1980 to 1989 

1980-81

For in the space of nine months of the season of 1980-81 Wimbledon chairman Noades led a consortium buyout of Crystal Palace. Gradi left to manage them Palace and Wimbledon were linked in a ground sharing scheme; Wimbledon had a new chairman and a new managerial team. Oh yes, and they also won promotion!

The season began in hit and miss style. Leslie, on the transfer list much of the previous campaign, finally opted to stay put, despite a £50,000 bid from Halifax, while new signing Dave Hubbick, a £5,000 buy from Ipswich and youth teamer Glyn Hodges were contesting first team places.

A young goalkeeper in Dave Beasant had also joined the cause, signing from Edgeware Town and he ousted Goddard for his debut away at Crewe on September 13, with a Cork hat-trick securing Wimbledon's best win so far, by 3-0.

The FA Cup had produced some fine moments. A 7-2 win over Windsor & Eton saw Hubbick concussed but still score three. Swindon Town went 2-0 in round two and although Oldham held them goalless at the next hurdle, a memorable save by Beasant and typical winner from Cork secured victory in the replay.

That led to a fourth round tie at Wrexham, but by then, though, Noades and company had turned their attentions to Selhurst Park. Gradi left with them and Bassett found himself in the managerial hot seat, with Alan Gillett his number two.

Wimbledon were languishing mid-table, but had enjoyed a profitable Christmas, with wins on December 26 and 27 providing some cheer. Gradi's last game in charge was that Wrexham Cup tie and there the Cup run ended. But Wimbledon's spirit, a dominant feature throughout their history, didn't desert them.

Bassett took the reins for the January 31 trip to Port Vale and goals from Cork, Hodges and Smith saw Wimbledon to a morale boosting 3-2 win. It also put them on their way to a fantastic end of season run in.

Forget the boardroom takeovers, rumours and counter-rumours. The team did the talking under Bassett's guidance, with an unbeaten seven game run that produced 11 out of a possible 14 points.

All hell broke loose the day the run ended, in a 4-1 defeat at Darlington. Galliers and Cunningham were sent off, Smith and the assistant manager Gillett booked as Wimbledon slipped to just their second defeat in four months - the only other reverse being that Wrexham Cup exit.

Galliers was suspended for five games as he topped 49 disciplinary points for bookings and dismissals, but even without his midfield dynamics, Wimbledon were in no mood to let it slip.

There were five wins and two draws from the next seven outings and although there was defeat at Wigan, Wimbledon clinched promotion with a 4-1 victory over Rochdale, with two goal Leslie showing the way and Hodges and Galliers adding in front of 3,884 jubilant fans. Up and away they went, looking forward to another season in Division Three.

There were problems for Bassett as Cunningham joined Orient for £40,000, and Galliers linked up with Gradi at Palace in a £70,000 move.

1981-82

Two kingpins lost and Wimbledon had to do without a third when Cork broke a leg in an early season defeat at Walsall. Wimbledon began the season so shakily that it was nine games before their first League success with barely 1,600 people turning out to see a 1-0 win over Chester on October 17.

The injury crisis was now taking a hold. Indeed, Wimbledon used 28 players in League games that season, so stretched were they by illness and injury. Enfield were among those to take advantage, winning 4-1 in a game described by Bassett as: "Men against boys. They had the men."

The best sequence of results came early in the New Year, with victories over Bristol City, Doncaster and Huddersfield and a draw with Swindon. But that was immediately followed by two shockers, a 4-1 defeat at Fulham and an even more embarrassing 6-1 at Gillingham.

There was tragedy off the park. Former England international defender Dave Clement had signed for the club early season as the injury problems mounted. He too, however, fell victim to the injury curse, breaking a leg. This disappointment, and other problems and worries, led to him tragically committing suicide.

The poor winter was to leave Wimbledon with a packed finish to the season. Already struggling near the basement, they faced nine games in 24 days at one stage, but five defeats in six April outings all but sealed their fate. The Wimbledon spirit shone through in a fighting finish, but even though they lost just once in their last eight games, they were destined for the drop, this time on goal difference.

There was some solace for the success starved faithful, however. Francis Joseph emerged as a real black pearl, top scoring with 13 goals and winning the club's Player of the Year title, while Mark Morris joined Hodges and Kevin Gage in the first team as the club's successful crop of youngsters continued to break through.

As always, with Wimbledon, there was good reason to be optimistic. After all, their end of season finish had produced three straight wins, with three goals in each.

1982-83

Yet who would have thought that when they returned from a summer tour of Finland they would be the bookies' 5-1 favourites for the Fourth Division Championship and promotion to Division Three for a third time?

This time, however, it was to prove third time lucky as the Wimbledon success story steamrollered towards quite an incredible climax.

