1980 to 1989
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
So here we are, in season number one hundred and one,
talking about England international players and of glorious winning runs in the
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
||Promoted to Division Three
||Football League Division Four
||Football League Division Three
||Promoted to Division One
||FA Cup winners