Taking a book on holiday is hardly exceptional. Millions of us pack an engrossing page-turner to enjoy during some downtime spent on the beach, or poolside.
Pete Winkelman is no different, and during his recent summer break he worked his way through five books.
But there wasn’t a fluffy work of fiction, or an autobiography in sight.
His chosen subject matter? Physics.
“Quite a few years back, on a visit to the OU in Milton Keynes, the late Colin Pillinger and his team talked to me about physics in a way I’d never thought about before,” Pete remembers, “Ever since then I’ve been hugely interested. They were all books about quantum mechanics and the holographic universe…”
Milton Keynes was never far from his mind though – even the restaurant they chose to eat in had a loose connection: “One of the disappointments of recent years is the closing of the Jaipur restaurant, which was one of our really important buildings. Then we found a restaurant called the Jaipur in Albufeira, so we had to give it a go…”
It turned out to be a winner with the tastebuds: “We ended up going there five times!” Pete laughed.
That the MK Dons Chairman even took a vacation is quite something – it was his first break for three years.
“The promotion at the end of last season was such a relief that it gave us a chance to get away and recharge our batteries,” he says.
But the location was still decided by football: “The Football League Conference was held in Portugal this year, so we stayed on afterwards.”
For Pete, and wife Berni, it was a chance to kick back and enjoy a little respite from the beautiful game, although now, back at home in Milton Keynes and with the new season approaching, it is football at the fore once more.
“We have come an awful long way since the beginning, and although we are still in the same division there has been lots of learning along the way, and dreams are being realised: Brazil playing here, beating Man U 4-0, seeing Dele Alli play in the World Cup and having a season in the Championship,” Pete said.
“It shows that anything is possible. What Dele Alli has done is prove to me that I wasn’t mad; that there are kids in Milton Keynes who are capable of going all the way, and as a community, we need to provide that opportunity for them to excel in their sport.
“We have done so well off the pitch and achieved some remarkable things, but we have not been able to replicate it on the football field, and that remains the number one priority.”
Without Pete, top-flight football in Milton Keynes would still be a dream not realised. His legacy is the club itself, and that stunning stadium.
Could Pete envisage a time when he isn’t at the helm?
“The thing with MK is that the city has great ambition, and my disappointment to date has been the failure of the football team to match the demand of the city.
“That continues to be the burden of responsibility and one day it might need much more than me to be able to take MK where it needs to go.”
But in the present climate, hopes for the season ahead are high. “My feeling of relief remains. I expect us to be very competitive this year. What that means in terms of where we can go, I don’t know. This year is the first that manager Paul Tisdale will have his own team. He is a very intelligent, very serious manager and it is a pleasure working with him.”
Pete moved to Milton Keynes with his wife and young family in 1993, and they have since grown up with the new city.
Initially, music was the driving force, and Pete operated one of the most successful recording studios in the country from his home in Great Linford. Artists including Jamiroquai, Skunk Anansie and Biffy Clyro temporarily ‘moved in’ to the residential space, and emerged with chart topping albums. PJ Harvey even bagged the Mercury Music Prize for her 2001 album recorded on our doorstep.
Music is still part of the Winkelman plan, however, with Stadium MK now establishing itself as a place not just for footie fans, but for music lovers too – a trio of shows at the venue in 2019 by Take That, Rod Stewart and Rammstein have introduced the venue as a serious contender capable of providing for A-list artists in Milton Keynes, something that has been lacking in recent years.
“It has taken us a long time to get serious about the concerts, but of course Milton Keynes is famous for being able to put on great events, and it is a pleasure to see Stadium MK working so well. I have enjoyed the shows immensely so far, and that’s what we need to be about.
“We need to have major events here. You shouldn’t have to go elsewhere for that.
“As ever though, the emotional driver is the football and I know the responsibility that I hold; to do my absolute best to make the football as successful as possible. I never forget that.”
The man with the plan is MK’s biggest fan. As we talk he shares his hopes for the new cancer centre at Milton Keynes Hospital: “That is a very important project. So many of us are going to face it at some point in our lives. I want to do everything I can to raise the profile of the campaign.
“Ultimately, you cannot be going somewhere else for your treatment, when it is one of the most difficult and lowest points of people’s lives. We need to find a way to deliver these facilities for our people.”
And there are other dreams that need to be realised…
“MK has still got to deliver a University that works in the modern world, to make sure we don’t lose our kids, and so that we gain other people’s brains as well.
“We have got some fantastic things here, including our theatre, and our new gallery. Milton Keynes really is coming of age, but we can’t take our foot off the gas.
“There are still massive things for us to do…”
Image credit: All Things Business