The Alan Cork Interview

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ALAN CORK is one of Wimbledon’s storied players. He holds the distinction of scoring in all four divisions, he earned a FA Cup winner’s medal. He is the Dons greatest goalscorer over 14 years. It’s a fantastic tale as Corky relives in this Q&A. 

(i) Let’s go back to the start. You were one of Dario Gradi’s first signings as an 18-year-old striker on a free transfer from Derby County.in early 1978. Tommy Docherty, the Rams manager at the time, is said to have never seen you play. Can you tell us how the move came about, your feelings about leaving Derby?

Alan Cork: When Colin Murphy’s took over Derby with Dario as his assistant, I went on loan to Lincoln City, in the meantime Tommy Doc took over the reins at Derby, so I was away for five weeks and in the meantime the lad who took my place in the reserves got a few games for the first team, so when I went back Tommy Doc just phoned me up and said Dario had called him from Wimbledon and I could go there if I wanted, so I said yes, and it is true he never saw me play, many years later I saw Tom and introduced myself and I said ‘you gave me a free many years ago’, and he said ‘son, I’ve given many people frees’, and we had a lovely chat.

(ii) You scored your first goal on your sixth league appearance and went on to net a total of four times in 17 outings in your first season. You were flying with a total of 25 in your following season. How was the adjustment to life in South London on and off the pitch?

Alan: It was difficult leaving home as I had never been away so at first I found it really hard. I stayed in digs with Anne Eames, who at the time was Dario’s PR. She really helped me settle in, but I soon made some new friends and everything was good. When things go well on the pitch life is always good. I was very lucky to be involved with something that took off and I had so much fun with all the young lads who were there at the time, and all those young ones were there for a while —  Downes, Gayle, Hodges, Thorn, Gannon, Wise …  the list goes on.

(iii) But it wasn’t all plain sailing early on. You broke your leg in a collision with your goalkeeper Ron Green at Walsall in September 1981 and spent the next 18 months out of the game. How did you cope with the long and presumably difficult rehab before your return in April the following season?

Alan: It always annoyed me when I broke my leg  because I should have scored! All I ever worried about was not scoring. If we got beat 5-1 and I scored I always thought I had done my job, so when I was sitting on my backside for a long period I struggled a little. The docs decided to put a metal plate and seven screws in my leg, and when I woke up in agony I saw Wally and Stan Bowles both pissed leaning on my bed. Believe you me they were the last two people I wanted anywhere near me!! It took longer to heal for some reason and after I kept pulling the plate apart they decided to take it out. I then went back to the surgeon who told me I may have cancer as the X-ray showed some suspicious things. So I wasn’t very happy and went straight off to hospital again. Luckily for me all it was just where the screws had come out it was emitting some cloudy stuff which they mistook for cancer cells… So after another bout of rehabilitation I made my comeback against Mansfield did okay. Dave Bassett asked me if I wanted to play in Sweden with Roy Hodgson in Orebro during the summer off-season. I jumped at the opportunity and I missed the start of the next season but, importantly, I was really fit and happy.

“We had a standard amount of money taken out of our wages for hotel damage before it had actually happened.”

(iv) There were madcap seasons under Dave Bassett and the Crazy Gang. Plenty of hi-jinks and training-ground stunts. It obviously didn’t hinder the team’s stellar achievements. What’s your take on those life and times?

Alan: We had a standard amount of money taken out of our wages for hotel damage before it had actually happened. I must admit if smart phones were around then we would have been in trouble on a lot of accounts. This really was the bonding thing that kept everyone together. Team spirit is worth a goal every game, with our free kicks which we were very good at, we seemed to be 2-0 before we kicked off such was the belief within the team.

(v) You were praised for your ‘football brain’, finishing and heading ability, among other things. Did you have a favourite striker (or strikers) to play alongside at Wimbledon, someone you felt comfortable playing with? Is there a favourite/personally satisfying goal you scored?

“The goal I have on my wall at home was the one against Sheffield United we beat them 2-1 in a pivotal late season game against our promotion rivals in Division Three in 1984. I scored with a header from a corner, but the photo had the full stand at Bramall Lane in the background.”

Alan: I played a lot with Stewart Evans and we got on really well off the field too. The goal I have on my wall at home was the one against Sheffield United we beat them 2-1 in a pivotal late season game against our promotion rivals in Division Three in 1984. I scored with a header from a corner, but the photo had the full stand at Bramall Lane in the background. My other favourite goal was in front of the famous Kop in March 1987. We beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield. I came on as sub and headed the winner off a corner 12 minutes from time.

