MK Dons v Leyton Orient
Stadium:mk / League One / 3rd May 2014
Once I get an idea in my head I have to run with it. For whatever reason, the city of Milton Keynes has intrigued me for some time now – you could say I was MK-curious. Perhaps it’s the way everyone moans about the place and tears into its lack of soul, that had made me want to see if it really as dull as everyone says. Anyway, I’m not sure, but I’ve always been slightly fascinated by the concept of Milton Keynes. During the week, I stumbled across the fact that train tickets between Manchester and Milton Keynes were cheaper than usual for some reason on this Bank Holiday weekend at the start of May. With the idea of a trip to Milton Keynes planted in my head combined with cheaper than normal train tickets, the tickets were bought and a Saturday afternoon trip to Milton Keynes and Stadium:mk, home of the MK Dons, was on the cards.
The mere mention of Milton Keynes, particularly its football club, makes many enter a stage of fury comparable to the walking dead from the cult Brit zombie flick 28 Days Later. Admittedly, MK Dons are a club that I have no affection for (to say the very least) along with their creepy owner Peter Winkelman. For those less clued up on the club, regularly dubbed ‘Franchise FC’ by rival fans, their existence spawned from the relocation of the old Wimbledon FC. Winkelman decided that Milton Keynes should have a Football League club and instead of waiting for the lowly MK City to climb the non-league ladder, he went in search of a Football League team to move to the city. Eventually the consortium seized financially-crippled Wimbledon (the likes of Luton and Charlton had been linked with the project in the past) and relocated them 56 miles away from their London home to the middle of Buckinghamshire. Predictably, there were huge protests against the move from most corners of football, but as is sadly the regular case in football these days, the money men won, leading to the creation of MK Dons and disheartened former Wimbledon fans to create AFC Wimbledon.
I arrived into Milton Keynes Central shortly after 10am and I assumed the word ‘Central’ meant that I would be in the heart of the city. It appeared not as I walked out into a large open square with grey, square buildings surrounding me. “No worries,” I thought to myself, the centre must be a short walk away. With no directions for any sort of ‘centre’, I began making the walk up Midsummer Boulevard. It felt like I was stuck on a treadmill, as the scenery either side of me didn’t change one bit. Grey building with offices. Grey building with offices. Grey building with offices. Wetherspoons…Wetherspoons! This was the most exciting thing I found on my stroll and I decided to come back here later, perhaps after discovering a pub in the centre of the city.
I eventually lost the treadmill I seemed to be walking on and arrived outside ‘the centre:mk’ – why does this town love colons so much? And why did the place insist on putting things in lower case lettering? To give the place ‘edge’? Perhaps the love of punctuation and the horrible disfigured grammar was the city’s answer to making things more exciting and dramatic – well it was failing and it certainly did not reflect what I discovered in Central MK. The whole centre of Milton Keynes appeared to fall under one, soulless, shopping centre roof! An endless labyrinth of high street brand names and shops. The most exciting thing I found inside were the city’s famous ‘concrete cows’! Ten minutes within the walls of Centre:MK (notice the correct use of capital letters Milton Keynes?) were enough for me and I decided, having realised that there was no hope in hell of finding a pub nearby, to escape.
I was soon heading back down the endless Midsummer Boulevard and it looked like I was about to start the dullest pub crawl in history with it consisting of a Lloyds Bar, an All Bar One and a Wetherspoons all near each other on Midsummer Boulevard (these were honestly the only pubs/bars I saw all day).
First stop was the Lloyds bar, where there was a gathering of Leyton Orient fans enjoying a prematch breakfast, before heading…well, probably the same places as me as there was nothing else really, unless they wanted to go shopping in John Lewis maybe. I thought I’d also get myself filled up a bit with a classic Spoons’ breakfast, before heading next door to All Bar One.
I’ve always been a fan of All Bar One, as they more often than not sell one of my favourite lagers, Estrella Damm, on tap and the MK branch was to be no different. All good so far. Sadly, I was the only one in there as time trickled past midday. With an eerily quiet, yet admittedly rather plush bar, I decided to drink up quickly and head across the road to the Wetherspoons I had passed earlier.
