(i) Harry, we’ll start off with Allen Batsford. Allen in his interview with WDSA in March 2009 said it was obvious to him that you would develop into a good manager. He praised your understanding of the game and looked on you as a mate (although he did say he could not forgive you for bringing Ron Noades into his life!!). What influence was AB on your football career, what was the abiding thing/s that you carried on in your management career from your experiences with him?
Harry: Allen got me to Walton & Hersham and channelled my energies into the right direction. He got me interested in the other side of football of what the team had to do instead of the individual. He implanted that you had to be disciplined in football, you had to work hard at what you were doing, and you had to be enthusiastic and determined and to get the qualities to be a winner. Allen was a good guy, but he was very firm, you knew you had to toe the line with him as such. He wasn’t going to allow you to destroy any team spirit and that was important. I respected him because he got hold of me, I had played a lot of non-league football, but no manager had inspired me, a lot of them never seemed to have too much of an idea in my opinion, they just expected the players to go out there and there was no structure. Allen taught me how important it was to have a structure to your team and a plan of how you wanted to play so Allen was a big influence and obviously I went with him to Wimbledon as well. We all knew as a unit what Allen expected from us and we did that in training. Allen was good at understanding all our different characteristics. He would be quite firm with me, but he would a bit more lenient with the types like Roger Connell. He would be on the case for example with me and Billy Edwards, he treat Dave Donaldson differently again and I saw this and I learned that everybody’s different. To get the best out of people, what he did with me wouldn’t necessarily go down well with Roger Connell. He was a big influence. Allen was an honest bloke, he was straightforward and I respected him for that. He definitely got me thinking about football. He got me interested in developing in terms of a coach, thinking what you wanted you do after playing and there’s a lot more to football than people give credit to.
(ii) You became Wimbledon manager in January 1981 and led the Dons to the first division on the back of three promotions in four seasons and just nine years after the club joined the Football League. What was the successful formula of those amazing seasons?
Harry: We got promoted when I took over and then we got relegated the following season because of the money, etc., and then it was a matter of rebuilding with the youth. We already had Alan Cork, Steve Ketteridge and we were able to add the likes of Paul Fishenden, Mark Morris, Glyn Hodges from the youth. Dave Beasant developed as a goalie, Wally Downes was already there and we had a young side and the idea was to build players who were good technically. I knew they had ability, but it was bringing them into a team ethic. Obviously, I used my coaching and management experience with the people I worked with like Allen Batsford and Charlie Hughes. We got promotion straight away and I was able to get Nigel Winterburn the following year, Kevin Gage and Brian Gayle came out of the youth scheme and we set out about what we wanted to do. We played a style of football that was reasonably successful and then I decided to switch to a longer ball game I
felt we could play because we had the players who could do it. People think that the long ball game is easy but you’ve got to have good players. When you think about it, it’s easier to pass the ball 10 yards than 40, but the long ball looks more exaggerated when it goes astray than the 10-yard ball. I built a team on tactics, but I made sure we didn’t have any square pegs in round holes and vice-versa, that the players were capable of doing that and what was also important was to foster a good team spirit. We always had a wonderful team spirit, where the players were together, they respected one another, they enjoyed the work, they used to laugh and enjoyed themselves which is important when you’re working, but they were serious about what they did, but they were never given credit for their
seriousness because of the Crazy Gang image that people thought we were a load of clowns, but in fact we were quite professional and we were on the ball, we knew exactly what we were doing. Even in those days when I was manager in ’82 we had a guy Vince Craven cutting up videos of our games and top teams, people don’t realise that back in those days we were doing those things and nowadays people are talking about
Prozone (performance analysis) that is something magic and has just come on to the scene and no other people did the same. We were totally professional in many ways, we allowed people to think that we were unprofessional.
(iii) Did the Crazy Gang image irk you?
