Dave Bassett – Wimbledon boss who put crazy gang on course for FA Cup glory

Those Crazy Gang rascals loved playing pranks, and relocating Dave Bassett’s bed from his hotel room to the service lift on an away trip was one of the most imaginative.

Somehow, the Wimbledon players’ rearrangement of the furniture and Bassett’s late-night discovery of his divan in an elevator was a fitting snapshot of a managerial career which brought him seven promotions.

Only Neil Warnock (eight) has had more joy in English football’s lift shafts.

Now Bassett has won ‘the Double’ – by being voted the greatest manager of all time at two clubs.

In 2017, before Chris Wilder was leading the Blades’ march towards the gates of Europe, Sheffield United fans handed Bassett the crown.

Dave Bassett with John Fashanu during their time at Wimbledon

And last month, he was runaway winner of a similar online poll among his old flock at AFC Wimbledon – the reborn original, not the unloved franchise.

When he left Plough Lane in 1987, Bassett had put together a side for £200,000 which would be later sold for £8million – and his salary was just £19,000.

Miracles don’t normally come cheap in football, but ‘Harry’ Bassett worked his magic with a budget nearer gossamer thread than shoestring.

He said: “When we arrived in the First Division, 13 players in our first-team squad had come through the youth system.

“People talk about Manchester United’s Class of ’92 with Beckham, Scholes, Butt and the Nevilles, but 10 years before that Wimbledon’s conveyor belt was in good nick as well.

“Most people outside the club don’t realise that nine lads played in all four divisions – Wally Downes, Dave Beasant, Kevin Gage, Mark Morris, Mick Smith, Paul Fishenden, Alan Cork, Glyn Hodges and Steve Galliers.

“That’s a remarkable feat which is unlikely to be matched in future. Other clubs, like Watford

and more recently Bournemouth, have gone from the fourth division to the first, but they didn’t do it on a budget of bobbins.

“The way we played frightened other clubs, and we got pigeon-holed for being the rough kids from Bash Street, but if if those lads couldn’t play, how come most of them went on to be sold for big money and play international football?

“Go on, explain how Beasant, Winterburn, Wise, Sanchez, Fash, Vinnie and Hodges won almost 60 caps between them?”

Bassett, now 75, hated the way his empire was dismantled, repackaged and exported 65 miles to a retail park in Milton Keynes.

Dave Bassett left Plough Lane in 1987, but he had put Wimbledon on course for FA Cup glory the following year
(Image: Getty)

But he believes the trauma enabled the Crazy Gang to find its soul again, saying: “In a way, going out of the League, and out of existence, was the best thing that happened to them.

“We’ve all got an opinion on what happened with the move to Milton Keynes, but going back to square one gave them the energy to rebuild.

“People think what happened was terrible, and it was, but working their way back through the leagues gave them renewed confidence, belief and identity. They have become the model for phoenix clubs to rise from the ashes and they got their heart back.

“Wimbledon was 14 years of my life as a player, coach and manager. We got into a few scrapes, but we always stuck together and got out of them in the end. Emotionally, it will be massive for them when they move back to Plough Lane.”

Briefly, Bassett’s career took a wrong turn as he agreed, hastily, to replace the departing Graham Taylor at Watford.

Bassett is mobbed by Crystal Palace fans after their victory in the 1996 Division One play-off semi-final
(Image: REUTERS)

“With hindsight, I didn’t do enough due diligence because Graham was revered at Watford, and rightly so,” he said.

“But when you come home from the FA Cup final to find superstar Elton John in your living room offering you a job, it’s not easy to turn him down.

“It wasn’t the best seven months of my career but when I left, Elton went out of his way to make sure I was looked after properly.

“He paid for me to take the wife and family on holiday to California for two weeks, and he bought the Jaguar which was the manager’s company car off Watford and gave it to me. A real class act.”

Although it looked like a hospital pass at first, Bassett soon regained paradise at Bramall Lane. He fired up the Blades, and two promotions later they were back in the big time.

Bassett led Sheffield United back into the top flight
(Image: Getty Images)

He said: “When I went to Sheffield United, they had no money and we were dropping into the Third Division.

“No disrespect to Chris Wilder, who has done a fantastic job and deserves all the praise he gets, but I was never in a position to spend £20million on a single player. The circumstances I inherited 32 years ago were different.

“What would I have changed about my time there? Not much – selling Brian Deane to Leeds was a big mistake, and being relegated on the last day of the season at Chelsea, when two late goals cost us, was a horrible way to go down.

“But that team could play. Deane and Tony Agana scared the life out of defenders and, like my Wimbledon side, beaten teams would sometimes resort to excuses about the way we played to cover up the fact they couldn’t handle us.

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“It’s nice to be held in high regard by more than one set of fans. Does it matter? Of course it does – ask any manager and he will tell you it’s better to get the accolades than the sack.

“But to win those two polls among the supporters at different clubs means something. It shows you were doing something right.”

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