Adventures in Football #55: Stadium MK (MK Dons)
July 8, 2022
FINLAND vs. SPAIN (Women’s Euros 2022)
Hello, and welcome to the second UEFA Women’s Euros 2022 game. Today, we’ve made the trip to mundane nightmare Milton Keynes. A place I outright refuse to visit to watch MK Dons, who are the worst franchise in football. You can’t just uproot a team from one part of the country and move it to another and retain that spot in the football league. This isn’t Yankland, that isn’t how it’s done.
Thankfully, I don’t have to watch MK Dons play (and I never will) because their stadium was selected for Euro 2022. Stadium MK is a smart new build stadium, designed to house the Wimbledon franchise in a new home. Milton Keynes is a new town, with no history, and was built from scratch in the 1960s. In attempting to buy a Premier League franchise for Milton Keynes, their consortium went after Luton, Crystal Palace, QPR and even Barnet before persuading Wimbledon to come over to the dark side as the club was in danger of going out of business and had no ground.
As with most modern stadia, it’s a multi-purpose venue that houses England U21 Internationals, the Women’s FA Cup final, rugby, and pop concerts. I’m hoping this trip to Milton Keynes, my fourth (I think), will help me to shed some prejudices against the good people of Milton Keynes, who can’t help that they live in a soulless hell hole.
We left around the same time we got into Manchester a few days ago. Unlike Manchester, I don’t have people to meet on a Friday afternoon in Milton Keynes. It’s a 5pm kick-off today but Maria had to work in the morning so we’re still at home at 2pm. MK is around 90 minutes’ drive, plus a walk from the parking area, provided we can get into my first choice. For MK I’ve devised multiple parking strategies. There’s a chance at parking on the industrial areas that surround the ground, Asda car park is limited to two hours so that’s officially out, Ikea has a big old car park but it’s probably crowded. So, I’ve opted for parking out near Ashland Lakes. It’s one of those new town parks that feels designed and not in a good way. It’s also the most bird shit covered area I’ve ever seen. The whole place needs a jet wash.
Most parks don’t look like they belong in Mad Max: Fury Road. We spent a while walking around the park to convince anyone watching on cameras that was our reason for parking there and headed to the ground. It’s a pleasant enough walk and the pathway leads under trees with the light shining through. Maria spends most of this time complaining that we could have parked closer as we keep walking past cars illegally parked on double yellows. It’s a game day, nobody cares. Did I mention how fucking HOT it was today? The needle in the car said 27 degrees but there was a bar of dairy milk in a bag, in the car, and it had completely melted. It was legitimately chocolate water. It swished around inside the pack. Given the intense heat and Maria almost nodding off, we stopped at Silverstone on the way. It’s a good job this wasn’t last weekend. I popped into the White Horse for a pint of the local beer (Tiger, not that one) while Maria had a nap in the car.
Coming into Milton Keynes there was horrendous traffic due to road closures. Were they not aware of the Euros happening? There were signs to re-direct stadium traffic, but we were behind at least two cars that got confused by the road they wanted being closed. It also caused big traffic jams around all the stupid islands.
There were stewards on hand to tell people where to go but I could literally see the turnstile we needed. Maria wanted to go into KFC, but the queue was out of the door. Her solution was to simply take it into the ground and eat it in there. “There is a zero percent chance they’ll let you in there with a KFC”. She settled for me buying her lunch inside the ground.
My first take on Stadium MK, dubbed the “Death Star” by some due to the oval shape and bleak black seating, was that it looked pretty cool from the concourse. In fact, being able to see the pitch from the concourse is an elite way to design a stadium. They have that at West Ham (somewhat) but here it’s all the way around. We bought some burgers, £6 a pop but they were doubles, and a few drinks due to the heat. Like with most league grounds they felt the need to take the lids off. Mate, do I look like I’m going to throw a bottle of water at a Spanish player? I’m fucking hot, I want to drink that shit. Some poor Finnish bastard was carrying six of them down the stand later in the game. Not a top in sight. Absolute bullshit.
The food was surprisingly good. They had a decent set up with four people serving and a kitchen behind them to re-up the nosh when required. It was not cheap. Two burgers, a bag of crisps and two drinks came to £18.50. As I mentioned though, the burgers were doubles and they were surprisingly good.
