The Crazy Gang of Wimbledon FC

Coming a long way from the 1889 founding of Wimbledon Old Central Football Club, Wimbledon FC would finally make it to top flight football and get promoted to the first division in the 1985-86 season. After hanging around in non-league play for the better part of eleven years, a virtually unheard of side moved up to the big league and faced a modern day football giant in the FA Cup, the great Liverpool FC. Liverpool had seemingly dominated the world of football. With on pitch scientists like player/ manager Kenny Dalglish, plus tacticians such as Peter Beardsley, Steve Nicol, Alan Hansen, John Barnes, and Steve McMahon, the Reds were looking to do their second domestic double in just three years (beating Merseyside rivals Everton two years prior 3-1, and also the year after 3-2 in extra time). This particular Liverpool team had dominated everyone home and abroad, and were on a tear as one of the greatest Liverpool teams put together. Indeed it was an incredible football team. Who were Wimbledon FC? A group of rag tag, rough and tumble, scrappy players led by a menacing 6’2″ Welsh midfielder Vinnie Jones (who came from Wealdstone F.C. to Wimbledon). Dubbed the Crazy Gang because of the nature of pranks pulled throughout the season (founded by Wally Downes, who had been a staple at WFC since their plundering non league and lower division presence), no player was safe from the insanity, not even the gaffer. The practical jokes on each other boosted morale and kept the team together, while their unorthodox training techniques which included military tactics went right along with the pub punch ups, suit slashing, and other assorted tricks while they were off the pitch to round it all out.

“ If we can sell Newcastle Brown to Japan, and if Wimbledon can make it to the First Division, there is surely no achievement beyond our reach ”- Margaret Thatcher

Compared to Wimbeldon’s unorganzied and physical style of play, Liverpool’s calculated and tactical offense was predicted to smash Wimbledon. Their tactics can be summed up from Vinnie Jones, who claimed he would “rip off Dalglish’s ear and spit in the hole”. As match time approached, and the teams lined up in the tunnel, The Crazy Gang lived up to their name, intimidating and shaking Liverpool to the core (with shouts of “in the hole”, a direct reference to the Dalglish remark, which shook up King Kenny so much he conferred with an FA official about it on the walk to the pitch). It didn’t stop there, when shortly after the opening whistle Jones went in late on a challenge on the toughest Liverpool player, Steve McMahon. Slow to get up, this set the pace of the match, as Wimbledon showed the mighty LFC that they meant business. Jones would later admit that this was a planned move, a move to actually strike a psychological chord with the Reds. It worked. Led of course by Jones, and the black belt karate chopper John Fashanu the Dons terrorized the Reds in a way that they have never experienced on the pitch. Although LFC were on a high equaling Leeds’ 29 games unbeaten and just lifted their 17th championship trophy, the lads from Plough Road had scrapped their way up to face the giants at Wembley, and had them shook. Despite the Wombles rough play, their lapse in defense let Peter Beadsley push through, even while getting pummeled, to chip it over keeper Dave Beasant and put the Reds up 1 to nil. The play was called back, however, on an apparent foul on Beardsley, without playing advantage (referee Brian Hill claimed he may have blew the whistle a bit quickly in hindsight). This took a bit of wind out of Liverpool’s sails. Shortly before the half, as a result of a free kick from Dennis Wise, a Lawrie Sanchez header put the Wombles up 1 to nil. Bobby Gould’s scrappy side was up at the half against the team favored to win by four or five goals easy.

The second half started out with controversy, when in the 61st minute, Clive Goodyear took down John Aldridge in the area and was awarded a penalty. The result was the first ever penalty save in FA Cup history by keeper and captain Dave Beasant. Nobody could save the Reds now, not even John Barnes. The ex-Watford star had dazzled fans with his dribbling and precise finishing all season. Clearly frustrated with the marking and tackling of Wimbledon (along with the double teaming of him by Clive Goodyear and Dennis Wise), he could not execute his usual gun slinging and get the ball in the back of the net. As final whistle blew, commentator John Motson proclaimed: “The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culure Club, Wimbledon have destroyed Liverpool’s dream of the double”, and Wimbledon’s weird and wonderful world was there for the whole football public to see. The day that WFC won the FA Cup from Liverpool was the single, greatest moment in the club’s history. However, it wouldn’t last, as most of the players would move on to bigger and better clubs, and in just three short years the team would lose Plough Lane (forced to share a stadium with Crystal Palace) and start their eventual plummet from top of the world back to lower division football. A move to Milton Keynes split up their supporters, so much that they [the supporters] formed a new club, AFC Wimbledon. A sad tale of another football club succumbing to the financial woes and pressure of keeping up with clubs with unlimited funds to keep their roster stacked with productive players, proper stadiums to accommodate the club, and a draw to generate the necessary income to stay afloat. However, on May 14th, 1988, The Crazy Gang of Wimbledon held the trophy high, a feat though impossible for them by everyone except themselves.

(aet)

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