Wimbledon v Liverpool: How the Crazy Gang made FA Cup history

By Luke ReddyBBC Sport
Kenny Dalglish and Bobby Gould
Kenny Dalglish was the king, but Bobby Gould's Wimbledon were out to dethrone him
FA Cup third round on the BBC: AFC Wimbledon v Liverpool
Venue: Kingsmeadow Date: Monday, 5 January Kick-off: 19:55 GMT
Coverage: Watch live on BBC One, BBC website, mobiles, tablets and connected TVs, live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live, text commentary on BBC website

As Liverpool fans headed for a venue they dubbed 'Anfield South', a raw and unapologetically ambitious enemy waited to inflict a Wembley nightmare.

Wimbledon - dubbed the 'Crazy Gang' because of their rugged style and infamous dressing-room antics - lay in wait for the champions of England, seeking a second double in three years as they entered the 1988 FA Cup final.

The Reds had enjoyed a decade of domestic and European dominance. Wimbledon by contrast, had been playing non-league football just 11 years earlier.

Tales of Wimbledon mischief often draw smiles, but also frustrate those closest to the club who refer to a "well-drilled" operation. Their story is synonymous with the FA Cup, but just how exactly did they undo Kenny Dalglish's side?

As League Two's AFC Wimbledonexternal-link and Liverpool prepare to face off in the competition on Monday, BBC Sport speaks to former Liverpool players Gary Gillespie and Ray Houghton, ex-Wimbledon players Vinnie Jones, Lawrie Sanchez and Dave Beasant, as well as Ivor Heller, the fan who would go on to co-found AFC Wimbledon 14 years later.

FA Cup Rewind: 1988 FA Cup final - Liverpool v Wimbledon
Venue: Wembley Stadium Date: Monday, 5 January Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Coverage: At 15:00 GMT on Monday the BBC Sport website will give full live text treatment to the 1988 FA Cup final, reliving the match as live. We'll have build-up from 14:00 GMT, the match in full and post-match reaction. You will also be able to watch the game online and via the Red Button.

Silly walks, fitness tests and electric shocks

How do you prepare for a meeting with a Liverpool side braced for their 21st Wembley appearance in 15 years? Wimbledon manager Bobby Gould sent his players to the pub on the eve of the final, but not everyone involved could stay so relaxed.

Gary Gillespie: "We played the Tuesday night before the final against Luton and me and team-mate Nigel Spackman clashed heads and ended up spending the night in hospital.

"We did our fitness test in a hotel corridor. Roy Evans and Ronnie Moran threw balls and we headed them as best we could. It hurt but we were so desperate to play."

Ray Houghton: "I was more nervous than usual. The favourites tag was on my mind and I didn't sleep much. The papers were talking of a rout and that type of opinion seemed everywhere."

John Fashanu
Wimbledon striker John Fashanu had a fairly frank message for Liverpool in the official match programme

Dave Beasant: "There was a mass self-belief in our side but we played Manchester United on the Monday night, went 1-0 up and suddenly tackles started flying in. One or two of them were saying we shouldn't go into tackles if we wanted to play in the final. I'd say it was one of the first times we'd lost a physical battle.

"The FA Cup was different then to now. It was the be-all and end-all. I can recall us doing a promo for the Clothes Show on TV. We'd all had our suits made and had to model them, each doing silly walks. I look back now and it's cringe-worthy."

Ivor Heller: "The night before, we went to Plough Lane [Wimbledon's former ground] and there was a disco in the club bar and sitting on his own was the manager of the 1974-75 side Allen Batsford. He started Wimbledon's giant-killing mentality. Not only was I talking to someone I regarded as a legend, but it was like an electric shock through to my boots to hear him talk of just how big this occasion was."

Win or you're going to the opera
Former Wimbledon owner Sam Hammam claims to have written a clause into the contracts of the club's players which would force them to attend a night at the opera if they ever lost a game 4-0 or more. He says the clause proved an apt deterrent for the likes of Vinnie Jones and centre-half Eric Young.

'The shout went up from Vinnie - Yidaho!'

Gould set the clocks in the Wembley dressing room two minutes slow so his team kept the English champions waiting in the tunnel. When they emerged, Jones and John Fashanu bellowed "yidaho" in an attempt to wind up their cavalry of team-mates further.

Lawrie Sanchez: "In the tunnel, you stood there for longer than normal in a final and there we were, four feet apart. The shout went up from Vinnie, he had this cry a cowboy would give. One or two joined in. I expected a response but Liverpool just kept their heads down. I'm not saying it was crucial, but from that moment, I think they knew we were not intimidated by them."

Houghton: "Honestly, I remember nothing about it. It may be disrespectful to Liverpool players who had been in a European Cup final in Rome a few years before to say they were stood there intimidated. I just remember getting ready to go out to meet Princess Diana."

Beasant: "A lot has been made of the tunnel. We made them wait but they'd seen it all and done it before. We were vocal coming out and they just looked at us. People say we won the battle there but that is nonsense."

Vinnie Jones and John Fashanu in action
In the match programme, journalist Albert Sewell wrote: "Wimbledon's energetic football has seen them described as 'football's up-and-under men' and the 'spit and sawdust team of the First Division.'"

