The biggest FA Cup shock?: Crazy times when underdogs had day

Twenty years after Wimbledon stunned the football world, the two teams they spawned are on the way to Wembley
Click to follow

Football, Lawrie Sanchez believes, goes in circles. As the scorer of the most famous goal in Wimbledon's history, which won the 1988 FA Cup final, he is therefore less surprised than most that 20 years on, with giant-killers all the rage again, the two teams the club spawned are both going to Wembley within the space of a fortnight. On Sunday week, Milton Keynes Dons will meet Grimsby in the final of the lower-division competition currently known as the Johnstone's Paint Trophy. Two weeks later, AFC Wimbledon, the loyalist offshoot of the original club, play a friendly against Corinthian Casuals, who are celebrating the 125th anniversary of the original Corinthian club, a name hijacked by Wembley for their prawn-sandwich brigade.

Those who believe in karma might even say that such a happy coincidence has come about after a symbolic burying of the hatchet. MK Dons recently agreed to return some 500 items of original Wimbledon memorabilia to their spiritual home in the London borough of Merton, where they are displayed in rotation in Morden Library. Pride of place inevitably goes to a replica of the FA Cup, earnedby Sanchez's header and Dave Beasant's historic penalty save.

Whether Barnsley or Cardiff progress to this year's final, they will be underdogs against either Portsmouth or West Bromwich Albion and can therefore take heart from the events of 20 years ago. Sanchez and Beasant can testify that favourites are even more likely to freeze on the big day than Chelsea and Middlesbrough did last weekend at the quarter-final stage. First tip: keep them waiting in the tunnel beforehand and, even if there is not a Vinnie Jones or John Fashanu in your team, exercise the vocal chords.

"The thing was, Liverpool were very quiet," Sanchez recalled. "A few shouts went out from Vinnie and people like that and Liverpool never responded, which surprised us because we thought they might come back at us. They'd just won the League and they were a fantastic team, but I think they realised then we weren't overawed by them."

Keeping feet on the ground and sticking to what you know are even more important. Loved and loathed in equal measure, Wimbledon could never be accused of having ideas above their station. Anyone in the dingy Plough Lane dressing room suspected of getting above himself would soon be cut down, while his clothes were cut up. For away matches in London it was customary for players to make their own way to the ground, so there seemed no reason to do anything different for the Cup semi-final at White Hart Lane against Luton; and when the manager, Bobby Gould, drove up in a minibus with the team's kit, nobody was surprised except the policeman on the gate, who was reluctant to let him in.

Gould had only taken over that season from Dave Bassett, who pioneered the team's highly controversial direct style, taking them from the Fourth Division to the First in five seasons.

"Bobby was clever enough not to change the style, just to add to it," Beasant says. "We could not have won the Cup playing any other way. And Don Howe came in as coach from Arsenal, which was a masterstroke." In the final, Howe put Dennis Wise on John Barnes, who was unusually subdued.

After conceding the goal to Sanchez, Liverpool won a penalty for what Beasant insists to this day was a fair tackle by Clive Goodyear. "Liverpool were on television every other week, so I'd got the footage of every penalty John Aldridge had taken and made my mind up what I'd do if the situation arose. John Motson claims it as one of the highlights of his commentating history that he'd asked me whatI'd do. So as Aldridge is taking it, Motty's telling the viewers exactly what's going to happen."

Much as they played up to the "Crazy Gang" mentality, Wimbledon's players felt they should have received more credit for their ability and achievements. Sanchez says: "It's still considered the biggest shock in the last 20 years, but it isn't as big a shock as has been written. We finished seventh in the Cup final season and got to the quarter-finals the year before and the year after. We weren't quite the mug team that people made us out to be."

Similarly, as one of the more cerebral members of the squad, who became a successful manager with Northern Ireland, Sanchez believes some of the Crazy Gang mythology has been exaggerated. "It's true that the night before the final, Bobby said, 'Get yourselves down the pub' and gave us 50 quid. But I don't think any players were going to get paralytic the night before the biggest game of their lives.

"The Crazy Gang was really the spirit within the Fourth Division team that got them up to the First Division, that group of players who were on a pittance, playing in front of nobody. Stuff went on that these days would have been on the front and back pages, with everybody saying what a disgrace it was. Towards the end, the burning of clothes and things done for cameras was just a pastiche of what it had been. We did do things that upset other teams but after five or six years they just copied us. Everyone now has music coming out of a speaker in the dressing room."

Both men are pleased to see AFC Wimbledon thriving, though the club will need to be patient as they progress up the football pyramid. As Beasant says: "From being a non-League team to reaching the top division and then the Cup final in 11 years, you could never see that happening again."