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Club News

The Italian Job part two

26 July 2013

Dickie Guy on the Monza return

Wimbledon face AC Monza Brianza 1912 tomorrow night for the first time since their 1976 Anglo-Italian Cup defeat and Ray Armfield caught up with former Dons goalkeeper Dickie Guy ahead of that trip.

Dickie (pictured centre above with Seb Brown and Dave Beasant) featured in Ray’s article for the FC United/Charlton Athletic matchday programme and we today reproduce that below.

Wimbledon, while on their way to the second of their three successive Southern League titles in the mid-1970s, were one of six semi-professional clubs – two each from the Southern, Northern Premier and Isthmian Leagues – invited to face their Italian equivalents, drawn from three regional Serie C divisions, in the 1976 Anglo-Italian Inter-League Semi-professional Tournament, to give it its full name. Each club faced two opponents, home and away, after which the best-performing of the English sides played the top Italian team to decide the winner. The matches began in March, and the final was held in June, in Italy.

The Dons attracted healthy attendances of 2,000-plus for both their home ties. They beat Benevento 4–0 thanks to goals from Billy Holmes, Keiron Somers, Roger Connell and John Leslie, and then overcame Siracusa 3–0, with Somers, Ian Cooke and Dave Bassett all on target. But the Sicilians combined some brutal tackling with cynical play- acting. “One of the Siracusa players made a throat-cutting gesture with his thumb towards Ian Cooke as we walked off,” recalls Dickie Guy. “I don’t think Ian was looking forward to the return game too much after that!”

Wimbledon’s participation was funded by a £4,000 donation from the supporters’ club, and over a hundred Dons fans had booked a charter flight to Italy to cheer on their team – only to have their plans dashed when the local travel agency cancelled the package at the eleventh hour. But a handful of intrepid fans still managed to make the journey. “A few lads tried driving there in a camper van, but it broke down somewhere in France and I’m not sure if they ever made it,” remembers Dons supporter Sandra Lowne.

“I knew most of the players, and Dave Donaldson – who worked for British Airways – hurriedly got plane tickets for myself and three friends. We flew to Naples and met up with the team in their Sorrento hotel. I remember the Siracusa game being hostile, though their president gave me a guided tour of the stadium before the match after I’d shown him round Plough Lane a couple of weeks earlier. Dickie had stuff thrown at him from behind his goal, and I ended up leaving the ground in the team minibus, perched on some beer crates at the back!”

Home advantage proved crucial in the tournament: there was just one away victory – by Monza, who won 1–0 at Stafford Rangers – in 24 group games. A Roger Connell goal put the Dons ahead at Benevento, but they wilted in the oppressive heat and conceded a late equaliser. A narrow 1–0 defeat at Siracusa, where the hosts finished with just nine men on the pitch, still left Wimbledon as the top English team. The final was originally scheduled to be played in Rome, but it was switched to the Stadio Sada – the home of the Dons’ opponents Monza, nearly 400 miles north of the capital.

The normally placid Wimbledon manager Allen Batsford was incandescent with rage at the performance of referee Andre Favre in the final. A 4,487 crowd, who between them paid over £7,000 to watch the game, witnessed a series of bewildering decisions by the nervous Swiss official, who sent off both Connell and Bassett for dissent, booked four Italian players – one of them twice without dismissing him – and penalised Guy for handball when he had clearly chested the ball outside his penalty area. From the resulting free-kick, Braida’s shot was charged down, but Casagrande swept home the rebound for the only goal of the game.

“Allen was so furious with the referee at full time, he didn’t even want us to go up and collect our runners-up medals,” said Guy. “But we did, and there was no ill feeling between the teams. Monza were probably the best team in the tournament, and most of the players swapped shirts at the end.”

Now, 37 years later, the two clubs are facing the future with optimism. Supporter-owned AFC Wimbledon are shaping up for their third season as a Football League club, while the Biancorossi – now owned by English businessman Anthony Armstrong Emery – have been battling to reach Serie B via the play-offs. And the Dons’ goalkeeper that night in 1976 is now looking forward to returning to the province of Lombardy in his role as AFC Wimbledon club president: “I’m due to be making a speech at some point – with a few lines in Italian!”

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