To describe the seven years leading up to the Centenary celebrations of 1989 as simply "magnificent" barely does Wimbledon justice. For most clubs, promotion just once during that period would have been a great achievement. But not for Wimbledon. This is a club with a real will to win; a determination to succeed when all seems stacked against them.

It was that same determination to climb out of the Football League basement that began a quite incredible journey just seven short seasons ago...a journey that was to lead to the very top.

But there was an early set back as they prepared for the 1982-83 season back in Division Four. Joseph, at the end of a successful 18 month spell at the club was transferred to Brentford for £40,000. But if that was a blow to Bassett's pre-season plotting, then there were plenty of bonuses.

Galliers returned from Crystal Palace for a cut price £15,000, influential Reading and Fulham defender Gary Peters signed as cap­tain and Chris Dibble and Tony Tagg joined from Millwall. Galliers was in no doubt about the club's chances. "I wouldn't have come back if I didn't think Wimbledon were capable of going anywhere," he said.

Wimbledon, in fact, were going in just the one direction: Upwards. Towering striker Stewart Evans at 6ft 4ins, was certainly doing his bit, with plenty of early goals including a first half hat trick against Torquay. And when Wimbledon put six past Aldershot on October 9 they soared top of the table, with five wins and four draws from an unbeaten start to their League programme.

Bassett was a demanding manager, driving his team on to greater efforts and they produced the necessary with clear cut wins over York City and Rochdale before a rocky five match spell around November.

Bassett, in fact, had missed that Aldershot drubbing, favouring instead a spying mission to lowly Bristol City. And it was City who ended Wimbledon's run as the League's last unbeaten side.

Bassett had been named Manager of the Month, but could do little as Wimbledon lost their grip, losing four League games out of five and being knocked out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle. He and the Wimbledon faithful, had nothing to fear, however, for Dons were to be beaten only twice more all season.

They secured promotion at Crewe with four games in hand and ended the season in front of the TV cameras, beating Bury 3-1 in the final game. Cork, sidelined for 18 months, was back after his bad leg break, scoring a hat-trick late on in the season against Chester.

But it was Leslie and Evans, on 23 and 24 League goals respectively, who led the rout as the freescoring Dons rattled in 96 League goals.

And remember that 'Champagne for Goals' title seasons earlier? Well, Wimbledon did it again, this time winning £25,000 from London's Capital Radio as the first London based club to top 80 goals. That hefty cash prize was clinched with a 3-2 win at home to Crewe, with Cork scor­ing the second and Wimbledon's 400th League goal.

A memorable night indeed, that evening of April 19. For even before the goals rattled in, the club were able to hand over to Merton Council a cheque for £100,000, at last buying out the £8,000 pre-emption clause on their Plough Lane ground.

But amidst all this euphoria, the money worries continued. Despite the goals and the glory, the gates stayed in the gutter.

Crowds barely touching a couple of thousand were common place. There was a blanket collection to help pay for the purchase of new signing Steve Hatter.

Bassett talked of axing his reserves and of keeping his fringe first teamers match fit by lending them out to non-league sides The financial restraints were always there "Deep down the future of Wimbledon Football Club Worries me” said Bassett. "This team can't give any more in terms of enthusiasm or effort. But I'm no miracle worker.

1983-84

Miracles or not, Wimbledon were now a very good, settled side. The introduction of Nigel Winterburn from Oxford, initially on loan, gave them greater variety with speedy attacks down the left.

Mark Morris, Hatter and Mick Smith were sound central defenders; Peters a steadying influence. Beasant was the envy of most clubs, with Liverpool casting a regular eye over the 'keeper affectionately tagged 'Lurch'. In midfield, Steve Ketteridge, Downes and Gage complemented the silky skills of a maturing Glyn Hodges, now on the brink of senior honours for Wales.

Leslie, the last survivor from non-league days, opted to sign for Gillingham, but up front it was Good Evans and Champagne Cork and the goals and the good times were flowing again. Cork, in fact, had spent the summer months sharpening up on loan in Sweden, and problems over international clearance kept him out of the Division Three opener, a 2-0 defeat at Bolton. But he was back in some style for the first home game of the season, scoring three in a 6-0 drubbing of Newport County...the gate again a bitterly disappointing 2,007.

Wimbledon were off and running and just two defeats in the next 10 games looked encouraging enough, especially as during this spell came two superb performances against Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest. Wimbledon first won 2-0 at home, with goals from Galliers and Hodges and then produced a fine 1-1 draw away to book a place in the third round.

Yet three days after that latter display, Wimbledon crashed 5-1 at Scunthorpe and a home defeat against Burnley on December 17 seemingly put a block on early promotion aspirations. Four straight wins relit the fire and when Wimbledon followed victory over Southend with a 6-2 walkover at Orient, they had climbed back second in the table, with Cork scoring twice to take his personal haul for the club over the 100 mark.

