AFC Wimbledon v West Ham: The Crazy Gang is dead despite what you read

Andy Dillon by Andy Dillon / 25 January 2019, 11:01

Wally Downes will talk all day long about Wimbledon’s infamous Crazy Gang.

But he is way too smart to redeploy the old terror tactics of yesteryear to get the new AFC Wimbledon anywhere near where they want to go.

Downes, 57, was the architect of the legendary antics and ferocious team spirit fostered as the original Dons marched all the way up from non-League to Division One back in the 1980s.

But the club’s new manager is too well read to delude himself that grabbing opposition players by the crown jewels, cutting up each other’s clothes or graffiting dressing room walls is enough to carry a team in the 21st century.

AFC Wimbledon are bottom of League One as they take a break from the travails of relegation battling to take on Premier League West Ham in the FA Cup.

Some 30 years ago they managed a 1-1 draw in the Cup with The Hammers at the ramshackle old Plough Lane. A formidable arena in which freezing cold showers and cage-fighting atmosphere could put the wind up the best professionals.

The reformed Wimbledon is on course to make a spiritual return just a few hundred metres from the now defunct old ground in a brand spanking new stadium fit for 10,000 people.

There are a few people who believe that a heavy dollop of the old Crazy Gang in yer face attitude would do them some good as the club strives to survive in the third tier of English football and provide a Cup upset.

But in the days of sports scientists, umpteen cameras at every game, strict ground regulations and a lot more money sloshing around in football, it just wouldn’t work anymore. More’s the pity say many.

 

Downes has been regaling old stories of pitch invasions, how ex-manager Dave Bassett also drove the reserves team bus and how every day was like a stag do when playing for Wimbledon.

It was fuel to fire them all the way to a stunning FA Cup final win over Liverpool in 1988 - at the time a bigger story than Leicester winning the title.

But don’t expect to see that on your TV screen on Saturday night when West Ham rock up at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.

There’s still the potential of course for the mighty to fall and West Ham have a nasty habit of doing so too often for their fans, who will be feeling slightly twitchy today.

But giantkilling or not, the way forward for Downes is to build a structure at AFC Wimbledon. He is getting plans into place to restructure the scouting, he has called in favours to get England Under-21 keeper Aaron Ramsdale on loan for the rest of the season.

The stadium move means Downes and Wimbledon need to attract punters, sponsorship, advertising. There is marketing to consider and the overall image of the club as a bold long-term plan is launched to try to get to the Championship within the next few years.

Downes, 57, is charmingly old-school but has also coached in India where his job was to forge together a group of foreign players and deferential Indians into a team in just six months.

You don’t do that by leaving a nasty calling card in someone’s locker.

AFC Wimbledon have already made history by reaching the fourth round of the FA Cup just 17 years after their inception with trials on the nearby common.

There are still people involved with the club who, like Downes, were there in its roughhouse heyday. But while they too are happy to share old stories and glories over a pint they all agree the Crazy Gang is dead and must remain buried.

Shame.

 

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