Harry: No, no. The Crazy Gang was there, Sam (Hammam) loved that, no, we enjoyed it. I think it was brilliant and we used it to our advantage. We knew we were more serious about it, we had great fun and there were things going on and the image because what we did was to carry it through from the non-league days. I knew that when we trained and we played everything was very serious, the players knew what was going on. We had a good laugh but when we were working and playing we were switched on completely. In no ways did it affect me. I am not asking for plaudits, we took it and we did what we did and the Crazy Gang is part and parcel of football folklore and history. But the team didn’t get as much respect as everybody should have given it for what it is because that whole team was
sold and went on to play in top-league football, so it showed how thick people were because they didn’t realise how many talented players we had.
(iv) So many iconic Wimbledon players made their names under you at Plough Lane. Your thoughts on Dave Beasant, John Fashanu, Vinnie Jones, Lawrie Sanchez, Nigel Winterburn and Dennis Wise?
Harry: Dave Beasant was nearly a disaster when Dario (Gradi) first put him in the team he wanted to get rid of him, but I’d seen Dave play for Edgware and knew that he could succeed. Dave worked very hard at his game, he thought about what he was doing, he accepted the coaching, and Lurch was quite bright in was required and he spoke his mind. He could produce saves that were important and at the same time he contributed to where the team was going. He went on to turn into a top-class ‘keeper. When we signed John Fashanu we knew we needed something to help us get over the line (promotion from Div 2). We had been watching Fash and we needed a bigger centre-forward to go along with Corkie, Andy Sayer and Stewart Evans. Fash gave us that physical presence, he could score goals and he helped us got over the line (into Division One), although he didn’t play that many games. When he played in the Premier League (First Division) Fash became very much a focal point where centre-halves hated playing against him because he was powerful, he had a great leap and when he was on his form he was a complete and utter handful to deal with. The club bought him for £150,000 and sold him for £1.5 million. Fash did the business for Wimbledon over a considerable amount of time. He was different to a lot of the other boys in the team. He wasn’t ‘Crazy’ Fash, in terms of doing things. He made it quite plain he didn’t want to be part of that. He didn’t mind a good craic but he didn’t want anyone affecting him and he wouldn’t affect anybody else, if you did then you got into all sorts of problems. We turned Vinnie Jones away at Wimbledon when he was 15 but Allen Batsford had him at Wealdstone and Allen brought him more to my attention. Vinnie had a great attitude, he’s one who sees everything as half-full, he’s positive, he’s not negative, he actually thinks he’s miles better than he is, but that is a great thing to have because that’s belief rubbed off on other people and Vinnie was always for the cause, a great team man, he wanted to be part of it and his life’s fulfilled because he’s a very positive and hardworking guy. Vinnie was never late for work, he loved training, he train twice a day, so it’s not a surprise. I couldn’t say to you that I thought he would be a film star and a success, but he had a tremendous work ethic. Funny enough Lawrie Sanchez made his debut for Reading against me when I played for Wimbledon and I thought at the time that he was only 17 and I was 30-odd and his attitude was good, he was tough and he got a few kicks and we were watching him, we felt that we needed someone with his presence. He did a lot of unsung work, he was quite outspoken, he didn’t always agree with everything, but he had his say, but he became part of the team, he was a bit like Fash in that he wasn’t in the larking about scene, Sanch was away from it, but he took in his stride and he had his position in the club. While he wasn’t always the most popular lad in the team whenever he went out and played the boys knew that he was part of the team and he was never going to let them down. Nigel Winterburn was a masterstroke, a bit of luck for us, getting him from Oxford United. Nigel had three fantastic seasons for us. When I first met Nigel I wasn’t that sure about him, he didn’t seem to have much of a personality, or say anything at all, but when he got on the field he was a totally different character and Nigel was quick, a great defender one-on-one, he could get forward, and he could have a nasty little streak in him; he didn’t take liberties. He went on to play for England and Arsenal in that great period for the Gunners. Dennis Wise came in to do some training with us and what impressed me was even at 17 he had a really good control and technique. Dennis could see a pass and for 17 he was a confident boy he had a couple of tackles, he wasn’t a shrinking violet, and I thought oopsie-daisie we have a player here and he turned into a top player. Dennis is ruthless, he’s very much a team member and he proved that by going on to captain Chelsea and Dennis doesn’t worry if nobody likes him, he’s a winner in his own right. He’s very strong mentally. He played for England 46 times. Again with all those players clubs used to come and watch them, but none of them ever started to sign them until they’d done a year in the First Division, Wisey went for £1.6 million, Nigel went for £300,000 straight away, Vinnie went for £650,000, Beasant went for nearly a million and when consider that lot cost us about £190,000, not bad, was it?
