Once upon a time, the leafy London suburb of Wimbledon was known as something of a genteel place; famous for Tennis, strawberries and cream and straw boaters. Men in cravats escort demure, flower-dressed ladies to take tea and scones…..OK you get the idea. Anyway, all that changed in the mid 1980’s when Dave ‘Harry’ Bassett and his group of footballing misfits,ruffians, scoundrels and blackguards stomped their way across the manicured flowerbeds of south-west London.
Against all odds, the Plough Lane mob had romped through the four tiers of the English Football League in less than a decade since their admittance in 1977. Their infamous brand of carnage both on and off the field of play earned them the more than appropriate nickname of “The Crazy Gang” as they marauded through the established elite of the First Division.
Legendary Dons names such as Dennis Wise, John Fashanu, Lawrie Sanchez and, of course, chief rabble-rouser Vinnie Jones kicked, elbowed, punched, niggled and spat their way into an incredible 6th place finish in 1986-87 (a point better than Brian Clough’s Forest and 10 ahead of Fergie’s Manchester United) and 7th the following season.
Bassett left for Watford at the end of that first season in the top flight and was replaced by former Arsenal and Coventry City striker Bobby Gould.
Gould’s men, sporting this Spall-made (suppliers to the finest school football teams), Truman-sponsored classic made it all the way to the 1988 FA Cup final (Carlsberg took over shirt sponsorship in time for the final) where they were expected to be mere cannon-fodder for the mighty, all-conquering Liverpool who were chasing their second League and Cup double in three seasons.
Unfortunately for Kenny Dalglish’s men, Wimbledon had torn up the script and promptly wiped their arses on it. From Jones’ scything attack on Liverpool’s midfield general Steve McMahon in the opening minutes, the Reds knew they were in a street fight. And despite riding their luck – Peter Beardsley had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside in the first half and Dave Beasant becoming the first man to save a penalty in an FA Cup final (from John Aldridge) in the second – Sanchez’ flicked header from Wise’s free-kick caused probably the biggest Cup final shock in history to deny arguably Liverpool’s greatest team their expected Wembley glory.
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