THE grudge match of the decade is on.
Victories for Milton Keynes Dons and AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup earlier this week mean the two clubs will meet for the first time on December 2 and such is the anticipation already surrounding the fixture that ITV have decided to screen it live.
The stadium:mk clash promises to be a cracker as the club formed as a response to the other decamping from south London to Buckinghamshire go head to head.
There was, of course, a near miss a couple of years ago when the pair were drawn together in the second round, albeit with the rider that MK Dons had to beat Stevenage Borough in a replay. They failed and fans of the London club, who have made it clear ever since AFC’s inception in 2002 they never wanted to meet a team they resolutely refer to as ‘Milton Keynes’, breathed a huge sigh of relief.
But now there is no way of the two avoiding each other and already a sizeable number of Wimbledon fans have vowed not to set foot in the home of their nemesis.
Such was the unwillingness of many Wimbledon supporters to face their nemesis that chief executive Erik Samuelson found it necessary to explain in Monday’s matchday programme why the revenue from getting past York City in the replay was so important.
Despite this, a sizeable number are still refusing to attend the tie. Such a hard-line stance is understandable, though I also can’t help feeling that the time has come to bury the hatchet and move on.
That’s not to say the tale of how American-style franchising was allowed to happen in England is something that should be forgotten. It shouldn’t, not least because there must never be a repeat of the day an FA arbitration panel overturned a Football League decision to prevent Wimbledon being moved to Milton Keynes.
But since then the two clubs have carved out successful existences with AFC having fought their way up from the Combined Counties League and back into the Football League, buying the Kingsmeadow Stadium they once rented along the way.
Fifty six or so miles away in Milton Keynes, it is a similar story with the club now boasting one of the finest stadia in English football and a support base that last season saw Karl Robinson’s side watched by an average crowd of 8,659.
I covered both Sheffield United and Huddersfield Town at stadium:mk during 2011-12 and it was clear just how hard the club has worked to develop that support.
Looking around the huge bowl, the first thing that struck me was just how many young supporters were present with their parents.
Clearly, innovative pricing designed to hook the next generation is working. And while at times this meant proceedings felt more like a Bros concert than a football match as some decidedly high-pitched voices cheered a Dons attack, this missionary work is to be applauded.
Another striking point was how unfailingly polite the staff at stadium:mk were and I came away feeling very differently about a club I’ll admit to once dismissing as ‘Franchise FC’.
It is for that reason next month’s Cup tie may just turn out to be a good thing for both clubs. The elephant that has been in the room for the past 10 years will be gone and both MK Dons and AFC Wimbledon can, finally, move on and create an even brighter future.