x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Wimbledon has a sibling rivalry unlike any other

MK Dons versus AFC Wimbledon: two clubs separated by 0.0 miles. Not so much a local derby as a Greek tragedy made flesh.

Charlie Strutton of AFC Wimbledon.
Charlie Strutton of AFC Wimbledon.

Pop quiz. What is the most local of all the local derbies in English football?

Tomorrow's north London clash? No. The Emirates to White Hart Lane is 4.2 miles by car. That is practically a different country.

Sheffield? You are getting warmer. Bramhall Lane to Hillsborough is a mere 3.6 miles.

Surely it has to be Liverpool? Anfield to Goodison is just 0.8 miles by road. Well … not exactly.

One could argue that the most local derby ever is to take place in just over two weeks' time, in the second round of the FA Cup.

MK Dons versus AFC Wimbledon: two clubs separated by 0.0 miles. Not so much a local derby as a Greek tragedy made flesh.

For anyone planning to make the trip, I should point out that I am talking genetical, not geographical, distance. (It is actually 65 miles or so from south London to Milton Keynes, so you will need transport of some kind.)

MK Dons and AFC Wimbledon are twins, you see. A pair of siblings rent from the womb of their penniless mother, dear old Wimbledon FC, as she breathed her last in the early noughties.

One of the twins was adopted by a wealthy, childless couple and whisked away to their lavish home in sterile suburbia, along with his mother's only valuable possession: a silver locket with a key guaranteeing entry to the mythical Garden of Football Paradise. OK, it was to Football League One - but it was still unclear which the wealthy couple treasured more, the boy or his key.

They named him MK Dons and, every other week, the wealthy couple would invite the neighbours around to watch their son play football in their capacious back garden.

And, dutifully, the neighbours came to cheer him on. Unless, of course, their own beloved sons (Arsenal, Manchester United, Aston Villa) were playing that day.

The other twin, meanwhile, was tossed on to the street and left to die. Thankfully, he was taken in by humble shepherds who named him AFC Wimbledon.

These kind peasants had no lavish home to offer their new son, nor a lavish back garden for ball games.

However, they showered him with love and praise, scraped together enough money for a pair of boots, and sent him out to play football on any piece of scrappy old waste land they could find.

And they, too, invited the neighbours around to watch the boy play - an invitation which many accepted not dutifully, but joyfully, for they had known and loved his poor old mother.

Even without a silver locket, the lad was good. He won 78 consecutive matches as he climbed from the lowly origins of the Combined Counties League (the ninth tier of English football) to Football League Two (the fourth tier) in just nine seasons.

Like all great tragedies, it was inevitable these siblings would meet on the field of battle. Also like all great tragedies, it is far more entertaining for the audience than the characters involved.

Neither club wanted this match to happen. MK Dons are embarrassed by how the club came about - their chairman Pete Winkelman said so this week, and has previously relinquished any official claim to Wimbledon's "history".

AFC fans, meanwhile, are divided as to whether they should even attend the match on December 2, having previously asked fans of other clubs to boycott MK Dons.

But for the neutrals - and of course the broadcasters - it is a mouth-watering clash like no other. In a week when worldwide broadcasting rights to the English Premier League 2013/14 season topped £5 billion (Dh29bn), it is also a timely reminder that the FA Cup can still deliver fairy tales - or tragedies - for a fraction of the cost.

sport@thenational.ae