Journey through the lower leagues sparks trip down memory lane

Journey through the lower leagues sparks trip down memory lane

"WE got the biggest bloke in the league, sling it in they-re!!"

The solitary cockney cry was enough confirmation.

A great deal of changes may have taken place at Wimbledon Football Club over the past 30 years, but some things have stayed much the same.

The trip to the Cherry Records Stadium in south-west London, for a League Two clash between AFC Wimbledon and Cambridge United came on a bright and crisp early winter’s Saturday.

It was a rare afternoon free from turning out for my lowly amateur soccer club or covering Gaelic games in Ruislip for this newspaper.

Still, these were no excuses for the shameful reality that it had been more than two years since this fair-weathered visitor had turned out to support his local soccer club.

Interest had spiked after hearing that BT Sport’s latest feature-length documentary, a sure-fire telly highlight over the Christmas period, will focus on the infamous Crazy Gang of the mid-to-late 1980s.

The long-ball heroics of notorious ’ard men such as Vinnie Jones, John Fashanu and Dennis Wise will likely be the focus of the film.

From an Irish perspective, the documentary will pitch the club in the era of legendary goalscorer Alan Cork and Terry Phelan but before that of Wimbledon’s most capped player, Irish international Kenny Cunningham.

It will also precede Joe Kinnear’s reign as manager throughout the ’90s.

Then, the Dubliner oversaw, relatively speaking, big successes on a shoestring.

That was during a time when tectonic shifts were created, after Sky — for better or worse — pumped millions into the game and created the Premiership in 1992.

More recently, extra spice to the club’s story has been added since the recent FA Cup Round 3 draw.

AFC Wimbledon, resurrected in 2002 from the remains of the original club’s messy breakaway to Milton Keynes as MK Dons, were pitted to face Liverpool at home.

The fixture drips with history given the Crazy Gang’s famous defeat of the giants in the 1988 final.

That game will take place in a couple of weeks’ time on the hallowed turf of the Cherry Records Stadium (capacity 4,850) in south-west London.

Today, Cork defender Alan Bennett, who spent his formative years with Cork City, skippers the side.

And the cockney cries are aimed at Dons forward Adebayo Akinfenwa.

Little short of a 16 stone battering ram — and not six foot tall — Akinfenwa has netted seven times in 19 games this season.

Largely, the striker has done so by creating an orbit around himself and delivering thunderous headers.

Often, long pokes upfield will be met by and then his teammate Matt Tubbs.

It’s exactly the same combination this afternoon as Wimbledon take an early lead in the first minute.

But Bennett and company are powerless to stop a 2-1 reverse.

On reflection the overall quality of soccer on display, while showing glimpses of class, may not have hit the dizzy heights.

Still, a perch in the South Stand Terrace, with a regulation fizzy lager and chips, weighed in only a shade over 20 quid.

And in glimpses of the old Crazy Gang spirit, there was enough to suggest more chapters of the Wimbledon story are ready to be written.

The Crazy Gang screens on Boxing Day on BT Sport 1 at 9pm.