Wimbledon FC and their timeless "Crazy Gang" era, which yielded the FA Cup in 1988, is a legacy of the long-ball philosophy, according to former manager Bobby Gould.

"It was a lifetime's experience," says Gould, the 71-year-old retired English player/coach/manager who is on his annual haj to Hawke's Bay over the Christmas holidays.

A lot has been written and documented on the team, "The Dons", a southwest London club that rose from a blue-collar background into top flight England competition in the late 1980s.

Also known as "The Wombles", the team went on to create history in beating glamour club Liverpool FC 1-0 in the FA Cup final on May 14, 1988, on the way to teeing up lucrative contracts for high-profile players such as John Fashanu, Vinnie Jones, Dennis Wise, Mick Harford, Dave Beasant and Lawrie Sanchez.


While Wimbledon became one of the most despised teams of that era for their aggressiveness, secretly, it seems, envious clubs wanted a slice of that mongrel in their own ranks.

In many respects, the club remains a template for contemporary coaches who champion the no-frills approach to the beautiful game over the pass-and-move, possession-based one.

For Gould, the memorable chapter with Wimbledon goes back to meeting his hero, Geoff Hurst, on a coaching course before the latter secured the Chelsea mentoring job.

Hurst had offered Gould the No 2 position, which lasted two years, but in that time a club, Wimbledon, a few kilometres down the road from Chelsea, was capturing the imagination of the former professional striker.

"During that time I built a nice relationship with Wimbledon people such as Dave Bassett and Sam Hammam, the gentleman who owned the club," says Gould, revealing he had given Bassett the No 9 position at Surrey.

"I played at Wimbledon for six to eight weeks and I understood what was happening in the dressing room."

But as a player in his mid-30s they wouldn't let Gould into the senior dressing room because they suspected he was a mole for Bassett.

In 1986, he returned as manager where Gould recruited the coaching services of Don Howe, who he had played under at West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal.

"Don was out of work from England so I asked him if he'd like to come work with me at Wimbledon and he couldn't stop laughing, you know."

When the laughter subsided Gould had persuaded Howe to accept the job.

"After four weeks he said, 'Gouldy, I wanna stay with yer'. I'd love the opportunity to coach these players'."

Gould, Howe and Hammam went on to forge a remarkable rapport.

"Sammy the owner created players who were 'rebels without a cause'," he says of Hammam. "He didn't understand the game either."

Fashanu had later likened Lebanese chairman Hammam to Jesus who realised "even Jesus needed disciples", that is the players.

"He was the leader. He gave us light," he had said of Hammam, who knew nothing about the game or, for that matter, how to behave on the paddock.

Hammam had an edict that if Wimbledon ever lost by four goals or more the players would all be made to attend opera and that proved to be a potent deterrent.

He was the first owner who sat through every team talk in Gould's career.

"I found it very difficult earlier on because I never had an owner or chairman sit in with the team."

When Gould asked him why, Hammam replied it was his team and the manager was his paid employee so he reserved the right to know what had transpired in the changing rooms.

"We had a lovely relationship but he was very possessive when I had to do a television or radio interview."

Hammam didn't want Gould diverting his energy to media when he was paid to channel it towards the club.

"I could only talk to the press at the end of every game. He used to say, 'I pay you to run my football club, not sell papers', so he was just like making another pattern of tapestry, to be honest."

The making of the players was no less regimented.

Jones, dubbed "The Butcher", Fashanu and John Scales had the "look mad" persona come game time and their catch-cry was "Put it in the mixer".

In a YouTube interview, Fashanu was asked if Wimbledon had taken things too far. He replied: "Did I go too far? What is too far? Did anybody die?

"Was his pride broken? Maybe. So what? ... It was part of the game, my man."

It was, after all, an era when the referees used to tell players: "Feel free to kick the shit out of each other but swear at me and you're going back down the tunnel."

Oppositions arrived at Wimbeldon's home turf, Plough Lane, with the result far from their minds. The rivals simply intended coming away after the final whistle without injuries.

