Football fans of a certain age will fondly remember the good old days of football when “men were real men” and it was more than acceptable to give a tricky winger a kick up the arse to keep him quiet. Nowadays, that’s far from the case and, frankly, it’s boring to watch (I’m looking at you, Anthony Gordon and Richarlison).
So instead of this modern obsession with tippy-tappy rubbish and nauseating passing out from the back, I wanted to create an aggressive, horrible team that will take delight in kicking the shit out of opponents in Football Manager 22. We want to judge players on well they kick people, how many suspensions they amass, and generally how well they go about bullying opponents. So what team should we select to achieve this anti-Pep goodness?
I’ve recently been blitzing my way through the Quickly Kevin; Will He Score? podcast and particularly enjoyed Bobby Gould and Dave Beasant discussing the infamous Crazy Gang of the 1980s and 90s. And Wimbledon sounded like the perfect location for us to instill our aggressive brand of football. Plus they’re sponsored by Football Manager, making this a no-brainer.
What was the Crazy Gang?
Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang ethos was epitomised by absolute nutcase Vinnie Jones, cheeky chappy Dennis Wise and the likes of John Fashanu, Lawrie Sanchez and Wally Downes. Those players fostered a notorious culture that Jones summarised by stating: “You either grew a backbone quickly or dissolved as a man.” And everyone’s favourite crisp-loving football presenter Gary Lineker said of the side: “The best way to watch Wimbledon is on Ceefax.”
Wimbledon embraced a “straightforward” playing style that took them from Fourth Division (League Two) to First Division (Premier League) in four seasons. They reached the top tier in 1986 then, two years later, their crowning glory saw them win the FA Cup against Liverpool, cue the immortal words of John Motson: “The Crazy Gang has beaten the Culture Club.” However, Wimbledon’s style was derided by many, who accused them of showing zero regard for opponents and deliberately making dangerous tackles. Who doesn’t love that?
Sadly, the club eventually fell away from the big time and controversially relocated to Milton Keynes in 2002, which saw the birth of our big rivals MK Dons (aka the McDons). As a result of the FA’s decision to allow Wimbledon to relocate to MK, opposing supporters started their own club – AFC Wimbledon.
The brand new club began life in the depths of the Premier Division of the Combined Counties League in the English ninth tier. They then achieved six promotions in 13 seasons to become the first club formed in the 21st Century to reach the Football League. In doing so, AFC Wimbledon set the English senior football record for the longest unbeaten league run, going 78 games without defeat from February 2003 to December 2004.
AFC Wimbledon initially started out playing at Kingstonian FC’s ground Kingsmeadow, but moved to Plough Lane – named after their original home – in November 2020. And you can read all about the fascinating tale of how the new club came about on its website, in what they describe as “the greatest story in football.”
The Crazy Gang of FM22
Our task is to raise the spirit of the classic Crazy Gang in FM22 by instilling the “Wimbledon Way” to see how far we can take the club. That means none of this tiki-taka, gegenpressing nonsense in favour of “four four fucking two,” direct football, getting stuck in and hitting early crosses. We’ll also aim, wherever possible, to build the team around “characters” – or nutcases, if you prefer. So we’ll be on the lookout for players with high aggression, bravery, determination, teamwork and work rate attributes.
The man responsible for leading the new Crazy Gang is my alter-ego Trebor Mahtal, who’s renowned for being a strict disciplinarian. The board expects us to sign players based in England, from the lower levels of the domestic game and develop players from its youth system. They also want attacking, direct football, to make the most of set-pieces, and to avoid a relegation battle in season 1. While the media expect Wimbledon to finish 15th out of 24 teams in League One.
The key players to the Crazy Gang Class of 22 ethos may well be the new Vinnie Jones and Dennis Wise in the heart of the midfield. Alex Woodyard has 16 aggression, determination and work rate and 14 bravery and teamwork, and George Marsh has 14 and 15s in the five key areas. While centre-back Will Nightingale has 18 determination, 17 bravery and 16 work rate.
