The depth of ill-feeling between English lower-league teams MK Dons and AFC Wimbledon will be evident in the boardroom even before the clubs’ first-ever meeting in the FA Cup today.
Both clubs trace their roots back to Wimbledon, winners of the cup in 1988, but the decision of AFC chairman Erik Samuelson to snub the offer of pre-match drinks confirms this will not be a friendly reunion.
Samuelson and his fellow directors will be sat among the traveling fans, although for a long time it seemed the visitors section would be empty, until AFC fans decided to not boycott the tie.
Even now, there are reports that away fans are planning to attend the match wearing radiation suits to avoid “contamination” from the club they despise.
The bitter divide can be traced back to 2002 when, with Wimbledon in dire financial trouble, the Football Association sanctioned plans to move the south London club 90km north to Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.
AFC Wimbledon were formed as a reaction to the move and began in the lower tiers of English non-league soccer, but returned to the Football League after five promotions in eight years.
Now in League Two, the fourth tier of English soccer, they will finally confront the MK Dons in a game almost everyone connected with AFC hoped would never happen.
MK Dons — the club’s continued use of Wimbledon’s nickname, the Dons, is another bitter point of contention — are in League One, but for AFC, this game represents much more than the chance to pull off a giant-killing.
The old Wimbledon served up one of the biggest shocks in FA Cup final history when they beat the mighty Liverpool 24 years ago thanks to Lawrie Sanchez’s header.
Now, AFC would like to secure a similar result against a club they believe stole their identity.
The counter view espoused by MK Dons chairman Pete Winkelman is that Wimbledon would have ceased to exist if not for him.
“We were the only opportunity. Wimbledon FC would have been liquidated the next day had we not put in the money to support the club through its administration,” he said.
AFC are in their second season in League Two, while MK Dons have reached the League One play-offs in three of the past four seasons and are currently lying third, three points off the top of the table.