(v) Who were your best/worst signings while at Wimbledon and who was the most talented player you ever worked with at the Dons?
Harry: Nigel Winterburn was a great signing, we got him on a free transfer, Dennis Wise was a good transfer, he was released by Southampton. They turned out terrific. The most talented was Glyn Hodges. The boy should have played for Manchester United, or another top club, but he didn’t work hard enough nor look after himself. But he was incredibly competent, a great technique, Glyn could see passes, he could score goals. Wise was very close, and that’s a hard one, because Dennis was a talented boy, but Glyn in that period for me because Dennis only had one proper season with me, whereas Glyn had come all the way from the fourth division. The worst signings were Dave Martin from Millwall. We paid £40,000 for him when we got into the Second Division, it just didn’t work out. Talented boy but just didn’t have the character and willpower to start there. We made a mistake signing Colin Gordon, we got out of it, we bought him for £110,000 and managed to get £70,000 back. We thought he had something to offer as a centre-forward, but he turned out to be a weak character in terms of what we required and he couldn’t cope really. And another one was Ian Holloway, he’s a lovely fellow but he just couldn’t cope with the transition to Wimbledon. He did have a go and said he thought there was a bully culture at Wimbledon. He wasn’t bullied, but it was a hard school. We sold him to Brentford for £25,000 and we paid £40,000, but he ended up having a good career at QPR.
(vi) By the summer of 1987 you resigned as manager to take up an offer from Watford. What were your reasons for leaving and did Sam Hammam play a role in your
departure (asserting his right to pick the team, perhaps)? Did you ever regret leaving for Watford?
Harry: I didn’t want to leave Wimbledon, but my relationship with Sam Hammam had deteriorated. It had been going on through that year in Div 1 and my contract was running out and it was difficult and Sam did say he wanted the right to pick the team if he felt it necessary which I said ‘I’ve not let you down before and I’m not going to sign a contract that you can undermine me at any time’. But the other thing was that Sam was jealous. The crowd were always singing ‘There’s only one Harry Bassett’ and he couldn’t understand why they weren’t singing ‘there’s only one Sam Hammam’. He felt he had kept the club afloat, he had helped find the money for John Fashanu, and he had done good, but the crowd don’t start singing the chairman’s name, do they? And Sam couldn’t quite cope with this, he wasn’t the number one man. He was a character, he had a big ego, so Sam decided that it was time for me to go and he knew that by being awkward on the contract business that he knew that at the end of that season I would say I was moving on. I didn’t want to, but I knew he was going to do things with players, he was going to make life difficult for me so I came to the conclusion that it was best to go. I should never have gone to Watford, that was a mistake. Elton John was around to my house and it was
the wrong time and I didn’t give it enough credence or time to it because I was being considered for the Man City job at the time. I knew it was time to move on, but I shouldn’t have gone to Watford, I regret going to Watford, but it turned out I only had six months and moved on to Sheffield United where I had a really tremendous eight years.
(vii) Twelve months after leaving Wimbledon, the Dons won the FA Cup under Bobby Gould. What were your thoughts that day, what might have been? (recall you working with ITV that day and the players waved at you on their victory lap of Wembley.)
