- FA Cup
Gayle: AFC Wimbledon the winners, regardless of result
Wimbledon legend Marcus Gayle is hoping his former club can spring a surprise away to MK Dons in the FA Cup second round on Sunday, in what he says will be a "painful" afternoon for the visitors' fans.
Gayle, now the manager of Conference South side Staines Town, spent seven years of his playing career with the original incarnation of Wimbledon, before the club was controversially rebranded as MK Dons and relocated to Milton Keynes.
The move to Milton Keynes alienated most supporters and a new club, AFC Wimbledon, was formed by the dissenters. Starting off in the bottom tier of the English football pyramid, AFC Wimbledon then embarked on an incredible ascent up the divisions and in 2011 became a Football League club.
Gayle returned to Wimbledon for the 2007-08 season, helping secure promotion to the Conference South, and has continued to have a close affinity with the club, who he believes are the moral victors whether they win or not at MK Dons in the Cup.
"It's an emotional, painful day for the AFC Wimbledon fans," Gayle told ESPN. "The game was always going to happen, it nearly did two years ago [MK Dons lost to Stevenage with a tie against Wimbledon at stake in the second round]. Now it's upon us but whatever happens the winners are undoubtedly AFC Wimbledon anyway - starting at the lowest level of English football and making it all the way back up through the Football League is a great achievement.
"They've rightfully earned their place and no matter what the score is, they are champions already because of the struggle that the fans and people have gone through.
"MK Dons are what they are, whether or not you agree with the means, they are there. On their current form they should win the game. But the magic of the Cup means that anything can happen and I'm hoping and praying that something does happen and that there's a moral victory.
"I think there will be a line drawn for the Wimbledon fans in terms of their status and they can lay things to rest. There's a lot of tension involved, a lot of feelings - everyone has had time to deal with how they feel. It's a game of football, the players will be fired up as usual and it's a chance to proceed in the FA Cup."
After playing a role in the rise of AFC Wimbledon, Gayle believes the supporters deserve continued credit for the way in which they built a Football League club against the odds.
"When I was first asked to come back, the main aim was to get up out of the Ryman League [the seventh tier of English football] and we obviously did that. A year later it was even better as we went up from the Blue Square South. Then there were two years in the Conference and I was there that day against Luton up in Manchester [at the 2011 Conference play-off final at Old Trafford] to see that great moment.
"Everyone could see that something special was going to happen with the club, it probably came round a little bit quicker than people thought but the opportunity to take it was there did."