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Five of the Best Dons

28 November 2012

The players who made Wimbledon history

Wimbledon has a long heritage and here we honour five of the greatest players to play for Wimbledon’s football team:

 

George Armitage

Born in Stoke Newington on 17 January 1898, he was already gaining recognition in 1912/13 when he represented Hackney Schools.

Soon among the goals, he finished his first season in senior football scoring around 20. He moved to Isleworth in 1913 and played for the Chelsea-based side St Saviours and in August 1919, as Wimbledon restarted after the War, he took part in a trial game. The following Saturday he was the club’s new centre forward.

Moving to centre-half, Armitage helped Wimbledon to second place in the Athenian League and played regularly in the club’s first two seasons in the Isthmian League, pulling on the shirt some 150 times. He played alongside the legendary band leader Billy Cotton and represented both Surrey and London FA's.

In 1923, he signed for Charlton Athletic and soon became a regular and stayed until the end of 1929/30, after which he finished his career at Leyton.

George was selected for England and played in the 0-0 draw against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park in October 1925, becoming the first ex-Wimbledon player to appear in a full international.

"George Armitage will always be remembered as one of our great sportsmen. His remarkable ability as a footballer was there for all to see, but off the field as on, he scrupulously maintained the highest standards and truest traditions of British sportsmanship." After his early death in 1936, the following was one of many quotes in the press:

 

William ‘Doc’ Dowden

Doc Dowden’s Wimbledon career didn’t begin well. He was part of a Dons XI that were thumped 6-0 by a South African touring side in 1924, but by the end of the season he was top scorer with 19 goals from 33 matches. He was said to have all the attributes needed for Isthmian League football; good in the air and a powerful shot – which once knocked an HMS Victory defender out cold during an Amateur Cup tie at Plough Lane. But he was a gentleman on and off the field – where he worked in the same Putney sports shop for 40 years.

He still holds the individual record for the number of goals scored in a single FA Cup campaign – 19 in the 1929/30 season. That season ended with a fixture backlog resulting in the Dons playing their final seven league games in seven consecutive days. Wimbledon won the title the following year and after Dowden weighed in with 36 goals, he was invited to play for Fulham. But ‘Doc’ made just a single Football League appearance at Craven Cottage before returning home to SW19, where the goals continued to flow.

Three more championships and an Amateur Cup final appearance in five years followed, before he finally hung his boots up, with a remarkable record of 283 goals in 311 games. When Second World War hostilities ceased, he was appointed first XI coach – in an age where the team was still picked by committee. His reign lasted 10 years until 1955, when ill-health saw him replaced by the more modern-thinking Les Henley and he joined the committee himself.

 

Eddie Reynolds

In late 1957, Wimbledon were in a period of transition. It had been 21 years since the side had won the Isthmian title and the club’s last appearance in the FA Amateur Cup final – back in 1947 – had become a distant memory. The club’s management committee led by benefactor Sydney Black had already began the process of change, appointing Wimbledon’s first full-time coach Les Henley two years earlier.

The old guard was already on its way. Doug Munday had retired, Harry Stannard had gone. Next on the list of player departures were Harry Bull, Pat Field, Jock Woods and Arthur Maggs as Henley began to create a side in his own image.

The club began to take a more professional approach. It brought in a new training regime, purchased floodlights, and new gym equipment. But it was an influx of new players that would make the biggest difference. In came Roy Law, Les Brown, Geoff Hamm, John Martin, Brian Martin and Bobby Ardrey – all would represent England as amateur internationals. But it was the arrival of a 6ft 3in Ulsterman that would have the biggest impact.

Eddie Reynolds joined the Dons in November 1957 from neighbours Tooting & Mitcham. Reynolds scored four goals in his first game for the Dons – a 6-0 reserve match against Leytonstone – and was immediately called into the first team. He scored in each of his first five games.

Reynolds finished that season with 17 goals from 20 games. A year later he scored 40 times in 40 games as the Dons finally re-captured the Isthmian League title. Reynolds would score 47 times in the 1959/60 season. He scored 55 times in the next season. And in 1961/62 he matched that feat, his goals driving the Dons to another league title.

Reynolds scored the decisive second, heading in an Ardrey cross. It was one of 53 goals he scored that season as the Dons retained their title. But that year will always be remembered for his heroics in the final of the FA Amateur Cup. Facing local rivals Sutton United at Wembley, Eddie scored four times with his head as the Dons ran out 4-2 winners.In November 1962, Wimbledon would beat Colchester 2-1. It was the club’s first success over Football League opposition in an FA Cup tie

The following season, Eddie suffered a number of injuries and managed only 33 appearances, scoring 33 times as the Dons won the title for the third year in a row.

Eddie was eventually selected for Northern Ireland and was among the first Wimbledon players to sign professional terms when the club moved into the Southern League in the summer of 1964. However, the move to semi-professionalism also marked the arrival of Ian Cooke. Cooke would eventually replace Reynolds in the starting line-up and would go on to play 615 times for the Dons, scoring 297 times. Ironically, Cooke’s career would end in 1977 when the club decided to go fully professional.

Reynolds scored in his final game a 2-0 win over Worcester City at Plough Lane on 15 January 1966. It was his 208th league game for the club, having scored 319 times in all competitions.

Reynolds died in 1993. In 2008, the new redevelopment on the site of Wimbledon’s old ground was named Reynolds Gate in his honour.

 

Alan Cork

There is little doubt that Alan Cork is a Wimbledon legend. The 6ft striker played 430 times for the Dons, scoring 145 times. Old before his time, at the age of 24 he was already greeted with the song: “He’s got no hair, but we don’t care.” But his career at Wimbledon so nearly didn’t even begin.