Harry: Watford hadn’t worked out, Sheffield United had been relegated and I was envious of Bobby and you think ‘I would love to be there with those boys’ but I really wanted them to win. I remember having an argument on TV with Ian St.John. He was saying ‘this is rubbish, they don’t even pass the ball’ and he couldn’t understand what the Wimbledon ethos was about. I was delighted when Beasant saved the penalty and it was great. They did come round and Vinnie and the boys threw the Cup up to suggest to me that I was part of it. In fairness to Bobby Gould he gave me credit, saying a lot of it was Harry’s team and the work that was done. That was very nice, but he achieved it and I would have loved to have been part of that particular one, but that’s the way life’s goes on. Who’s to say I might have been the Wimbledon manager and we lost a game or something went wrong and the team wouldn’t have got to Wembley, so you just don’t know the answer to that.
(viii) Much has changed at Wimbledon in the intervening years. Firstly, your views on the move to Milton Keynes and the rise of AFC Wimbledon from the Combined Counties League to the Football League in nine seasons?
Harry: The whole concept of Wimbledon was down to the people who owned the club. They allowed the situation to come. AFC Wimbledon and Milton Keynes have got this
animosity. I’m not part of that, although I’m more to AFC Wimbledon because I know Dickie Guy, Ian Cooke, Billy Edwards, Jeff Bryant, the boys go down there and the
committee and fans are more the Wimbledon people. A lot of those people were supporting Wimbledon when I was there, whereas Milton Keynes is not. Now with Milton Keynes Pete
Winkelman took an opportunity where he could get a franchise going. He didn’t break any rules, the Football League allowed it to happen and the Wimbledon directors allowed it to happen with Selhurst Park and the whole concept of not finding a ground and everything else and it was always going to be a major problem when Wimbledon got relegated what
was going to happen. So I won’t slag off Milton Keynes because they took an opportunity to get a club up to Milton Keynes without having to go through the process. Obviously I can appreciate the people who were Wimbledon feel that they had something pinched away
from them but the Football League and all the legal process have happened. I’m really chuffed to pieces to see what AFC Wimbledon have done. They’ve come from the Combined Counties, they’ve come through the non-league and they’ve got back in (to the Football
League) and I was at the playoff final, I’m absolutely delighted they’re in the league and I’m hoping they make sure they stay there because obviously I’ve got more
affinity but when I go to Milton Keynes I’m well received, so I won’t take sides on the way it happened, because there was nothing illegal. You could look for blame at other people, like Sam Hammam selling the club to the Norwegians, there was all sorts of things going on and the Norwegians didn’t realise they had bought a pup and they wanted to get out and allow Milton Keynes to take advantage of that. So, yep, I hope AFC Wimbledon
can push on.
(ix) Can AFC Wimbledon legitimately lay claim to Wimbledon’s past honours?
Harry: I think AFC Wimbledon can. I don’t think Milton Keynes particularly want Wimbledon’s past honours. I think they want to be Milton Keynes and there’s a big lot now going on about ‘the Dons’ being dropped. I can see in the coming years that Pete Winkelman will be quite happy to be just called Milton Keynes United or whatever it is. I don’t think he’s interested in trying to claim the FA Cup. I think everybody knows that AFC Wimbledon is more that way because they are in the same part of the world, you couldn’t expect the Wimbledon fans – alright a couple of them have gone up to Milton Keynes but do they want travel all the way up there and call it their club realising that it is in a totally different city, that’s not feasible. What’s happened is that the phoenix has risen from the ashes, Wimbledon has come back. Vinnie Jones has given AFC Wimbledon his FA Cup winner’s medal, I’ve given them some memorabilia and when you have Dickie Guy and all those old Dons going to the games you’ve got to say that AFC Wimbledon is really in everybody’s eyes the old Wimbledon that died and are trying to recover.
(x) You have been to watch the Dons at Kingsmeadow and you were at the Conference Playoff final last year. What do you think of the club’s set-up, does the fans-owned
club have a future in the higher leagues and are there any similarities of the time Wimbledon were starting out in the Football League in 1977?
