MK Dons
The National Hockey Stadium

Ground No. 62
Visited - Saturday 7th May 2005
Result - Milton Keynes Dons 2-1 Tranmere Rovers
Competition - Coca-Cola League 1
Attendance - 7359

With the Championship teams playing their final matches on a Sunday, it gave me an opportunity to get another ground in before the season finished. So after a quick look down the fixture lists I soon settled on a trip to the National Hockey Stadium, to see MK Dons host Tranmere in a match they needed to win to stay up.

The journey down to Milton Keynes didn’t go too badly, despite a couple of delays I arrived into the town at about 12pm, and set off on the short walk to the ground, which is situated immediately behind a block of offices, possibly the shortest distance from any (non purpose built) train station in the country.

After collecting my ticket for the away end, and paying a visit to the woefully under-stocked club shop, I then set off around the ground taking pictures. From the outside it’s a surprisingly nice stadium. The South Stand is particularly impressive, with its unusual roof, and brick fa├žade standing out. The other 3 sides though are considerably smaller, but are still set in pleasant surroundings, with trees lining the perimeter as you walk around. Unfortunately I couldn’t manage to get inside, so with that and time pressing on, I returned back to the train station and boarded a train for the short journey north again, this time to Wolverton, and the historic Wolverton Park to have a look round before coming back.

After arriving back in MK, in a fairly good mood, with the sun shining, I decided to take up more time by going for a walk around the town centre, unfortunately this is where the day started to go downhill. Of course most of Milton Keynes is purpose built, the town (not city) having been built in the 1960s to house the overspill from London, so you would expect it to not have as much character as other, older places, however what actually awaits the first time visitor really is shocking. To say it's monotonous doesn’t even start to describe it, on the one hand you can't simply say that it's a dump, because it isn't really, but it has to be the worst place that I have ever visited in all my travels around the country watching football. The town centre is little more than a giant shopping mall and the only way you can work out whether the streets you are walking down is a road, or actually a car park is dependent on how fast the cars are travelling! As for ‘character’, there is none, none whatsoever, not even in the slightest, the town has absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever. I do normally try to pick the positives out of all my trips, but there really was none that I could mention (although apparently it is easy to drive around....), so after having seen enough I set off back towards the stadium.

It was about 2:45pm when I got back there, so after a quick walk around the outside of the ground, in an unsuccessful attempt to find a badge seller, (the club shop hadn’t got any), I eventually went in.

With the weather good, I'd decided to risk sitting in the uncovered end with the Tranmere fans, primarily to get good pictures of the ground, unfortunately though I'd left it a bit late to get some of the ground empty, but the match soon started, so I had to be satisfied with it full, and hope to get some after the game.

The stand we were sitting in was of the familiar temporary nature found at a few locations, Gilllingham and Brighton in particular, but it gave a good view, and despite having no roof, offered good facilities. Opposite was the Cowshed, which originally had been exactly the same, but has had a roof added since being built. This really looked quite good, and would grace any ground, having quite a lot of character. To our left was the North Stand, a strange structure, that despite being permanent, actually looked more temporary than the Cowshed. It only ran for about 1/3rd of the pitch, straddling the halfway line, and generally let the stadium down, unlike opposite it, to our right, the South Stand. Towering above everything else, it really did look quite a nice design, with the roof in particular being unique, it certainly wouldn’t look out of place at any ground outside of the Premiership.

After surveying the scene, the match got started, with MK Dons needing to get a win to stand any realistic hope of staying up, so from the off they went on the attack, and it paid off for them when in the 6th minute, from a long ball, and a good cross, Gareth Edds poked the ball home giving them the lead. Tranmere had already secured 3rd spot, and with manager Brian Little having made a number of changes to the usual line-up, they didn’t seem especially bothered in looking for an equaliser, and despite more pressure from the home side, an uninspiring first half finished 1-0.

The visitors obviously had one eye on the play-offs, but Brian Little must have said something to his side at half-time, because in the second half Tranmere really took the game to the home side, looking to get something from it, and in the 65th minute the pressure told when David Beresford scored a great goal, after a mazy run, curling the ball in from the edge of the area. With that it looked like there was only going to be one winner, as Tranmere pressed for more goals, looking to consign the Dons to two successive relegations, but against the run of play, with just 6 minutes to go the hosts managed to pull ahead, when Edds bagged a second with a nice finish from about 20 yards. The game then changed, and buoyed by this, the home side went on the attack again, and were unlucky not to get a third, before the referee blew his whistle. With Oldham having won, and Torquay losing, unfortunately it meant that Milton Keynes did stay up.

The home crowd did have me in two minds of how to write up on them, because before the game it was shocking as to how little colour was on show, especially on a warm summers day, and walking in among a few of the groups going towards the stadium, it was quite clear that the crowd was mostly made up of the type that prior to Euro 96, and in particular in the 1980s, wouldn’t have even looked twice at football, due to its lack of popularity, and reputation outside of normal fans. So, with this in mind, I had expected inside the ground to be something similar to Old Trafford, with most of the crowd being made up of daytrippers, but it has to be said the home fans did make a surprising amount of noise, keeping it up throughout the game, which couldn't really have been said about the Tranmere fans, although in fairness to them, the game didn’t exactly have the same meaning, so with regards the Milton Keynes supporters, begrudgingly I have to show them a bit of praise for their efforts. The same praise can't be levelled at their stewards, who seemed to be looking for trouble throughout the game, despite there being no sign of any from either set of fans.

After the game had finished, I did stay behind to try and get some pictures of the ground empty, but with the end of season celebrations, the home fans didn't clear the stands, so in the end I left disappointed, getting back to the station relatively quickly, and back on the train towards home, stopping off in Rugby for a quick trip to Butlin Road (home of Rugby United).

Overall it had been an average day, beforehand I hadn’t really got any strong feelings towards MK Dons and the move from Wimbledon, but since going here, unfortunately one glimpse of the franchising system has filled me with a lot of negative thoughts regarding that. Visiting Wolverton Park in particular showed a vision of what this club will undoubtedly be like in 10 years time, and it was annoying, knowing that a town or city can steal a club like this, only for it to no doubt die, unless the people running the club really are determined to make it work. The majority of the crowd, despite being fairly vocal, were the sort that no doubt won't be there most weeks, only for the big games, which considering what Wimbledon were, is a crime. They were never a big, or even a well-supported club, but they were one of what all of us are, a real club. If the owners had thought a move to Milton Keynes was genuinely the only way forward, then perhaps you could understand that, but having visited Wimbledon, even at their temporary home of Selhurst Park, it’s clear to anyone that this is not the same club, and I don’t mean that just because of the change of name, there is nothing that pays tribute to what Wimbledon were, the programme notes by Pete Winkelman in particular were sickening, this club, this town have stolen the old Wimbledon for themselves, because they weren't prepared to set up a team in MK and work towards a league place like all other clubs have to, they bought themselves a football league spot, and the FA are most at fault for letting that happen. It wont be right until the Franchisers die, the league structure will always be blighted because of them, and the sooner the real Wimbledon (AFC) regain their place in the league, at the expense of these impostors the better in my opinion. The National Hockey Stadium is no doubt a nice venue to host football in, and Milton Keynes is no doubt a town that could support a lower-league football club, but until they do that the right way then they don’t deserve to exist.

Rear of the South Stand

The South Stand Reception

Club Shop and Ticket Office

Hockey Statue outside the ground

Rear of the Cowshed

Rear of the North Stand

Rear of the North Stand

Rear of the West Stand

Rear of the West Stand

The North Stand

The Cowshed

The South Stand

The National Hockey Stadium Panoramic 1

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