by Richard Bowdery.
On 23 August 1986 the Crazy Gang burst onto the top flight of English football. On that day they played Manchester City in their first ever match in the old First Division – and came of age.
For the record Andy Thorn scored the Crazy Gang’s first-ever top flight goal, a curling fluke of a free-kick from the touchline to give them the lead. The Dons eventually lost 3–1 but the result was immaterial. What mattered was the fact that they had risen to the pinnacle of English soccer in only their tenth season as a Football League club, climbing from the fourth to the first division in only four seasons.
Wimbledon’s first top-flight game at Plough Lane ended in a 3-2 victory over Aston Villa – the champions of Europe a mere four years before – and by the start of September The Dons were sitting pretty at the top of the table.
“My mum will want this season to finish tomorrow,” joked manager Dave Bassett, as he soaked up the table with his feisty minnows on top, and Manchester United at the very bottom.
Wimbledon Old Central Football Club, as they were originally called, was founded in 1889. They spent the 88 years plying their trade in the amateur and semi-professional ranks, what we call today non-league football.
Then in 1977 they were elected to the Football League and so began their meteoric rise, the culmination of which was one day in 1988 when their name would be synonymous as the little David battling the giant Goliath.
On 14 May that year this little club – whose Plough Lane ground was so intimate those playing wide could shake hands with the crowd – did the unthinkable. They beat the mighty Liverpool 1-0 to lift the FA Cup and so a legend was born.
Sadly that success was not to last. Not only did they slip down the divisions they also slipped out of Plough Lane and, much to the anger of their fans, headed to Buckinghamshire, in 2003 and were renamed MK Dons in 2004.
But Wimbledon fans, like the Crazy Gang of old, don’t give up without a fight.
In the summer of 2002 when a three-man FA commission shocked the club’s fans by allowing the old Wimbledon FC to relocate, the fans decided that their club would never die.
Within six weeks of the decision the fans had organised a new club from the ashes of the old and so AFC Wimbledon was born.
This time the club reached the football a lot quicker than before and in 2011 they were back in the football league.
Will history repeat itself and find this new incarnation plying its trade in the Premiership? Only time will tell. But given their pedigree I wouldn’t bet against it.