Wimbledon – From Non-League to Premier League, Buckinghamshire to AFC

by Josh Wright

“The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club.” John Motson, FA Cup final 1988

BBC commentator John Motson thus acclaimed the greatest point in the history of Wimbledon F.C, the moment that they clinched victory in the 1988 FA Cup final,  defeating arguably one of the most successful and glamorous teams in the history of English Football, Liverpool. Wimbledon’s rise from non-league and amateur football following their election to the Football league in 1977 is still one of the most amazing examples of what is magical about the game, however also represents a tragedy for thousands of fans.

Formed in 1889 as Wimbledon Old Central Football Club the club’s history pre-1977 despite a number of notable achievements, particularly becoming the first non-league side in the 20th century to beat a first division team away from home when they defeated Burnley at Turf Moor in the third round of the 1974-75 cup, was largely uninspiring. The club had periods in which they were a highly successful non-league side, however until their election to the Football League they had seemingly slipped under the radar of first class football in England.

That was until the 1985-86 season, the season in which Wimbledon were promoted to the First Division, just nine years after joining the Football League. What followed was a period of great success for the South-West London club, one that contained successful seasons in both the old First Division and later the Premier League and was epitomised by the Cup win of 1988 with Sanchez and Beasant becoming both club and cup heroes. However these success and achievements are truly resigned to sporting history, Wimbledon F.C. is no more and where Plough Lane, the stadium of the ‘Crazy Gang’, once stood, now 570 flats reside; a sad end to undeniably a fantastic club.

The demise of Wimbledon F.C. occurred to allow the ‘overspill’ city of Milton Keynes to possess a professional club.  The opportunity was offered to Luton, Barnet and Crystal Palace amongst others by Milton Keynes Stadium Consortium, who were unable to justify the creation of a large stadium for a club not playing a noteworthy level of football, however following the appointment of Charles Koppel as Chairman of Wimbledon, a man who stated that the club would ‘die’ without the proposed move, Wimbledon as it had been for over 100 years would soon be no more. The club announced its intent to move in August 2001 and after receiving permission from what AFC Wimbledon describe as the ‘supine’ FA, moved to Milton Keynes in September 2003. Wimbledon F.C, the ‘Crazy Gang’, was in reality no more; the club’s name, its location, its fan base, even down to its emblem and colours had all changed and the club was one that had once graced grounds from Twerton Park through to Wembley for over 100 years was now the concoction of a number of businessmen and corporations in a purpose built, Buckinghamshire town.

MK Dons have had a relatively subdued history since 2003, a couple of relegations and a promotion, as well as spring boarding a number of individuals to pastures new. However as this season draws to a close it is worth a glance at the Blue Square Premier and most notably AFC Wimbledon. The club was created by the fans of the old Wimbledon and is maintained by the fans, a fan base that achieved an average attendance of over 3500 in its first season of Blue Square Premier football.

Following Crawley Town’s promotion, Wimbledon sit second, and unless a disastrous run ensues, look forward to an exciting play off campaign. If the club can win promotion it will emulate the original club’s greatest successes, and represent a victory for fans, fans who despite the catastrophic loss of their club, have united and created what can only be described with regards to football as magical, a club for the fans created by the fans. As usual it is going to be an engaging climax to the season, and if things go their way, AFC Wimbledon will go down in the history books. The ‘Crazy Gang’ may be back with a bang, albeit in a reformed manner, and let’s hope they can follow in footsteps of their predecessors.

7 Responses

  1. Good summary Josh, however, there is one thing you may not be aware ……. the supporters of AFC Wimbledon, and previously Wimbledon FC do not wish to be associated with the term Crazy Gang, since it was something borne by Sam Hammam, who sold the club to the Norwegians, and previously sold our football ground from under us, and pocketed £35 million in the process.

    Sam Hammam was the cause of the club’s downfall, and Kopell simply took it one step further.

    1. Josh Wright says:

      Apologies

      Wish AFC Wimbledon all the best for the end of this season, hopefully they may be able to emulate teams such as Doncaster and Exeter City if they do achieve promotion and prove to football the power of fans.

  2. Graham says:

    Nice piece. With mega-rich Manchester City beating mega-succesful Manchester United at Wembley in the semi-finals of the FA Cup yesterday, the Crazy Gang turning up to the 1988 final in a mini-bus driven by the manager seems a whole different world.

  3. Aideen says:

    Laurence, who has given you the right to speak on behalf of all Wimbledon fans? I love been associated with the crazy gang actually. It sounds like you are ashamed of our history.
    Not me. I’ll never be ashamed of hearing how the Crazy gang beat the Cuiture Club.
    Please don’t speak on my behalf again.

  4. Terry Don says:

    Personally I like the crazy gang tag not all our fans dislike it like Mr Lowne would have you believe.

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