MK Dons: a history
October 27, 2017
Milton Keynes, about 45 miles (72 km) north-west of London in Buckinghamshire, was established as a new town in 1967. In the absence of a professional football club representing the town, none of the local non-league teams progressed significantly through the “pyramid” over the following decades, it was occasionally suggested that a Football League club might relocate there. There was no precedent in English league football for such a move between conurbations and the football authorities and most fans expressed strong opposition to the idea.
Charlton Athletic briefly mooted moving to “a progressive Midlands borough” during a planning dispute with their local council in 1973, and the relocation of nearby Luton Town to Milton Keynes was repeatedly suggested from the 1980s onwards. Another team linked with the new town was Wimbledon.
Wimbledon, established in south London in 1889 and nicknamed “the Dons”, were elected to the Football League in 1977. They thereafter went through a “fairytale” rise from obscurity and by the end of the 1980s were established in the top division of English football. Despite Wimbledon’s new prominence, the club’s modest home stadium at Plough Lane remained largely unchanged from its non-league days. The club’s then-owner Ron Noades identified this as a problem as early as 1979, extending his dissatisfaction to the ground’s very location. Interested in the stadium site designated by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation, Noades briefly planned to move Wimbledon there by merging with a non-league club in Milton Keynes, and to this end purchased debt-ridden Milton Keynes City but decided that the club would not get higher crowds in Milton Keynes and abandoned the idea.
In 1991, after the Taylor Report was published recommending the redevelopment of English football grounds, Wimbledon left Plough Lane to ground-share at Crystal Palaces’s Selhurst Park. . Sam Hammam, who now owned Wimbledon, said the club could not afford to redevelop Plough Lane and that the groundshare was a temporary arrangement while a new ground was sourced in south-west London. A new stadium for Wimbledon proved hard to arrange and frustrated by what he perceived as a lack of support from Merton Council Hammam began to look further afield and by 1996 was pursuing a move to Dublin, an idea that most Wimbledon fans strongly opposed. Hammam sold the club to two Norwegian businessmen, Kjell Inge Rokke and Bjorn Rune Gjelsten in 1997, and a year later sold Plough Lane to Safeway supermarkets.
Starting in 2000 a consortium led by music promoter Pete Winkelman and supported by Asda and IKEA proposed a large retail development in Milton Keynes including a Football League-standard stadium. The consortium proposed that an established league club move to use this site; it approached Luton, Wimbledon, Crystal Palace, Barnet and QPR.
In 2001 Røkke and Gjelsten appointed a new chairman at Wimbledon, Charles Koppel, who was in favour of this idea, saying it was necessary to stop the club going out of business. To the fury of most Wimbledon fans Koppel announced on 2 August 2001 that the club intended to relocate to Milton Keynes. After the Football League refused permission, Wimbledon launched an appeal, leading to a Football Association arbitration hearing and subsequently the appointment of a three-man independent commission to make a final and binding verdict. The Football League and FA stated opposition but the commissioners ruled in favour, two to one, on 28 May 2002.
Having campaigned against the move, a group of disaffected Wimbledon fans reacted to this in June 2002 by forming their own non-league club, AFC Wimbledon, to which most of the original team’s support defected. AFC Wimbledon entered a groundshare agreement with Kingstonian in the borough of Kingston upon Thames adjacent to Merton. The original Wimbledon intended to move to Milton Keynes immediately but were unable to do so until a temporary home in the town meeting Football League criteria could be found. The club remained at Selhurst Park in the meantime and in June 2003 went into administration. With the move threatened and the club facing liquidation Winkelman decided to buy the club himself. He secured funding for the administrators to keep the team operating with the goal of getting it to Milton Keynes as soon as possible. The club arranged the temporary use of the National Hockey Stadium in Milton Keynes and played its first match there in September 2003. Nine months later Winkelman’s Inter MK Group bought the club out of administration and announced changes to its name, badge and colours and the club was renamed Milton Keynes Dons Football Club.
