WATFORD have attracted criticism from fans after announcing they will play MK Dons in a pre-season friendly.

Aidy Boothroyd's side will travel up the M1 on Wednesday, August 1 to take on the Dons at their new 22,000-seater stadium in preparation for a return to the Championship next season.

However, the news has sparked anger among supporters - many of whom boycotted the Hornets last visit to the National Hockey Stadium in October 2003 in protest of the club's relocation to Milton Keynes in May 2002.

Supporters up and down the country interpreted the Football League's decision to approve the relocation as franchising and gave Wimbledon the disparaging title "Franchise F.C.".

Having relocated and opted for a new set of supporters, many feel the MK Dons should have been forced to start at the bottom of the football pyramid instead of being able to continue playing in the Football League.

Some Watford fans felt so strongly about the move that instead of watching their team play Wimbledon at Selhurst Park on Boxing Day 2002, many boarded a coach to Kingsmeadow to see AFC Wimbledon, the club based in south-west London that was founded by the original fans of Wimbledon FC, take on Raynes Park Vale in a Combined Counties League game.

Amid widespread criticism, Wimbledon FC moved to the National Hockey Stadium in September 2003 and assumed their current name, MK Dons, in June 2004.

Watford fans e-mailed the club yesterday (Thursday) to voice their disapproval at the fixture, with some calling for the club to repeat the action of two seasons ago when they called off a proposed pre-season friendly with the Dons.

"I was surprised and disappointed to note the club announcing a pre-season friendly against MK Dons," wrote lifelong fan and former co-editor of Blind, Stupid and Desperate (BSaD) Matt Rowson.

"Watford claims to be a club that values its role in the community - the very existence of the club's Community Sports & Education Trust is testimony to this.

"As such it strikes me as odd that a pre-season friendly against a club with the Dons' history, a club for whom community seemed to matter so little, should be deemed appropriate.

"In particular it strikes me as odd in the context of the club's current dispute with the Watford Observer - without wishing to pass judgment on that one - that you should choose to risk alienating a large proportion of your support for the sake of a pre-season friendly.

"This betrays a lack of judgment at best, and a peculiarly antagonistic decision at worst."

Responding to the fans' criticisms, Watford chairman Graham Simpson said: "The pre-season itinerary is planned around the needs of the football management team, who decide on the availability, timings and required opposition for each stage of the campaign.

"As a club we have forged links with Milton Keynes by way of the two loan deals that saw Dominic Blizzard and Albert Jarrett make temporary moves to the Dons late last season.

"All of the teams that we are playing this pre-season we have either a contractual or current working relationship with, of which Milton Keynes Dons are one.

"We cannot be judgmental, Aidy asked for confirmation from me as this was a fixture he wanted to fulfill and I am happy to back his decision.

"I believe that time moves on and it is not necessary for us to pass judgment on another club and its business, whoever they may be," the chairman added.

Watford's pre-season schedule l Wednesday, July 18: Wealdstone away (at Northwood FC) l Saturday, July 21: Boreham Wood away l Tuesday, July 24: Ankaragucu away l Saturday, July 28: TBA l Saturday, July 28: Wingate & Finchley away l Wednesday, August 1: MK Dons away, 7.45pm kick-off.

l Saturday, August 4: TBA l Sunday, August 5: Lincoln City away