Friday, 15 July 2011
Dickheads #6 - The Crazy Gang
Greg Theoharis of Dispatches From A Football Sofa makes his debut for Magic Spongers and as Jamie Redknapp would say "he's literally had a stormer". Here's why the Crazy Gang weren't loveable rogues at all...
“If God had wanted us to play football in the sky, He’d have put grass up there” – Brian Clough
Trawling through the channels the other day, I happened upon a vintage episode of ‘Gladiators’. I was immediately transported to a time, pre-pub age, when my Saturday evenings revolved around the steroid-pumping sweatfest being sandwiched between the twin guilty pleasures of Baywatch and Blind Date. So, paralysed by nostalgia I ended up watching. I’d forgotten. Oh had I forgotten. Because just as the commercial break came around, that cacophonous, mangled, ridiculous cry emanated from a man who quite unreservedly and unashamedly deserves the title of ‘dickhead’. John Fashanu. “A-wooooooo-gaaaaa!” From that point on, my day was ruined, consumed with memories of that vile period in the late ‘80s through to the mid-‘90s, otherwise labelled ‘The Crazy Gang Era’. Allow me to repeat. Dickheads.
I’m not talking about AFC Wimbledon or MK Dons here; they are very different incarnations. I’m talking about that rabble that inexplicably resided in the top division during the aforementioned period, populated with the likes of Fashanu, Vinnie Jones and Dennis Wise; ‘model’ professionals one and all. Dickheads.
Why so much bile? Where do I begin? How about Gary Mabbutt’s cheekbone which collapsed under the full force of ‘Fash The Bash’s’ elbow in 1993? While I’m sure Fashanu did not intentionally seek to reduce half the Spurs captain’s face to putty, it nevertheless perfectly encapsulated the ethos of this team who made such a big noise about their limitations as footballers and taking pleasure in taking down the ‘Big Boys’ a peg or three. Even his nickname sends shivers down my spine, celebrating as it does the latent brutal thuggery that the team made no apologies for.
I may be accused of being a snob here but I don’t care. I’m an aesthete. I like football played on the ground, intricately and balletically. But I also appreciate that due to resources, finances and players at a club’s disposal, the dizzy heights of tika-tika can’t always be scaled. Wimbledon had to do what they had to do. Just as Joe Kennedy, father of JFK, amassed a huge fortune on the back of Prohibition in order to get his son to the White House. Just as Michael Corleone in The Godfather had to assert his authority by having his brother ‘whacked’. Just as Rebekah Brooks had to sell newspapers by…oh. There’s a problem here, isn’t there…
It wasn’t the manner with which Wimbledon played football that made them truly reprehensible, however much I personally despise the long-ball ethos propagated by Charles Hughes and his disciples. What I hated about this team was the complete and utter disregard for anybody who wasn’t in their ‘gang’. It was a culture propped up by television puff-pieces in which the ‘Crazies’ performed a series of ‘hilarious’ practical jokes on interviewees, as we saw the likes of Jones and Wise cackling and gurning in the background like a pair of barely literate mud-creatures.
Somehow the media at the time seemed to want to package them as lovable scamps, thumbing their noses at the aristocrats of the top table. When they defeated Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup Final, John Motson crowed that “the Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club”. That’s one in the eye for show-offs with the ability to pass and move as well as you effeminate types with a penchant for eyeliner then.
Wimbledon were not lovable. They were not scamps. They were not even anarchic punks, ripping up the establishment. They revelled in their own inability to grasp the basic aspects of the game and they turned football for a time, into a gladiatorial sport (I’m aware of the irony here). I remember Fashanu in some talking-heads show about football’s hardmen a few years back gleefully telling of how he would routinely be called over to referees and asked to have a word with Jones before he did some damage to an opponent. Politely agreeing with the official, Fashanu would then turn to Jones and tell him to carry on what he was doing. Dickheads.
The seedily iconic image of Paul Gascoigne’s testicles being gripped in the vice of Vinnie Jones’ hands has become a metaphor for the ‘don’t care who you are’ attitude promoted by Wimbledon at the time rather than being interpreted as the actions of the proverbial school bully seeking to destroy and intimidate the natural, instinctive playing genius of a man blessed with infinitely more talent. Gascoigne was said to have begged not to go out for the second half of that match, his face wet with tears.
It’s baffling that such a Neanderthal would have been so rewarded in subsequent years with a modest Hollywood career, despite a propensity for biting peoples’ noses off. But then again, I’m sure the proportion of people who have seen him flex his thespian muscles in films such as Tooth, in which he played a character quaintly christened The Extractor, are probably as intellectually poor as the attendance figures at Selhurst Park in the mid-nineties. And although he has shared screen-time with the likes of Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie and has an FA Cup Winners’ medal, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s a dickhead.
People love an underdog. I get that. Unless you’re a Liverpool fan, you probably loved Crystal Palace in 1990 after that semi-final. Or Hereford United or Chesterfield or any other team who on their day, can upset the balance of power. Wimbledon may have done that during their pomp but they also gave credence to the notion that a pack mentality is somehow justified when there are no other means of expression.
If there was an evolutionary scale for football whereby today’s Barcelona would represent fully evolved man, Wimbledon would be at the other end, with the apes, baring their arses and juggling their balls.
In other words, just another episode of Gladiators. Dickheads!
Go follow Greg on Twitter, here @gregtheoharis. Now.