Crazy Gang Nostalgia

John Farrell tweeted the observation that tonight’s cup game between AFC Wimbledon and Liverpool was being touted as if AFCW was the same club as the old WFC – which is a good thing despite the fact they’re not. It was Ben Cobley’s retweet that I picked-up, and when I mentioned the old days at Plough Lane (WFC’s ground at the time) it turned out Ben was also a supporter on the terraces there at that time.

From the north-east of England, I was a student in London 74 to 77 and WFC were promoted from the Southern League to the old 4th division, the same year I graduated and started living and working in SW London, sharing rented houses with other mates from the north.

78 and 79 we took the opportunity to watch mighty representatives of north-eastern football then in the 4th division – Hartlepool, Darlington, York, Doncaster to name a few visitors to Plough Lane. I’d forgotten Ron Noades and Dario Gradi were the management team at that time … but I do recall in those early league days, there were few enough on the terraces, that the banter involved conversations with the guys on the pitch. Great times.

By 79/80 I’d moved to live and work in Reading, and my social contacts with London were reduced to live music rather than football, but when Sylvia and I married and set-up home in Reading, the first day of the 81/82 season we looked for a match since it turned out we were both fans. Reading FC hadn’t really registered on our radar then, but we noticed the Fulham had just been promoted to the top flight and their opening game was to entertain Chelsea, so we rather naively set off for the Cottage.

Discovering from the radio on the drive there, that game was a sell-out (naturally), I suggested given the lateness of the hour and the direction we were headed, “how do you fancy WFC?”

We never looked back. The original Crazy Gang years were even greater times. Corky, Ev, Glyn, Wally, Bez and Fish and later Vinny, Sanch and Fash all under ‘Arry’s direction. Don’t recall now whether they were back in the 4th or whether they’d had their second promotion to the 3rd that season, but 81 to 86 every season was a promotion or relegation battle, culminating with achieving the top flight in 86. I reckon we missed barely a dozen games, home or away, through that period. Mad times. That was BC (Before Kids) and eventually WFC was no longer the original crazy gang when ‘Arry left after finishing 6th.

We never found First-Division / Premiership finance / football as engaging as the real thing. For us a real highlight was a freezing foggy Tuesday night at Oxford’s old Manor Ground – cages for the away fans didn’t protect us from being pelted with coins by our hosts – so foggy that we had to ask Bez what all the commotion was up the other end. Sure enough, Wally had been sent off again. Another surreal memory was the fine summer’s day we beat The Blades away on the last day of the season to not only seal our own promotion, but also to deprive them of the same when, thanks to other results a draw would have served us both. After being held back for about half an hour we were advised the noise and smoke was a police car rolled up against the back gate of our stand and set on fire by their disgruntled fans – and we were eventually let out in small groups walking across the pitch to more remote exits.

Whilst Sylvia was pregnant with our first, we paid one visit to Reading FC – I think by then I’d seen a few evening games there with Reading work colleagues – and all we experienced was away fans’ (Bournemouth) thuggery and violence in the scarily claustrophobic terraced streets around Elm Park. It was several years before we went back to live football with the boys, but that’s another installment – starring Glen Hoddle.

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