Four games later and Wimbledon were top, with Beasant saving a last minute penalty to secure the win at Rotherham, but the last 10 weeks of the season were real nail-biters. Four drawn games saw them slip back second, level on points with Walsall and just a point ahead of Sheffield United. They were five in front of Hull City, who had three games in hand.

Dons beat Walsall, lost to Hull, but made up ground with good wins at FA Cup semi­finalists Plymouth Argyle and again at Lincoln City, courtesy of Hodges's last minute winner. Indeed, Wimbledon were to win four and draw once in one five match sequence and promotion looked certain to hinge on a visit to fellow contenders Sheffield United on May 5. A massive 22,850 crowd packed out Bramall Lane, but Wimbledon weren't intimidated, with the Evans-Cork double act yet again producing the goods in a superb 2­1 win.

Three points from their last two games would make absolutely certain of seeing Wimbledon up to the heady heights of the Second Division. And their best home League gate of the season, 6,009, turned out at Plough Lane expecting to see Wimbledon put the seal on it against Gillingham. The result? A 3-1 home defeat.

But the groans on the terraces gave way to cheers of triumph. Sheffield United had lost at Bolton and Wimbledon were up! No goals for Cork that day and he was rested for the last League game of the season, a 2-0 success at Burnley. But he had contributed a club record 29 League goals - plus another four in the Cups - with Hodges scoring 15 from midfield.

Wimbledon finished with 97 League goals, yet again taking that Capital Radio £25,000 prize as London's top scorers. But if Wimbledon thought another triumphant season had ended with the final kick at Burnley, then they were mistaken.

For there were more trials and tribulations ahead when Bassett delivered his end of season bombshell: He was leaving to manage Crystal Palace and was taking assistant Gillett and physio Derek French with him. Yet four days of "soul-searching" later he could stand it no longer. His heart was with Wimbledon, he said. Ninety-six hours after walking out, he was striding back through the ground's gates again, ready to mastermind the club's first ever season in the Second Division.

"I've lost weight, sleep and years off my life," he said, "not knowing what to do for the best. "But my loyalty to Wimbledon proved the decisive factor."  Bassett's return helped Wimbledon breathe more easily.

1984-85

The Second Division was going to represent the toughest of tasks and when Portsmouth put them out of the League's Milk Cup at the first hurdle, there was early talk about their inability to survive.

The League season started with a real tester, with Dons' opening Second Division game at home to promotion favourites Manchester City. They could have been swept aside, but Bassett's boys reckoned otherwise and were two up inside 13 minutes. City came back to salvage the draw, but it was a thriller in front of an 8,000 plus gate and Wimbledon had proved their worth.

There were defeats against Birmingham and Oxford while trips to Shrewsbury and Middlesbrough looked tough prospects, but Wimbledon dispatched them both, scoring six goals in the process to move up the table.

Good home wins were savoured, particularly a thrilling 3-2 Sunday victory over Crystal Palace, with Wimbledon scoring three goals in five second-half minutes.

There was a 5-2 defeat at Leeds and 3-0 reverse at Manchester City to suffer, in front of 10,899 and 23,303 gates respectively. But Wimbledon's return fixture at Selhurst Park was to provide Bassett with plenty of solace.

Lawrie Sanchez, a recent £20,000 buy from Reading, got off the mark in that game and he came into a changing Wimbledon line-up that had already seen favourites Peters and Dean Thomas released pre-season, with John Kay from Arsenal taking over at right back.

Bassett tried all sorts of combinations, with Hodges, Fishenden and Andy Sayer in and out of the side and Carlton Fairweather, signing from Tooting, given a chance along the wing. The manager was pinning a lot of his hopes on the club's youngsters, with two more in central defenders Brian Gayle and Andy Thorn, breaking through before the end of the season.

His introduction of Thorn as the spare, sweeping defender ensured Wimbledon won more points than they lost during the last 10 games, clinching a very comfortable 12th position.

The goals dried up during this spell, with Wimbledon finishing on 71 as opposed to the high nineties in the two previous seasons. But if the League campaign was without the thrills or spills of promotion and relegation, the FA Cup more than made up for it.

Apart from a run to the fourth round in 1981, Wimbledon's Cup record since they joined the League made for pretty unspectacular reading. But this time, courtesy of their Division Two status, they were automatically in at the third round stage and duly knocked out Burnley at Plough Lane.

Now Surprise, Surprise! The old chestnut, Brian Clough, came out of the hat for round four and after Wimbledon had drawn goalless at Forest, Fishenden hit the winner in the Plough Lane replay.

