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Friday, 15 July 2011

Dickheads #6 - The Crazy Gang

Greg Theoharis of Dispatches From A Football Sofa makes his debut for Magic Spongers and as Jamie Redknapp would say "he's literally had a stormer". Here's why the Crazy Gang weren't loveable rogues at all...

“If God had wanted us to play football in the sky, He’d have put grass up there” – Brian Clough

Trawling through the channels the other day, I happened upon a vintage episode of ‘Gladiators’. I was immediately transported to a time, pre-pub age, when my Saturday evenings revolved around the steroid-pumping sweatfest being sandwiched between the twin guilty pleasures of Baywatch and Blind Date. So, paralysed by nostalgia I ended up watching. I’d forgotten. Oh had I forgotten. Because just as the commercial break came around, that cacophonous, mangled, ridiculous cry emanated from a man who quite unreservedly and unashamedly deserves the title of ‘dickhead’. John Fashanu. “A-wooooooo-gaaaaa!” From that point on, my day was ruined, consumed with memories of that vile period in the late ‘80s through to the mid-‘90s, otherwise labelled ‘The Crazy Gang Era’. Allow me to repeat. Dickheads.

I’m not talking about AFC Wimbledon or MK Dons here; they are very different incarnations. I’m talking about that rabble that inexplicably resided in the top division during the aforementioned period, populated with the likes of Fashanu, Vinnie Jones and Dennis Wise; ‘model’ professionals one and all. Dickheads.

Why so much bile? Where do I begin? How about Gary Mabbutt’s cheekbone which collapsed under the full force of ‘Fash The Bash’s’ elbow in 1993? While I’m sure Fashanu did not intentionally seek to reduce half the Spurs captain’s face to putty, it nevertheless perfectly encapsulated the ethos of this team who made such a big noise about their limitations as footballers and taking pleasure in taking down the ‘Big Boys’ a peg or three. Even his nickname sends shivers down my spine, celebrating as it does the latent brutal thuggery that the team made no apologies for.

I may be accused of being a snob here but I don’t care. I’m an aesthete. I like football played on the ground, intricately and balletically. But I also appreciate that due to resources, finances and players at a club’s disposal, the dizzy heights of tika-tika can’t always be scaled. Wimbledon had to do what they had to do. Just as Joe Kennedy, father of JFK, amassed a huge fortune on the back of Prohibition in order to get his son to the White House. Just as Michael Corleone in The Godfather had to assert his authority by having his brother ‘whacked’. Just as Rebekah Brooks had to sell newspapers by…oh. There’s a problem here, isn’t there…

It wasn’t the manner with which Wimbledon played football that made them truly reprehensible, however much I personally despise the long-ball ethos propagated by Charles Hughes and his disciples. What I hated about this team was the complete and utter disregard for anybody who wasn’t in their ‘gang’. It was a culture propped up by television puff-pieces in which the ‘Crazies’ performed a series of ‘hilarious’ practical jokes on interviewees, as we saw the likes of Jones and Wise cackling and gurning in the background like a pair of barely literate mud-creatures.

Somehow the media at the time seemed to want to package them as lovable scamps, thumbing their noses at the aristocrats of the top table. When they defeated Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup Final, John Motson crowed that “the Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club”. That’s one in the eye for show-offs with the ability to pass and move as well as you effeminate types with a penchant for eyeliner then.

Wimbledon were not lovable. They were not scamps. They were not even anarchic punks, ripping up the establishment. They revelled in their own inability to grasp the basic aspects of the game and they turned football for a time, into a gladiatorial sport (I’m aware of the irony here). I remember Fashanu in some talking-heads show about football’s hardmen a few years back gleefully telling of how he would routinely be called over to referees and asked to have a word with Jones before he did some damage to an opponent. Politely agreeing with the official, Fashanu would then turn to Jones and tell him to carry on what he was doing. Dickheads.

The seedily iconic image of Paul Gascoigne’s testicles being gripped in the vice of Vinnie Jones’ hands has become a metaphor for the ‘don’t care who you are’ attitude promoted by Wimbledon at the time rather than being interpreted as the actions of the proverbial school bully seeking to destroy and intimidate the natural, instinctive playing genius of a man blessed with infinitely more talent. Gascoigne was said to have begged not to go out for the second half of that match, his face wet with tears.

It’s baffling that such a Neanderthal would have been so rewarded in subsequent years with a modest Hollywood career, despite a propensity for biting peoples’ noses off. But then again, I’m sure the proportion of people who have seen him flex his thespian muscles in films such as Tooth, in which he played a character quaintly christened The Extractor, are probably as intellectually poor as the attendance figures at Selhurst Park in the mid-nineties. And although he has shared screen-time with the likes of Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie and has an FA Cup Winners’ medal, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s a dickhead.

People love an underdog. I get that. Unless you’re a Liverpool fan, you probably loved Crystal Palace in 1990 after that semi-final. Or Hereford United or Chesterfield or any other team who on their day, can upset the balance of power. Wimbledon may have done that during their pomp but they also gave credence to the notion that a pack mentality is somehow justified when there are no other means of expression.

If there was an evolutionary scale for football whereby today’s Barcelona would represent fully evolved man, Wimbledon would be at the other end, with the apes, baring their arses and juggling their balls.

In other words, just another episode of Gladiators. Dickheads!

Go follow Greg on Twitter, here @gregtheoharis. Now.