'I decided I was going to nail him'

Prior to kick-off Vinnie Jones was interviewed on the touchline and out of shot came John Fashanu's fist to glance the midfielder's jaw. "There'll be plenty of that", Jones told the camera. Inside ten minutes he cleaned out opposing midfielder Steve McMahon with a late and vicious tackle.

Heller: "We never got the credit we deserved for that final. People remember the rugged Wimbledon which annoys but there was one barbaric act - the tackle from Vinnie Jones on Steve McMahon was savage."

Vinnie Jones: "I'd watched Steve McMahon hundreds of times get the ball from the full-back, let it run across his body, turn out and play it, so I was going to nail him. I just remember seeing his legs way above his head. He didn't know where he was. They were towelling him down."

Beasant: "We always used to say win the first tackle or header and he did that day. From there we started chipping away."

Houghton: "By the challenges of today it was a red card and I think there could have been about eight reds in what was a tough, physical game."

Gillespie on facing John Fashanu
"In the Charity Shield months later, young Alex Watson played alongside me and as he was inexperienced we told him to not wind Fashanu up, 'just do your business'.
"Watson ended up saying something to him like 'I thought you were meant to be a hard man,' and then the next thing I looked over and there was Alex with blood rushing from his eye."

'I didn't want it to go 2-0.'

A Dennis Wise in-swinger, a Sanchez glancing header and on 37 minutes, a shock was on the cards in the cup final. Wimbledon led Liverpool.

Gillespie: "They had to work on free-kicks because they couldn't play. That's a bit harsh actually but we didn't do much work on set-pieces and Sanchez just got across Gary Ablett. They were a dead-ball threat, of that there is no doubt."

Sanchez: "Better players than me never played in a final, let alone score. I remember running straight over to Dennis and he jumped on me. Every photo has his back covering my face. We'd worked that free-kick a lot but I should have been around the back post if we'd done it properly.

Lawrie Sanchez scores
Lawrie Sanchez scores as a bandage-wearing Gary Gillespie (left) looks on, but the Wimbledon player was meant to attack the back post

"I didn't want it to go 2-0. Looking back now, what I will say is when you're there, in the eye of the storm, you just don't realise what this means to people and the impact it will have."

Jones: "We looked around and thought 'hey, what's going on here?' Fashanu and Sanchez hated each other so Fash wasn't too happy about jumping all over Sanch."

Houghton: "I've never watched it back but I spoke with Terry Gibson, who played for Wimbledon that day, and he said after the goal he did not receive a single pass from a team-mate. He just chased punted balls, they didn't have a kick."

'If he hadn't saved it I'd have killed him'

With an hour on the clock Liverpool were given a lifeline as Clive Goodyear was adjudged to have fouled John Aldridge - penalty. It looked harsh, Liverpool didn't care, but a Wimbledon side often praised for rigour over intricacies, did their homework and Beasant saved.

Beasant: "The day before I got John Fashanu to take one penalty for himself and then one like John Aldridge who would stutter in his run-up. If the keeper stood still, he often went to the goalie's left. Back then you didn't have the widespread coverage of matches to be able to study a penalty taker so I had seen Aldridge take three or four."

Jones: "We'd watched so many videos, if Dave Beasant hadn't have gone the right way I'd have killed him."

Dave Beasant saves
Dave Beasant became the first goalkeeper to save a penalty in the FA Cup final and the first to lift the trophy

Sanchez: "When Dave saved that penalty it was at that point everybody knew it was our day."

Houghton: "You do get that feeling it won't be your day. I remember going to the European Championship with the Republic of Ireland weeks later and playing a game of golf with Aldo and you could still see then he was heartbroken. He's a local lad remember and he knew Liverpool were on for the double."

Gillespie: "Aldo was down afterwards. Alan Hansen more so because it was his testimonial the week after and I think the loss took about 5,000 off the gate, so he gives Aldo stick for that one."

Match of the Day live from a tent

John Motson famously uttered: "The Crazy Gang have beaten the culture club." Wimbledon owner Sam Hammam quickly told Gould all the players were up for sale in order to capitalise on their lofty status. But this wild bunch did not party to the extent you might expect.

Beasant: "I lift the trophy, Wisey is next to me and swearing towards our fans. I'm thinking, Princess Anne is stood right behind you. The irony is we were known as a crazy team, up to all sorts, but we were offered two tickets each to celebrate at a top London hotel or 10 tickets each for a marquee - or as we called it a tent - on the pitch at Plough Lane. So all our families were there and it was a quiet night."

Sanchez: "Match of the Day came live from the corner of the tent. To be able to walk over and do it live was a dream come true."

Vinnie Jones
The 1988 FA Cup was the only major trophy Vinnie Jones won in a 15-year senior career

Heller: "The Saturday night in Wimbledon was insane, absolutely insane. In the town centre, there was no beer left, they had to get emergency supplies in for the Sunday. The parade the next day was crazy. There was an outpouring like I've never experienced and probably never will again."

Gillespie: "That second double was in our grasp and that is the biggest disappointment for me. The year later we won the cup and should have won the league. Three doubles would not have been unjust, that's how good that side was."

Jones: "I got up on the Monday morning and it was all over. The biggest thing in your life, all over. Everything back to normal."

Sanchez: "I remember Vinnie saying to me later that he always thought you win the FA Cup and become a millionaire overnight, but it just wasn't the case. But I always say to players that when you're old and grey, your grandkids won't want to look at your wage slips. I've got an FA Cup winners' medal and for that I am very humbled."

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