The Dons had by now progressed further in the FA Cup than ever before and were drawn at home to West Ham. Over 13,500 fans packed out Plough Lane to see a creditable 1-1 draw, before the Hammers surged home in the replay, 5-1.

Unusually for Wimbledon, then, they were able to enter season of 85-86 knowing fully what to expect. After all, they had come through their first experience of a season's Second Division football relatively unscathed.

Twelfth in the table and a run to the fifth round of the FA Cup were no mean feats. They had answered any critics by twice bouncing back from poor runs when lesser sides would have succumbed. They clearly had what it took to succeed: An abundance of self belief.

1985-86

Consequently, they opened the campaign with a flourish, trouncing Middlesbrough 3­0 at home and earning a good point with a goalless draw at Elland Road.

There was a four goal slip up at Sheffield United to contend with, before a stunning three game winning run put Dons up among the early pace makers. Even though all three wins were by the only goal, the third, against Barnsley, hoisted them second in the table.

Two defeats and a draw made for grim reading in September, however, before Dons rediscovered their scoring touch with a five goal Milk Cup drubbing of Blackburn Rovers, with Cork cracking a hat-trick.

Two from Evans won the following game, a League derby v Charlton Athletic, while Wimbledon were then to produce one of their best results of the season at Carrow Road, ending Norwich's unbeaten run...although it took a Beasant penalty save from Steve Bruce to protect the spoils.

Wimbledon went throughout October unbeaten in the League and duly reclaimed second place in the table on November 3 as Smith and Cork scored two apiece in a 4-1 win against Carlisle United.

Wimbledon's Milk Cup hopes turned sour in a brave 2-0 defeat at Tottenham and there were dropped points in front of a 15,518 Sunderland crowd in the League, although Geordie boss Lawrie McMenemy was quick to praise Wimbledon's attacking policy. Defeats against Leeds and Middlesbrough failed to jolt Wimbledon out of their stride and they celebrated Christmas in cracking style.

First they avenged that early season drubbing at Sheffield United, going one better in a 5-0 win on December 21. Then two from Cork helped give the Boxing Day blues to Palace. Two days later and it was Barnsley's turn, beaten 1-0, with Sanchez scoring the vital goal to add to his efforts in the previous two victories.

The early New Year was not so pleasant. Promotion rivals Portsmouth came to Plough Lane on New Year's Day and, in front of a 9,046 gate, spoilt the home side's party with a 3-1 win. Millwall matched that scoreline as they sent Dons crashing out of the FA Cup while even Oldham, without a win in 11 matches, added to their miseries with a 2-1 victory.

Now Sanchez had already scored some important goals that campaign, but there can have been few more revitalising than his glancing 52nd minute header in the next game against Grimsby Town. The confidence came flooding back after that and Hodges and Cork added further goals in an important win.

A month's football was lost to the weather and although Wimbledon resumed with a frosty draw against Brighton, they were soon back on the winning trail with a succession of solid victories. Leaders Norwich fell first, beaten 2-1 with Evans and Cork the scorers. Fairweather steered in the decisive goal against Millwall and Sanchez and Cork were on target in a 2-0 win at neighbours Fulham.

Wimbledon were flying now and only the woodwork prevented another runaway win against Blackburn Rovers on March 22. The honours finished even, courtesy of a Fairweather 25 yard strike, while Cork twice hit the crossbar and saw another hacked off the line. But this was no time for idle talk about bad luck or unfortunate finishing.

Wimbledon were on the brink of something really special here and the club were not about to let it slip. It was imperative they made the most of the chances they were creating each and every game.

Their promotion push was in need of a boost and, just as they had done with the purchase of £45,000 defender Cunningham years before, they decided to gamble again...although this time on a striker. They dug deep and broke the bank, signing the powerful John Fashanu from Millwall for a then club record £125,000.

He made his debut as substitute, coming on in the second half of a heated clash at Portsmouth. An 18,000 plus gate was buzzing as Pompey had just taken the lead through Noel Blake. But Fashanu's presence clearly unsettled their back line and within minutes Smith headed the equa1iser after Evans' initial effort came back off the bar.

A third successive draw followed in the April Fool's Day derby against Crystal Palace, but there was no faulting Fashanu. He battled and scrapped for everything and scored his first for the club with a powerful header.

When Fashanu netted again the following Sunday, away at Carlisle, Wimbledon were right back in promotion contention, with Fairweather scoring twice in a 3-2 win. Bassett and Winterburn will have cause to remember that one, alright.

For the impressive Winterburn, the subject of firm enquiries from a clutch of clubs, heard he had been called up for the England U-21 squad, due to depart the next morning for a vital European Championship semi­final in Italy.

Injuries had forced two players to withdraw and this was Winterburn's chance to create Wimbledon history. If selected to play, he would be their first professional England international. He and Bassett drove throughout the night, eventually reaching the team's Heathrow hotel at 2am and off Winterburn jetted the next morning.

