BOBBY GOULD is a seminal character in the remarkable Wimbledon FC story. The man who moulded some headstrong and undervalued players into a team that defied the odds and upset the mighty Liverpool FC at Wembley in 1988 in his very first season at Plough Lane. Much-travelled Bobby gave this interview to Wombles Downunder in 2011. He is full of anecdotes that bring a chuckle and pathos to recall a time when the game was far different to what it is today…..
(i) I get the distinct impression from your email address and your car number plates that you greatly value your time as manager at Wimbledon FC. In your nine clubs as a player (including Wimbledon) and manager/assistant manager at another 11 clubs, where do you place the experiences of Wimbledon FC in your career CV?
Gould: Well, it was the longest I ever stayed at a club, as a player or manager, so it’s very high. The only post I remained in for longer was when I managed the Welsh national team. And I would have stayed longer at the Dons if we had been able to come to financial agreement. Keeping the club in the top half of the First Division and winning the FA Cup are achievements I’m extremely proud of.
(ii) You said of your arrival at Wimbledon as manager in July 1987 that ‘life at the club resembled an outing from England’s worst school’. How did you feel coming in to all the
antics from the players and even owner Sam Hammam that went on?
Gould: People forget I’d had a sneak preview when I was a player at Wimbledon in 1981. Geoff Hurst and I were sacked at Chelsea and Dave Bassett took me on at £60 a week, with £20 expenses. Actually, I wasn’t allowed in the dressing room because the players thought I was a spy for Harry. That suspicion and my suntan earned me the nickname ‘Morocco Mole.’ But I saw in those few weeks what good professionals they were and I obviously made an impression on Sam Hammam.
(iii) One of your great strengths as a manager was your ability to spot players in the lower leagues and develop them into great players and sold on to other clubs for big profits. Which players that you brought to Wimbledon do you feel were your best buys and why?
Gould: I wanted to build the fastest back four in Europe and, by being able to choose from John Scales, Roger Joseph, Keith Curle, Eric Young and Terry Phelan, I think I did. They could catch pigeons. The credit for signing Eric should go to Don Howe. He recommended we sign him. I was also delighted to land Terry Gibson, who I always thought could play well off a big man like John Fashanu.
(iv) You had to deal with some head-strong characters in your time at the club. How did you handle difficult players such as John Fashanu, Dennis Wise and ‘the highest-maintenance football I have ever handled’ Vinnie Jones?
Gould: There was a lot of psychology. Fash was always late in – a different bridge over the Thames seemed to be shut every day, so we got him to leave a blank cheque and we would fill in the amounts of the fines afterwards. It was important to show the players that you wouldn’t let them get away with anything. Dennis Wise was a joker with ants in his pants. He just wanted to be busy and we would let him be the kingpin at set-pieces. He didn’t let us down. Vinnie was difficult and, while Don Howe concentrated on the coaching, I had time to delve into Vinnie’s past and see how we could make him improve as an individual. He and Fash were a double act who needed some controlling but Sam Hammam always backed me to the hilt and we created a fantastic unit.
(v) You describe the Wimbledon players as an honest lot, who loved training and were prepared to work. Was that the secret behind the resilience of the ‘Crazy Gang’ or something else in your view?
Gould: The players’ incredible desire to win. The more people hated them, the more determined they became not to be split. Everyone, players or backroom staff, had this initiation where they were tested to see if they measured up to the Wimbledon way. If the squad decided you had passed, they would support you and stay with you all the way.
(vi) Having rebuilt the team you and Don Howe pulled off a coaching masterpiece by reaching the FA Cup final in your first season and climaxed by defeating Liverpool. When you reflect back on that day what particular memories always come flooding back?
Gould: Where would I possibly start? I’m not being lazy here but we devote a couple of chapters of the book to the Wembley experience, including the opening one, and it’s best if people just have a read of that. It’s just one anecdote running into another……even I read it now and marvel at the things we got up to! [Editor: Here’s a passage from Bobby’s book… “When the final whistle sounded, I just fell into the arms of those around me. I was so ecstatic. It had been a long, difficult journey and I just wanted to share the moment with those who had travelLed it with me … Don, Dave Kemp, Joe Dillon, Sid Neal, even our taxi driver Pat. We shook the hands of the Liverpool staff, who couldn’t believe they had lost, then I ran on and leaped into Vinnie’s arms. I’m an emotional person and was walking a fine line.” And this anecdote…. “We loved every minute of the Cup Final experience. We drank champagne like it was going out of fashion and kept cuddling that silverware like a newborn baby. Terry Phelan found himself as the man in possession at the end of a very long night and got a lift in a police car to make sure he wasn’t mugged walking back to the team hotel.”
