The Greatest Don

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THERE wasn’t much in it — as you would expect — but Robbie Earle has been narrowly voted over Nigel Winterburn as the Greatest Don by a WDSA panel of fellow Dons fans. This poll might have taken some time for fruition in Wombles Downunder but sure you all will enjoy the stroll down memory lane reading all  the endorsements. **The poll does not include players from the AFC Wimbledon era.

ROBBIE EARLE

Robert Fitzgerald Earle MBE.  Two clubs adore him. Port Vale pip us by ten games to the most appearances per club out of his 578. A Rolls Royce midfielder from the modern era with very few peers. Unfathomably overlooked by England he went off to the World Cup to prove his class for Jamaica. Tireless, seemingly as fit as Steve Austin with even better vision. Non-stop, next level class. He had the absolute lot. We will never see a better player let alone a better goal scoring midfield genius. – Marc Jones

The ultimate box to box midfielder – Robbie Earle was the driving force behind the club’s Premier League teams that defied the odds throughout the 1990s. His goals to game ratio was such that ‘the Duke’ was called up by Jamaica for their 1998 World Cup campaign in France where he scored the Reggae Boyz first-ever tournament goal. His injury-time equaliser at Old Trafford in the 1997 FA Cup epitomised the man and that team – just when it looked as though they were beaten, he got free of his marker to power home an unstoppable header. – Stephen Crabtree

From scoring for Wimbledon at Stamford Bridge on his debut, to scoring for Jamaica in the World Cup. From the header at Old Trafford to the over-header against Spurs. From scoring at Anfield and Highbury what felt like every day of the week. From box to box. From season to season. He ran for Wimbledon. He was Wimbledon.—Lee Willett

I don’t think anyone could present a strong argument against Robbie Earle. He endeared himself to us immediately with goals in his first three matches and never really looked back for the best part of a decade. Who’s to say how much the subsequent timeline of events would’ve been altered had he not got injured midway through the relegation season! – Mike Taliadoros

The Dons signed Robbie Earle in 1991, when I was 9 years old and fast becoming a Wimbledon obsessive. He quickly became my favourite player and the first name I had on my shirt. One of the Premier League’s best performers in the 1990s, he scored 59 goals from midfield in 284 appearances, including some belters (my favourite being the overhead kick vs. Spurs). – Tim Hanson

For me the greatest Don would have to be Robbie Earle. I will never forget is his goal at Hillsborough in the FA Cup quarter-final, the year we thought we would go on and win it again….. and maybe should have done….. or the pride I felt when a Wimbledon player scored in the World Cup finals (for Jamaica).—Tim Nicholls

Robbie Earle epitomised professionalism during the most successful period in Wimbledon’s history. He provided focus to the Crazy Gang, clocking-up 284 games and 59 goals over nine years. An attacking midfielder and a modest person, Earle’s understated abilities earned him a place in Jamaica’s World Cup team of 1998, where he scored their first-ever goal.—Gary Walker 

 

NIGEL WINTERBURN

Player of the year every year he was here, in four seasons we won two promotions and achieved our highest-ever league position each year. I’ve never seen a better tackler, or more effort. After leaving us, he won more honours than any other Don – three league titles and four cups with Arsenal – becoming part of the meanest defence in English football. There’s no contest – it has to be Nigel Winterburn! – Tim Smith

Winterburn joined Wimbledon for free when they had just been promoted to the (old) 3rd Division. Twice instrumental in promotions with Wimbledon, he left when we finished 6th in the First Division with Arsenal paying £400k for his services, Won Wimbledon Player of the Year in each of his four seasons with the club. A study in greatness – Joe Blair

Anyone who knows me would not be surprised to know my nomination is Nigel Winterburn. He was a superb tackler, hard but fair. Like some others in that promotion-winning team he also had more skill than he was given credit for. The fact that he was voted Fans’ Player of the Season in all four seasons he was with the Dons speaks for itself, especially for a full-back. A shame he left before the FA Cup triumph, but he will always be remembered as one of our greatest” – Liam Nolan

The definition of “greatest” is subjective. Is it someone who’s technically the best, had the best record, or the longest career? For me it is someone who meets all those criteria: Nigel Winterburn. He’s the best left-back we’ve ever had and went on to form part of a formidable defence at Arsenal.—Colum McAndrew

The vision of Nigel Winterburn thundering into tackles and storming down the wing will remain etched on the memories of those lucky to be visiting Plough Lane between 1983 and 1987.  ‘Nige’ received the supporters’ PotY award in each of his four seasons with us, whilst the club progressed from playing at Scunthorpe in Division 3 to doing the double over Manchester United in Division 1. Incredible! – John Martin

