MK Dons

In 2014-15, the MK Dons put an end to ten years of scorn and ridicule by gaining a first-ever promotion to the Championship. Earlier that same season, in front of a record crowd of nearly 27,000, the Dons simply destroyed Manchester United 4-0 in the League Cup, 18-year-old MK academy graduate Dele Alli outstanding.

stadiummk/Peterjon Cresswell

While the locally born midfielder has since gone on to become a sensation at Tottenham (and England), the coach who helped him develop, Dan Micchiche, is now first-team manager at MK Dons. After one brief season in the Championship, third-flight football is now a longer-term reality – and a relegation scrap with bitter rivals AFC Wimbledon on the cards.

Who would have thought, as the then Wimbledon FC strode out for the first time in Milton Keynes in 2003, that within a decade the club would be a healthy concern, playing in front of regular near five-figure crowds, in a new stadium proposed as a World Cup venue?

Probably not Pete Winkelman. It was this locally based music producer who had been behind moving the ailing Wimbledon FC from their century-old south-west London to a much-maligned New Town 60 miles away.

He was backed by two retail giants, integral to a plan to create a business park in the Denbigh area of Milton Keynes. The centrepiece would be a top-level football stadium, as envisaged by the local development corporation back in the 1960s. What the New Town lacked, with non-league works team Milton Keynes City playing in front of three-figure crowds (before folding in 2003), was a top-level football team.

MK Dons tickets/Peterjon Cresswell

Enter Winkelman. Despite severe condemnation from the football world, and not least from Wimbledon’s original fans who formed the breakaway AFC Wimbledon in 2002, he kept the displaced club afloat.

Having groundshared Selhurst Park with Crystal Palace since 1991, the FA Cup winners of 1988 were already nomadic. Now they were broke and about to go out of business. After Wimbledon went into administration in June 2003, Winkelman took the huge gamble of covering costs and salaries that summer, putting out a weakened but full side for the new season that August. He also funded the conversion of the Milton Keynes National Hockey Stadium for second-flight football.

A month into 2013-14, with debts of almost £30 million, record low gates and eight successive defeats, the Dons moved out of Selhurst Park to a new career in a New Town.

Returning Wimbledon striker Dean Holdsworth saved that particular day, a 2-2 draw with Burnley. The Dons wouldn’t win a match until late October and were duly relegated, 22 points from safety.

At the end of 2003-04, Winkelman’s Inter MK Group managed to buy the club out of administration. Wimbledon became MK Dons, with a suitably functionalist logo and new white shirts with a red trim.

The Dons would have fallen straight down another division in 2004-05 had a points penalty not been imposed on Wrexham – there was no such safety net in 2005-06.

stadiummk/Peterjon Cresswell

Left a consistent side under Martin Allen, former England international Paul Ince came in to steer the MK Dons to the Football League Trophy – won at Wembley over Grimsby in front of 56,600 – and the League Two championship in 2007-08. As importantly, the Dons had moved out of the National Hockey Stadium and were now playing at their own stadiummk, as envisioned by the city planners and created by Pete Winkelman’s consortium. Opened by the Queen in November 2007, it had already been hosting matches for four months.

By the time Ince briefly returned in 2009, Roberto Di Matteo had taken the Dons to within two points – and a play-off penalty shoot-out – of the Championship.

Ince’s replacement in May 2010 was his former assistant, 29-year-old Karl Robinson. It would prove a wise hire. Taking the Dons to two consecutive (if losing) play-offs, Robinson also masterminded the memorable cup run of 2012-13. A satisfying 2-1 win over a revengeful AFC Wimbledon, settled on a stoppage-time backflick (‘the Heel of God’) by Jon Otsemobor, was followed by wins over Sheffield Wednesday and QPR. Barnsley barred the way to the quarter-finals.

By now players were coming through MK’s youth academy and Robinson was making astute signings. Loanees Benik Afobe and Will Grigg scored two each as the Dons tonked Manchester United 4-0 in the League Cup in August 2014.

In the league, Robinson’s high-scoring Dons notched 101 goals to gain a first-ever promotion to the Championship. With Grigg, Afobe and a precocious Dele Alli all gone, now Robinson and stalwart captain Dean Lewington, a Don since 2002, battled to maintain second-flight status with success.

stadiummk/Peterjon Cresswell

Stadium

Never stretched to its 30,500 capacity, the sleek stadiummk is a long-planned for resource that puts the New Town of Milton Keynes on the international sporting map.

Created by Pete Winkelman’s Inter MK Group, long backed by large retail firms eager on creating a shopping-and-leisure area in Denbigh – nearer to Fenny Stratford and Bletchley than central Milton Keynes – the stadium was being developed as the newly renamed Milton Keynes Dons played at the National Hockey Arena from 2004-05 onwards.

Created by architects HOK, responsible for Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and the new Wembley around the same time, the new stadium was opened with a series of events in 2007. First, in July, came a Dons-Chelsea XI friendly, then an England Legends match. That November, James Milner was among the goalscorers when England under-21 beat Bulgaria here, the Queen giving the arena her official blessing. 2007 was also the 40th anniversary of Milton Keynes itself, the stadium hosting the celebrations.

