The Wimbledon “crazy gang”


Until 1986, Wimbledon had never been in the top flight of English football despite having almost a hundred years of history. One of many clubs that seem tied to the amateur world. In the sixties they reached the seventh category, the Southern League; and in the seventies they lived one of their great episodes when they put Leeds United from Don revie. But in 1977, after the resignation of another club, the Football League invited them to be part of the fourth category of English football. An important change for the structure of an almost neighborhood club. In fact, it was bought by a businessman who a few years later left for Crystal Palace, taking the coach with him. The new board then decided to put the club in the hands of David bassett, a guy very loved by the fans and who had been part of the team that almost eliminated Leeds in the seventies. From the hand of the new coach the club was finding its style. The coach was aware that he needed to toughen up the group and began to look for a specific profile of footballers. The invention would eventually get out of hand because Wimbledon arrived in the mid-eighties all sorts of quarrels and badass who completely transformed the club.

Between 1984 and 1985 the club took a somersault because Dave Beasant (a veteran goalkeeper with very bad fleas), Alan Cork (eternal substitute forward), Steve Parsons (famous for its pot throws at parties) or Wally downes (the real locker room boss for his years at the club) were added different young people who were almost misfits, aggressive and who had grown up in difficult environments. The most famous were Denis Wise, John fasanu Y Laurie Sanchez.

A good part of the squad, in the locker room


Wise was a 19-year-old boy, of infinite talent as he would end up showing at Chelsea years later, with an innocent smile and shaved hair that gave an amazing pass that the next minute had blown up an opponent with a tackle. John Fasanu, the brother of the sadly late Justin, was a giant striker fond of bad jokes and homophobic comments; and Laurie Sánchez was a Londoner of Ecuadorian origin who did not want to warm up either.

That team was refining a style of play, but also of life. Because living in that locker room could turn into absolute hell if you were the one chosen to star in any of the jokes they hatched. Almost nobody got rid of them and even today, a kind of pact of ruffians that they signed at that time, makes that some of them never know each other. But it is known that they even burned a teammate’s car, smeared it with Vaseline, completely emptied the coach’s office … not even the owner of the club was spared. One day their car was stolen (they had a certain obsession with the fleet) and they abandoned it in a field. Then they returned the key and told him it was somewhere within twenty kilometers. It took weeks to get it back. Surely the one who best explained that environment was the coach, David Bassett, when he said that “in this club the hooligans are the footballers.”

His coach explained it like no one else: “Here the hooligans are the footballers”


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But that gang functioned on the field in a style that meant taking what they did outside of it to the field. Tough to the extreme, violent in many cases. Wimbledon was transformed into a rivals demolition machine. Whatever. It was then when they began to call them the “Crazy Gang” taking the name of a group of British comedians of the thirties. In 1986 the club achieved the imaginable. A goal from Laurie Sánchez gave them the first promotion in their history to the First Division of English football. Royalty was about to meet Wimbledon.

It was then that the club incorporated the symbol of that time. In their desire to reinforce the squad to try to survive in the top flight, they signed an absolutely unknown English midfielder who was playing in the Swedish Second Division and who had left the family home at only fifteen years old: Vinnie Jones. It seemed designed for that Wimbledon. Many years before becoming a renowned actor for films like “Snatch, Pigs and Diamonds,” Jones was already playing many of those characters on the pitch. Installed in the middle of the field, he was the leader of a team that was clear that he was not going to play there. Neither they nor the rival. Crashes, disputes, men on the ground, bad manners and infinite faith every time there was a set piece. It was that moment when they went to the auction convinced that it was their moment. “A Wimbledon-style goal” was one of the many phrases that were coined at the time. The point is that it started to work and for the rivals the visit to Ploug Lane was worse than the visit to the dentist. You can attest to this Paul gascoigne when at Newcastle he was the great promise of English football. The first time Jones met him, the day of the famous photo in which he appears squeezing his testicles, he presented himself in the best way: “My name is Vinnie Jones, I am a gypsy, I earn a lot of money. I’m going to rip your ears out with my teeth and then I’m going to spit them out. You are only fat, only with me ”. That was Vinnie Jones. The list of injured parties and footballers who ended badly with them is gigantic. They did not respect anything, not even the most sacred of football. They even spit on the famous “This is Anfield” sign that adorns the changing room tunnel at Liverpool’s stadium. That infamous style worked to the point that in their first season in the top flight of English football they finished in sixth place. They would have played in Europe if it weren’t for the English clubs being sanctioned due to the Heysel tragedy that had occurred shortly before. Wimbledon became a celebrity and was part of everyday life in England. Even Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher went so far as to say that “if we get Wimbledon to be in the First Division, surely nothing is out of our reach.”

Jones squeezes Gascoigne’s testicles.


That somewhat sinister idea consolidated and in 1988 it reached the unthinkable: the Cup final against Liverpool. Wembley, ninety thousand spectators, the walk to the center of the field, the Queen in the box … unthinkable for that gang that no longer had David Bassett on the bench. He had left a few months earlier and was replaced by Bobby Gould, a worthy heir who articulated his philosophy with a conclusive phrase: “I just need a goalkeeper who kicks 90 yards and a six-foot forward to drop the ball.” Guardiola would infarct hearing such a thing. On May 14, a sunny afternoon, Globelaar, McMahon, Beardsley, Barnes and Aldridge’s Liverpool stood in front of them representing the finest side of football. But Wimbledon hadn’t been to Wembley to take pictures for the family album. They fought like wild beasts and waited for their opportunity that came in the 37th minute. A set piece, of course, thrown by Wise with his usual precision found the head of Laurie Sánchez. The same man who had scored the goal of promotion to the First Division years before scored the first goal in a cup final. From there Wimbledon took out its defensive manual. The team that had made 1-0 and 0-1 an art was before its great examination. Liverpool harassed them and in the 60th minute they found their great opportunity with a penalty. Aldridge, who had 26 goals and had converted eleven penalties, took the ball and shot to the left of the goalkeeper, but Beasant, the man who had been defending the goal of Wimbledon a lifetime, made the stop of his life. Liverpool did not recover from the blow. The “Crazy Gang” got bigger, stronger and resisted to walk that afternoon through Wembley the only trophy in its history. More than a celebration it seemed like a bachelor party. Bobby Robson, England coach, said it clearer than anyone: “Sad, miserable, but effective.”

Wimbledon stayed in the top flight for many years. Today it no longer exists. In the 1990s, regulations forced them to leave their old Plow Lane and they rented to Selhurst Park, the Crystal Palace stadium. The decline in 2000 led to an unbearable economic situation. Against the opinion of the fans the club moved a hundred kilometers to Milton Keynes and changed its name. A group of fans then founded AFC Wimbledon trying to recover the glory that one day had the “Crazy Gang”, the team that as Gary Lineker said “the best place to see them play is on teletext”.

Beaford saves the penalty in the final.


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