MANY old-time Wimbledon fans have a soft spot for Carlton Fairweather, the ‘level-headed one’ in the Crazy Gang. WDSA tracked him down in England’s north-east to get his story.
(i) You signed from neighbouring Tooting & Mitcham in December 1984 after training with the Dons solidly for two months beforehand. How did the link with the Dons come about and how did you find the jump from non-league to Division 2 level, what were the main issues you had to deal with?
Carlton: I was brought by Wimbledon FC for £13,000 from Tooting and Mitcham Football Club after having a successful trial with Wimbledon. The link with the clubs was a player who had played for Wimbledon in their non league days with Dave Bassett and was joint manager at Tooting and Mitcham, I had just come back from playing in Finland (Porin Pallo-Toverit) during the summer and I had a very good preseason and start to the season. Professional footballers train full-time 5 days a week and at non-league level we had 2 evening sessions a week. I dealt with the jump well, but it was hard physically and you had to be mentally tough to deal with being a professional footballer.
(ii) You scored the only goal in the win at Oldham Athletic in only your second game for the Dons on New Year’s Day 1985. What are your memories of that and your first season with Wimbledon under Dave Bassett?
Carlton: The goal I scored against Oldham was a scuff that went into the goal, but I don’t remember much about the game itself. Dave Bassett was a fantastic manager. He told you how it was, if you were playing well he would tell you and if you were playing crap he would let you know, he was a good man manager of players along with his assistant Alan Gillett.
(iii) You established yourself as a popular member of the team in the second half of the 1985-86 season, scoring seven goals and was in the lineup the day when the Dons clinched promotion to the 1st Division at Huddersfield. What do you remember of that day and the exhilaration of making the big league after your formative years playing non-league football?
Carlton: We won the game 1-0 to get promoted at Huddersfield. It wasn’t a great game but I think we did enough to win, it was a great feeling for the players, the supporters and the club and for me it was just an honour to be playing professional football for Wimbledon Football Club and all the things that come with promotion and playing against the big clubs.
(iv) Some great memories in that first season in Div 1. You scored at West Ham, Nottingham Forest, Chelsea and Arsenal among your eight goals for the season. What were your personal highlights in that campaign when the Dons finished sixth and reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup?
Carlton: In our first season after promotion to the 1st Division, my main memories were playing against all the big teams, when we played Man Utd at home, I could not believe I was on the same pitch as Bryan Robson and that we were playing against Manchester United. Also in that season I scored against Chelsea at the Shed End at Stamford Bridge and beat Liverpool at Anfield in our first game there, which was fantastic.
Carlton: Even though Wimbledon played the ‘long ball game’ the way that we played it was very structured and organised, each player knew their role and each other’s role within the team structure, but when we were in the final third, we could be inventive, as long as there was an end product to what you were doing. Like most of the players I had a great relationship with Harry, he was always available if you needed to talk to him. He was a pleasure to work with each day. Top man.
(vi) Talk of Wimbledon in those days and the ‘Crazy Gang’ always crops up. You once described yourself as the ‘the most level-headed’ player at Plough Lane, you were the non-drinker who drove your team-mates around. How did you cope with the antics of Vinnie Jones, Wally Downes, John Fashanu, among others. Do you remember any special ‘pay back’ you may have carried out after being on the receiving end?
Carlton: Yes, I would still say at that time I was one of the most level headed players in the squad. On one of our trips, and I’m not sure who actually did it, someone got into my room and covered all my clothes and room in talcum powder. All I will say is I got my revenge on a few players. One thing with the group, you could not do and that was show any sign of weakness, so I did not even mentioned that my room got done and that’s why revenge can be so sweet (mental toughness).
(vii) Bobby Gould came in at Wimbledon after Bassett left and in his first season in charge Wimbledon stunned the football world by knocking over Liverpool in the FA Cup final at Wembley, but you missed that occasion after breaking your leg. Tell us how you felt as you watched your teammates parade around with the cup and you were not able to be with them?