(vii) Wimbledon had their critics over their playing style and you talk about how particularly incensed you were that a lot of the media wanted Liverpool to win and claim the league and Cup double. What are your views on the merits of Wimbledon’s massive win that day?
Gould: Everybody in our camp thought we would beat Liverpool. We had this inner belief that we would win. It was a colossal scalp – right up there with the biggest shocks of all time at Wembley. I know Sunderland beat Leeds, then Southampton beat Manchester United but this was Wimbledon – a club not long out of non-League. We were very much of the unknown. [Extract from Bobby’s book….”We were all used to criticism and had heard about Johnny Giles calling our playing style a disgrace. His article went up on the dressing room wall as an extra incentive. The pundits clearly didn’t think it was going to be good for the game if we won. But you play to your strengths. Liverpool were the hottest Wembley favourites for decades and surely nobody thought we could take them on at their passing game and beat them.” Another extract… “Don Howe was (afterwards) giving a TV interview in a spare room off the tunnel when I butted in to answer what I thought was an unkind question. It had rankled all day that the media wanted Liverpool to win and have their double and I got a bit more anger off my chest there and then in front of the camera. In fact, it was a major rant; no holds barred.”
(viii) You have had a volatile relationship with Sam Hammam throughout your career. Obviously he could infuriate, but you also give incidences of his incredible acts of generosity and consideration. How do you describe your relationship with Hammam and
was he comparable with any other club owner?
Gould: He was a one-off, nothing like anybody else I worked for. He was one of the first men to own a football club outright because most then had loads of shareholders. I promised him I would treat his money as though it was my money. He let you know it was his club but his business acumen was top drawer. I had a very volatile relationship with him but we respected and loved each other and still do. He brought out the best in me and I’d like to think I extracted something good from him. We had some great years together, although he could have looked after me better financially. We both knew we had made a mistake when we parted. Absence definitely made the heart grow fonder.
(ix) Following Wimbledon is never dull and the club has crammed some amazing highs and lows into its recent history. How would you describe the club and its achievements, and why does the club stand out?
Gould: It stood out because we had a technique which no-one else liked. That disapproval made us all the more determined to realise that there was more than one way to skin a cat. Nobody liked us but what was unorthodox to them was a way of life for us. I inherited a lot of the principles from Dave Bassett and my attitude was: ‘If it isn’t broke, why try to fix it?’
(x) Okay, some brief thoughts/reactions on: Alan Cork, John Fashanu, Vinnie Jones, Lawrie Sanchez, Dave Beasant, Dennis Wise, Dave Bassett, Joe Kinnear.
Gould: Alan Cork – had no pace but possessed a great football brain and was a superb technician as well as a wonderful header of the ball. Fash – A well-spoken former Barnardo’s boy who always had lots to say for himself. He had awesome power. Opponents feared him and he knew it. In fact he fed off it. Every day he would see how far he could push us and he stepped closer and closer to that line, usually by turning up late. Vinnie – under-rated as a footballer because he had great feet and was a very good technician. But obviously the aggressive side of his game was always likely to take over. ‘Vincent’ was the highest-maintenance footballer I ever handled. Lawrie Sanchez – the barrack room lawyer. If I said something was white, he’d say it was black. He has never forgiven me for giving the match ball to Dave Beasant instead of to him! Dave Beasant – one of the loveliest men you could hope to meet. A very good keeper, particularly as a shot stopper, and had the attribute Wimbledon most needed – he could kick the ball into the opposition’s last third. Dennis Wise – always wanted to prove that being small didn’t mean he couldn’t become an excellent player. He was a fiery character and we had some right rucks in the couple of years we worked together but, deep down, we stayed friends. I like him because he typified the Wimbledon spirit. A great, great runner. Had stamina to burn and could have played two games in a day. Joe Kinnear – did things his way and kept the club flying high.
Dave Bassett – left the foundations that I built on. I didn’t have to change much. Popular with the senior players, as they proved by giving him a wave after the victory at Wembley.
(xi) What are your thoughts about the club’s move to Milton Keynes and was that in the interests of football?
Gould: It’s the first franchise sell-out of any club in the UK. I thought it was distasteful when the owners sent all the trophies back to Wimbledon when they moved into a new ground. The development definitely isn’t in football’s interests.
(xii) As you visit AFC Wimbledon these days what are your impressions on what has been achieved?
Gould: I’m absolutely delighted for the people who must have thought their club had been taken away from them. Now they have a side to be proud of again. It would be a stunning achievement if the club could make it to the Football League. They have shown what can still be done in football if everybody bands together. Spirit and determination can take you a very long way. And despite how much money dictates now, I really can see them rising up the Football League because like we did they have a special DNA.