Sun, Sep 28, 2003 - Page 23 News List

Wimbledon finally gets what it wanted, almost


After 12 years without a ground of its own, Wimbledon Football Club finally has one -- 80km away from its original base.

Saturday, Wimbledon leaves behind the southwest London suburb of the same name to start its new life in the city of Milton Keynes when it hosts Burnley in the first division.

Wimbledon chairman Charles Koppel has been trying to move the club to Milton Keynes, the only major city in Britain without a soccer team, since Aug. 2001. Wimbledon has shared London's Selhurst Park with Crystal Palace since moving from Plough Lane in 1991.

Some fans, who were vehemently against the move, deserted the club for semipro club AFC Wimbledon. Last October, Wimbledon had a crowd of just 849 for a home game -- the lowest ever for a division-one match.

Saturday, Wimbledon manager Stuart Murdoch expects 9,000 to be at the National Hockey Stadium. The Dons have lost eight league and cup matches in a row after having started the season with a 3-1 home victory over Crewe.

"It goes without saying we are all looking forward to it," Murdoch said.

"It will boost morale and it will help the players improve their performances. You only have to look at how the crowd help teams against us.

"The mood is one of excitement, the club has waited a long time for this moment. We have been up there to familiarize ourselves with the pitch and the new environment."

Former Wimbledon great Robbie Earle, who made 350 appearances for the club, said the move was for the best.

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