It was not a wasted journey, either. He was thrust straight into Dave Sexton's side, winning his first cap for his country. But back to the League and it was all looking pretty tight at the top. Norwich were 10 points clear and coasting, but the pack were crammed together. Portsmouth on 66 points from 36 games, Wimbledon five points behind, but with a game in hand.

Charlton, in turn, had a game in hand on the Dons and were only two points adrift, with Hull and Crystal Palace on the fringe. Wimbledon needed something special to consolidate their claim and turned to the skills of Hodges, out of favour for much of the season. He was recalled for the home game with Sunderland and responded with a second half hat-trick as Wimbledon rattled in another three goal win.

A draw at Shrewsbury the next outing was a big disappointment and with five games to go and the last three of those away, Wimbledon couldn't afford to let anything slip. Fashanu was just the man for the job. Outsiders Hull came to Plough Lane on April 26 and big John promptly saw them off, scoring twice in a 3-1 win.

Next came Stoke City, with the Wimbledon gate for once a more respectable 5,959. It was tight, very tight. But then came the all important breakthrough. Three minutes into the second-half and there was Cork, scorer of so many crucial goals over the years, to head in Gage's free-kick.

This was unbelievable stuff. Wimbledon were all but there. The First Division was a mere whisker away. A win would make absolutely certain and there were three games to do it in, starting at Huddersfield Town.

The rain lashed down. There was hail. There was thunder and lightening. And there was Sanchez, striding onto a short free-kick to drill the winner and send Wimbledon up, up and away into the First Division. The scenes at the end were those of pure ecstasy. The Wimbledon players ran to their rain soaked fans, throwing their shirts into the crowd. 'Keeper Beasant went one stage further, jettisoning his shorts as well!

Mind you, it was that sort of day for these players. They had come through thick and thin together, from the earliest days. In the side that clinched promotion that afternoon there were former youth teamers in Gage, Hodges, Thorn, Morris and substitute Fishenden, with yet another, in Gayle, on the sidelines.

There was a free transfer in the club's now legendary goal scorer Cork and another in international full back Winterburn. In goal Beasant had cost £1,000 and had barely missed a game in seven years, while Galliers, at £500 more, was lasting just as well and was a mighty figure in midfield. Just Sanchez and Fashanu had cost the sort of money other sides were lashing out on their reserves.

Somehow this side from the bargain basement had secured for themselves a place in the premier division of the premier league in the World. Draws against Charlton and Bradford completed the season, capping a campaign that had seen Wimbledon go their last 16 games unbeaten.

Division One beckoned and Bassett and his boys were ready. But really the fairytale had only just begun.

1986-7

There were now fixtures against the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Everton to consider and motivation certainly wasn't a problem. Rainy midweek matches at the likes of Darlington and Crewe were still all too fresh in the memory of most, player and spectator alike.

But few were giving Wimbledon any real chance of making a mark and that's like the proverbial red rag to a bull, as far as this club is concerned. Consequently, by the first week of September there they were, on top of the First Division with the rest of the Football League trailing in their wake.

A goal from Thorn had been their only return from the season's opener, a 3-1 defeat at Manchester City. The Dons had dominated much of this game however, and, after Thorn had put the Dons in front, City scored with their only three shots on target.

But four successive wins had seen Wimbledon surge up the table. Gage, Fashanu and Hodges set the wheels in motion in a 3-2 victory over Aston Villa...a 6,372 gate attracted to Plough Lane for their first ever home Division One game.

Single goal wins followed, with Cork, Wise and Hodges the marksmen against Leicester City, Charlton Athletic and Watford respectively. For one week Wimbledon ruled the land, setting the scene for a season that saw League doubles over Manchester United and Chelsea and incredible wins at Liverpool, West Ham and Spurs. 

The club, by now, had more than its fair share of knockers for the way they played the game.

Their direct approach had the purists holding their heads in horror. But the Wimbledon way worked wonders. Why attempt in four passes what you can achieve in one, anyway? Why dwell on fancy footwork out on the wing when the good early cross is guaranteed to catch defender and 'keeper, napping?

There was plenty of bite and fight, but there always has been with Wimbledon sides. It was a formula that had worked at all levels and one that was working just as well again up among soccer's elite.

Small wonder, then, that the Wimbledon way also earned them their best run yet in the FA Cup, taking them beyond a fifth round tie against Everton.

The BBC cameras were there for that one and Wimbledon didn't freeze on the day either, clinching a win in some certain style and going into the quarter-final draw for the first time in their history, courtesy of goals from Hodges, Sayer and Fashanu.

Out of the hat came Tottenham Hotspur, but it was a Waddle and Hoddle double act that won the day, with Wimbledon knocked out in front of a 16,000 packed Plough Lane gate and the TV cameras there again, although this time from ITV.

