How Wimbledon made history
With just three days until AFC Wimbledon's FA Cup second round tie, we focus on the key games that shaped the club's long history.
Sandwiched in between a host of impressive non league successes was THAT day in 1988 when The Crazy Gang tamed the dominant Liverpool side of the 1980s. However, we start with another pivotal victory that is less well known to the wider football world.
4 May 1963
Wimbledon 4 Sutton United 2
FA Amateur Cup final
Twice Wimbledon had reached the final of the FA Amateur Cup and twice they had come up short. In 1935, after a goalless draw at Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park against Bishop Auckland, they lost the replay 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, despite taking the lead. The Dons would also go in front the second time they made the final in 1947. The Dons’ goalscorer then was former prisoner of war Ron Head, but Leytonstone roared back to win the tie at Highbury 2-1.
In 1963, despite being the overwhelming favourites, the nerves were everywhere. Could the Dons make it third time lucky?
Wimbledon were slowly becoming the No 1 team in amateur football. They were on course to retain the title they had won in 1962. In the FA Cup, the Dons had secured their first Football League scalp, beating Colchester United 2-1. But the Amateur Cup remained the main target.
Victories over Southall, Chesham United, Barnet, Bishop’s Stortford and Leytonstone earned the Dons a Wembley showdown with Sutton United.
Sutton had the better of the first half, but the sides went in deadlocked and with little indication of the goals that would come in the second 45 minutes.
Within barely a minute of the re-start Wimbledon took the lead, Les Brown’s cross finding the head of Eddie Reynolds. Nine minutes later it was two – again it was the head of Reynolds that found the net. This time Brian Martin had provided the cross.
But Sutton United forced their way back into it. Mickey Goodall pounced on a poor header from captain Roy Law to reduce the arrears then Trevor Bladon equalised in the 67th minute.
Sutton soared forward looking for a winner. But their energy waned and with the game heading towards extra-time, Geoff Hamm beat a defender and sent in an inch-perfect cross for Reynolds to put the Dons ahead once more.
A minute later Reynolds sealed victory with his fourth – another header – from a Ted Murphy cross. Wimbledon had ended their Amateur Cup hoodoo at the third attempt and they had finally reached the pinnacle of the amateur game.
The side then was awash with amateur internationals. John Martin had even captained the Great Britain team at the Olympics, but those international careers were to be cut short. Twelve months after their Amateur cup success, the club’s members voted to turn professional and soon after the club joined the ranks of the Southern League.
4 January 1975
Burnley 0 Wimbledon 1
FA Cup third round
A match that encapsulated the romance of the FA Cup as non league Wimbledon upset first division Burnley. The tie would be at Turf Moor. If ever there was a home banker this was it. But then when has a Wimbledon football team ever read the script?
Allen Batsford was now at the helm of Wimbledon, having made the short trip from amateur side Walton & Hersham to take over at Plough Lane. The club he inherited was in financial peril and he was the club’s fourth manager in as many years. Before he took over the performances on the pitch had gone from bad to worse. From title challengers in the 1960s they had become a mid-table side at best. But Batsford was building a revolution. Under his management, he had successfully moulded the rump of a Wimbledon side, which included current Wimbledon vice-president Dickie Guy and director Ian Cooke, with seven players taken from his Walton & Hersham side, including a certain Dave Bassett.
The Dons were flying high in the Southern League, but surely the trip to Turf Moor would be a step too far. Burnley were seventh at the time and the tie captured the imagination of the South London public. Two trains were booked to take supporters on the journey north.
The danger man for Burnley was Wales international Leighton James and Batsford had assigned Bob Stockley and Dave Bassett to keep him quiet, and the Dons repelled wave after wave of attack.
The winner came four minutes after the break. Ian Cooke’s shot was parried and it fell to Mick Mahon on the edge of the box. He rifled the ball through a huge crowd of players and into the net. The Dons withstood a late onslaught and were through. It was the first time in 55 years that a non-league side had beaten a top flight side away in the FA Cup.
And the reward for Wimbledon? An away trip to League champions Leeds United. Dickie Guy beat out a Peter Lorimer penalty to earn the Dons a draw in the first game, but a deflected own goal by Dave Bassett less than 10 minutes from time saw the Yorkshire giants edge the replay 1-0.
