This Saturday might be all about the new Wimbledon, the phoenix club that rose through the divisions and ended up on a level with their evil franchise enemy, but once upon a time they weren’t everyone’s sweethearts.
The Crazy Gang they might have been and their rise from non-league in the mid 1970’s to FA Cup winners in 1988 didn’t come about purely through playing nice football. They were rough, tough and made few friends as they battled their way through the leagues. It might be a fairy tale now, but anyone on the end of a Wally Downes tackle might have thought different.
City and Wimbledon only met on six occasions as our paths crossed in the early 1980’s. It was a good time for Imps, names such as Trevor Peake and Mick Harford still live on today. For Wimbledon, Dave Beasant and Glynn Hodges were players later to become household names.
At first Wimbledon and City exchanged places much as we did in 2011. They replaced Workington in 1977 with us in the Third Division, and both sides remained stable. They finished 13th under Allen Batsford, City 16th under George Kerr.
Kerr was sacked and replaced by Willie Bell whilst Dario Gradi took over at Wimbledon. They came up and we went down, but their success was brief. They were relegated again which meant we faced up to the Crazy Gang for the first time on 20th September 1980. Gordon Hobson gave us a win in front of a relatively low crowd of 2380 at Plough Lane. 4019 watched our second clash, a 0-0 draw which saw us finish second and them fourth. Both sides were promoted.
Colin Murphy’s side took to Division Three like a fly to dog poo, but Wimbledon struggled. Chairman Ron Noades left the club, as did Gradi and Dave Bassett took over. The Dons visited the Bank in October and were soundly thrashed by a rampant City. Glenn Cockerill hit two, Tony Cunningham, Steve Cammack and Gordon Hobson got the other goals.
Our trip there on February 27th was a missed opportunity though, we drew 1-1 thanks to Glenn Cockerill, but had we won it would have had massive consequences at the end of the season. As the curtain fell we missed out on promotion by just one point.
Wimbledon were on a downward spiral and former England international Dave Clement’s injury didn’t help. Just prior to relegation he committed suicide at the age of 34, poisoning himself with weedkiller. He had been suffering from depression after badly breaking his leg and believing his career was finished.
Dave Bassett soon worked his magic, perhaps in this day and age he may have been sacked, but it was not to be. The following season they romped to the Fourth Division title, losing just once after the turn of the year. 1983/84 was no different either, a threadbare City had dropped off the pace, but the Dons were in full flow. They did a double over us on their way to finishing second.
George Shipley scored for us at Plough Lane but they ran out 3-1 winners. Glynn Hodges scored twice and Steve Ketteridge grabbed the other as City were easily despatched. Alan Cork, earlier on loan at Lincoln, was scoring freely for the Dons as they marched up the table.
On April 14th 1984 it was our turn to have a poor turn-out, just 1986 came to watch as we lost for the second time against the Dons. Neil Redfearn scored for City, but Hodges and Stewart Evans, once of Gainsborough Trinity, scored for them. We finished in mid-table obscurity whilst they jumped up to the Second Division. Our paths were not to cross for another 30 years.
Almost all of our clashes had featured giant keeper Dave Beasant, he went on to become the first keeper to save a penalty in an FA Cup Final. Their 1-0 win against Liverpool in 1988 was one of the cup final shocks of all time, Lawrie Sanchez heading the winner after John Aldridge’s penalty was saved.
Whilst they were winning the FA Cup, we were fighting back from the GM Vauxhall Conference and as a young fan I never knew of Wimbledon as anything other than a top flight club. The early 1990’s brought many pressures to the Crazy Gang, eventually the whole MK Dons debacle threatened to kill them off. They bounced back at a time we reached a nadir, our relegation coincided with their promotion. There is a certain romance to our cup clash this weekend, two famous clubs, both with exciting recent histories but both with dark times behind them that many of our peers do not have.