Cork was playing for Derby reserves in 1978, aged 19. Dario Gradi had just taken charge of Wimbledon, who were struggling in the Fourth Division at the time. Dario had replaced Wimbledon icon Allen Batsford at the helm. The new manager had been a coach at Derby before Ron Noades persuaded him to join Wimbledon as assistant manager in 1977, much to the annoyance of Batsford. The club, in short, were in turmoil and Dario needed fresh blood. He signed Glyn Hodges, Paul Fishenden and Steve Perkins from Chelsea. And then he went back to raid his old club Derby, he signed Fran Crowley and then turned his attention to Alan Cork. He was Derby through and through, he had ambitions of playing in the First Division for his home town club and was reluctant to make the move. He didn’t believe the South London club were top flight material, but Dario wouldn’t be denied and Cork signed in January 1978. He made his debut against Scunthorpe United on 11 February 1978. The side that day contained two future Wimbledon managers – Terry Eames and Dave Bassett. With the likes of Wally Downes, he would become a founder member of the club’s original Crazy Gang with regular antics on and off the pitch.

Cork scored four times in 17 games in that first season. His breakthrough season came the year after. He missed just one game and scored 25 times. He was named in the Fourth Division’s team of the season.

He scored 13 times in 1979/80 but couldn’t prevent the club being relegated. The following season, he was top scorer with 26 goals in 41 games as the Dons were promoted. However, he then broke his leg and missed most of the following two seasons, which had seen the club relegated once again.

By the time Cork returned on 5 April 1983, a gritty Yorkshireman called Stewart Evans, signed by new Wimbledon manager Dave Bassett as Cork’s replacement, had cemented his place in the team and Wimbledon were on course to securing the Fourth Division title. But instead of marginalising Cork, the two formed a formidable relationship that would see the Dons soar through the divisions.

. In 1985/86, Cork was then top scorer once again with 15 goals as the Dons secured a place in the top flight.thIn 1983/84, Cork scored 33 times and Evans 14 times as the Dons won promotion to the second division. The following season Evans scored 16 and Cork 11 as Wimbledon finished a respectable 12

 Evans would see his place go to record-signing John Fashanu in 1986, but Cork would remain a regular in the Dons line-up.

On 30 August 1986, he scored the winner at Leicester City. The goal would make Alan Cork, the second Wimbledon player to score in all top four divisions. Glyn Hodges had become the first, four days earlier in the 3-2 win over Aston Villa.

season at the club and he would be part of the starting XI that would see Wimbledon win the FA Cup with a 1-0 win at Liverpool. Just 48 hours after the final and suffering a huge hangover, he held a testimonial at Plough Lane in front of nearly 8,000 fans.thThe season after would undoubtedly be Corky’s most memorable. It was his 10

Over the next couple of seasons Terry Gibson and Paul Miller restricted Cork’s appearance and he slowly began to fall out of favour.

Alan Cork scored his last goal for Wimbledon in the 5-3 home defeat to Tottenham on 21 September 1991. His last game for the Dons came two months later in a scoreless draw against Liverpool at Plough Lane. The side that day contained a future Wimbledon manager – Neal Ardley.

After his departure to Sheffield United, the Daily Mirror journalist Tony Stenson, who had coined the phrase the ‘Crazy Gang’, admitted to regularly describing Alan Cork as the ‘White Pele’. He also owned up to having voted for Cork every year at the Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards, including a few years after Cork retired. Sadly, not enough of Stenson’s colleagues supported his judgment and Corky would miss out on the ultimate accolade.

In 1996, he was voted Wimbledon’s most popular player of all time. And he would go on to play for AFC Wimbledon Masters.

 

Matt Everard (pictured above celebrating a goal against Wootton Blue Cross in 2003)

When Wimbledon signed Matt Everard from Ash United, there were hopes that he would add extra resolve to the club’s central defence.

Everard had impressed each time he had faced the Dons, but few would have expected that the Aldershot-born centre back would become an AFC Wimbledon legend.

During his 20 months at the club, Everard became the first name on the team sheet, first under Terry Eames, then caretaker manager Nicky English and finally under Dave Anderson. Everard’s aerial domination quickly earned him the nickname “the Caveman”.

He would play 88 times for the club, missing just nine league matches and scoring 28 times in the league. But his two most memorable goals would come in cup competitions – an injury-time winner against Herne Bay in the FA Vase, and the first in the 2004 Challenge Cup Final. He was named player of the year in 2004.

Everard made his home debut against Withdean 2000 on 27 February 2003. The Dons would lose the match to the eventual Combined Counties League champions 2-0. It was the only time Everard would taste defeat in a league match in the colours of Wimbledon.

His form would attract the attention of his home-town club Aldershot, who offered him an 18 month contract, but at the age of 30 he deemed it was too late to turn professional and opted to stay with the Dons.

His final game came away at Bashley in the Ryman First Division South. He jarred his knee early on, but carried on. The Dons went one down, but Everard, in typical style, levelled with a header from a corner. Eventually the pain got the better of him and Anderson took him off with 10 minutes to go. Martin Randall got the Dons winner, but for Everard it was cold comfort. The injury was far more serious than first thought. He would undergo 11 operations in the next two years and would never play again.

For the Dons the victory at Bashley sealed a British record of 78 league matches unbeaten. The next league game, away at Cray Wanderers, and without Everard in the starting XI for the first time in months, ended in defeat.

 


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