the term Dons in their title? It’s like Newcastle being moved to Basildon and renamed Basildon Toon. Ridiculous, but that’s essentially the situation that exists today in Buckinghamshire.
Thanks in part to the meteoric rise of AFC Wimbledon, the use of the term Dons has become an increasingly thorny issue, and last week it reached Parliament. One of their local MPs, Siobhan McDonagh, tabled a motion supporting the Drop the Dons campaign in recognition of AFC Wimbledon’s achievements, and secured a debate on the subject in the House of Commons. There were a few references to the recent select committee report on football governance, but the debate wasn’t about what happened when Wimbledon were moved – it was a call to recognise what has happened since.
Politicians are well versed in using football to try to ingratiate themselves with the public, so it is always refreshing when matters are debated on a level that goes beyond superficial, populist sound bites. The case set out by McDonagh was articulate, measured and compelling, and essentially boils down to the following points:
- Dons is an abbreviation of Wimbledon, it has no connection to Milton Keynes;
- AFC Wimbledon are heirs to the original Wimbledon FC. The club was founded by supporters of Wimbledon and has taken its identity from the old club; and
- dropping the Dons would benefit Milton Keynes as well as AFC Wimbledon.
The final point is arguably the most convincing. It is no understatement to say that MK Dons have few friends in the football league. They are widely despised by other fans who refer to them under the derisory title of Franchise FC. Supporters of MK Dons will argue that the past can’t be altered, and point to the good work of their club to reach out to its new community. They may also claim that Wimbledon was a dying club given a new lease of life. There may be some validity to these arguments, but the fact is, they are not the Dons, they are Milton Keynes. They will always struggle to be recognised as a club in their own right if they persist on retaining the nickname of their predecessors.
It is inevitable that the two clubs will eventually meet, and Milton Keynes’ name will look even more inappropriate. There is no need for this farcical situation to continue, and it would surely benefit both clubs to bring it to an end. This isn’t about two rival corporations competing for market share; it’s about two football clubs claiming to be the same thing. That’s not healthy, and while I continue to be sceptical of the importance of branding in football, this seems like a no brainer to me. I’ll let McDonagh explain:
“The Dons are from Wimbledon, and it is time for the new club in Milton Keynes to come out of the shadows and stake out its own identity. I understand that they are a good team with a good young manager, and, although what they did caused a lot of hurt, it is time to consign it to history. It is time for them to find a different way of representing their heritage, in their name, and then the team that are known throughout football as Franchise FC, which most fans think gained their position through identity theft, would be able to carve out their own identity and allow AFC Wimbledon to retain theirs. That would be good for Milton Keynes, removing much of the stigma associated with that club, and it would be good for the game.”
Doesn’t that sound sensible to you?