“All our free kicks went through me, and Dennis Wise would always aim for me. If you ever watch our videos it’s always the same. I would spin around the back or front and Dennis or Hodgy always knew where I would be.”

(vi) A career high point must have been the FA Cup final in 1988. Plenty of tactical work/preparation by Bobby Gould and Don Howe went into the win. Tell us about your defined role in the Wembley final, and your work to pull some Liverpool defenders away from Lawrie Sanchez to enable his free header off Dennis Wise’s free kick for the ultimate winner? And you’ve said it all came after an impromptu drinking session on the eve of the final that went on until 4am.

Alan: The FA Cup was great. Just before the kick-off, Don swapped Dennis and me so I played on the left wing. It was because ‘Uncle Don’ wanted Den to look after John Barnes. It worked out well, though the goal was very annoying for me as I missed it by six inches. All our free kicks went through me, and Dennis Wise would always aim for me. If you ever watch our videos it’s always the same. I would spin around the back or front and Dennis or Hodgy always knew where I would be. I was happy with Sanchez, but, as I said, l liked to score goals and that would have been very special.

(vii) The celebrations went on for days and culminated in your testimonial game at Plough Lane and that legendary mooning by all the players on the halfway line at half-time. How did that all come about and whose idea was it?

Alan: The testimonial was a bit of a shambles as everyone was still drunk. The crowd started off the shorts thing as they chanted ‘Vinnie, Vinnie show us your arse’ … so he did and got away with it. Six of us did it too and got fined £12k, but it was well worth it! I later took my coaching badge with Wally and had 10 days drinking!

(viii) So after 14 seasons 430 appearances and a record 145 goals (and scoring in all four divisions) you sought a move and was granted a free transfer to re-unite with Harry Bassett at Sheffield United in March 1992. You said at the time it was hard to leave but “if I had more bottle and more ambition, I would have left some time ago”. Talk us through your thinking about making the big break and going elsewhere to play? You did play under three different managers in that final season, it must have been disruptive?

Alan: After 14 years of Wimbledon it was time to go. It made it easier for me as I knew half the Sheffield United team and I could stay with my parents in Derby. It was a win win for me as I only went up there to see them every now and then. West Ham had an interest a few years before but Gouldy wouldn’t let me go, which was a shame and we fell out a little bit over it, but we soon made up.

(ix) Teammate Kevin Gage says you turned into a cult hero at Sheffield United with your flowing beard and was “surprisingly effective given his age and lack of pace/agility(!)” Your memories of playing under Bassett again and with some of your old Dons teammates?

Alan: I had a great time at Sheffield and obviously the beard made me a very old looking young man! It was also great to be playing with Gagey, Wally, Hodges and Gannon again, and obviously Brian ‘Deano’ Deane, there were great times.

“Throughout football everyone tells me what a great pro Jack is. To put the money thing into perspective: when we won the FA Cup I was on £425, when Jack signed as pro for Chelsea at 16 he was on £600 … he always chuckles about that.”.

(x) Your son Jack has carved out a successful playing career with over 530 league appearances while also playing in the Olympic team and for England. You are rightly proud of his achievements. Can you talk about him compared to your football career (training attitude perhaps?) and how his money compares to what you earned at Wimbledon?

Alan: Jack has been a fantastic professional throughout his career and has been very fit… not like his father! It’s amazing really. If I would have had Jack’s ability to pass and run, and Jack had my ability to score between us we would have done very well, but as you said I’m so proud of everything he has done. Throughout football everyone tells me what a great pro Jack is. To put the money thing into perspective: when we won the FA Cup I was on £425, when Jack signed as pro for Chelsea at 16 he was on £600 … he always chuckles about that.

(xi) You’ve played with and under many characters over the years, can you give your thoughts on  …. Dave Bassett, Wally Downes, Vinnie Jones, Kevin Gage, Glyn Hodges, Dennis Wise. Bobby Gould, Don Howe, Sam Hammam and John Fashanu.

“I loved Dennis Wise as a father and looked after him. He had so much talent. He could run all day and could use both feet, a great footballer and a good friend.”

