Wimbledon legend Alan Cork reflects on the Crazy Gang
Wimbledon legend Alan Cork reflects on life with the Crazy Gang, fighting with manager Dave Bassett and that epic 1988 FA Cup final victory
Alan Cork had barely found his stride when his phone buzzed with an update from the stables where his son Jack, the Burnley and England midfielder, has three racehorses.
Their colt is about to be gelded and Jack’s wife Freya is calling with news of a rare souvenir opportunity. ‘We’re getting to keep his nuts,’ smiled Cork, unable to keep the information to himself. ‘She said we’re having them dried.’
He is always happier talking about horses than football. This much he makes clear.
Alan Cork looks back on his days as a Wimbledon player ahead of their return to Wembley
His usual approach to the Crazy Gang legend, in fact, offered little hope of nostalgic reflection upon the return of a Wimbledon side to Wembley in the FA Cup third round against Tottenham on Sunday afternoon.
When Dave Bassett and Wally Downes asked him to contribute to the book they co-wrote on the subject, Cork declined.
‘I told them if you want to keep talking about the same old story, fine, but leave me out of it,’ said Cork. ‘I’m nearly 60 and I’ve always been miserable. This is my happy face . . . so my wife says.’
The Crazy Gang legend helped the Dons to that famous FA Cup final victory in 1988
Behind the deadpan delivery there is also a wicked sense of mischief and plenty of material.
Nearly 40 years have passed since Tommy Docherty took charge at Derby County and released Cork on a free transfer without watching him play, setting the adventure in motion.
A decade later and he was lifting the FA Cup as Wimbledon beat Liverpool despite an impromptu drinking session which was designed to relieve the boredom on the eve of the final but went on until 4am.
Cork is not one for nostalgic reflection and declined a part in a book release about Wimbledon
Post-match celebrations blurred into Cork’s testimonial game, two days later, at Plough Lane.
‘Anyone who wanted to play came and played,’ said Cork. ‘Everyone was drunk so it didn’t matter, it was a celebration. The majority of people were drunk for about three months. We had about 7,000 people there. Alan Hansen had his testimonial on the same day in front of about 60,000.’
Hansen did not, however, have the FA Cup. Cork paraded the trophy and the team lined up, then dropped their shorts to bare their backsides and Wimbledon were in trouble again.
Cork claimed ‘we never worried about Liverpool’ after reflecting on the famous triumph
‘Vinnie (Jones) did it first,’ said Cork. ‘The crowd were going, ‘Vinnie, Vinnie, show us your a***’, then we all did it together. It all cost us six and a half grand. I don’t know how the FA got our names, you can’t see all our faces.’
Many of Cork’s reflections of the FA Cup triumph revolve around his parents, their fleeting fame in Derby, a cherished photo of them with the trophy and a chance for him to roll out the red carpet.
Vic Hallam, who won the FA Cup with Sunderland in 1973, once told him how he hired a Rolls-Royce to take his parents to Wembley for the big day.
The Wimbledon players were fined £6,500 fine for dropping their shorts at Cork’s testimonial
‘I never forgot that story,’ said Cork. ‘So I got my Mum and Dad a Rolls-Royce to pick them up in the morning and take them to lunch. They had a good time.
‘We were never worried about Liverpool. We’d done quite well against them and we knew we’d cause them problems because we were very good on free-kicks and corners. I’d lie in bed at night thinking about free-kicks and corners, trying to find a new one. I was still doing it years later when I was coaching at Leicester. I scored a lot of headers and the majority of them were from set-pieces. That was all down to Dave Bassett and his organisation.
‘We’d practise for hours in the freezing cold and we did it because you knew when you were playing Manchester United and Liverpool — especially Liverpool — they were awful on free-kicks and corners. They still are.’
Bassett, known to his players as ‘Harry’, was a midfielder with a reputation as a headcase in the Wimbledon team of 1975 which beat top-flight Burnley in the FA Cup and took Leeds to a replay.
‘He played wearing a big sovereign ring and he’d smash people with it,’ said Cork. ‘I’d never seen anything like it. I was at Derby when we arranged a reserve game against Wimbledon because Roy McFarland had done his achilles and we were getting him fit.
‘In the first minute, Roger Connell smashed him and cut his eye — McFarland’s the f****** England centre half — and Harry’s running around kicking all the kids.’ As a manager, Bassett channelled his aggression, forging teams which loved physical contact and refused to pander to football’s old order.
