The decision of an Independent Commission appointed by the Football Association to allow Wimbledon to move to Milton Keynes has sparked fears that an American style franchise model could be adopted in British football. However, the FA has insisted that the decision does not set a precedent.
Wimbledon's first two requests to move to the new city were turned down by the Football League, but the decision by the Football Association is binding. The South London club, currently tenants at Selhurst Park, hope to move into a new stadium in a retail and commercial development by August 2004. Wimbledon have reportedly been losing £20,000 a day, but it is far from clear that the move will solve their financial problems. Gutted Dons fans are hardly likely to make the seventy mile trip to see their club, while many of the football fans living in MK are already attached to top London clubs. Third division Rushden and Diamonds, who have been doing some youth development work in the area, will hardly be pleased by the news.
The Football Association emphasised that the move should not be seen as a precedent or the start of a franchise system. 'The Commission reached its conclusions despite evidence presented by the FA opposing such moves in principle. The Commission has made it clear that their decision is based on exceptional circumstances. They see Wimbledon FC as a one-off.'
Opponents of franchising argue that football clubs belong in the communities in which they were founded. In general terms, this page would agree. However, it has to be recognised that although 'community' is a 'hurrah word' much favoured by politicians looking for solutions to problems that do not involve spending any money, communities are increasingly synthetic in a world where neighbours often do not know one another. Young football fans often select a club to support as a consumer choice, rather than as an expression of local loyalty. In Warwickshire, for example, supporting United, Liverpool or Arsenal will give you more cred in the playground than backing Division 1 club Coventry City. Dons fans, meanwhile, are faced with the stark reality of living on their memories and possibly trying to form a new non-league club in Merton.