The season was far from over and home wins against Coventry, Forest and Chelsea took Wimbledon to a very creditable sixth position. Just to put that in perspective, but for the Heysel Stadium disaster, that placing would have been sufficient to bring European football to SWI9.

This, though, signaled the end of the 'Harry' Bassett reign at Plough Lane. He was enticed away to manage Watford, taking most of the backroom boys with him, as well as Hodges and Morris, while Winterburn, Player of the Year for four seasons in succession, moved to the Arsenal.

Now into the managerial hot seat came Bobby Gould, ably assisted by England team coach Don Howe. A new back four formed the rearguard, with John Scales, Eric Young, Clive Goodyear and Terry Phelan drafted in and adapting to the Wimbledon way just as smartly.

Fate pitched Gould straight into a match against Bassett's Watford, which ended in a single goal defeat, while goals in successive matches from Cork secured home draws against Everton and Oxford United.

Cork and Fashanu were to share quite a few between them in consecutive wins over Derby, Charlton and Newcastle, with Wise the marksman in a 1-1 draw at West Ham. But that was the end of a six game unbeaten run and four defeats followed before a superb 3-0 win at Tottenham.

A new wave of youngsters were now coming through. Wimbledon had been the envy of a host of First Division clubs when they convinced one young schoolboy, in England prospect Vaughan Ryan, to sign for them years before.

He had made his first team debut towards the end of the 86-87 season and was duly named the club's Young Player of the Year, winning the Eric Willcocks Memorial Award long serving clubman Willcocks having tragically died of cancer the year be­fore.

Ryan was in that winning line-up at Spurs, as was another former youth teamer, John Gannon. And it was Gannon's goal that helped sink the Spurs, with Fashanu and another newcomer, experienced former Manchester United striker Terry Gibson, adding.

A 1-1 draw with Liverpool followed and Wimbledon were off and running again, with just one defeat, at Sheffield Wednesday, in 13 matches.

Manchester United, Norwich, West Ham, Arsenal, Derby and Oxford United - the latter by 5-2 - were all dispatched during this spell, which put Wimbledon in fine heart for their FA Cup opener, at home to West Bromwich Albion.

1988 Photo Gallery A 7,262 gate reckoned this one to be worth watching, with Ron Atkinson's West Brom, although struggling near the foot of the Second Division, dominating early on.

But Wise made the first, headed home by Fashanu, before drilling in a 30 yard sec­ond. He was injured making that shot, but replacement Robbie Turner came on to score his first for the club since signing from Bristol Rovers, with Fairweather scoring the fourth in a comfortable 4-1 win.

Watford brought the club's fine League run to an end the next week at Plough Lane before Wimbledon's Cup travels took them to Mansfield for round four.

Goals from Cork and a first for the club from Phelan seemed to see Wimbledon home and dry inside the first hour.

But Mansfield, in front of a near capacity crowd, snapped back when Beasant boobed and Kent cashed in.

But if that was down to the giant Wimbledon 'keeper, he certainly made amends just minutes later, pulling off a fine penalty save.

Newcastle United were next in round five and Wimbledon and Vinny Jones in particular, were going to need all their composure. Jones, now established in midfield, had clashed with Newcastle's Paul Gascoigne the previous fortnight in a goalless League draw at Plough Lane. It was a match remembered not for its football, but for a photograph of Gascoigne grimacing as Jones applied the big squeeze.

There was talk of Jones apologising with a red rose and Gascoigne offering a toilet brush in return - hardly the build up Gould wanted.

And come Saturday, February 20, a 28,000 Geordie crowd was baying for vengeance in a tense St James' Park atmosphere. But Wimbledon and Jones, this time took a more orthodox grip on Gascoigne and company, silencing the Geordie roar with a goal inside six minutes.

Gibson, at £200,000 Wimbledon's most expensive signing, began to repay that when he headed in a Wise free-kick and then Gayle and Fashanu added as Dons clinched, yet again, a place in the quarter finals.

Before that tie, though, there was a 2-0 win over Luton to be savoured, followed by an even better three goal triumph against Spurs at Plough Lane, with Jones, Fashanu and Wise the scorers in a 3-0 win.

But now for round six, with Watford the opponents and Morris and Hodges among them.

It was to prove a mountain. A goal from Malcolm Allen gave Watford the lead and Wimbledon looked dead and buried when Gayle was sent off a minute before the interval. But, here we go again.

Never write off Wimbledon, for 'De­feat' is not a word featured in the Dons' Dictionary. Gould produced a masterstroke reshuffle at half-time, sending on substitute Young and he promptly repaid his manager with a towering header from a Wise free-kick. Seventeen minutes from time and the turn around was complete. Fashanu cracked the winner and Wimbledon were into the last four.

