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Official Review by Gary Foxall, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Milton Keynes Dons (M.K. Dons) are an English football league club founded in 2004, when their current chairman purchased Wimbledon F.C. and relocated them fifty miles away to Milton Keynes. The Dons part of the M.K. name was taken to reflect the former club's history when the owner changed the club's identity to its current name. This, however, caused uproar resulting in Wimbledon supporters forming a new club, A.F.C. Wimbledon, who have had a fairytale rise, like the original club, through non-league football to the Football League.
Initially, M.K. Dons played home games at the city’s 7,000 capacity National Hockey Stadium (now demolished) until the Stadium mk, also referred to as "Denbigh Stadium" after the neighbourhood in which it's located, was built in 2007. Built with a potential capacity of 44,000, the stadium was one of fifteen put forward by England in their unsuccessful 2018 World Cup bid. However, with average attendances of 8,000, only the bottom tier is currently complete, giving the venue an all-seated capacity of 22,000. The upper tier is due to have seats installed by the end of 2013. Although this gives an uneasy feel to the stadium, its facilities are excellent. Consisting of a bowl-shaped design, the stadium's offices, hospitality facilities, and conference rooms are housed in the South Stand.
Having sat in all areas of the stadium, the concourses are spacious and seats are comfortable with plenty of leg room. Stadium M.K. has hosted Rugby Union games with a Northampton Saints game giving the stadium its record attendance of 22,220 against Munster in January of this year (2012).
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Food and drink on sale at the Stadium mk are on-par with most football stadiums in England in terms of both quality and cost. The difference here is that the concourses are more than adequate to digest your food and drink, and queuing is minimal due the large number of kiosks. The catering facilities in the South Stand are even better.
Having visited the stadium on a few occasions with varying attendances, I will mark the stadium's atmosphere as four star based on my visit for the M.K. Dons' first ever game against the club with their real identity A.F.C. Wimbledon in the F.A. Cup. As this was a grudge match with a difference, the stadium's atmosphere was electric with the venue nearly full to capacity. This gave an insight into the stadium's potential if the club were to reach the Premier League.
Milton Keynes is a typical English Government New Town design from the late-1960s, built to cope with the overflow from several London boroughs. The area's most notable landmarks are the Centre mk shopping complex, Milton Keynes Theatre, and the National Bowl, a 65,000 capacity pop concert venue. The city also has Linear Parks and public walks, and small original towns like Stoney Stratford, New Bradwell, and Bletchley may also be worth a visit. Milton Keynes is famous for its concrete cows, which can be seen on most traffic islands in the city.
Nearer to the stadium, the adjoining MK1 Retail Park can be used to kill a couple of hours before a game. Here, you will find Primark and Marks & Spencer, with other new stores being built at the time of writing. ASDA and IKEA superstore restaurants can both be recommended for dining before a game. The Inn on the Lake Public House - a ten-minute walk from the stadium - is also recommended for food and drink.
M.K. Dons supporters and the club are nicknamed "Franchise F.C." due to the way the club was formed. Few, if any, of the original Wimbledon supporters made the journey up the M1 motorway, preferring to remain in Wimbledon and form the new A.F.C. Wimbledon club. Despite losing the F.A. Cup game at the M.K. Dons, their decision was justified. However, despite not having much history at present, the M.K. Dons Board are doing a good job of increasing the club's fan base, and average attendances currently hover around the 9,000 mark. With a large catchment area, the increasing cost of watching Premier League football in London, and the club's initiative of trying to entice local children who will have no concept of the club's formation, M.K's fan base will continue to increase. Rivals are obviously A.F.C. Wimbledon, with local rivals being most same level London clubs and Northampton Town.
The stadium is located in the Denbigh area of Milton Keynes and is signposted from junction 14 of the M1 motorway. Beware, as Milton Keynes is a nightmare to drive around due to its number of roundabouts and dual carriageways. Parking is available at the stadium for £7, but you can park for free at the IKEA Superstore. Be warned that you will get clamped if you park in ASDA's car park next door.
If travelling by train, Milton Keynes Central is on the main line from London and two miles away with connecting bus services on a match day. Fenny Stratford on the Bletchley to Bedford branch line is just over one mile away. Birmingham and London airports are the nearest to Milton Keynes.
Admission prices are £20 and £23, with reductions for OAP's and children. Compared to other clubs in the league, this represents good value due to the stadium's excellent facilities. M.K Dons are a family club with a safe environment for children to watch football.
There is a club shop selling a wide range of merchandise located by the main entrance to the stadium. Betting Kiosks are available inside the stadium, and the club has a good website. Match day programmes are produced for all games, priced at £3, and team sheets are also available in the South Stand.
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