Wimbledon and Leicester City compared at Bookfest event
The remarkable achievements of Wimbledon FC and Leicester City came three decades apart, but a lively debate at last night’s Wimbledon Bookfest summed up how both clubs thrived against the odds.
was joined on stage by current boss Neal Ardley to talk about the amazing rise of AFC Wimbledon in an event presented by broadcaster John Inverdale.he man who led Wimbledon to unprecedented success in the 1980s,Dave Bassett, t
.pageWe covered part of last night’s event at the Wimbledon Common venue on Facebook Live and you can still view this by visiting our official
Offering his unique take on last season’s unfashionable Premier League title victory, Foxes fan Rob Tanner spoke passionately about his book called “5,000-1, The Leicester City story”, and he drew comparison with how Wimbledon confounded the odds all those years ago.
“If you look at the Leicester City squad, they all faced rejection and hardship in their careers,” said Tanner. “Jamie Vardy was rejected by Sheffield Wednesday, Wes Morgan by Notts County, and Rihad Mahrez had no formal academy training because they thought he was too skinny. They have all toughened up and it was exactly the same with Wimbledon. A lot of the Wimbledon players had to fight the establishment, but they took them on and won.”
Of course, no one summed that up more literally than Vinnie Jones and the audience loved a few stories thrown in by Bassett about the midfield hard man’s exploits. One of those included Jones taking ‘revenge’ on Arsenal after a defeat at Highbury. In the return at Plough Lane, the man who arrived for just £10,000 from Wealdstone had plotted to take out then Arsenal midfielder Steve Williams, before subsequently being sent off for flooring the wrong man - Graham Rix!
Bassett’s Crazy Gang book chronicles the amazing rise of the Dons from the old division four to the top flight, before Bobby Gould guided Wimbledon to FA Cup glory.
“We had a poor season when we got relegated, but the likes of Dave Beasant, Wally Downes, Glyn Hodges and Steve Galliers were all growing in stature at the same time,” said Bassett. “We had players with nearly 100 games under their belts and they knew what it was all about. It was a tough school and from then on we went on the march.
“We got ‘Wisey’ on a free from Birmingham, Lawrie Sanchez cost £29,000, and Stewart Evans was also on a free. When we got promoted to the First Division I told Sam Hammam that I wanted him to get Vinnie in and he asked, ‘who is Vinnie Jones?’ I said, ‘don’t worry, you will learn!’
“I spent £470,000 on my team and six years later Sam sold them for over £7 million! We managed to bring players through the youth team. We had a squad of 23 with 13 coming through the youth team. Man United get excited about bringing through 5!"
The 75-minute slot at the Wimbledon Common venue ended with Neal Ardley saying that AFC Wimbledon’s supporters drive the club forward in the same way as back in Bassett’s day.
“We have a group of fans who have been used to teams giving absolutely everything,” said Neal. “They want you to go on the front foot and have a pop at teams. They want the players to come off the pitch having given their last breath for the team. As long as they do that, they will be all right by the fans. I think that goes all the way back from the 1970s to where we are now.
“I have a lot of respect for people behind the scenes for what they’ve done in the last 14 years. We’ve been building towards this for a long time by making the right decisions with managers and I mean the ones before me! We’ve improved the training facilities, the Academy, and the Foundation. Everything will be geared up (for Plough Lane return). It will not be a reaction because we’ve been proactive for a long time. Our first game back will be the biggest celebration for the club, Wembley will pale into insignificance."
Picture credit: John Stone.