 

A pair of two-all draws, at Everton and Southampton, had to be seen off before Wimbledon's date with destiny, or rather, a semi-final tie against Luton at White Hart Lane, arrived on Saturday, April 9. Wembley was just one short step away, but there was no danger of any glory going to their heads. Gould's travel arrangements to Tottenham took care of that, with the team arriving in a procession of cars and club mini-bus.

 

Luton drew first blood, with Mick Har­ford scoring just after the break. But when Gibson was sent crashing, up stepped Fashanu to drill his 21st of the season from the penalty spot. It was pretty tense out there now, but in the 80th minute Wise produced a gem. Cork swung over the cross and Wise slithered through the mud for what proved the winner.

White Hart Lane erupted as Wise set off in a dash of delight before disappearing under the entire Wimbledon team. This was an achievement that defied be­lief, even by Wimbledon standards. Just five years earlier they had been at Crewe sec­uring promotion from the Fourth Division.

 

Now here they were celebrating a place in the Wembley final of the most famous Cup competition in the World. Their opponents would be Liverpool, the League Champions and three times past winners of the FA Cup. They were a club born and bred on big time success. Their first Division One Championship title had come way back in 1901. Wimbledon had won a championship that season as well - The Clapham League Championship. There wasn't an honour in the game that hadn't gone Liverpool's way, including four European Cup triumphs.

 

There wasn't a team in the League to match their multi-million pound line-up. Their forward line alone, in Beardsley, Barnes and Aldridge, read: £1.9million; £900,000; £750,000. Surely, this time, Wimbledon would roll over on that hallowed Wembley turf and admit to being second best. Surely, this time, the big match nerves would get to them. Surely, this time, they would settle for just having made it to the final and leave it at that. Surely? SURELY NOT.

 

For come a few minutes before 5pm on that Saturday afternoon of May 14, there was the Wimbledon skipper, Dave Beasant, up in the Royal Box and turning to proudly hoist aloft the Cup. His beaming smile would have lit up south west London in a power cut. His roar of triumph would have been heard there as well. Lawrie Sanchez's goal, a cleverly directed header, had won for Wimbledon the game's biggest prize, but their victory owed much to a remarkable penalty save by Beasant, as well as the tactical awareness of Howe.

 

All season, the League Champions had been teasing and tormenting down their left flank. Beardsley, Houghton and Bames were their key performers in intricate pas­sing triangles that first bemused and then battered the opposition. It was a Liverpool tactic that ensured a pulsating season for Barnes. Twice Footbal­ler of the Year, he was their king pin.

 

Howe's tactic of employing Wise up against Barnes on the right side of the Wimbledon midfield was a simple move on paper, yet so brilliantly effective on the park. Barnes had no room to maneuver and was marked out of it. The triangle was bro­ken and the threat was gone.

 

In the game itself, Kettering referee Brian Hill had angered the Liverpool camp by failing to adopt the advantage rule when Beardsley evaded Thorn's clumsy chal­lenge. Beardsley ran on to clip the ball home, but Hill's whistle had already gone for the foul. Three minutes later and fortunes had turned full circle. From being almost a goal behind, Wimbledon took the lead. Nicol's shirt pull on Phelan led to a Wise free-kick from the left. And an inch perfect cross found the head of Lawrie Sanchez who flicked the ball into the net past the stranded goalkeeper.

 

The Wimbledon fans were understanda­bly jubilant. All the way along Wembley Way they had had to turn a deaf ear to a thundering Scouse chorus of: "Underground, overground, Wombling free. You'll be so lucky if we only score three." But now here were those Reds, 36 mi­nutes gone, a goal behind and failing to match Wimbledon's commitment any­where on the pitch.

 

When they did get through, Beasant was masterful. His second-half save from Al­dridge's penalty was, quite simply, brilliant. The Liverpool sttiker hadn't missed in 11 previous efforts from the spot. He was sup­remely confident and their leading marksman on 29 goals. A penalty had never been missed in a Final.

 

Beasant, like Howe, had done his homework. "I've seen a lot of his penalties on television," he said, "and know that if the 'keeper doesn't move, he tends to put the ball to the left." Beasant stood tall, making himself as big as he could and Aldridge, sure enough, went for his bottom left hand comer. Beas­ant swooped, got a hand to it and palmed the shot away. "I should have caught it really," he said afterwards.

 

It was a sweet and sour moment. While Beasant was being mobbed and trying to wave his players aside, a dejected Aldridge was making his way to the substitutes' bench.

His number had been up, quite literally, moments before the penalty incident, with Craig Johnston ready to come on. Al­dridge's blank shot from the spot was his final contribution. Beasant's afternoon was still honing up, but he defied Liverpool's late, desperate surge.

