The Football Association could apologise to AFC Wimbledon following the Dons’ promotion to the Football League this week, that’s the view of Football Trade Directory commercial director John Booth.
The London club returned to professional football after nine years in the wilderness after the FA effectively demoted the Dons to the outer limits of non-league football when they sponsored the relocation to Milton Keynes in May 2002.
Despite 113 years of history, the Football Association suggested nine years ago that 'resurrecting the club from its ashes is not in the wider interest of football'. Wimbledon’s penalty shoot-out victory over Luton Town last weekend now has the Dons one division behind the Milton Keynes club and leaves some people at the game’s governing body with egg on their faces.
"Few real football fans will argue that the treatment of Wimbledon Football Club in 2002 was an absolute disgrace," Booth said this week.
"The decision, backed by the FA, flew in the face of everything that is good about English football.
"For the Football Association to suggest that it would have been better had Wimbledon not reformed is one of the more embarrassing episodes in the FA’s history and I think many would suggest that they owe the people of AFC Wimbledon an apology.
"This is by no means a dig at MK Dons. They have gone from strength to strength on and off the field, they have a fantastic facility with their state-of-the art stadium, were unfortunate in the play-offs this season and have a fantastic administration behind the scenes."
AFC Wimbledon were reincarnated when a club 'formed by the fans, owned by the fans and run by the fans' kicked-off in the Seagrave Haulage Combined Counties League. They missed out on promotion in their inaugural campaign, but have since won six promotions in nine years and are fantastic example for ambitious non-league clubs up and down the country.
"They’re up there with Manchester United, one of the teams of the decade," Football Trade Directory’s commercial director said.
"They have been a massive success both on and off the field. We can talk about the promotions and the amount of games they have won but they can’t do what they have done without strong business and commercial acumen. The fact that they still have the same Commercial Director that they had when they were formed says so much about how they have gone about their business.
"The success of AFC Wimbledon is perhaps the biggest shot in the arm non-league football has ever received, the only thing which comes close to it would be when the Dons beat Liverpool to win the FA Cup in 1988."
AFC Wimbledon started their crawl up the leagues in the Combined Counties League, along with almost 300 clubs at level nine in the English footballing pyramid. Football Trade Directory provides vital support to clubs at all levels of the game, from the Premier League to grassroots, including the Combined Counties League. Booth believes that AFC Wimbledon’s success could provide the impetus for many other grassroots clubs to aim for the Football League.
"AFC Wimbledon are the benchmark on and off the field. We’re in the business of helping many of those grassroots clubs achieve similar ambitions and with our help we look forward to seeing many more success stories in years to come."