Players were made to feel very unwelcome. They found the visitors' changing rooms devoid of toilet paper, cold and dank, sewage spilling out of drains and salt in their cups of tea, rather than sugar.

Wimbledon players mutated into "warlords" at kick-off time every 3pm on Saturday. They were described as "a pack of wolves going out on a lunch break".

Gould hastens to add people outside the club had formulated opinions on their players.

"If they were naughty teenagers we wanted to turn them into better professionals and that became the task of Bobby Gould and that's what we achieved.

"The only people who hated us with a passion were those who got beaten by us."

When he, Bassett and Howe entered the changing rooms, the only instruction was to impress on the players the need to supply balls into the attacking third 172 times in 90 minutes, 44 of those were supposed to be in scoring positions.

"People knew what they were going to receive and it was long-ball football."

Gould had no intentions of changing a philosophy that had got the club from fourth division to first division.

"If it wasn't broke, why mend it?"

While they had a reputation of aggression, he emphasises he and Howe weren't "cheats" and always stressed the need to adhere to the rules of the game.

"Sadly Don's passed away but we didn't want our names tarnished. We had our families to support so we didn't want anything hanging around our necks because they weren't there — it was only hearsay."

Wimbledon accepted there were incidents that raised eyebrows, he says, but there also was admission that they weren't going to turn a new leaf overnight.

"Don and I believed they were like naughty schoolboys so we were trying to change their attitude towards the game."

Undeniably the template went on to be a lucrative one where weekend warriors became up to £13 million commodities after winning the FA Cup.

It was sold as a franchise club, AFC Wimbledon, soon after. With the "spirit of the fans" they returned in the next two years.

"It's a phenomenal story," says Gould.

In the Lord of the Flies-like culture, players broke down mentally. Even Fashanu later winced at the thought of what they had put teammates through.

They were locked in the boots of cars, dragged through snow on the field and prevented from eating or drinking up to two days.

Fashanu thrived on ruling by fist or fear. Disagreements were sorted out behind the locked doors of changing rooms with challengers told whoever walked out of the room after the fisticuffs would hold power but no one did overthrow Fashanu.

"I'm a very honest person so you look me in the eye. Don't even answer before you've asked a question," says Gould, revealing if he had ever got to the bottom of such rituals he would have nipped it in the bud.

"I wasn't brought up in that way. I had to educate and teach them that this is the way."

Sanchez and Fashanu didn't see eye to eye and the latter had thrown a hot cup of tea at the former. They didn't congratulate each other after scoring but when Sanchez found the net in the FA Cup final it turned out to be Fashanu 's worst nightmare.

"I had to hug the bastard," he had said.

Teammates were in awe and fear of Fashanu and his henchmen.

"Fash shocked most of us," Scales had said on YouTube, labelling him a loner growing up with elder brother Justin.

White, middle-class English foster parents had raised the Nigerian boys. Foster mother Betty Jackson had impressed on the pair the need to be proud as blacks and not yearn to be like Caucasians.

Fashanu reportedly paid Justin £75,000 to hide his homosexuality before the latter committed suicide in 1988.

Wimbledon had young men with a lot of pent-up anger who turned up to trainings on Mondays sporting black eyes and bruises.

Gould himself was aggressive but a clean striker in his heyday.

"In over 400 or 500 games I never got sent off," he says, emphasising that's the values he brought as Wimbledon manager in trying to rid the team of their "bullying spirit".

"As we became more successful we didn't want to be tarred with the same brush but to become professional players you had be strong in that dressing room, mentally and physically."

That Wimbledon dressing room had to grow in stature but also instil a reputation of a team that was feared, not in the physical sense but for employing long-ball tactics.

Gould puts the multi-million-pound post-cup worth of Wimbledon players as evidence of that.

"The clubs wanted to buy them, not as a group but individually.

"The bullying factor with the Fashanus and Vincent Joneses had receded."

Gould reflected on how the salt-in-the-tea story evolved after a Manchester United game at Plough Lane, something his recruit from Bristol Rovers, Terry Phelan, had alluded to.

