Representatives from football supporters clubs in the south of England have decided that MK Dons supporters may have to wait until June 2005 to find out whether they've been accepted into the Football Supporters Federation (FSF).
Their application to join the FSF caused heated discussion when it was put before the Football Supporters' Federation's regional branch, and as a result, the Southern Division recommended that the decision should be defered to the organisation's
National Conference next June, rather than be made at the National Council level, whose next meeting is on 12 December.
|MK Dons fan at their first match in Milton Keynes|
Because of the controversy surrounding the move of Wimbledon FC to Milton Keynes and the subsequent name change to the Milton Keynes Dons, any issue to do with the club now causes mass discussion.
But members of the Milton Keynes Dons Supporters Association will wonder why, as fans who spend money to watch their team play, they may be excluded from joining a democratic organisation that represents supporters everywhere.
As usual with the MK Dons - it is not a cut and dried issue, so we spoke to both the FSF and the MK Dons Supporters' Association to get both sides of the story.
The Football Supporters' Federation is a voluntary organisation which campaigns for the interests of football fans at all levels of the British game. From ticket rip-offs and television-related fixture disruption to the treatment of fans by police both at home and abroad, the FSF provides a voice for the ordinary supporter.
With an elected National Council, the FSF seeks to campaign and influence by lobbying government and meeting with the various football authorities. They also comment and contribute on all major issues that affect fans, by supporting and articulating fans’ views.
Therefore, both individual fans and local supporters’ organisations seek to become affiliated to the FSF so that they too can have a say.
The FSF currently represents over 130,000 football supporters and says that they welcome contributions from all football fans about any football related issue.
So it was only a matter of time before the recently formed MK Dons Supporters Association would apply for affiliation, as any Supporters Association might. They are fans who put money into watching their team and as such, in theory, have as much right to a voice as anybody. But is it as simple as that?!
The history of the MK Dons, or rather the history of how the MK Dons got to be playing in Milton Keynes, as even the history of the club is under dispute, will always cause controversy amongst football supporters.
Many fans from all clubs were appalled by the decision to allow Wimbledon to move to Milton Keynes and as such the FSF has been heavily involved in the ani-franchising movement with AFC Wimbledon. And as an organisation that represents the interests of supporters, the FSF would naturally be against a situation where a club was moved away from its community.
Then again, whatever the pros and cons, the MK Dons is now in the Milton Keynes community, so should the people of Milton Keynes be penalised for trying to support a football club?
Their application to join the FSF has now been received and each regional division was asked to make a recommendation as to whether a decision should be made at the National Council level or whether it should be defered to the National Conference that takes place in June next year.
Last weekend (Sunday 28 November) the FSF Southern Division recommended a deferral to the Conference. Chairman Ian Blacklidge explained what happened and said that by making the decision at the Conference more people will be allowed to have their say about what is such a contentious issue.
"I asked the southern division how they felt about the application because the decision hasn't yet been made as to how it's going to be done" he says.
"The mandate I got from them is that they would prefer the Conference to decide it rather than Council so that it's all open and above board. Next summer everyone will have a chance to go to the Conference to say their piece one way or the other."
"This is a bit of a hot potato, there's no denying that" he continues. "There are a lot of strong feelings on either side and we had already discussed how we might deal with an application, even before it arrived.
"Obviously it's a contentious issue" he adds. "And while they [MK Dons Supporters Association] are totally entitled to make an application - as long as they are a properly constitued supporters organisation - with the history of the thing we thought we'd have a discussion because obviously we'd been involved in the anti-franchising movement with AFC Wimbledon and we backed what they were doing.
|"Some people say that if we allow them in (to the FSF) we are tacitly agreeing to franchising."|
|Ian Blacklidge, Football Supprters Federation|
"We've fought franchising all the way and obviously this is going to have a knock on effect on how people judge the application."
However, people not so closely involved might argue that the people of Milton Keynes had nothing to do with the move to MK.
