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June 29, 2017

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Wimbledon face MK in FA Cup battle of the dons

LONDON -- AFC Wimbledon will play the club that led to their creation for the first time after the Milton Keynes Dons beat Cambridge City 6-1 in an FA Cup first round replay on Tuesday.

MK's victory followed AFC's victory over York on Monday to set up what is sure to be a highly-charged second round clash after the draw paired them together provided they won their respective first round ties.

AFC were formed in 2002 by fans angry at the Football Association's decision to allow the then Wimbledon FC, who were based in the south London borough that plays host to the annual tennis championships, to relocate 45 miles north to the Buckinghamshire commuter town of Milton Keynes.

Moving a team, sometimes by vast distances, is not uncommon in team sports in the United States (the Dodgers baseball team went from one coast to another in switching from New York's Brooklyn to Los Angeles).

But moving a soccer team from one town to another was by 2002, all but unheard of in England.

However, the situation regarding Wimbledon, who caused one of the all-time great Wembley upsets to beat Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final, was further complicated by the fact that for more than a decade they had not played at their Plough Lane ground for safety reasons and had shared south London rivals' Crystal Palace's Selhurst Park instead.

After the location change, Wimbledon FC played in Milton Keynes for two seasons before changing identity completely to Milton Keynes Dons.

AFC started out life in the Combined Counties League, the ninth tier of English soccer, with a crowd of 2,449 people attending their first game.

In 2011 they were promoted to the Football League.

Some bitterness does remain, though, most notably through a campaign for Milton Keynes to drop the 'Dons' suffix, a traditional nickname for Wimbledon.

After the two sides were drawn together, the Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association released a statement which included the words: "WISA once again calls upon Milton Keynes to drop the name Dons from their name, a name that remains a prominent reminder, that they stole a Football League place through the theft and franchising of Wimbledon FC, despite acknowledging that they are a new club representing the community of Milton Keynes."

Like AFC Wimbledon, the Dons too have enjoyed success. In 2008 they completed a League Two and Football League Trophy double.

WISA had said it didn't want the game against Milton Keynes to be played but after AFC's win over York on Monday, manager Neal Ardley, a former Wimbledon player, said: "I'd play against anyone."

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