Q&A with Crazy Gang Legend Wally Downes
By Chris Lappin
Thankyou to Crimey and The Womble for helping with the questions.
Former Wimbledon midfielder Wally Downes made over 200 appearances for the club and has recently co-authored the book “The Crazy Gang” with Dave Bassett
One thing I’ve always wanted to know why is Dave Bassett called Harry?
I’ve got a funny feeling that was his Dad’s name, he was known as Harry before we got together.
Where did the inspiration for the book come from?
There was a documentary on BT last Christmas sometime and it concentrated mainly on the FA Cup Victory. We called the documentary the Crazy Gang and it didn’t mention any of the struggles we had to go through from the 4th Division to the 1st Division.
We thought this needed to be addressed, some of the players had come on a long journey with us and they needed to get some credit as well. It only concentrated on a few players in documentary and there were others that played a massive part in it.
How did you get into the game? And how where you spotted?
I was very lucky I played in the West London League from the age of 11 to 16. Everyone in my team had been taken on by different teams and I hadn’t.
We played a game against Merton at Fulham’s ground, fortunately for me Ron Noades and Alan Smith, who later went on to be the Crystal Palace manager, were at the game watching a couple of the Merton players and I had a practically good game.
They asked me come along and sign to become Wimbledon’s first apprentice.
You are often cited as being the main instigator of the Crazy Gang spirit at the club. Is that a true claim?
Well I was there first, I was the Captain, I was in and amongst it and I did the interview with guy from the Daily Mirror where the nickname was coined.
There were lots of us there together but I seemed to have had it hung around my neck.
What, in your opinion, is the best prank a player played on someone during your Dons days? (The Womble)
It was probably the first one that ever happened when Dave Beasant joined the club. He played a trail game; he was 6’ 4” and came in on his motorbike in full black leathers.
He was well chuffed with himself as he’d been told to come in again and we watched in the carpark putting on his helmet which we had filled with talcum powder, he was absolutely covered in it. He was very amused by it all and he came in the next day after it happened and said “I can’t wait for the next signing to come in”.
And that’s where the initiations started at the club.
Gary Lineker once said that "The best way to watch Wimbledon is on Ceefax". Do you think a lot of other people within the sport thought the same due to our reputation and playing style? (The Womble)
We were quite happy for people to under estimate us and hate like we were doing because it meant they didn’t understand how we played. We played a certain way, it was very direct. We wanted to get the ball forward as quick as we could and get in dangerous areas. We didn’t just hit and hope, we knew exactly what we were doing. We knew the higher up the pitch we got, we knew players like Hanson, Gillespie and Paul McGrath at the big clubs didn’t like chasing the ball around and we knew if put the ball behind them then we would be in trouble. If they put the ball out for throw-ins and corners, we were very good at set pieces and we exploited that.
I always hear that Nigel Winterburn didn't approve of the 'Crazy Gang' mentality. Did anyone get proper p*ssed off by any pranks? (The Womble)
Not really, Fash (John Fashanu) didn't really have anything to do with it, Nigel did, Nigel was a big part of it. Fash made it clear he didn't want to be involve, he was above it all and that was fine.
What is your take on the MK Dons fiasco? (Crimey)
It shouldn't have happened, disgraceful what happened to that football club. Moving them from their home of 100 years, moving it lock, stock and barrel to Milton Keynes. It shouldn't been allowed and they should part some legislation in to stop it happening again.
Do you consider AFC Wimbledon or MK Dons to be the club you played for? (Crimey)
I didn't play for either, i played for Wimbledon FC but my support is massively with AFC. If i said i didn't play for either of them.
Neal Ardley is doing a decent job at AFC Wimbledon these days, would you ever consider a role down at the club? (The Womble)
Neal is doing a great job. I can't speculate on what will come up. I often go down there, prob 3 or 4 times a season and we always play very well.
How would it feel to lead a team out at the new Plough Lane ground? (The Womble)
When i spoke with Neal the other week, i told him that when they get to the new ground to dust the number 10 shirt off because i'm going to make one last appearance and i'll lead them out for that day.
With only a short spell in management, is it something that would ever interest you again? (Crimey)
Yeah, i spent two years at Brentford and it was a real tough job at the time. My budget was £500 per player which was less than what they were paying in the conference at the time and we were two divisions above them. it was a tough time to manage but i really enjoyed it. if i would have just applied to, with respect, Mansfield or Barnet jobs around the lower leagues i would have probably got interviews for the jobs and continued as a manager.
I immediately got offered the assistant role at Reading. I had 5 years there and got promoted to the Premiership with 106 points, best team to ever come out the Championship. Two really good years in Premier League then i was asked to go to Southampton with Alan Pardew then i was Avram Grant's number two and Sam Allardyce's head coach at West Ham. I had a really good decade as a number two or a head coach with 3 big clubs.
I read that you were Vinnie Jones’ best man – How is he doing?
Yeah, he doing good living out in Hollywood, i'm going to see him next week.
And what are your favorite memories of playing with Vinnie?
Well he made his debut against Nottingham Forest, caught the ball, give a penalty away in the first time and got subbed after 20 minutes of the second half. The next game was against Man Utd at home, he scored the winner and we won 1-0. His first two games were very eventful.
“The Crazy Gang” is available on Amazon Kindle for £9.99 and also in hardback and paperback - http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Crazy-Gang-Dave-Bassett/dp/0593076265
You can follow Wally on Twitter - https://twitter.com/wal10