LONDON (AP) — When AFC Wimbledon takes the field to face MK Dons on Sunday in the FA Cup, the teams will be playing for identity nearly as much as a spot in the third round.
MK Dons compete in the third tier of English football, and AFC Wimbledon is a step lower. But this match in football's oldest cup competition is still one to watch, even without the likes of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard.
Formed in 1889 as Wimbledon Old Central Football Club, Wimbledon's "Crazy Gang" won the 1988 FA Cup over Liverpool. The 1-0 victory was the highlight of the club's existence. Six years later, however, the Wimbledon team moved 90 kilometers (56 miles) away from the leafy London suburb to Milton Keynes, a commuter town in the county of Buckinghamshire. With the move came a name change — so long Wimbledon Dons, hello MK Dons.
"I believe there's a general view in English football that this shouldn't have happened and steps have been taken to try to stop this happening again," AFC Wimbledon chief executive Erik Samuelson previously told The Associated Press.
The relocation was met with hostility by the supporters, who felt that a move away from the club's roots was tantamount to heresy. Many of them refused to acknowledge that MK Dons had anything at all to do with their Wimbledon.
To prove their point, the fans created a new club, newly named AFC Wimbledon. "I started off supporting MK in the early days, simply because I wanted Wimbledon to survive in some form or other," Bobby Gould, the manager who led Wimbledon to the 1988 FA Cup title, told the Daily Mail. "But once AFC came on the scene, starting up from a Sunday kickabout, my allegiance changed to them."
Creating the club wasn't so hard, but the speed with which the team was able to get back into professional football is little short of astonishing. In only nine years, AFC Wimbledon worked its way up from the ninth tier of English football to the professional ranks of League Two with five promotions.
Both teams won replays in the first round of the FA Cup to advance, and now will have to face each other in Milton Keynes on Sunday. Although there was talk of a fan boycott from the AFC Wimbledon side, those plans have been scrapped.
"We are naturally disappointed that AFC Wimbledon will have to play Milton Keynes, a football franchise that stole Wimbledon's original league place, in the second round of the FA Cup," the Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association said in a statement. "After careful consideration, WISA has decided not to formally request a boycott of the fixture by Wimbledon supporters.
"WISA asks Wimbledon supporters to individually reflect on the history of our club, our achievements and the reasons why the relocation of our club to Milton Keynes was so distressing, before making their own informed individual decisions."
The animosity is mainly one-sided, however. MK Dons manager Karl Robinson even refers to AFC Wimbledon as "cousins." With no boycott, about 3,000 away supporters are expected to attend the match. And MK Dons Chairman Pete Winkelman said the visitors will be treated the same as any other team.
"We don't do intimidation and partisanship. What we do do is engagement and I want to make everyone who visits stadium:mk welcome," Winkelman said. "I hope that they will then have a grudging respect for what we have achieved, in the way that we have respect for their promotions."