But in terms of “football talent,” if you believe in that kind of thing, the key players to build around are all good young talents. The best players are wingers Ayoub Assal and Jack Rudoni, 21-year-old midfielder Anthony Hartigan, 6ft 5in Kiwi goalkeeper Nik Tzanev and Chelsea loanee full-back Henry Lawrence.
The side was a little light up top, so we brought in Sheffield United’s 17-year-old talent Daniel Jebbison, who’s labelled “the next Geoff Hurst” and instantly became the best player at the club. Before another exciting young talent arrived on loan in Millwall winger Tyler Burey.
And the team looks a bit like this, with a standard back four with no-nonsense defenders and full-backs, two attacking wingers, a ball-winner and a playmaker in midfield, and an advanced forward and poacher up top.
How does the new Crazy Gang fare?
The new approach started well. Jebbison scored 11 minutes into his debut as Wimbledon led 2-0 at Doncaster at half-time. But the home side came back into the game and deservedly earned a 2-2 draw. But, more impressively, we racked up eight yellow cards in the very first game of the new-look Crazy Gang. Perfection!
The EFL Cup first round served up a tasty tie as Wimbledon travelled to Millwall. Not one for the football purist. But Wimbledon surprisingly won the battle of London’s most-hated sides 2-1 with first-half goals by striker Aaron Pressley and Rudoni, before a 1-0 loss at home to Bristol City in the second round.
Our first two home games saw us nick a point at home to Bolton before a dominant 3-0 win over Gillingham. But that paled into significance compared to a stunning 4-1 win at Sunderland led by a Jebbison double and Burey coming off the bench to score on his debut! A first league defeat came with a narrow 2-1 loss at Ipswich, in which Jebbison scored again.
We recovered to beat Morecambe 3-0 before three successive draws ahead of a trip to high-flying Rotherham. We got off to a flyer as centre-back Ben Heneghan and Rudoni both scored from free-kicks. But our former player Chislett scored twice in four minutes to pull Rotherham level, including a ridiculous penalty decision. But, in true Crazy Gang style, we worked hard and got our reward as striker Sam Cosgrove came off the bench to get a deserved winner.
We took confidence from that as Burey and Jebbison scored to defeat struggling Burton 2-0 but got taken apart 4-1 by a very strong Sheffield Wednesday side as Saido Berahino bagged a hat-trick. We nicked a draw at , then went and beat leaders Wigan 1-0 at home thanks to an injury-time winner by loanee winger Mickel Miller!
That led into the big one. The Battle of the Dons. Scumbags the McDons vs. the originals AFC Wimbledon. We had the best of it until a nonsense red card decision, but held out for a 0-0 in a terrible match. But that seemingly gave the side confidence as we picked up successive 4-2 league wins at home to Cheltenham and at Portsmouth.
However, the matches overload saw injuries mount up in December, including having four ‘greyed-out’ players on the bench as we nicked a 1-1 at Wycombe! But we got players back for three consecutive home games in the week before Christmas, which began by smashing Portsmouth 5-1, being hammered 3-0 by Ipswich, and finished by drawing 0-0 with Charlton. Two away games took us into the new year, and we beat fellow mid-table side Oxford but lost 3-1 at promotion-chasing Plymouth.
That sent us into 2022 safely in mid-table in 11th place on 43 points. We’ve only lost six times all season, which is pretty impressive, and we’re only four points off the playoffs and 10 off promotion.
FA Cup run!
What could be more iconically Crazy Gang than a cheeky FA Cup run? Well, we certainly kept that tradition alive with the Dons. The first round offered a tough draw away to Portsmouth, but a Jebbison strike earned a home replay. And the striker scored again in a 2-0 home win. An easier task followed as Tranmere visited Plough Lane in round two and a Cosgrove goal nicked a cagey 1-0 win.
The reward was El FM Clasicó as we hosted Watford, against whom we randomly play an “FM Cup” friendly every pre-season, in round three. We saw off a Watford onslaught of 17 shots and went down the other end to nick a totally undeserved winner through homegrown striker Zach Robinson. We also committed 14 fouls to their 5 and gave away twice as many free-kicks. Now that’s what the Crazy Gang is all about!
Join us next time to see what challenge awaits us in the fourth round of the FA Cup and how the Crazy Gang fares at the end of our first season!