The 2023/24 FA cup is now officially in full swing as we enter our way into the fifth round of football's longest serving competition. Every season throws up a shock surprise right the way through the competition, like this current season where sixth tier side, Maidstone United have merged their way into the fifth round of the competition, most notably beating championship's surprise package Ipswich Town 2-1 at Portman Road at the end of January. However not many upsets that are to come in the near future may come close to one which for many a year was hailed as one of football's greatest triumphs.
In the space of a decade, Wimbledon emerged from the 5th tier of English football to the top flight for the 1986-87 football season. Then in 1988, shockingly, they beat Liverpool 1-0 to climatise to FA Cup Glory. Coined by Late BBC Commentator John Motson.
"The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club"
This certainly was just half the story though, steered to glory by figures Vinnie Jones, John Fashanu and co, the "crazy gang" got up to acts, which in the modern day would be seen as unheard of in what is presented as a much more professional and mature game.
The tale of the crazy gang is one in which to this day, is still severely remembered by those old enough to witness and experience what they did to gain the nickname which still attached to describe the 1988 FA Cup Winners team.
Beginning in 1977, Wimbledon were playing their football at the old Plough Lane, sat in the fifth tier of English football, which was considered semi-professional level. Fast forward four years later The Wombles gained promotion into the fourth tier. Becoming club history makers in the process, entering England's top four tiers for the first time in the club's history.
Meanwhile, they were on the verge of being taken over under new ownership. Eventually Lebanese business owner Sam Hammam took over with full control of the club.
Upon arrival however, Hammam brought a weird ideology and obsession of sheep. Specifically, Hammam's obsession would stem from initiations which would of included eating sheep's eyeballs as an example. When in the fourth tier, Hammam promoted assistant manager Dave Bassett to head coach of Wimbledon, following previous manager Dario Gradio's managerial switch over to Crystal Palace. A first of many weird tales that would follow in what was a culture of madness, started with Sam Hammam randomly giving manager Bassett the nickname of Harry, there was no explanation in the reasoning for this, but then again there wasn't for much of anything that was to follow in the upcoming years of the Crazy Gang.
Bassett was not the most normal person himself however, while opting to have a change of clothes for press conferences and when sat in the dug out, journalists would often accidentally catch Bassett mid change of clothes when arriving in his office for post-match conferences.
As most managers do since the dawn of time, they are equipped with their own personal philosophies and values. Dave Bassett was an advocate for hosting and allowing pranks played around the clubs, he would often commit these pranks on new arrivals to the club in order to get them "toughened" for the demands he wanted from his players. Players in the club felt, due to the length of time he spent at the club, starting from his period of playing for Wimbledon, going to the assistant coach then to the Head coach.
Pranks and unordinary actions stemmed from Bassett, to the players. an example of this was when an unnamed journalist arrived at Wimbledon's training ground one day and upon arrival into the car park was greeted by the Wimbledon players tying a member of the youth team upon the top of the roof of a car, and proceeded to watch the Wimbledon players drive out the ground which they were then en route down the A3, whilst the player was still on top of the car, and also fully undressed.
Those unaware, the A3 is a long narrow motorway with upwards speeds of 70mph.
These only being the lightest of antics committed from Wimbledon, a bond was still found between the players, staff and fans which was made evident by finding themselves promoted into the second division in 1984. By this point Hammam figured it was the correct time to invest in the squad, so took a £100,000 loan out to try upgrade the squad. On the other side of this deal though, Hammam used manager Dave Bassett's house as a guarantee if the loan was not repaid.
The first marquee signing from this loan was striker John Fashanu, a striker from Millwall who was built as the archetype for what a striker should be built physically in the 80s; A tall big built player, who would do anything to win the ball back and specialised in holding the ball up for players around him. Bassett definitely had found "his" striker in Fashanu. Since his playing days John Fashanu claims that the antics him and the crazy gang caused and implemented on people, had these same victims applauding and thanking the ex striker for "moulding and shaping" to who they are today, also...
"changing their character"
which he told BT Sport, now known as TNT Sport, in a documentary regarding the Crazy Gang.
Another act from Fashanu which today would leave everyone concerned, Fashanu would used to do research on who the upcoming referees where for Wimbledon games, bringing up members of the referee's family in a polite manner, to butter the referees up and so he could get away with committing more fouls.
To be expected Fashanu's actions and personality was not accepted and liked upon by any of his opponents and their fanbase, but it was more realising then ever that one of his own team-mates was so against his actions, they created a serious and firm hatred for each other. Wimbledon teammate Lawrie Sanchez had publicly not got on with John Fashanu, after claiming Fashanu tried to end his career by karate chopping his legs in attempt to break them and force Sanchez into retirement, Lawrie did not speak to Fashanu for 6 years it was claimed.
Adding another member of the Crazy Gang, Ex Chelsea Midfielder Dennis Wise. Not as intimidating on and off the field as Fashanu but the Englishmen definitely had it in him to get up to troublesome action. Like when he turned 21 years old, the midfielder hosted his birthday party with the club at an old church hall. Despite the caretaker off the church calling an end to the party, Wise and the crazy gang thought it was best to tie the player up and leave him unable to move in the caretakers office, to cause no disruption to Wise's birthday night.
Yet again, whatever the Wimbledon players got up to off the pitch, it did not stop them on their collision course to the first division, succeeding promotion after only two seasons in the second tier. The ram shackled club arrived to the first division averaging around 50% capacity for games at Plough Lane, what was around 6,500 fans. On top of that, the stadium was in such a state, one which was not up to standard to stadiums of their first division counterparts due to the huge differential in finances.