The team’s first game was on 7 August 2004, a 1–1 home draw against Barnsley, with Izale McLeod equalising with their first competitive goal. Danny Wilson took over as manager in November and he kept Milton Keynes Dons in the division on the final day of the season. The following season Milton Keynes Dons struggled all year, and were relegated to League Two. Wilson, as a result, was sacked.
Wilson’s successor was Martin Allen, who had just taken Brentford to the brink of a place in the Championship. Milton Keynes Dons were in contention for automatic promotion right up to the last game, but eventually finished fourth and had to settle for a play-off place. They then suffered a defeat to Shrewsbury Town (who were destined for a date with Rovers) in the play-off semi-finals. During the 2007 summer break Allen left to take over at Leicester City.
Former England captain Paul Ince took over as manager. The club reached the final of the Football League Trophy, while topping the table for most of the season. They defeated Grimsby Town 2-0 in the final at Wembley to bring the first professional trophy to Milton Keynes. The club capped the trophy win with the League Two championship, and the subsequent promotion to League One. Following his successes, Ince left at the end of the season to manage Blackburn Rovers.
Ince’s replacement was Roberto Di Matteo. In the 2008–09 season, they missed out to an automatic promotion spot by two points, finishing third behind Peterborough United and Leicester City. They were knocked out of the play-offs by Scunthorpe United, who defeated them in a penalty shoot-out at Stadium MK. Di Matteo left at the season’s end for West Bromwich Albion.
A year after leaving, Ince returned to manage the Dons for the 2009–10 season. but resigned from the club in April but remained manager until the end of the season.
On 10 May 2010 Karl Robinson was appointed as the club’s new manager and at 29 years of age, Robinson was at the time of his appointment the youngest manager in the Football League. In his first season at the club Milton Keynes Dons finished fifth and faced Peterborough United in the play-off semifinals. Although they won the first leg 3–2, a 2–0 defeat at London Road meant they missed out on the play-off final.
The 2011–12 season brought similar results to the previous season with the Dons finishing fifth and faced Huddersfield in the play-offs. Losing the first leg 2–0 followed by winning 2–1 at The Galpharm saw Milton Keynes Dons lose 3–2 on aggregate against the eventual play-off winners.
Milton Keynes Dons experienced their best ever FA Cup campaign in the 2012-13 season eventually going out in the fifth round when they lost 3-1 to Championship side Barnsley at Stadium MK.
The 2014–15 season began well. The highlight event of the season’s first month was being drawn against Manchester United in the League Cup second round, having dispatched AFC Wimbledon in the first. The Dons recorded a stunning 4–0 victory over Manchester United in front of a sell out crowd at Stadium:MK. A few weeks later, the Dons recorded their record win, a 6–0 thrashing of Colchester at home.but that record did not last long as it was broken once again with a 7–0 demolition of Oldham. On 3 May the club secured promotion to the Football League Championship for the first time, beating Yeovil Town 5–1.
Having achieved promotion to the Championship for the first time, the club struggled to compete in the transfer market and they had heavily rely on free transfers and loan signings. The Dons started life in the Championship in impressive fashion, beating Rotherham away 4–1 on the opening day of the season. Despite taking seven points from a possible 12 in their first four games, MK Dons couldn’t keep up their form throughout the season. The Dons did not win any of their final 11 games and they returned to League One after finishing 23rd in the Championship.
On 23 October 2016, Karl Robinson left the club by mutual consent, following a 3–0 home defeat to Southend United the previous day, which had extended the Dons’ winless run to four games and left them 19th in the League One table.
The club’s first stadium was the National Hockey Stadium, which was temporarily converted for football for the duration of the club’s stay. Their lease on this ground ended in May 2007.
On 18 July 2007, the club’s new 22,000 seater, Stadium MK hosted its first game, a restricted entrance event against a young Chelsea XI. The stadium was officially opened on 29 November 2007 by the Queen. The stadium features an open concourse at the top of the lower tier, an integrated hotel with rooms looking over the pitch and conference facilities.