To say I’ve been negative about Milton Keynes so far may be a slight understatement, but I will say that at least the place had a nice Wetherspoons (which was strangely just named Wetherspoons). I also found myself spotting some actual MK Dons fans, although they were not in the white and black usually associated with the club and instead they were draped in orange t-shirts, orange wigs and traffic cone hats. Why the orange? The MK fans were celebrating club captain and legend Dean Lewington’s 500th game for the club, the same week that Lewington was voted the club’s Player of the Decade. Just to clarify the orange attire, Lewington has ginger hair.
Whilst in the Spoons, I learned that apparently a shuttle bus picks up from outside the pub every half hour and takes fans to Stadium:mk (more lower case), situated 3 miles outside of the centre. At 1.30pm, I decided to leave Spoons and wait for the shuttle bus, which I had already seen stop outside once already. When I arrived at the stop, I found a man with his young son, waiting for the bus and also looking like unsure if the shuttle bus was going to come at all, after it was 10 minutes late. I assured them that a bus had stopped there earlier and got chatting to the man. It turned out that he was also a neutral at today’s game and was in fact a United fan – he was even at the Nou Camp in 99 for United’s famous Champions League final win to clinch the treble. Kevin had found himself in Milton Keynes with his son, Sammy, and decided that now was the time to take young Sammy to his first ever football match. The city had let me down, so I was hoping for little Sammy’s sake that the ground and the game were of a more impressive standard.
Our bus journey lasted ten minutes and we were joined by some of the #Orange4Lewie brigade, who told me what it was like to be an MK Dons fan. They were all decent folk and seemed to be well up for a party today with the Lewington-fest and with MK Dons having nothing to play for.
The bus dropped us off on some sort of retail park with some sort of arena in the middle of it all. It was only on spotting an MK Dons badge that I realised that the arena was in fact a football stadium and more precisely Stadium:mk. In fairness, the stadium did look huge from the outside. The building of the stadium was commissioned at the time of Wimbledon moving to Milton Keynes, but the stadium would not be complete until 2007. In the meantime, MK Dons began their residency in Buckinghamshire at the National Hockey Stadium, also located in Milton Keynes, between 2003 and 2007. Stadium:mk was officially opened in November 2007 by The Queen.
I was told that there was no paying on the turnstile, so my first port of call was the ticket office, where I got a ticket for £20 from the very friendly and cheery ticket office staff. Similarly to the Reebok Stadium, Stadium:mk has a hotel connected to it and it was here I was told to go for a prematch drink in its ‘Red Dot Bar’ after getting my ticket. I expected the place to be choc-a-bloc, but although it was busy, I did find a direct route to the bar and had a drink in hand moments after walking in.
As the clock hit 14:30, I found myself at the south entrance to Stadium:mk, which felt more like the entrance to a train station than a football stadium with no proper turnstiles and a sort of entrance hall before heading up the stairs and into the stadium proper.
I’m not a fan of modern stadiums built out on soulless retail parks and industrial estates away from the heart of their communities and I did find myself entering Stadium:mk fearing the worst with it being placed in such a location. However, I’ll say this now: Stadium:mk is one mighty impressive stadium. In fact, it is probably one of the best new build grounds I’ve been to in regards to facilities. The ground cost almost £50m and the facilities inside are top-notch. The stadium consists of a bowl shape with two tiers holding 30,500 fans. Part of the reason that the ground looks so huge is because of its high roof, which leaves room for the ground to be potentially expanded to 45,000 with a third tier.
My favourite feature of the stadium though had to be the unusual quirk of the concourse going around the outside of the lower tier and looking out onto the pitch rather than being behind a wall. It was certainly different and made the place a little bit more unique.
I found myself in the ‘Cowshed’, where I was told I would find the ‘hardcore’ MK fans; what I found was an army of people in orange wigs. Despite the wacky attire, the MK fans were definitely in party mood before kick-off with everyone embracing the Lewington celebrations as a large banner was unveiled in the stand in front of me (although since it was facing towards the pitch, I couldn’t see what it actually had on it).