Harry: I don’t think there are any similarities. They did brilliantly to get to the Football League but it’s a different cup of tea because Ron Noades was chairman back then
and AFC Wimbledon is a fans’ operated club. They’ve come through all the leagues and they don’t want someone like Sam Hammam to come in and can own the club and then move on and leave the club vulnerable, So while that is a strength in one way, it’s a difficulty in the future. Will they be able to progress because football needs more money now than when I was around, when it was a bit more equal. Can the fans-owned club raise the money because even in that league now Wimbledon’s wage bill won’t be as high as a lot of the others. Crawley’s paying a helluva lot more money on less gates than Wimbledon. Nothing’s to say you can’t do it, it’s not impossible, it can be done, but it’s going to
make it very difficult because as Wimbledon progress and they go up a league they might find they might have to sell some of the players they want to keep. I like to think that dreams can come true, that’s not an impossibility for them to emulate what we did, but I think that’s going to be extremely harder for any team to do it unless they have someone (rich).
(xi) As you look back down the years in your association with the club and its fans what memories do you hold dear? What was the greatest thrill for you as manager of Wimbledon FC and what gives you the most pride from your time in the Dons’ dugout?
Harry: That could take yonks! Doing the double over Manchester United when we came up, beating Liverpool at Anfield, doing the double over Chelsea in the same season, knocking Everton the Cup holders out of the FA Cup, finishing sixth in the league and our wage bill was under £300,000 that year for everyone, and even by those standards in those days that was ludicrous. The day at Huddersfield when Lawrie Sanchez scored the goal and all of a sudden we were promoted (to the First Division) and you realised you were in with the big boys. At the time Sam said to me ‘how are we going to cope in the top league?’ and I said ‘I think we’ll survive’ and he said ‘do you really mean that?’ and I said ‘I do, I think we’ve got the character, we’ve got the players and people don’t realise how good some of these players are and they’re not going to enjoy playing against us.’ I was confident we’d stay up, I wouldn’t have said we’d finish sixth, I didn’t think that but I was confident we would survive. Perhaps I was crazy because if we had gone straight down people would have said well what do you expect. Another special memory was Corkie
scoring the winning goal at Sheffield United over Easter 23,000 at Sheffield and we’ve gone up there and we’ve beaten them 2-1 and that more or less got us promoted to
the Second Division. Getting 96 points when we murdered the Fourth Division. Beating Nottingham Forest over two legs in the Milk (League) Cup when we were a Second Division club. There were some wonderful great memories in terms of that. Wimbledon, for me, was
a fantastic roller-coaster, there were some disappointments but to see those players develop and go through all four divisions and then look back and see how successful all those players were. They’ve all had good careers and Wimbledon was the foundation for them.
(xii) Finally, Harry, could a club like AFC Wimbledon ever achieve what Wimbledon FC did in your time at the club?
Harry: Dreams can come true. But, yes, of course it can, but it can be very difficult. We had a period where it was right and we achieved against all the odds, we surmounted so many obstacles and it was a fantastic achievement to do what we did. Sam Hammam was very lucky we made him a rich boy by coming through and producing all those players and providing the team structure. Again Wimbledon don’t get the credit for what they did we achieved. No one else has ever done it. Wycombe come from the bottom of the leagues but they were given bundles of money to do it, Watford got there, they were infinitely better and they had 10,000 crowds and Northampton did it once and went straight down, Wimbledon survived. They could do it, but I think it’s very difficult. Realistically, AFC Wimbledon are a League Two side on their gates and possibly could nick into League One and perhaps do a Wycombe, but it’s hard to get there because the money becomes so difficult.
[The Dave Bassett interview was first run in WDSA’s Wombles Downunder fanzine in January/February 2012 and is reproduced in edited form. Details on how you can subscribe to Wombles Downunder.]