Dave Bassett, and co-author Wally Downes, make it clear that this book has been written in response to those involved in the BT Sport documentary The Crazy Gang, who Bassett feels “had not done their homework on the years before the 1988 Cup final… [having] an agenda whereby they wanted to sensationalise some of the stories that Vinnie and Fash had, and made them the centre of attention when the film was released”.
Though this book does not represent Bassett’s first attempt to tell his side of the Crazy Gang story, it does offer some new and interesting insights into it, specifically by calling upon the memories of some of the less well-known players from that period.
Upon Wimbledon’s entry to the Football League in 1977 Bassett’s predecessor, Dario Gradi, set about establishing a youth system at the club by bringing in youngsters discarded from elsewhere such as Glyn Hodges, Steve Ketteridge and Alan Cork. Once Bassett took over as manager, these players were joined, through necessity, by the first of Wimbledon’s homegrown players such as Downes, Kevin Gage, Andy Sayer and Brian Gayle, making up a large part of the team(s) which rose so rapidly through the Football League.
Amid the now familiar tales we hear from these players of training-ground pranks and changing-room antics, we also discover the less famous stories of Neil Lanham, a statistician hired by Bassett, “sitting in the stands each week to record free-kicks, corners and throw-ins” and of the money invested on video equipment for analyst Vince Craven which, as Bassett proudly boasts, “was 20 years before ProZone was developed”.
Through the various player testimonies emerge two distinct points. Firstly, that no one recognises the ugly world of bullying and brute intimidation portrayed by John Fashanu in the BT documentary. And secondly, that though the protagonists clearly had a lot of fun throughout these years, their phenomenal collective success was based upon hard work, both on and off the pitch.
Bassett is lauded by his former players for instilling in them his work ethic and hunger for success. But as well as leading his players across army assault courses to improve fitness and stamina, Bassett was also a tactician and student of the game, poring over the data produced by Lanham and the video analysis provided by Craven and sending the players to do their coaching badges at the FA’s School of Excellence at Lilleshall to give them a greater tactical insight. In a chapter entitled “The Numbers Game” Bassett sets out the philosophy behind what his critics lazily dismissed as “long ball” football, emphasising his use of data analysis in utilising the resources available to him to achieve the best results.
Although ultimately this book is unlikely to convince the most vehement of Bassett’s critics, or even debunk the popular image, as espoused by the BT Sport documentary, of “a team of thugs who would do anything to win a football match”, it’s to be hoped that it goes some way toward garnering Bassett and his players the credit they’re entitled to.