14 May 1988
Wimbledon 1 Liverpool 0
FA Cup final
Wimbledon's FA Cup Final victory over Liverpool may not have been the greatest shock in the competition's history (the club can lay a claim to that from some 13 years earlier) but it was the greatest shock in FA Cup Final history. With a squad consisting of free-transfers, former non-leaguers and youngsters, Wimbledon turned over the team widely regarded as the best Liverpool side ever, a team that according to press merely had to turn up to collect the cup and their second Double in two years. To put the achievement into some context the total cost of the team was about £1 million. Vinnie Jones had played non-league football as recently as 1986 and both Dave Beasant and Alan Cork had played in all four divisions for Wimbledon. The club itself had been in the lowest division of league football only five years before. Yes, clubs from outside the top flight had won the Cup before but no one on this kind of budget had got near the final, let alone win it.
The back-bone of the team that shocked Liverpool had been assembled by the judicious transfer dealings of Dave 'Harry' Bassett over the marvellous run from the Fourth Division to the First. Players who were to become household names: Dennis Wise, Lawrie Sanchez, Jones and John Fashanu had been brought in to strengthen the side as the team progressed. New manager Bobby Gould pulled a master-stroke by continuing this process in the summer of 1987. He brought in John Scales, Eric Young and Terry Phelan who would all go on to command huge transfer fees later in their careers and blended them with experienced players such as Terry Gibson, Clive Goodyear and Laurie Cunningham. Perhaps Gould's greatest ruse was to bring in Don Howe. No longer managing Arsenal, Howe was invited down to pre-season to help out and ended up staying. Struck by the togetherness and work ethic of the established squad he acknowledged something special was afoot and wanted to be part of it.
Wimbledon had reason to approach the final with, if not absolute confidence, at least a sense that a shock could be on the cards. They had beaten Liverpool at Anfield the previous season and had felt unlucky not to have got at least a point there during their league match that season.
Gould managed the build-up to the final superbly, from the minute the mud-dried after the semi-final he kept the squad relaxed yet focused.
Howe’s contribution was two-fold, switching the hyperactive Dennis Wise to hassle John Barnes for 90 minutes nullified the Player of the Year, providing the players with ice-cold towels (the match was played in 90 degree heat) at half-time allowed them to re-gain sapped strength and take on vital instructions.
The game, while not a feast for the purist, was packed with enough incident and ‘firsts’ to be memorable. Lawrie Sanchez added to his reputation for scoring the most important goals by putting Wimbledon ahead on 36 minutes from a Dennis Wise free-kick. On 61 minutes, a harshly-awarded penalty led to Dave Beasant (pictured above with Andy Thorn) making the first penalty save in a Wembley FA Cup Final. Half an hour later he would climb the Wembley steps as 25,000 ecstatic Wimbledon fans roared him on to become the first goalkeeper to captain the FA Cup winners. While it was a result few would have predicted outside SW19, it was a result very-much enjoyed in SW19 with a party on the pitch at Plough Lane and an open-top bus parade the following morning, very much confirming John Motson’s immortal words: “It’s a Weird and Wonderful World if you come from Wimbledon!”
3 May 2008
Staines Town 1 Wimbledon 2
Ryman League Premier Division Play-off final
It was simply the six minutes that shaped the future of AFC Wimbledon.
Third time lucky? It looked for all the world like the same old story. The Ryman Premier quicksand was again threatening to drag Wimbledon under.
The fans’ previous two summers had been ruined by semi-final agony. In 2006, an injury-hit Dons XI failed to overcome Fisher. The hosts roared in to a 2-0 lead, and despite Frankie Howard’s late goal Wimbledon could not muster an equaliser.
Twelve months later and it was Bromley who would deliver the Dons heartache. Wes Daly was sent off earlier in the first half. Richard Jolly would go close in the last minute, but not close enough. The Dons lost 1-0 and the defeat would cost Dave Anderson his job
For the club a third failure would be impossible to bear. This time the Dons had successfully negotiated a semi-final tie against Hornchurch, the returning Jon Main scoring twice. Their opponents would be Staines Town, who had completed a massive run of games in a short space of time to snatch second place from the Dons.