  1. How about you watch when wimbledon beat spurs 5-1 we totally outplayed them by playing football, funny how wimbledon pkayed long ball but when liverpool, spurs etc did it was a searching pass, if were such thugs how come if you could get into europe via fairplay back then we would have 3 times in 5 seasons.

  2. What a ridiculous piece. Wimbledon couldn't be any other way. They had a tiny, tiny budget. It's people like you that make their style a success - teams hated them and so did fans and that's exactly what they wanted. Surely we need teams like the old Wimbledon in the game? They made it more interesting and gave us something different - whether it was to your taste or not. I'd much rather have that, than soulless, big money clubs buying all these players and having no spirit. I'm not a massive Wimbledon fan, they were boring but effective and for a small club they did extremely well, but hating them and calling them 'dickheads' in a rather childish manner, just seems absolutely pathetic. They had very limited resources compared to the clubs they resided with and frankly, had to find a winning formula and it worked. If they riled a few people along the way, they would not have minded one bit. Granted, they kicked the shit out of teams and had a thuggish team but they were a breath of fresh air in my opinion. What's worse: Players with fake tan, pathetic hair cuts, covered in tattoos and diving all around the place or, tough, no nonsense players who would batter those "tarts" at any given opportunity?

  3. Yawn! So full of tired old cliches... apart from anything else, Wimbledon of the 80s were not 'loved by the media'. Far from it in fact - they were absolutely caned the whole time by people like this author who I dare say hardly saw the old Wimbledon actually play a match.
    Many players from that Crazy Gang period were in fact pretty skillful - Scales, Phelan, Eric Young, Gibson, Cork, Barton - but no Greg, you concentrate on the headline-grabbing Jones and Fashanu to perpetuate this myth that Wimbledon were not in the top flight purely on merit but by strong-arm tactics alone.

  4. Rather that lot than the terminally-inflated egos and/or non-personalities of today's "top footballers". The Crazy Gang v The Golden Generation? I know who I'd rather watch. There's always a place for more direct football in amongst the sheer boredom of watching Arsenal keep the ball, keep the ball, keep the ball, what are we doing here?, oh yes, keep the ball... The difference back then was that the Dons made more of a success of that approach than anyone else and proved that football matches can be won via a variety of routes. If all teams approached the game the same way we'd all be as bored as the fans of the mid-table Premiership clubs.

    And you can't judge viable reward on personality. Vinnie was a thug, but was true to that throughout. Gascoigne beat up his wife and has failed in every aspect of his life. Gascoigne isn't a dickhead, he's pure scum. Again, rather a pint with Vinnie than Gazza.

    Gladiators was trash though.

  5. great to read something that doesn't hail AFC Wimbledon as "gods gift to football"

  6. I've seen some rubbish written about the "Crazy Gang" over the last 25 years but nothing quite as pathetic as this! Yes, there were times when Fashanu and Jones were OTT on the pitch, but there were as many occasions when the so called classy opposition (Spurs and Everton for example) tried to cheat their way to a win. They were just a bit subtler about it. You don't stay in D1 / Premier League for 15 seasons, win the FA Cup against that Liverpool side and get to a few semi-finals by being a bunch of thugs. Try researching what actually happened instead of regurgitating old cliches. You never know, you might turn out a good piece if you do!

  7. I do agree with the comments, although I think the article was actually a bit tongue in cheek.

    But, if you look back and think those incidences (Mabbutt aside, but that was an accident) aren't entertaining, you need to lighten up.

    Fash was a complete twat though. Awooogaa..

  8. At the end of the day you don't win top flight football matches by fielding XI loonies. You need much, much more. Wimbledon pushed the boundaries in terms of discipline and behaviours there is no doubt but no enough credit is given to the tremendous achievements by a little club fighting against the odds with more than a degree of success.

  9. Good read but not sure I fully agree with it. Wimbledon's achievements were admirable, pretty or not. Media coverage was actually extremely negative, mostly. Yes they played practical jokes and had a laugh but what's wrong with that? Would much rather that than the standard boring coverage that is on our screens today. Can't help but think fans of the 'big' clubs didn't like to see little old Wimbledon get the coverage they did, positive or negative.

  10. LeedsLeedsLeeds15 July 2011 at 17:56

    I'm hardly Wimbledon's biggest fan, but I like to see smaller clubs mixing it with the big boys every now and then. Sure, the crazy gang were not exactly subtle, but they were never boring either. Great fun, esp seeing the likes of Man United and Arsenal having to go to their tin-pot ground at Plough Lane.
    They weren't to everyone's tastes that's for sure, but give me some heart and fighting spirit over the foreign fairies that litter today's Premier League any day!

  11. Tongue in cheek or head up his own backside? Only you, the audience, can decide.

  12. For fucks sake, it's very much tongue in cheek. And it's an opinion. Everyone's titled to opinions, and this just happens to be Greg's. It's no different to a Forest fan telling why he hates Derby, or a Man City fan saying why he hates United. It's all opinion. Some may not be straightforward, but we all have them.

  13. I love this article. It shows we got up noses so much that it still compels people to take time to write about us. Its a testament to what the boys did worked so well and resulted in exactly what they wanted, like it or hate it, it was a craft. There is a lot of jealousy that such a humble club was able to go toe to toe against "superior" clubs and the fact it was not on their terms is all the better and why they disliked us so. Was a great time and am still immensely proud of what we achieved and how we did it.

  14. winterburn scales curle young phelan beasent wise holdsworth barton to name just a few ...Wimbledon such a crap team such crap players but why did everybody want to buy them don howe coached there ,loved the place ...there again he don't know anything about football does he ? wasn't he englands coach