The Crazy Gang is a nickname used by the English media to describe Wimbledon F.C. during the 1980s and 90s. The name, originally that of a well known group of British comedy entertainers popular in the late 1930s, was used because of the often cheeky and boisterously macho behaviour of Wimbledon's players, who were in the habit of playing frequent and outrageous practical jokes on each other and on the club's manager Dave Bassett (later Bobby Gould and still later Joe Kinnear). Their general approach to the game was often derided by others in the sport as unprofessional and their playing style was frequently accused of being basic and unsophisticated in comparison to the style of football played by most leading clubs at the time, despite the fact that it helped them win an FA Cup and also achieve regular finishes in the top 10 of the old First Division, during the six seasons leading up to the creation of the FA Premier League.
Regardless of, and due to, the constant criticism they were subject to, the team was very successful in the English league for more than a decade. The joking behaviour, together with a deep sense of being unjustly derided and belittled, bred an intensely close and united team spirit which was greatly to the club's benefit on the pitch. Their physical style, with players such as Vinnie Jones, Dennis Wise and John Fashanu, often intimidated their supposedly more skilled opponents. Under the management of Dave Bassett, they climbed from the Fourth Division to the First Division in four seasons leading up to 1986, without ever changing their straightforward playing style.
Although the club had encouraged its players in this behaviour since the early 1980s, the nickname did not really become widespread in use, beyond the players of the club themselves, until 1988 when, against all expectations, Wimbledon won the FA Cup by beating favourites and league champions Liverpool FC 1-0, with goalkeeper Dave Beasant saving a penalty. At the final whistle, BBC TV commentator John Motson said the line: "The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club!" The name then caught on nationally, began to appear frequently in newspaper reports, and was often used in TV and radio coverage of the club. Wimbledon also finished seventh in the league that season, and had finished sixth a year earlier on their First Division debut.
Wimbledon would go on to survive for 14 seasons in the elite of English football, being founder members of the Premier League in 1992. They finished in the top 10 of the English league a total of seven times, peaking at sixth place in 1987 and again in 1994, and reached the semi-finals of both the F.A Cup and the League Cup in the 1996-97 season. Their final serious attempt at winning silverware came in the 1998-99 season, when they again reached the semi-finals of the League Cup.
It is difficult to determine precisely when the term fell out of use. However, as Wimbledon became more established in the top flight of English football after promotion in 1986, their style of play became much more sophisticated over time and their players' bizarre behaviour was no longer as unexpected to the media as before. It can be said that the nickname lost much of its previous effect at the point it became official — when the club's owner Sam Hammam decided to use it in the club's own marketing. This was carried to the extent that the name even appeared for several seasons during the mid-1990s as a small badge on the team's playing shirts, opposite the club crest.
In 2000, the club was relegated from the Premier League after 14 years in the top flight, by which time the name had become rather inappropriate as a description of its latest generation of players, although the club still continued to use it for some years to promote itself commercially.
The likes of Dennis Wise, Mick Harford, John Fashanu, Vinnie Jones and Lawrie Sanchez are often considered to be some of the high-profile members of the Crazy Gang, although the club's first ever full-time apprentice Wally Downes is normally cited as the founder, being an inveterate practical joker.