Since then, the stadiummk has staged numerous high-profile rugby matches, including the World Cup, and was even earmarked for a hosting role for the football version, if England had been awarded 2018.

Capacity would have increased to 44,000. As it stands, a spacious, twin-tiered 30,500 is already ample for most MK Dons fixtures of 9,500 crowds.

Home fans gather in sectors 10-13, the South Stand ‘Cowshed’, its nickname an ironic nod to MK’s infamous concrete cows.

Away supporters are allocated sectors 25-28 of the North Stand opposite. If demand requires, they can also occupy 29-30 of the adjoining corner. Access is through gate 3.

For the best seats, it’s the East Premium (sectors 3-5) over the halfway line, opposite the clubRed, with its bar and catering facilities.

MKTrans2
MK Dons transport/Jens Raitanen

Transport

The nearest rail station is Fenny Stratford, about 15-20min walk away. Veer right out of the station, then right again onto arrow-straight Watling Street (yes, that Watling Street). The floodlights appear on the right behind ASDA. Pubs surround Fenny Stratford.

If you’re coming from London or Birmingham, you’ll have to change for Fenny Stratford at Bletchley. A longer walk to the stadium, with an inferior choice of nearby pubs, Bletchley is handy for evening games when services back from Fenny Stratford finish early. From Bletchley, head under the railway bridge for the Park pub, then follow Saxon Street round, under the rails again, until you reach Watling Street.

Alternatively, on Saxon Street, before you reach the Enigma Tavern, Arriva bus Nos.1, 5, 6 or 70 leaves every 10-20 min from Bletchley bus station to the stadiummk stop (15min; No.1 to nearby Denbigh North Granby 20min). All these buses continue to mainline station Milton Keynes Central.

If you’re setting off from Milton Keynes Central, allow 30min – the No.1 to Ashland Roundabout North leaves from stop Z1, then a 10min walk, the No.6 goes straight to the stadium from stop Y1. Alternatively, change at Denbigh Bletchley Tesco from the No.1 to the No.6. Bus No.70 (stop Y6) also runs direct from Central station to the stadium. For big cup ties, a free bus shuttle service from Milton Keynes Central is provided from The Buszy stop on Elder Gate.

Otherwise, it’s a £10 taxi ride to the stadium. At the ground, the taxi rank is by Gate 7.

The sat nav code for the stadium is MK1 1ST. The club offers pre-booked match-specific parking, either at the ground (£7) or nearby (Park & Walk £5). Also close is the parking (£5) at Castle House (MK1 1QT) on Dawson Road.

MKTix2
MK Dons tickets/Jens Raitanen

Tickets

The two advance-ticket outlets are at the centre:mk mall (between TK Maxx and Burger King; Mon-Wed 10.30am-5pm, Thur-Fri 10.30am-7pm, Sat 10.30am-4pm, Sun 11am-4pm) in the middle of Milton Keynes and the Box Office between gates 6 and 7 at the stadium (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 9.30am-2pm).

On match days, there are cash-only outlets around the ground – for away fans, it’s near gate 3. Availability should not be a problem.

Tickets are read at the electronic turnstiles.

There is also online purchase.

Prices are set at £25 in the Cowshed, East Wing and MK1 in the East Stand, and Standard Corner between them; and £30 in the East Centre. Discounts for over 65s and 18-21s are £17/£22, £7/£12 for under 18s.

For an extra £5 more than the East Centre, clubRed in the West Stand, with its bar, catering and free tea and coffee, is no bad deal.

MK Dons shop/Jens Raitanen

Shop

The Club Superstore (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 9.30am-2pm, match days) by the Box Office between gates 6 and 7 at the stadium purveys items such as stadium scarves, a DVD (‘Unforgettable!’) of the 2014-15 season and, of course, mini concrete cows.

Enigma Tavern/Jens Raitanen

Bars

The best pubs are ranged around either Fenny Stratford station, the nearest to the stadium, and Bletchley.

Near Fenny Stratford, you’ll find the Swan Hotel, with a dedicated sports bar, close to the Chequers pub (48 Watling Street). By St Martin’s Church, you’ll find classic pre-match chips-with-everything at the Fenny Fish Bar.

Either side of Fenny Stratford station are the canalside, traditional Red Lion and, further down from the Fenny Fish Bar, The Maltsters (45 Aylesbury Street).

The stand-out spot near Bletchley station is the century-old, authentic Bletchley Working Men’s Social Club, with TV sports, snooker, darts and pre-match hospitality for away fans. Proximity to the tourist attraction of war-time code-breaking centre Bletchley Park brings many to the Enigma Tavern, set between Albert Street and Princes Way – but the last renovation here might as well have been in 1945. Staff do their best to make up for the surrounding gloom. Also nearby, across from the station, the Park Hotel (4 Chandos Place) has a bar with TV football.

Pitchside/Peterjon Cresswell

The stadium is surrounded by fast-food and chain outlets.

Alongside the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, the reddot bar opens pre-match for home fans – and, usually, well behaved away ones not wearing colours. TV screens abound. The hotel itself contains the Pitchside bar & restaurant, patronised by sponsors before the game but open to all from around an hour after the final whistle, table booking recommended. Note the framed display of the boots worn by Gareth Edds when he scored the goal that kept the Dons in League One in 2005.


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