From our vantage point we could see where our seats were and holy shit, we’re in the SUOMI SECTION. My wife has painted her nails with the Spanish flag, haha. Divided loyalties then as I am a hardcore Finland man, since the Michael Palin song on Monty Python. Seeing as Finland is the land of lakes, I’m sure they’ll appreciate being in such proximity to Ashland Lakes Park. Truly, a fitting tribute to their Nordic heritage.
And here we are baking in the summer sunshine. A lot of pale Nordic persons around us are gradually melting. I legitimately have a tan now. The seats are padded, score another win for the new build, but they’re black, which is not ideal when it’s 27 degrees outside and we’re sat in the sun for the entire game. I imagine Stadium MK is a soulless bowl, until you fill it with passionate Finland supporters who don’t stop singing. They had a guy with a megaphone and a drummer, beating out the “S-U-O-M-I” all game. It was infectious and I soon found myself clapping along.
Here’s our view. Including man with very tall hat who took it off when he saw how short my wife was. I told him it was ok pre-game because it provided shade. The language barrier kicked in until he understood the word “shadow”. All the Fins around us were genuinely lovely people and it makes me want to go and hang out in their country. The biggest club in Finland (HJK) has a crowd capacity of 10,770. It puts things into perspective a bit. Attendance today was just over 16,000. As you can see from these pictures, the stadium is a large bowl with roof sticking out to prevent fans getting wet. In the background is our supporting character today; it’s big old Mr Sun. An ever present, glaring over proceedings and making people sweat profusely.
The man in front of me is some sort of giant Viking with a pointy hat. When Spain score their second he turned the horns down. He is not horny for Spain. The seats were £20 and allocated by UEFA so I didn’t choose to be this close to the pitch. They didn’t open the upper part of the stand. The row system is weird. We were in section five, row L and then the seat numbers are under the seats so unless there’s nobody there at all you can’t see any of the seat numbers. Some genius at work play from the designers there.
I was close enough to do some old-fashioned sports photography. Not many dramatic headers sadly as both teams kept it on the deck. Spain had a fluid passing game, while Finland preferred the counter with long passes over the top to exploit the lack of pace in Spain’s back line. They cracked that code in the opening minute when Linda Sallstrom beat the offside trap and slid the ball inside the far post. 1-0 Finland and the Suomi brigade were up and cheering. This was as good as it got for Finland, but it was a hell of a start.
With the sun blaring down and Spain playing their way back into the game there was only one winner. Spain were unlucky with the ball going behind for a corner. It was hooked back into play and headed in. That one didn’t count. A header from a corner shortly afterwards did. Bonmati then scored a tremendous looping header for 2-1 at half-time. Despite the Finnish counters Spain controlled possession and kept creating chances. Lucia Garcia scored another header, from a free kick this time, to make it 3-1.
With time running out we bailed to the concourse, where it was less painfully hot, and watched Spain score a very late penalty, five minutes into stoppage time. Seeing as Spain had 32 shots to Finland’s 4, the scoreline was not unfair. Spain had a whopping 78% possession too. Finland have shown teams a way to beat Spain though. Spain were caught cold by a straight long ball and exposed for a lack of pace in their defensive line. Finland were basically outclassed all game though, apart from in the stands.
So, it’s goodbye to Milton Keynes and Mr Sun, and hello to the ratings section!
I don’t know if it came across well on TV or it felt good because we were right next to the bulk of the Finland supporters but they never stopped singing, clapping and chanting all game. Not the same volume as at Old Trafford, simply due to there being less people there, but good nevertheless. ***½.
£20 is about right for the level of stadium. No complaints here. ***½.
A much better game than England vs. Austria with Spain showing attacking intent and Finland producing a shock early goal to put the result in doubt. ***½.
EASE OF ACCESS:
The road closures aren’t the fault of the club but as with Old Trafford, the location of the ground (some 3 miles from the train station) is a major issue. At least with parking there were options around the ground. The neighbouring industrial estate was prime for parking but the sheer distance out of town and the stupid city design knocks a few points off. **
The food was good, albeit expensive, and I love that you can watch the game from the concourse. It reminded me of the Copper Box (a London Olympic venue) in that respect, only with less jobsworths telling you to sit down. ***½.
A good score for Stadium MK. I feel like the biggest detriment to Stadium MK is that MK Dons play there. Or simply that it’s located in Milton Keynes. The actual internal aspects of the ground are all good. The view is good, the facilities are good, the concourse is terrific. I can’t fault the ground once you’re inside. Unless you just hate new builds. It is a very surprising thumbs up from me.