DAVE BASSETT

As a combative midfielder, Bassett helped Wimbledon to win three successive Southern League titles and then establish themselves in the Football League. After becoming manager in 1981, he soon piloted the unfashionable Dons from the Fourth Division to the top flight via three promotions in four seasons and with largely the same nucleus of players. – Ray Armfield

My choice for the ‘Greatest Don’ would be Dave Bassett. His achievements as a manager taking us from (old) Division 4 to the first division was remarkable. Secondly, he created a brand which got world-wide recognition. And thirdly he also played a significant number of games as a player and was part of a successful non-league team that got Wimbledon  into the Football League.—Rob Bushaway

After 180 games as a player, Harry’s masterminding of the rise from Div 4 to Div 1 was astonishing, as was the sixth-place finish in our first season in the top flight. My first match was in the 82-23 season, so I joined the Dons at just the right time for the crazy ride! My two mascot appearances were with Harry in charge and I still remember having to leave the dressing room while he delivered his motivational team talks! – Stefan King

ALAN CORK

Our record League appearance holder (430) and top goal scorer (145) over fourteen seasons, Alan Cork gets the nod from me.  Fighting back from a broken leg and thirteen months out, he came back to make a substantial contribution to the Dons’ rise up the Football League pyramid.  He was rewarded with a start at Wembley put in a valuable shift. Corky is one of the reasons why I support Wimbledon. — David Kenwery

My first Womble hero was our greatest league goalscorer, Alan Cork. More appearances and more goals than anyone else and nobody contributed more to our rise up the leagues. He could score with either foot and with his head. Corky was even a centre-page poster boy in ‘Roy of the Rovers’ and was on my bedroom wall for years. He had no hair and I really didn’t care. Legend.—Steve Dowse

Corky was a key reason why we galloped through the divisions in quick time to become a famous Division One team. Playing in all divisions, with or without hair. he was such a prolific striker. As Harry once said “He runs like a duck but he’s a goal scorer.” I doubt we would have achieved all that we did without him.— Paul Russell

STEVE GALLIERS

The feisty midfielder was the first Dons player that came to mind. I watched him play back in the 1980s. Not big in stature but made a big impression! Dynamic, determined, aggressive, I thought he could play a bit too. A northern lad, apparently, but a proper Womble, embodying the kind of never-say-die, underdog spirit that I think many Dons fans relate to.—Terry McFadden

I’m nominating Steve Galliers. A pocket dynamo, like me short of stature, but unlike me had no problem kicking bigger players all over the park and telling them why he’d done it. This included Dave Bassett who Galliers kicked so hard in one game for Chorley that we signed him for the Dons at the next opportunity. Legendary player in my favourite Dons team.—Trevor Pearce

DICKIE GUY 

He is my stand out Dons legend for his iconic role in the 1975 FA Cup Leeds game.  As a young boy, his penalty save hooked me to Wimbledon;  I’ve loved the plucky underdog, never-say-die spirt of Wimbledon ever since.  A key figure in our rise from non-league to the Football League, Dickie remains one as club President at AFC Wimbledon.  A lifelong Dons servant,  he is my  all time  great. — Peter Leng

I am torn between Wimbledon legend – more than 500 first-team games – and now AFCW president Dickie Guy for his brilliance as a custodian and his ongoing contribution to Wimbledon, and Harry Bassett for his tenacity in midfield and, more importantly. his time as manager, steering the club from the Fourth Division to the First only nine years after it joined the Football League. Forced to choose, I’ll plump for Dickie Guy.—Jason Steger

JOHN FASHANUHard  to overlook  the  likes of Corky, Lurch, Vinnie and REMBE but I’ll say Fash –  because he was  the best in the world at what he did. There wasn’t a centre back on earth who could handle him on his day. He could chip a goal from 30 yards, smash it in from the edge of the box or bundle it over the line and that’s before we get to the 15 headers a season. Awooga, indeed— Graham Stacey

 VINNIE JONESFrom the Wimbledon FC period I’d have to go with Vinnie. Not everyone’s cup of tea but he played for the Dons in two spells. We always seemed to do well when he was at his best, although I won’t forget that bone-crunching tackle on Steve McMahon during the 1988 FA Cup Final win, nor that moment with Paul Gascoigne. A character who broke all the rules but loved the club with a passion. — Andy Powell

CHRIS PERRYChris Perry, ignored by England and loved by the Dons. “The Rash” was one of the very best. Fairly slight and not tall, he still was one of the best centre-backs I have seen live. “Chris Perry,  give me your jersey, cos I want to play like you……..”  – Xavier Wiggins

ROY LAW —  My boyhood hero. The epitome  of captain, leader, legend. Very unlikely that his  appearance record will ever be beaten.— Paul Jeater

[The Greatest Don was first published in the November-December 2022 issue of the Wombles Downunder fanzine.  Details on how you can subscribe to Wombles Downunder.]