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Gary sums up rise of both clubs against the odds

Interview with a hero of both Dons and Shrewsbury, ahead of tomorrow's game

11 August 2017

Rob Cornell

Grabbing hold of an unfashionable side and playing a major role in transforming its fortunes was a speciality for Gary Peters.

The former Dons captain said he will keep an eye out for the outcome of tomorrow's game at The Cherry Red Records Stadium. As a player during the Crazy Gang era, he led Wimbledon FC to the old Fourth Division title in the 1982/83 season, while as a manager he guided Shrewsbury Town to a League Two Play-Off final in 2007.

"People got lost in the 'craziness' of what we achieved," said Peters, as he reflected on the extraordinary rise of the Dons from the bottom tier of the league that propelled them towards shaking-up English football's "establishment" during the 1980s.

"They forgot how hard we worked to achieve where we got. We didn't have the money to go and get the best players, so we had to find a way of getting players who perhaps didn't fit in elsewhere, but had the ability."

"It was a very strange situation, but the only thing I can liken it to was the film 'The Dirty Dozen', where a group of army convicts were put together to do a job and they did it! 'Harry' (manager Dave Bassett) put characters together that were in trouble at their other clubs, but they were good players. As a result, we had better players than other clubs in our division."

The picture above shows (left-right) Wally Downes, Lawrie Sanchez, Kevin Gage, Gary Peters,  Derek French and Dave Bassett, at a dinner here to launch 'The Crazy Gang' book.  

Having been inspired in his time under Bassett, the former defender went on another 'Mission Impossible' during his own managerial career - years later at Shrewsbury Town.

"The place was dire - it was in ruins," Gary recalled. "The training ground was a mess and the players' fitness and discipline were terrible."

At the time, the Shrews were looking to move from Gay Meadow to their present home, since 2007, of New Meadow.

"The club had been waiting for 10 years to get planning permission for a new ground so had not been doing anything to the old one and the whole place was in disarray. The club itself was in decay.

"There had to be a hell of a lot of foundation work done before we could start competing with other teams. In the first season we could have gone down. In the end we were 11 points clear, which was down to organisation and hard work."

"People think because we brought in certain players we paid great wages, but that wasn't the case. We had a tight budget, but we were able to get players in on less wages than they are being offered elsewhere as I was able to show them the site of the new ground and also the work we would do to make them better players."

It certainly seems a philosophy that Neal Ardley can relate to, with the Dons return to Plough Lane on the horizon edging closer.

With the foundations laid, Peters was able to move Shrewsbury away from the Football League trap door and closer to League One – as they beat Milton Keynes in a play-off semi-final, but lost to Bristol Rovers at Wembley.

Peters is full of admiration for what AFC Wimbledon have achieved and believes another rise for the club, soon to be from SW19 again, is on the cards in the future as he now watches on as an interested spectator.

"It's magnificent! I wish I'd been given the chance to be a part of the AFC Wimbledon story. I look at it all now and where they have got to is great, but it needs something to spur it on again to try and do what happened before."

"It's still possible, if you take the snobbery out of football and say - We're going to do what we need to do to win these games our way."

Being unconventional made an admirable reputation out of Gary Peters and one that both sets of fans still appreciate as AFC Wimbledon take on Shrewsbury Town in League One from 3pm tomorrow.


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