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Plan to Convert Wimbledon FC into the 'Dublin Dons'

In 1996 there was a concerted attempt to relocate, the then Premier League club, Wimbledon FC to Dublin. Wimbledon had outperformed in the English Premier League in view of the size of the club and the limited fan base. When the club became homeless the then owner, Sam Hammam, had the idea to move the Dons to Dublin. The obvious appetite for English football within Ireland could be tapped into for the long term benefit of his football club. The idea was that Wimbledon FC would be based in Dublin but would compete in the English Premier League. For two years Irish soccer fans debated furiously about the possible benefits for, and possible damage to, domestic Irish soccer that would follow on from the establishment of the Dublin Dons.

Pros & Cons of the Dublin Dons

While many people welcomed the prospect of Premier League teams such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool FC and Chelsea playing regularly in Dublin fans of the League of Ireland felt that it would signal the end of top level domestic football in Ireland. The anti-Dublin Dons campaigners were particularly incensed by the involvement of TV soccer pundit Eamon Dunphy in the movement to bring Wimbledon to Dublin.

Dunphy had been particularly scathing of the League of Ireland ever since his involvement with the John Giles / Shamrock Rovers project in 1977. For fans of the League of Ireland found Eamon Dunphy's involvement paticularly inflamatory and they were deeply concerned about as well as the potentially damaging consequences for the League's clubs. Dunphy and his supporters believed that bringing Wimbledon to Dublin would be a positive development for Irish soccer and would provide an opportunity for Irish-based players to play at a high level without the need to move over to England.

Not all of the League of Ireland clubs were against the idea of Wimbledon's relocation to Ireland. The offer of £250,000 (€318,000 approx.) for each League of Ireland club went part of the way to getting buy-in from the clubs. It was also rumoured that Shelbourne had agreed to lease Tolka Park to Wimbledon until the new ground had been built.

The Dublin Dons Home

Besides Eamon Dunphy the Dublin Dons group also included the owner of Wimbledon Sam Hammam, the club manager Joe Kinnear, U2 manager Paul McGuinness, and Irish property developer Owen O'Callaghan, amongst others. O'Callaghan's involvement included the provision of a site in Neilstown in Clondalkin for the Dublin Dons home football stadium that would have a capacity of 50,000. The cost of the Dublin Dons project was estimated at £100 million (€127 million) including the stadium construction, road, rail and security infrastructure, £5 million for the FAI, £5 million for the League of Ireland clubs, and the provision of a number of football schools of excellence around Ireland.

No Dublin Home for the Dons

Although the Dublin Dons consortium claimed to have the agreement of the other Premiership clubs along with provisional approval from the EU the deal eventually foundered on the opposition provided by the FAI and FIFA. Following two years of much heated and rancorous debate, in which accusations of treachery against Irish football were often levelled at the pro-Dublin Dons people, the idea of moving Wimbledon FC to Dublin died forever.

Sources:
Who Stole Our Game?: The Fall and Fall of Irish Soccer; Daire Whelan (2006); Gill & Macmillan Ltd

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