At 4.40 pm and 1-0 down to in-form Staines in the final, an unthinkable fourth season in the Ryman Premier loomed large. In truth it has been embedded in Wimbledon minds ever since Matt Flitter put the hosts ahead. The same player's failure to be sent off for preventing a clear goal scoring opportunity gave a whiff that it was just not happening yet again.
But in a season when new manager Terry Brown's signings had failed to fully convince the supporters, they came good. With eight minutes to go, Nic McDonnell caused chaos, the Swans’ keeper flapped and Luis Cumbers was right on cue to make it 1-1.
What followed was the moment that is revered by AFC Wimbledon supporters as Mark de Bolla struck a free-kick that has lived long in the memories for those lucky enough to be at Wheatsheaf Park. Helped by a fussy official demanding a retake, de Bolla made the most of his second chance and stepped up to take his place in history.
The seal was broken, Conference football was coming and in Terry the Dons faithful trusted.
The City of Manchester Stadium two years later will always be the setting where justice was done, but victory at Staines Town was the turning point.
21 May 2011
Luton Town 0 Wimbledon 0
(The Dons win 4-3 on penalties)
Blue Square Bet Conference play-off final
At 5.44pm on 21 May 2011, Danny Kedwell began the long walk to the penalty spot at the City of Manchester Stadium.
Two hours of football had failed to separate AFC Wimbledon and Luton Town in the play-off final of the Blue Square Premier. After nine penalty kicks the scores were tied at 3–3.
History was thick in the air. Just under nine years earlier, an FA panel had given Wimbledon’s Football League place to a town in Buckinghamshire. A goal from this kick would propel AFC Wimbledon back into the Football League.
With those thoughts ringing in his ears, Danny – the captain of the club – turned to his team-mates, lined up arm in arm on the halfway line, and uttered the prophetic words: “This is our time…”
What followed was the first taste of redemption for Dons fans everywhere. Kedwell’s powerful penalty blasted into the top left-hand corner of the net and Wimbledon were back.
The Dons came into the match on the back of a tremendous run. A defeat at eventual champions Crawley had re-focussed the club. From that moment, it was all about securing a place in the play-offs and perfecting penalties. In came Kaid Mohamed and the Dons went on a winning spree in the league as they secured second place. Fleetwood were dispatched in the two-legged semi-final with ease. Mohamed scored the second in a 2-0 win in Lancashire, before the Dons turned on the style to win the second leg 6-1. Mohamed scored a hat-trick. Only his dad who had £50 on his son to score a hat-trick was happier.
Final opponents Luton had their own reason to feel aggrieved – a massive points deduction had condemned them to relegation from League Two.
The game was to be a huge rollercoaster of emotion. Kedwell had an effort chalked off within 15 minutes. Then injuries struck for the Dons. Gareth Gwillim limped off, then Ricky Wellard and plans to bring on substitute Christian Jolley disappeared.
And then there was Jason Walker’s header in the last minute. It was simply a heart-stopping moment for the Dons faithful. The little striker got between Jamie Stuart and Brett Johnson, before rising high and delivering a near-perfect header hard and low. Seb Brown, in the Wimbledon goal, was nowhere and the net seemed ready to burst. What followed was sheer relief for Wimbledon as the ball bounced back off the post and safely into Brown’s hands. The Dons were still alive.
At the start of extra time, Steven Gregory went off injured and that meant that Mohamed had to stay on despite suffering with cramp. Mohamed still managed to hit a post and Yakubu headed just wide, but those missed chances meant it would be decided with a dramatic penalty shoot-out.
Alex Lawless was first up for Luton, but Brown was equal to his effort and pulled off a save that proved to be crucial in the end, before Sammy Hatton put the Dons in front. Luke Moore also successfully converted and with Luton having found the back of the net twice, all the penalties were scored until Mohamed missed for Wimbledon. Luton were back in it, but Seb Brown, a lifelong Wimbledon fan, swung the pendulum in the favour of the Dons with a save from Walker. He had done his homework and swooped low to his right to put the Dons back in charge. Yakubu made it 3-2, before Jack Howells set up the stage for Kedwell.
The rest, as they say, is history.