"Unfortunately the tea lady didn't put sugar in their tea and put salt. That's what I'm led to believe and if they say it was the tea lady then you just have to accept it."

Gould likened the club to a "comprehensive" school where if players stepped out of line he became a disciplinarian, often meting out two-week match suspensions.

While he agrees that scenario may never happen again in this era he doesn't mind giving it another go.

"I want a goalkeeper who can kick from one end of the field to the other," he says, reflecting on how Wimbledon had boasted the "fastest back four in Europe".

Opposition centre forwards and wingers, he says, despised playing against The Dons because they were mindful if they didn't retreat following raids they would have tripped on their offside trap.

Wimbledon had stifled English champions Liverpool, who had the services of Peter Beardsley, midfield maestro and two-time player of the year John Barnes and Ray Houghton, in the 1988 cup final.

Gould, it's said, had adjusted the clocks in the Wembley dressing room two minutes slow so his troops would keep the favourites, making their 21st appearance at the famous cup venue, waiting in the tunnel. Players were reportedly granted permission to go to a pub to help soothe their jangled nerves the night before the game.

The Crazy Gang's finest hour in the cup final reportedly began before referee Brian Hill had signalled the kick off when Fashanu and Jones' resorted to their cowboy-like cry in the Wembley tunnel to gee up their teammates while Liverpool players stood intimidated.

Captain and goalkeeper Beasant also denied Liverpool striker John Aldridge, who Clive Goodyear had fouled in the box, a second-half penalty after Lawrie Sanchez's looping header shortly before halftime had given Wimbledon the lead.

A grinning Aldridge much later admitted on YouTube he had simply fallen over Goodyear's leg and didn't think it was a penalty kick.

Some Wimbledon players had taunted Aldridge as he had run up to take the spot kick, succeeding in putting him off.

At the final whistle, BBC TV commentator John Motson famously coined the words: "The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club."

Beasant completed a £750,000 transfer to Newcastle United, making him the most expensive goalkeeper in the English landscape at the time.

It amuses Gould that Jones' uncompromising tackle on opposing midfielder Steve McMahon was made out to be in the early minutes of the final.

"Everybody thinks it's in the first five minutes or so but it wasn't. It was about the 43rd minute when Vincent made that tackle and after the tackle he was reprimanded."

The following season Jones went to play at Liverpool and his "legs were unbelievable and they got their reprimand back on him".

Reflecting on Fashanu's elbow incident in 1993 that left Tottenham Hotspur captain Gary Mabbutt with a fractured skull, Gould says "it's still happening with a Manchester United player now".

"We're talking nearly 30 years ago."

It's all good for teams to want to play like Lionel Messi and Barcelona but he says there's only one of them, just as there was "only one Wimbledon".

"If you want to be successful you carry on your beliefs. Is it long-ball football? Play within the rules of the game and see where the answers are."

He says 84 per cent of Wimbeldon's goals came from "dead balls" through regimented practices of set-piece plays.

"That's why Dennis Wise was magnificent," he says of a player who went to Chelsea.

Jones transferred to Leeds United, Beasant and Andy Thorn went to Newcastle United while Phelan signed with Manchester City.

Gould has kept in touch with most of those Wimbledon warriors.

"Every player I can meet face to face other than Vincent Jones who I didn't treat properly when I was manager of Wales.

"I was found wanting in what I should have done for Vincent when he played for Wales."

Gould has tried but doesn't believe he and Jones will ever reconcile their differences.

"It's cost me a fortune but we haven't met yet."

He hasn't been able to contact centreback Eric Young despite numerous efforts.

"I liked him and respected him so it's the most disappointing aspect of my career."

After the FA Cup, Wimbledon went on to survive for 14 seasons in the elite division before becoming founder members of the English Premier League in 1992 but couldn't add any more honours to their 1988 silverware.

Wimbledon finished in the top 10 of the English league seven times, peaking at sixth place in 1987 and 1994. They reached the semifinals of both FA and League Cups in the 1996-97 season.

In 2000, the club was relegated from the EPL.