Manchester United the neutral choice versus MK Dons

Sometimes it can be hard being one of the most popular, wealthy and commercially-minded clubs in England.

Whether it’s old school purists complaining about their spending power and sponsors,  or neutrals bored of their extending run of success, Manchester United usually can’t do right for doing wrong in the eyes of those unsympathetic to their charms.

And while more than a few unfriendly fans may be enjoying their recent, post-Ferguson lull, their game against MK Dons in the second round of the Capital One Cup will see them take on the strange position of being the people’s champions in almost every corner.

Their Milton Keynes-based hosts are the closest English football has to a universal anathema to every value and sensibility within the national game.

Formerly known as Wimbledon, the club became MK Dons after Chairman Peter Winkelman moved them on to pastures new, well away from their home in the South West of London.

David Wilkinson: Wimbledon players warm up with a t-shirt showing they are glad to be Milton Keynes Dons.
David Wilkinson: Wimbledon players warm up with a t-shirt showing they are glad to be Milton Keynes Dons.

The idea was to find a new home with greater revenue potential and other growth-focussed hopes, but the act of uprooting a football team from its fans, community and context is possibly one of the greatest crimes it’s possible for the game’s suits to commit.

Mark Leech: The crowds still turn out when bigger teams come calling. Here's a general view of Stadium MK with a record attendance versus QPR.
Mark Leech: The crowds still turn out when bigger teams come calling. Here’s a general view of Stadium MK with a record attendance versus QPR.

Identity, heritage, tradition and ideas of ownership beyond the deeds and paperwork were all sidelined by the move, with the disenfranchised fans left behind starting their own phoenix club in response to save the old team’s soul: AFC Wimbledon. Their success in climbing the league period in recent years has inspired many other supporters to take control of their teams or found new ones, such  as FC United of Manchester.

Meanwhile, MK Dons remain an enemy to almost every fanbase across the country, who see their origin story as a nightmarish tale of horrors that they wouldn’t even wish upon their greatest rivals.

Though it’s unlikely that Liverpool or Manchester City fans will be chanting for United to succeed against the Dons, it’d be surprising if all but the most myopic and tribal got behind Winkelman’s outcasts.

Offside is the UK’s leading independent sports photography agency, home to an extensive collection of classic First Division and Premier League pictures as well as other images from across the world of sport. Explore Offside’s unique library at www.welloffside.com.

Follow Offside on Twitter at @welloffside.

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Author: gregianjohnson

Football writer for The Blizzard, FourFourTwo, The Mirror, Squawka and VICE amongst others. Follow me on Twitter at @gregianjohnson.

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