KINGSMEADOW STADIUM, South London, Wednesday night, a football ground packed with over 4,000 people on the brink of tears. Two thousand souls locked out, clamouring to be part of it. A team and manager desperate to win for the fans, whose hearts had been mended by seeing the first ever home match of their new club, AFC Wimbledon, in the Combined Counties League. A chairman, with a lump in his throat, saying it was all about community, and supporters.
All of this is "not in the wider interests of football" according to the Football Association commission which approved the move by Wimbledon FC - now derided by supporters as "Franchise FC" - to a stadium due to be built in Milton Keynes. Kris Stewart, chair of Wimbledon Independent Supporters' Association and now of AFC Wimbledon, told the FA's three- man commission in May that, if it approved the move, the fans would regard their club, formed in 1889, as dead, and would form a new club, starting in whichever league would accept them. In its judgment, which, by a 2- 1 majority, allowed the move, the commission said: "Resurrecting the club from its ashes as, say, `Wimbledon Town' is, with respect to those supporters who would rather that happened so that they could go back to the position the club started in 113 years ago, not in the wider interests of football."
This extraordinary statement, the opinion of two people, Raj Parker, a commercial lawyer, and Steven Stride, the operations director of Aston Villa plc, comes from a judgment with which almost nobody in football agrees yet which is subject to no right of appeal. Alan Turvey, chairman of the Ryman League, the third member of the FA commission, is widely assumed to have voted against. This week he told me: "Everybody thinks that but I feel it would be wrong of me to say how I voted." He did, however, say: "I don't agree with the commission's statement. How can it be wrong for a club to re- form? What the fans are doing is marvellous and I do wish them well."
On Thursday, Adam Crozier, the FA's own chief executive, described the commission's decision as "appalling" and said: "The FA is very much against it. We are looking into it because we don't believe it's a good thing for the game."
But Crozier himself appeared confused about the process, which has shown the football authorities to be unable to govern the game according to their own rules. Crozier said the decision was the result of "binding arbitration" entered into by the Football League and Wimbledon, but in fact that earlier arbitration sent the decision back to the League, which had previously refused Wimbledon permission to move. The League then wrote to the FA in April, asking it to appoint a commission to decide on an issue of wider significance which affected "the fabric of the game in this country."
The FA set up the commission - but, for an organisation Crozier says is now committed to transparency, with secrecy verging on the paranoid. The three members were appointed but the FA still will not say how or why and at the time would not even say who. The hearing took place behind closed doors and even the fans' groups were only allowed to see the "gist" of the club's submission, after "confidential material" had been taken out and "on the condition that the fans' group representatives undertake not to disclose its contents to any other person."
When the commission produced its decision, the FA only published a summary of it under pressure from supporters' groups and with a demonstration growing angrier outside in Soho Square.
WISA immediately made a formal complaint to the Independent Football Commission, the new toothless body set up to review the football authorities' running of the game. WISA argued that the commission "gave the appearance of bias" towards the club and "failed to scrutinise [the club's evidence] properly." It also claimed …