Alan: Bassett was great. I had the pleasure of playing with him. He was a horrible nasty little footballer who turned into a fantastic man manager. So long as you did your job properly under him you could do anything. Wally was the youngest of the group when I joined Wimbledon. He was just coming back from an injury but was very vocal as a young man. He would have a answer for everything but even back then when he was young he had a good football mind. Hodgy was the same, a bit quieter but he possessed great vision and had a wonderful left foot that could find me anywhere on the pitch. Gagey was quieter than most, a talented footballer who had a bit of pace and good technique. Fash came in and playing for Wimbledon really made him as a footballer, He got very friendly with Vinnie and Dennis and it got a little bit of a clique with those three. Fash was good at his job, he had pace, strength and talked the talk. I’m not sure he had a good football brain as such but he played to his strengths. Vinnie came in and just got on with it. Fash taught him how to deal with the press and that’s it really. I loved Dennis Wise as a father and looked after him. He had so much talent. He could run all day and could use both feet, a great footballer and a good friend. Bobby Gould took over from Bassett and didn’t change anything. He really looked after me. Don Howe asked me to do some coaching but Sam Hammam wouldn’t let me do it. Don was the brains behind everything. He was a brilliant coach and a great person, I also got on very well with him. Sam is Sam. Everything for himself. He knew what he was doing even when he played dim, he tried to be friends with everyone and always wanted his way and normally he got it, I worked with him for a while at Cardiff City and as usual if we were winning everything was okay but when we were losing he would change things.

“We had lovely food and saw some of the old boys, We won as well so it was a long day for my little girls but it really was a fantastic day out.”

(xii) Finally, you made a well received appearance at an AFC Wimbledon home game as guest of honour at Plough Lane this season. What were your impressions of the new ground and the set-up, just up the road from where you made your name, and your thoughts on the club’s progress?

Alan: Mick Pugh had been nagging me to go to a AFC Wimbledon game again. I told him I would come if I could bring my grandkids on the pitch at half-time, and also bring my wife and daughter. So he agreed and we had such a great time. We saw the club museum and I worked all the hospitality rooms. We had lovely food and saw some of the old boys, We won as well so it was a long day for my little girls but it really was a fantastic day out. The new ground is great and it has the potential to get bigger when the Dons get promoted, so  l’m looking forward to that.

 

KEVIN GAGE TRIBUTE..

“Alan Cork.  Alan Cork.  Alan Alan Cork.

He’s got no hair, but we don’t care,

Alan Alan Cork “

As future cult heroes go, Alan Cork at Sheffield United was an unlikely candidate when he arrived at Bramall Lane in early 1992 as an ageing 33 year old, balding, slow, past-his-prime striker!  And before you think I’m being a bit harsh using those descriptive words, I can assure you that my ex-teammate ‘Corky’ would agree with every one!

The Blades already had some highly talented, athletic centre forwards with the likes of Brian Deane, Adrian Littlejohn and others competing for a place, but Dave Bassett obviously knew exactly what he was getting and felt his experience could rub off and help the others. As usual, as in most areas of management, ‘Harry’ was proved right!

Because Corky fitted in immediately.  He knew lots of us ex-Superdon Blades and he appeared a far more relaxed character from the often moody, self-depreciating, sometimes grumpy moaner I knew at Wimbledon.

I reconnected with him straight away and we often roomed together on away trips and had a lot of laughs remembering ‘Crazy Gang’ days and getting up to some new mischief!  On the pitch, his WFC record speaks for itself, but off it are some wonderful memories of escapades we had with me as a young 19/20 year old whippersnapper spending far too much time at his pub The Kiwi in Walton-on-Thames High Street… along with a few of the other usual suspects of the time!

At Sheffield United, an older, wiser Alan Cork used his vast experience to unsettle defenders, gently ‘nudge’ them at the right times, find the right positions to be in and more often than not win important headers and glancing ‘flick-ons’ at set pieces and the like.  He knew the areas Dave Bassett teams played the ball into, and he was usually in the right place at the right time. He didn’t need pace, (what you’ve never had you never miss!), but speed of thought and his striker’s instinct made the difference.

His most famous goal for Sheffield United was in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley v Sheff Wednesday, as he miss-hit a scuffed shot past Chris Woods to equalize at 1-1. He also looked the most unlikely Premier League striker you ever saw with about 14 weeks worth of scruffy black beard after he’d vowed back in January to not shave off until we were knocked out !  It’s the iconic image of him that Blades fans of that era associate with and he’s fondly remembered for it.

So Corky…or ‘The Bald Eagle’ as he was sometimes called (shortened to just ‘Beagle’ by his team mates), thanks for the memories pal.  We had a blast!

 

[The Alan Cork Interview was first published in the February-March 2024 issue of the Wombles Downunder fanzine.  Details on how you can subscribe to Wombles Downunder.]