‘We’d have a fight every morning,’ said Cork. ‘Harry just let us get on with it. He was very good at man-management and he knew how to do business.
Cork dared not think about what sort of trouble his team-mates would have got into nowadays
‘If you got a fiver out of him it was a miracle. Glyn Hodges once tossed a coin with him for an extra tenner a week. Harry was delighted when he won. That’s how he was.’
Cork joined Wimbledon in Division Four on £45 a week in 1978. A third of his weekly income went straight to his landlady for digs and he worked as a decorator in the summer.
‘We’d win away and get a little envelope with an extra tenner in it,’ said Cork and as the money improved there were other costs to factor in.
‘Wage slips came with reductions for the hotel rooms we’d wrecked. If you weren’t first off the bus you’d have buckets of water chucked at you as you were walking down the hotel corridor.
‘There were beds on the roof, golf clubs floating in the bath and clothes in the shower with the tap on. You went in with a new pair of jeans and came back with one of the legs missing.
‘When we came back from away games on the train, we’d stand drinking in the buffet car with the supporters, and then we’d beat Harry up, strip him and chuck him off at the wrong station. I lost count of the number of times he went home in his pants.’
Trophies won were known to be jettisoned from travelling trains, too, but the FA Cup was handled with care. Although owner Sam Hammam was rumoured to have made a personal engraving on an unseen part of football’s most famous silverware.
When Wimbledon turned up at White Hart Lane for the 1988 FA Cup semi-final with six players in a minibus and the rest in their cars, a steward refused to believe claims they were the team.
Former boss Dave Bassett brought a laid-back approach to the Wimbledon setup
That semi-final against Luton stands out among Cork’s fondest memories. Another was a victory at Huddersfield in 1986 to clinch promotion to the top flight nine years after the club had been elected to the Football League.
‘We went away to Spain telling Harry to give people a chance,’ said Cork. ‘To be fair he did. We were top of the First Division after two and a half months. I’ve still got that clipping in my scrapbook.’
Wimbledon finished the season in sixth. Sometimes the pranks distracted from the enormity of the achievement. ‘God knows what we’d have done with the money they get now,’ said Cork, now 58. ‘We’d have been in serious trouble. Jack signed his first pro contract at Chelsea at £600 a week, and I said to him, ‘Do you realise when we won the FA Cup at Wembley in front of 100,000 people, I was on £450 a week?’. He just started laughing. He wasn’t even cleaning his own boots.’
He would often let his players fight with each other and even joined in on some occasions
With his England honours, Jack has achieved something his father did not. ‘He’s played Under 16s, 17s, 18s, 19s, 20s, 21s, the Olympic team and now a full cap,’ said Cork. ‘There can’t be many done that. It’s quite an achievement.
‘I doubt if he’ll get another one, though. I’ve told him that. You’ve got to be honest, haven’t you?’ He has also told his son he will not win the FA Cup and has written off Burnley’s chances of making it past Manchester City in the third round.
But he added: ‘The way Burnley play works for Jack. He can sit and pass the ball. He runs for miles. They look like the old Wimbledon in the way they work hard and have a laugh. There’s a lot to be said for team spirit.’
No one made more appearances or scored more goals for Wimbledon in the Football League than Cork but he did not retain a strong connection as the club reformed under its AFC guise after the original club moved to Milton Keynes.
While Jones moved into the film industry and John Fashanu and Dennis Wise ended up on reality television, Cork has enjoyed a career in coaching and management and is part of the scouting team at West Bromwich Albion.
Cork (left) even took the Wimbledon way with him into his coaching role at Leicester
The last time he attended an AFC Wimbledon game he was drawn into a bar-room conversation with a supporter who did not recognise him and asked if he had been before.
When Cork revealed he played for the Dons, the fan stared hard and tried to place him before asking if he was Eddie Reynolds, scorer of four goals in the FA Amateur Cup final of 1963.
Reynolds, too, is a Dons legend, although he died in 1993, a year when Cork was 34 and back at Wembley with Sheffield United, scoring in an FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday.
The thinning hairline was offset by a caveman beard because he vowed not to shave until his side had been knocked out.
‘Another stupid thing,’ said Cork. ‘I said it to Brian Gayle after the third round thinking we’d not be going far. I wasn’t even allowed to trim it. It was growing into my mouth. I had food in it. It was horrible. I was offered a lot of money to shave it off at half-time if we got to the final.’
Wednesday won in extra time and there ended the demand for the off-cuts from an old warhorse.