There was nothing for MK to play for today, but their opponents Leyton Orient were aiming to secure 3rd place in the league having already secured a play-off place a few games before today’s. Although they had nothing to play for, MK started the game the better team with Izale McLeod and Tom Flanagan failing to score from the rebound from Ryan Hall’s saved freekick. However, it would be the away team who would snatch the first goal through a Premier League legend: Kevin Lisbie! Okay, so I use the ‘word’ legend a bit lightly, but he did once score a hatrick past Liverpool for Charlton you know. Lisbie scored with a header across goal from a great Dean Cox cross into the box, leaving David Martin in the MK goal with no chance.
It was the away team who began to dominate proceedings with a few chances falling to Moses Odubajo and Dean Cox, only for Martin to deny them with some smart saves. Sadly, Martin would go on to pick up a shoulder injury before half-time and would have to be replaced by 18-year-old deputy Charlie Burns.
The game slowed down a bit with a few half chances at each end, before Orient doubled their lead through, yes you’ve guessed it, Kevin Lisbie once again. This time Lisbie scored with a calm finish having been set up by his strike partner David Mooney.
Half-time: MK Dons 0 – 2 Leyton Orient.
I headed for the bar inside the ground (placed in a room just off the concourse) at half-time, where many had gathered to get the scores from around the country and to see what drama was unfolding elsewhere on the last day of the Football League season. With Leyton Orient already 2-o up here at Stadium:mk, there was little drama expected in the second half of the game we all found ourselves at.
Although I wasn’t expecting much on the pitch in the second half, it was at the start of the second 45 that I discovered something outstanding off the pitch. I decided to move away from where I had been standing with the orange clad fans behind the goal and instead went and sat down in the corner of the South Stand. The seats! Flipping heck! These had to be the comfiest seats I had encountered at a football stadium. In fact, I can only really think of Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium that woulds rival them in the ‘elite comfy seats’ league table.
There were chances for Lisbie and Mooney to make it 3-0, but both were denied by a combination of inch perfect tackles and good keeping from young Burns. However, Mooney would go on to add to Orient’s tally with a superb finish in the 56th minute to surely ensure that The Os would finish in 3rd place in the League One table.
The game died down with the score at 3-0 and it would take until the 78th minute for anything of any significance to happen as MK got themselves on the scoresheet. Ryan Hall drilled a shot goalwards, which took a big deflection to see it go past the helpless Jamie Jones in the Orient goal. Despite the scoreline going against MK Dons their fans were undeterred and they decided to carry on their fun by starting an orange conga line around the Cowshed.
Full-time: MK Dons 1 – 3 Leyton Orient.
I made a dash from the stadium and arrived back at the bus stop the same time as the MK fans who had caught the bus with me earlier. It seemed that not too many were exiting the stadium quite yet, so our driver drove away with a fairly empty double-decker bus back towards the Wetherspoons pub on Midsummer Boulevard.
In typical MK fashion, there was little else of interest to report post match, although I did enjoy a few drinks with the MK fans from the bus, who proved that the MK fanbase is not full of monsters as some people would have you believe.
By the time I was sitting on the train back to Manchester, I was relieved to be getting out of Milton Keynes really. I doubt I’ll ever warm to the football club purely for what it spawned from, but I made sure that I visited the city with a complete open-mind and I promised myself that I would not attach my dislike for MK Dons to the city itself. It did not matter in the end – the place really is a soulless hellhole, which I thought might murder me through boredom. The saviour of the day, had to be the stadium itself. Yes, it does sit on a retail park like the majority of bleak new build grounds these days, but I did genuinely find the stadium quite brilliant with excellent facilities. I really was surprised to be honest. However, I will not be any rush to re-visit the place and I really can’t see me visiting again until the next time Swansea City head that way. If you do go though, make sure you sit down – their seats are lovely.
Highlights: decent Wetherspoons, the stadium has great facilities, comfy seats.
Low Points: dull city, no ‘proper’ pubs, ground away from the city (but that may be a good thing), not that great a game (but to expected really with MK having nothing to play for).