Whether it was a severe lack in toilets where fans would sometimes have to queue and use the players changing rooms in order to use their toilets. Or, any time a wall was needed in training, the players would have to at times rely on the dinner lady to help with the wall, due to not having the spare financing to afford mannequins.
And as to be expected this if anything played into the hands of the narrative the crazy gang were wanting to write. An underdog side who were not going to step aside, gaining any psychological edge, setting them up for the three points. Culminating in walking out to the tunnel, in which Wimbledon purposely made sure have no lights and made a point of coming out first and making as much noise as possible as an intimidation factor.
After only weeks into their first campaign the signing that solidified the crazy gang's status was made, Vinny Jones. Coming From non league Wealdstone for a fee of £10,000 on Jones who had only played above amateur level for two years, a big move for the twenty one year old who was still balancing his footballing career with his work life working as a hod carrier on construction sites.
On his debut he was matched against Nottingham Forest and was forced into playing as a makeshift centre halve due to an extreme injury crisis that was ongoing in that period. it was a debut to forget however it all culminated in Jones giving away a penalty after blatantly punching out an oncoming cross from Nottingham forest, ending in a defeat.
It took Vinny jones only the next game to open his account and win the fans back on side scoring in a 1-0 win over man united in November of that year. Jones embarked on a run of form that seen him score in his next 3 games in a row. After 5 games Jones' hot start co-aligned with Wimbledon going top of the first division.
As jones arrived the chaos rose however, after a 4-1 thrashing of Chelsea in which included a big 7v7 brawl between both sides on the pitch jones would then belittle and get aggressive with the players who didn't join after they reviewed the game in an analysis session the following Monday.
Despite the uprise in form and surprising success it didn't come with full acceptance by the fans who complained about the teams heavy direct approach with a load of long balls saying it resulted with constant neck pains. Manager Dave Bassett responded to the critics by saying theirs thought through methods behind what he sets his team to do putting it down to a philosophy that you should always get the ball into the opponents half in 3 seconds further claiming as a chess like approach inspired by Arrigo Sachi.
As the 86-87 culminated in Wimbledon finishing 6th, the club was struck with a bombshell which was Dave Bassett was leaving the club as he was pursuing a move to Watford who had already offered him the role of taking head coach duties at the club.
Bassett's replacement was manager Bobby Gould did not take long in making his adjustments to the squad, asking for five signings one being former Wimbledon player, Terry Gibson who was playing at Manchester united at the time, asking for £250,000 in attempt to complete the move
However Hamman ordered Gould to eat 12 sheep testicles in order to give the money to resign Gibson.
In his first season, Gould solidified Wimbledon's place as a top first division side, having gotten them to a 7th place finish, off the back of finishing 6th under Garry Bassett.
What became an iconic piece of English football memorabilia stemmed from that season, with Wimbledon playing Paul Gascoigne's Newcastle, with Gascoigne being in his pomp at the time. As many teams at the time would, the Wimbledon team immediately worried who and how were they going to stop Paul Gascoigne. in this came Vinny jones who stepped up and said he would be the one to attempt to man mark Gascoigne out the game.
The intimidation tactics as per started in the tunnel, with jones shouting to Gascoigne
"Oi you fat boy, I am going to follow you everywhere my son."
As the game was in its early stages, jones backed up into Gascoigne and proceeded to grab hold of his testicles and twisting them.
After the game while in the showers, jones received a present sent from the kitman, a rose in which was handed by Paul Gascoigne, in which Jones sent back a toilet brush. after this though the two would go onto famously become very good personal friends.
After a run in with jockey Frankie Dottori at Epson races, the crazy gang were back in their suits as they featured in the 1987/88 fa cup final against a Liverpool team they did the double over in that season.
in the build up to the game, Wimbledon stayed in a hotel for the week leading up to a final, decided by Vinny Jones was a rule that none of the team or coaching staff were going to shower or brush their teeth, in order to put the Liverpool players off going any where near them. as well as this jones threatened to beat up any member who was caught washing or brushing their teeth. Going to the pub the night before the final as well.
Moments in to the game, Jones flew into a challenge on Liverpool midfielder Steve McMahon, one in which today would be a certain red card, but on that day was not given as even a yellow card.
After asserting control in the final through their own usual ways, Lawrie Sanchez rose up to a header which put Wimbledon up 1-0 against the super Liverpool side.
Teammate John Fashanu in fact described it as the worst moment in his life, still not letting the hate he had for Sanchez flush away, stating
"That was the worst moment of my life, my arch nemesis had scored and I had to celebrate with the b*****d."
After sustained period of holding on then the full time whistle blew which begun with John Motson uttering the words
There it is the crazy gang have beaten the culture the club Wimbledon have destroyed Liverpool's of the double and all over the pitch are celebrating something which a few years ago they couldn't of dreamed off.
The Wimbledon as it was once known was ripped apart further in 1997 when Hamman sold Wimbledon to two Norwegian businessman who went on to sell Plough Lane to the council to get turned into a shopping market. then the club went into administration and relegated from the premier league in 2003 and moved them over to Milton Keynes who were then renamed as MK Dons. Due to a revolt by the fans they formed a new club AFC Wimbledon who have had their own magical story, who reside in League two and have had a spell in league one.
A team, story and a spectacle like the crazy gang shall probably never be seen at such high sporting level again.