Carlton: Obviously, I was personally disappointed that I could not play that day, but I really was overjoyed for the players and supporters of Wimbledon Football Club. I was really pleased that I was able to play in the Charity Shield at Wembley against Liverpool at the start of the following season and you can’t beat experiences like that over two games. I really enjoyed playing for Bobby Gould because Don Howe was a great coach and I really learnt a lot from him.
(viii) You played regularly under Gould before opportunities began to dry up under Joe Kinnear and you effectively played your last game at home to Luton in September 1991. You did not make a league appearance in your final 1992-93 season before leaving for Carlisle United. What are your reflections on that period and your decision to leave after nearly a decade with the Dons?
Carlton: In the latter stages of my career at Wimbledon under Joe Kinnear, it was probably the right time to move on, I was coming back from a knee injury, it was an emotional time because I had been at the club a long time, I worked with and met some fantastic people and friends within the club, but also outside of the club and the club will always be very ‘UNIQUE’ to me.
(ix) You left England for playing and coaching stints in Hong Kong, Finland and with American clubs New York Fever, Greek Americans and Connecticut Wolves. Tell us about your graduation into coaching and who influenced you? You came back to Wimbledon to coach the youth team and was Reserve team manager before the club’s financial problems forced your departure in the summer of 2003 and you were recruited by Sunderland AFC to act as a Community Coach and then as the manager of the Sunderland Ladies team.
Carlton: After my stint with Carlisle United, I was offered the opportunity to go out and play in Hong Kong, where I met and played with some really good players. I spent three years in HK, I played for Voicelink and Golden, where we also played the England (1996 Euro Squad) team in their last friendly game before the 1996 European Championship tournament, we lost 1-0. It was the infamous ‘dentist chair’ England trip where Paul Gascoigne was in the chair. While I was at Golden, I was also player-coach for one season. I then went from HK to United States where I played for the New York Fever and Connecticut Wolves and part of my time there was also coaching, where I was player-coach at the CW. The great thing about playing and coaching in HK and America, is that it gave me that smooth transition. While I was in the US, I was offered the job as Under-17 coach at Wimbledon, so I came back to take the job. I really enjoyed it and it was a pleasure to be involved with the club again and be involved in the development of some really good players who emerged through the Wimbledon ranks. My coaching influences have been Don Howe (Arsenal & England) and Terry Burton, both fantastic coaches and a pleasure to work with as a player.
(x) You worked successfully with a number of England internationals in your Sunderland team, but the club’s decision for the Ladies team to go part-time saw a number of key players leave before your departure from the role in 2017. How would you describe your time with the Sunderland Ladies?
Carlton: Because of the turmoil at Wimbledon at the time, I left and joined Sunderland AFC, where I worked in the community program and at the Academy Of Light, where I was involved in coaching various age groups and again have been involved with the development of some fantastic players who have made the 1st Team and also moved on for big money. I have been at Sunderland AFC for about 18 Years. I also had a period of coaching Sunderland AFC Ladies for a couple of seasons which I really enjoyed and had a fantastic time working with some really good players and staff at the club. In our first season playing in WSL1 we finished 4th which was a fantastic achievement for the players, staff and club. The experience for me was great and I really enjoyed my time, but because they decided to go part-time that affected my decision to leave the Ladies team.
(xi) So what are you doing these days in the north-east? Do you keep in contact with any of your old Dons teammates and are you still involved in football?
Carlton: Currently I’m still coaching part-time at Sunderland, with the U15 & U16 Academy teams and it is a pleasure being involved in their development. I am also coach for Improtech Soccer at St Josephs School in the North East along with Martin Scott (ex-Sunderland AFC), Stephen Elliott (ex-Sunderland AFC, Hearts, Rep Ireland), great coaches to work with.
(xii) Finally, as you look on what are your observations/thoughts as AFC Wimbledon edge closer to a playing return in their own stadium at Plough Lane, where you once enjoyed some of your greatest football memories?
Carlton: I always look out for Wimbledon’s results and it has been great to hear that they are moving back to Wimbledon and Plough Lane where their roots are and hopefully Glyn Hodges can keep us up in League 1.
[The Carlton Fairweather interview was first published in the March-April 2020 issue of the Wombles Downunder fanzine. Details on how you can subscribe to Wombles Downunder.]