Culture club

Retro Match: How the Crazy Gang beat Culture Club in the 1988 FA Cup final

The FA Cup has produced some truly magical moments throughout its 150-year history in English football, and while the competition these days may not be seen as a top priority for some of the top teams in the first division, there was a time when the FA Cup final meant everything and was respected by many in the game. One such final came in 1988 when Liverpool, the country’s most successful side at the time, faced a ragtag group of players dubbed the ‘crazy gang’ in what was to become one of the most big upset wins in FA Cup final history.

Preparing for the 1988 FA Cup Final

As mentioned earlier, Liverpool in the 80s were the most successful team in the country before the 1988 FA Cup final, having won their sixth league title earlier in the month, as well as two European cups, two FA Cups and four League Cups.

Wimbledon, on the other hand, have just completed the 87/88 Premier League season in 7e place, only their second campaign in the top flight and their final position in the table came as a surprise as many thought they would finish closer to the bottom of the table.

The Reds were undoubtedly the favorites to win their third FA Cup of the decade, with a squad full of international superstars in every position on the pitch few would bet on losing that final.

Kenny Dalglish’s side played their football in such exciting and flamboyant fashion as Wimbledon, who played semi-professionally in the Southern Football League as recently as 1977, didn’t have much of a chance of winning victory over the giants of Liverpool.

It’s fair to say Wimbledon had a mountain to climb to be victorious and the crazed gang, consisting of Vinnie Jones, Dennis Wise, John Fashanu, Lawrie Sanchez and more, had their work cut out to prevent the Reds from playing their beautiful Football.

Cementing themselves as FA Cup icons

As expected, Liverpool created a host of good chances, including a disallowed goal from Peter Beardsley where he chipped Dons keeper Dave Beasant, the Reds were already awarded a free kick before the ball hit the back of the net.

Incredibly, it was the underdogs who took the lead just before half-time, with Lawrie Sanchez’s looping header coming through a Dennis Wise free-kick from the left side, past Red keeper Bruce Grobbelaar and into the net of Liverpool. Sending Wimbledon fans inside Old Wembley in rapture.

Kenny Dalglish’s side tried to get back into the game, continuing to play their usual elegant football in an attempt to break through Don’s stubborn and relentless defence. But there seemed to be no way to achieve that elusive equalizing goal.

But then in the 60se minute, Liverpool were awarded a penalty after Wimbledon right-back Clive Goodyear fouled centre-forward John Aldridge in the penalty area. After winning the penalty, Aldridge was the one to take it, however, he was saved by Beasant’s brilliant diving save to his left side, becoming the first goalkeeper to save a penalty in an FA Cup final at Wembley.

The Reds put even more pressure on the south London side but couldn’t find a way past the Wimbledon defense as the Dons held on to claim their first-ever FA Cup success and provoke a surprise that would shock English football forever.

Captain Dave Beasant thus became the second goalkeeper to lift the FA Cup (Royal Engineers goalkeeper and captain Major William Merriman lifted the cup in 1875). After the final whistle, John Motson, who was commenting for the BBC, said his famous phrase: “The Crazy Gang have beat the Culture Club”.

Although Wimbledon won the FA Cup, which would usually see the winners qualify for the following season’s European Cup Winners’ Cup, they were unable to participate in the competition due to the continued ban on English teams from participate in European tournaments, due to the actions of some Liverpool fans during the Heysel disaster in the 1985 European Cup final.

The years that followed

In the years following their FA Cup success, Wimbledon would become a member of the new English Premier League, but would see a number of its ‘Crazy Gang’ squad sold to other clubs.

They will also play the whole of the 1990s at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park after their home ground of Plow Lane became unsuitable. This would last until the club moved to its new home of Milton Keynes in 2002, in which a new club, AFC Wimbledon, would rise from its ashes.

For Liverpool, they would win their third FA Cup in 1989 after their league title was snatched from them by Arsenal in a dramatic final day clash against the Gunners. Their cup success that year meant so much more after the Hillsborough disaster which took place a month earlier and left 97 Liverpool fans dead.

After regaining the league title in the 1989/90 season, Liverpool’s success would slowly evaporate and Manchester United would take over as the dominant force in English football throughout the 1990s and 2000s. The Merseyside Reds will only experience sporadic success in the years to come.