Walsall FC blog: Setting up your own club should only ever be a last resort

Last weekend’s FA Cup second round may have provided a blank weekend for the Saddlers, writes blogger Mark Jones.

Dean Smith stock 4

Last weekend’s FA Cup second round may have provided a blank weekend for the Saddlers, writes blogger Mark Jones.

But my thoughts were focussed on the tie that could have happened but won’t (us hosting Liverpool in the Third Round) and the tie that should never have happened in the first place (the one in Milton Keynes).

So the well-financed side at the top end of League One just about overcame the club run by its own supporters currently residing in the lower reaches of the Football League? Big deal, if the mk scabs thought that their win would somehow strike a blow for their plastic, artificial club then they are sorely mistaken.

All the tie did was highlight once more the disgraceful way mk came into being and what a bunch of arrogant, obnoxious so-and-so’s they really are; whilst at the same time AFC Wimbledon conducted themselves with pride and dignity.

The fact that mk had to put on a ticket offer to drum up ‘home’ support in stadium:mt; whilst many Wimbledon fans boycotted the game on principle speaks volumes about the two clubs.

With the national spotlight on them, Scabs moneyman Peter Winkleman tried to act remorseful but just came across as smug and patronising. Whether or not AFC have a right to claim the old Wimbledon’s history is actually none of his business and he should know the treachery that prevented the fans’ attempts to block the move to Buckinghamshire a decade ago.

When Scabs manager and perennial play-off choker Karl Robinson expresses his undying love for the pretend club it simply puts you in mind of those mad, middle-aged women who end up marrying Texan axe murderers on death row that they’ve never even met. Everyone else can see they’re deranged undesirables that nobody with a rational mind would have anything to do with … and the prisoners are no better.

After the match Robinson stupidly claimed that he wanted the real Dons and their imposters to develop a rivalry; conveniently forgetting that as long as his club exists they will be rivals not just to AFC but to every other set of real supporters throughout the land.

If they want to earn respect and be considered a proper club, mk should drop the name Dons for starters, then voluntarily relegate themselves to the bottom of the pyramid. If their fanbase is genuine they’ll survive, if not they’ll disappear off the face of the earth … and no genuine football fan will care.

Whilst we’ve never been in the situation Wimbledon found themselves in back in 2002, we were once on the verge of a huge dilemma in 1986 when our long-dead former Chairman Ken Wheldon tried to move the club into a groundshare at Birmingham City.

He’d tried it before four years earlier with a move to the Moolinex but huge opposition from Saddlers’ fans had scuppered that particular betrayal, which was just as well considering the meltdown Wolverhampton went through in the 80s.

Second time around it was different though. Wheldon had taken control of Blues the previous year and, in league with cronies Messrs Homden and Harris who remained at Fellows Park, preceded to manipulate the sale of the ground the football club owned (now there’s a novel idea) and the wholesale move of Walsall FC to St Andrews.

It was announced the two clubs were to share a training ground, there was a request that the two clubs’ fixtures for the following season be alternated; the late great Ian Handysides returned to Blues for a suspiciously low fee and infamously Walsall paid a whopping £150,000 (still our joint second highest ever fee) to sign centre half Ken Armstrong.

To say fans smelt an entire infestation of rodents would be an understatement. For starters in Peter Hart, Colin Brazier and Phil Hawker we had three of the best centre-halves in the division anyway while Armstrong hadn’t kicked a ball all season. Actually he would never kick one again, retiring without ever playing a game for the Saddlers.

As it turned out a phenomenal display of unity and sustained pressure on the authorities by Saddlers fans not only prevented the club leaving the town but also succeeded in ridding the club of its much-loathed directors.

We all know that it didn’t quite end happily ever after but I’ve always wondered what we would have done if Wheldon had had his way. In those days the concept of fans forming their own team didn’t exist. Clubs disbanded and reformed way down what passed for the non-league pyramid but, like Accrington Stanley and Bradford Park Avenue, they were bywords for ex-league clubs.

Personally I’d decided that I’d continue to follow the club away but vowed never to set foot inside St Andrews. If the option of setting up an FC Walsall (the A of the AFC being the only part of the new Wimbledon I don’t like) had been around in 1986 I’d definitely have signed up for it. Twenty-six years on I reckon we’d have done alright.

Of course my mid-eighties self would’ve been horrified to think that Walsall FC 2012 would be a club which, despite still being in the third tier of the Football League, would unable to see off two run-of-the-mill Conference teams at home in order to get a crack at Liverpool in the FA Cup Third Round. And I hate to think what my reaction to rent, stanchions and 1414 home fans for a first team game would have been.

Setting up your own club should only ever be a last resort but when you look at the pride and passion that Wimbledon fans show and what they have achieved in such a short time, it doesn’t half make you think.