 

Wimbledon were triumphant and the FA Cup was theirs, presented by the Princess of Wales, no less.

 

Who said fairytales don't come true? Well, they had done for this club and the next day's celebrations were just as stagger­ing.

 

Throughout their entire history Wimble­don had begged and pleaded for greater support. But the crowds they deserved strangely stayed away. Yet, on that Sunday morning Wimble­don ground to a halt. Twenty-five thousand fans lined the streets as their heroes paraded the Cup in an open top bus journey to the Town Hall.

 

The club's colours were draped from every lamp-post and window; messages of congratulations dominated every shop dis­play. It was a carnival atmosphere to mark the club's greatest day and most memora­ble season: FA Cup winners and seventh in the First Division. Now how on earth was Bobby Gould going to follow that?

 

The answer was with great difficulty. Beasant and Thorn quit for Newcastle in a multi-million pound deal, while unrest among several established stars combined to give Wimbledon an unsettled and dispirited start to their 88-89 campaign.

 

Young Simon Tracey was given the daunting task of filling Beasant's boots. He made a steady start in the season's traditional opener, the Charity Shield at Wembley, where, despite Fashanu's goal, Liverpool gained some revenge with a 2-1 win. But come the first match in the League and Tracey let in five against Arsenal at Plough Lane and that after Fashanu had given Dons an early lead. Tracey gave way to Ron Green, but that didn't last either. Goals from Fairweather and Fashanu sealed a 2-2 draw at Luton, but three successive one goal defeats saw Wimbledon trapped at the foot of the table.

 

But then came the introduction of £125,000 Hans Segers from Nottingham Forest and he had the magic touch the sup­porters were clamouring for. Beasant's forte, great saves aside, had been the accuracy and distance of his clear­ances. Segers, therefore, was an instant hit as he marked his debut at home to Everton with a massive kick up field that led to Fashanu's early opener. He built on that for a fine debut as Wimb­ledon pulled off their first win of the season.

 

Scales scored the winner in the next game against Villa, while a 1-1 draw with Man­chester United had Wimbledon in good heart, only for another poor run of three straight defeats to put paid to that.

 

It was Liverpool (who else?) who helped raise spirits again with a 1-1 draw in front of the Kop, while Fairweather and Gibson were the scorers in the following League game's 2-1 win over Southampton. And it was Sanchez who helped haul the club's fortunes completely round when he scored the winner at Nottingham Forest.

 

This started another superb Wimbledon run, with just two defeats in the next 15 First Division outings, as they climbed from bottom to sixth. Notable successes included the Boxing Day win over high riding Millwall and four goal hauls against Luton, Nottingham Forest and Derby County.

 

There was plenty of good Cup football to enjoy as well. Barnsley and Manchester Un­ited were put out in the Littlewoods Cup be­fore Wimbledon were beaten by the only goal in a fourth round replay against QPR.

 

Their defence of the FA Cup was also going great guns as they progressed to the last eight for the third year running. Birmingham City and Aston Villa were both beaten away, with Grimsby putout 3-1 in the fifth round at Plough Lane.

 

Then came Everton at Goodison Park. Wimbledon had lost just once in their pre­ceding six games and were a side in form. Yet for some reason they froze on the big day and Everton took the spoils, 1-0, releas­ing the south London club's hold on the trophy they had won so bravely.

Wimbledon's League form suffered with a loss of consistency, but there was still a four goal thrashing of Thorn's Newcastle to enjoy, with plenty more to savour as season number 100 drew to a close. Liverpool took the winner's spoils in the penultimate game of the season, but Wimb­ledon played their part in some first class en­tertainment, while the season closed with a 2-2 draw at eventual champions Arsenal.

 

Mid-table in the First Division was still a highly creditable showing and there were fine individual performances to enjoy, par­ticularly from Player of the Year John Scales and from Segers, Wise and Fashanu. It was the latter two who provided the icing on the cake. Both were called up for the full England squad for the international games against Chile and Scotland and al­though Wise didn't make the team, there were two caps for Fashanu.

 

So here we are, in season number one hundred and one, talking about England in­ternational players and of glorious winning runs in the First Division.

And of a Cup Final victory that put Wimbledon well and truly on the sporting map of the World. That had been the club's aim when they won election to the Foot­ball League, to make Wimbledon as renowned for its football as it is for its tennis. That they achieved just that with so many home grown players and so many bargain buys, is to their lasting credit.

 

THE BOYS FROM THE OLD CENTRALS WOULD HAVE BEEN PROUD OF THEM.

 

 

Honours

1980-81 Promoted to Division Three
1982-83 Football League Division Four Champions
1983-84 Football League Division Three runners-up
1985-86 Promoted to Division One
1987-88 FA Cup winners