Wimbledon’s move to Milton Keynes: is the franchising genie now out of the bottle?

The Football Association’s claim that the decision of the Independent Commission to allow Wimbledon FC (whose major shareholder is now under investigation for corruption in Norway) to move to Milton Keynes is a one-off and does not herald a move to US style franchising is wishful thinking of the most blinkered variety. As the FA’s Press Statement makes clear, each and every principle that it advanced in defence of the status quo was rejected by the Independent Commission. Just as all clubs will go into administration in order to cut their wage bill if Bradford FC can do it (not yet clear), so all clubs in a tight geographical spot (or facing relegation) will be looking for ways out and the Wimbledon example will frequently be prayed in aid.

Apart from illustrating the inherent dangers in allowing any element of independence into the process of sports governance by the governing body, the decision makes it practically impossible to reject ground moves, ground sharing and club mergers for imperative financial reasons (not exactly in short supply at the moment). But the decision has even more wide-ranging consequences than that. By effectively requiring all clubs in the division to play Wimbledon/Milton Keynes as a condition of participation, the clubs who are opposed to the move because they are worried about clubs from poorly supported areas being parachuted into their patch will have no option but to resign from football’s (currently highly dysfunctional) family and set up their own leagues made up of like-minded clubs. Only by being outside the official pyramid will clubs be legally free to avoid playing clubs that piggy back on their individual goodwill.

For the FA and the Football League, of course, the attendant loss of monopoly control (and potential recognition by FIFA as the governing body) arising from the end of the unitary sporting structure is the nightmare scenario to end all nightmare scenarios. This is why resistance to the precedent setting nature of the Wimbledon decision will be ferocious. There is of course a better way but that would involve not building a national stadium and the FA starting to act as a real governing body by using the money thereby saved to put football in this country on a firm financial footing. Sadly this is a complete non-starter.

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