Charles Koppel, England, Football, groundhopping, Milton Keynes, MK Dons, National Hockey Stadium, NHS, Pete Winkleman, Wimbledon
Monday 8th January 2007 ko 19.45
MILTON KEYNES DONS 2 (McLeod 6 Edds 90)
McLeod missed penalty 35
Wilbraham missed penalty 90
LINCOLN CITY 2 (Forrester 51p Weir-Daley 84)
Morgan sent off 90 (DOGSO)
Entry – Complimentary (Face value £20)- Main Stand
For the avoidance of any doubt this is not a piece on the rights and wrongs of the former Wimbledon FC’s move to Milton Keynes in 2003. You’d have a hard task to find any football person that agreed with the move, but once that move had been made it did mean that Wimbledon, then rebadged (and the club history surrendered) as MK Dons ended up at a temporary ground- the NHS!
For many the villain of the piece was current MK Dons owner Pete Winkleman, but the original idea wasn’t for him to own the club. The plan was for him to head up the consortium to build the new ground- now StadiumMK in return for shares in the club, that would continue to have Wimbledon chairman Charles Koppel in charge. But Koppel’s backers pulled out, the club nearly folded and they still needed a place to play. An idea was floated for them to play at the National Bowl which having attended a concert there, I can vouch for how unsuitable that would have been.
But then there was the National Hockey Stadium. Situated in the middle of Milton Keynes, and near to both the A5 and Milton Keynes Central Railway Station. It had been built in 1995 with an artificial pitch and a covered main stand running the full length of one side of the pitch. Opposite was a real oddity- an unroofed stand running about one third of the length of the pitch, straddling the halfway line. Having sat in it, I can assure you, it was bleak in January! The capacity was only 4,000, so as well as negotiating a sub-lease from English Hockey that would mean no more hockey matches being played there (due to the pitch being converted to grass) stands would have to be built behind then goal. Wimbledon played their first game there in September 2003 with the capacity eventually reaching 9,000. The club was rebranded at the end of the 2003/4 season.
I ended up watching quite a few games there, mainly due to a steady succession of complimentaries to the point that I got quite used to the procedure involved for collecting my tickets. In fact, it was collecting my comp’ that a strange little interlude occurred. I’d just collected my ticket from reception along with all the scouts and press when suddenly a booming Glaswegian voice boomed out.
“Hello pal, lovely to see you!”
It was then Boston United manager Steve Evans, even then a controversial figure- but who was he greeting? Oddly it was me, despite me never having met the bloke before or since! I made my excuses quickly and made a sharp exit; did I have a doppelganger known to Mr Evans?
The NHS always looked like what it was, a hockey stadium converted as a temporary home for football, although the main stand could have passed muster in a purpose-built football stadium. I saw Milton Keynes take a rare point in my presence- nothing unusual in that, Wimbledon/ Milton Keynes went from what’s now the Premier League in 2000 to League 2 in just six years after all. But Pete Winkleman did manage to stablise his club, and get StadiumMK built.
The club left the National Hockey Stadium in May 2007, which left English Hockey with a problem. With no hockey having been played there for 4 years, and the facility having been superceded by the Olympic Park, in Stratford, East London, the lease was handed back to landowner English Partnerships after the temporary stands at each end having been removed first. The stadium lay derelict for 2 years before demolition started in December 2009. Some of the fittings ended up at Manor Fields, Bletchley currently home to MK Irish, but these days there is absolutely no trace that the National Hockey Stadium ever existed.
The site is now occupied by Quadrant:MK- Network Rail’s national operations centre, and I know of at least one groundhopper that works there! I can’t pretend I miss the place, although it was convenient for a couple of years when I worked in Central Milton Keynes. I suppose it fits in to that “Odds & Sods” category in that its of interest as EFL football was staged there, but in a set of circumstances where few would have mourned it’s passing.
By means of a postscript here’s 3 photos of the N.H.S. being demolished in May 2007.
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