Whatever has happened in the past, they now have a football club and are trying to build it and so would like to be affiliated to the FSF. And after all, the FSF prides itself on being a democratic organisation.
Ian says that while some people accepted this, it was important to look at the wider implications for football.
"Some people in the FSF do say that we've got to move on from this" he says.
"But it's got to be remembered that at the time the FA told us that this would never happen again, but it's now three or four years later and we're still waiting for them to come out and change the rules so that it doesn't happen again."
Ian uses the example of his own team Wycombe Wanderers to make the point.
"It does worry you that it could happen again" he explains. "We (Wycombe Wanderers) have been going for nearly 120 years and it took us over 100 years to get into the Football League. The people of Milton Keynes have basically had this team given to them. They've not had to go through the system.
"They've got a team in an artificial position" he continues. "I would personally have a lot more sympathy with them if they said that they were going to resign from the Football League and start at the lowest level of senior football.
"Then they would have a lot of backing from people within the supporters' movement."
"As time goes on, there will be more people who go a long and don't know the history" he continues. "But there are bigger issues at stake here.
"The FA have still not come up with concrete proposals to stop this ever happening again and we were assured this was a one-off decision.
"It may be nothing to do with the people of Milton Keynes but there are wider implications for the game. Some people say that if we allow them in (to the FSF) we are tacitly agreeing to franchising."
Mark Payne made the application for the MK Dons Supporters Association and says that they just want to support their football team and move on.
"We're just football fans" he says. "We just want to get on with it, support our club and represent our members as a Supporters Association and their views as part of the national game.
"It's not a real immediate problem but there's a moral issue" he continues. "We have a number of members who we feel have a right to be represented and why on earth shouldn't they be?
|Laying the pitch at the National Hockey Stadium|
"Nothing's going to happen if we're not members, but it's what can happen if we are that's important."
And as far as franchising is concerned, he says that despite their history, nobody wants what happened to Wimbledon to happen to anybody else's club and that solidarity is needed among football supporters when other clubs get into trouble.
"We wrote an open letter to the FSF and also to all of the Football Trusts in England Scotland and Wales" he explains.
"Part of the content of that letter said that from the MK Dons Supporters Association's perspective we do not think franchising is the right thing to do.
"However, where it's a decision between move or die, we believe that to move is the right answer, when it really is the only answer and absolutely every other answer has been explored.
"We don't see it as being the right thing to do in any other circumstance" he added.
To that end, he revealed that they are actively working to support Wrexham FC, the latest club to be in financial difficulties, and their campaign to save the Racecourse.
"We are working to support Wrexham in a number of different ways" he says. "Because they are in a situation where they could end up moving a significant distance away from their conurbation and just like any other football club we don't think that's right.
"We will do whatever we can to play our part as part of the football club community to stop it happening. So no - we don't think franchising is right."
Mark also confirmed that in every other way, their application contained everything that the FSF required and more, including an equal opportunities policy throughout their committee and a child protection policy. They also have a register of members' interests which will answer any concerns that about the Association's independence from the club.
"We are way over and above what they require and we've been congratulated on what we consider to be best policy" he says.
"I spoke to them at the outset to make sure that we were doing everything properly and we had everything they needed and more."
He also explained that while they are completely independent of the football club's board, they had to have some kind of relationship with Chairman Pete Winkleman in order to shape their future.
"A number of my colleagues on the committee feel that the right thing to do is for the fans to ultimately own a stake or even own the whole club" he says.
"That's not a cheap thing and it doesn't happen overnight so we need to be in a position where Pete makes shares available for people to buy and then for us to have the money to do so. We have to have a relationship with him because of that."
The next stage for the MK Dons Supporters Association application is the meeting of the National Council on 12 December, when, after hearing from each of the divisions, it will be decided whether or not the decision will be deferred to the Conference in June next year.
Use the links on the right to hear both interviews in full.