The end? Dons show it can be a new beginning

AFC Wimbledon's manager Terry Brown celebrates his side's promotion to the Football League last year
AFC Wimbledon's manager Terry Brown celebrates his side's promotion to the Football League last year
Pompey and Fulham drew 3-3. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey boss disappointed not to get victory

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Tonight could be the night of Pompey’s last-ever game.

If that’s to be the case, it will arrive at a club who offer a beacon of hope for the future.

AFC Wimbledon have shown the darkest hour is before dawn.

They had their football club wrested from their grasp, albeit in different circumstances to those the Fratton faithful potentially face now.

Unable to find a new home, Wimbledon FC were granted permission to relocate 56 miles north to Milton Keynes in 2002, becoming the MK Dons.

Months later, a group of Dons fans decided to create a phoenix outfit to keep their true south London club spirit alive.

Ivor Heller was one of those men.

He was there when open trials were held on Wimbledon Common to select their squad.

He was there when his club opened their inaugural campaign in the Combined Counties League – the equivalent of the Wessex League premier division – at 10 days notice.

And he was there nine years on when Terry Brown’s side secured promotion to the Football League with play-off victory over Luton.

The Dons’ commercial director has been on every step of the magical journey which has seen his club leap five tiers in the English football pyramid.

His message to Pompey is they can do exactly the same – if the club are placed back into the hands of the people who care about them most.

‘It’s horrible, horrible what’s happening, having been what we’ve been through,’ said Heller, as he reflected on Pompey’s plight.

‘It’s a different scenario to ours. We had our club stolen from us but we can empathise big-time.

‘I believe Pompey will survive. But I also believe if anyone has any decency down there they should hand the club over to the fans.

‘But if Pompey do go bust, my opinion is they can’t fall into the same situation as Rangers.

‘A venture capitalist takes hold lower down and Pompey’s support means they would be paying 10 per cent of their turnover in wages.

‘That makes football a very viable business. Then what happens with that money?

‘If it starts again, it’s imperative the fans start the club.

‘After what’s happened at Pompey, why would they ever trust a businessman again?

‘With a club the size of Pompey, if it’s done the right way and they start with a genuine clean slate, then there’s no reason they can’t do what we did.

‘In fact, the glass ceiling for a club the size of Pompey would be double or treble the ceiling we have.

‘They should be able to take themselves to the Championship again as a fan-run club without too much of a problem.

‘There would be transparency and honesty there as they are not spending the profits elsewhere.

‘It has to be done the right way. The only way you can trust something is if you can see it.’

Wimbledon will throw out the welcome mat to Pompey for tonight’s clash at the Kingsmeadow Stadium.

As well as expecting a healthy away following, the Portsmouth Supporters’ Trust – whose bid to buy the club is under threat – will be the club’s guests for the match.

The Dons will be keen to offer advice garnered from the experience of their meteoric rise.

Heller said: ‘We always try to help trusts but these guys, in particular, need a bit of help, I feel.

‘So that’s what we want to do. We want to help and encourage them.

‘There were four of us at the start.

‘I had a factory near the old ground and that was where we formed the new club.

‘It’s absolutely true we had trials on Wimbledon Common. They were about two weeks before our first match. We didn’t even know the names of the players!

‘There are pitfalls to being a fan-run club. Everyone thinks they should have a say and everyone thinks they should be listened to. That’s not always possible.

‘Everyone wants someone to blame and there is as much blame as trust.

‘You can’t always please people all the time but if you are transparent, honest and open then you will take a large degree of Portsmouth into the new club.’

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