Wimbledon, hmm, isn’t it? The Crazy Gang, wasn’t it? Only gone and beaten the Culture Club, haven’t they? Kick and rush but there’s more to them than that. Fash quite the handful, and watch out for Vinny with the reducer. Cutting up John Scales’ suit then all back to Sam’s for a plate of sheep’s testicles. Marvellous.
Wimbledon’s decade and a half in the top flight is well-remembered for many things: the over-achieving, the small attendances, the production line of good Premier League players, and the top, top banter in their dressing room. But we’re the kind of football fans for which something else stands out: their unusually large squads, with senior players sticking around as reserves long after most players will have left. For every Robbie Earle, Warren Barton or Dean Holdsworth, there’s an ex-youth team player well past the age at which he’s likely to become a first-team regular, a former first teamer still with the club despite being long out of favour, or a player signed from the lower leagues who couldn’t break into the first XI.
This article plays tribute to some of those players, and wonders why Wimbledon adopted this policy – if indeed it was a policy.
Carlton Fairweather (winger), 1984-1993
Signed from non-league Tooting & Mitcham as a 23 year old, Fairweather was part of the Dons squad that reached the top flight in 1986, and, were it not for a broken leg, would have been part of the 1988 FA Cup winning squad. He returned to the squad the following season, but by the beginning of the 1990s he was out of favour, living up to his surname. He played just eleven league matches in his last three seasons, none at all in his last – the inaugural Premier League campaign. Fairweather left the Dons in 1993, and had a nomadic career, with spells at Carlisle, in Hong Kong and the USA.
Vaughan Ryan (midfielder), 1986-1992
Brilliantly nicknamed “express”, Ryan broke into the team during the 1987/88 season. But as with Fairweather, was ruled out by injury – in his case a broken cheekbone. He was in and out of the first team for much of his spell at Wimbledon, with his best run coming in 1989/90. He continued to suffer with injuries, and as with Fairweather, he was well and truly on the fringes by the time the Premier League began, and left to join Leyton Orient early that season. Ryan retired due to injury in 1995 and later returned to Wimbledon as a coach.
Paul Miller (midfielder/forward), 1987-1994
Another player signed from non-league football, coming from Yeovil, Miller made a few Dons appearances in the 1987/88 season but didn’t make the FA Cup final squad. Miller’s finest moment came the following season, when he scored a hattrick past Peter Shilton in a 4-0 win against Derby. He remained a fringe player for his next five seasons with the club, making just 57 appearances, none of which came in his last season, 1993/94. Miller left Wimbledon in 1994 and ended his league career with productive spells with Bristol Rovers and Lincoln City.
Paul McGee (winger), 1989-1995
A Republic of Ireland under-21 international, McGee came to England in early 1989, joining Colchester, before moving to WImbledon a few weeks later. He made his debut on May 17th, – his birthday – and scored an equaliser against Arsenal. This goal hindered the Gunners’ title challenge – rather than going into the final game at Anfield at least two points clear, they would have to wait for Liverpool’s match against West Ham, and assuming they won, would have to beat their title rivals by half that margin. Liverpool won 5-1.
Largely a fringe player, McGee’s best season was 1990/91, with six goals in 27 league games. By the time of the first Premier League season, he was very much a reserve – he made three appearances that season, and none in the next two, leaving in 1995 – aged 27 – to join Linfield in Northern Ireland.
Steve Cotterill (striker), 1989-1993
Now better known as a manager, Cotterill joined Wimbledon in 1989, having been a prolific goalscorer at non-league level. Another player who suffered with injuries, Cotterill made just 24 league appearances in his four years with the Dons, scoring seven goals. He was loaned out to Brighton in 1992 in an attempt to recover from a serious knee injury, and in 1993 he left for Bournemouth. At Dean Court, Cotterill managed his longest run of league appearances, but knee injuries persisted, and in 1996 he retired, beginning his managerial career.
Brian McAllister (defender), 1989-2000
Wimbledon signed McAllister in 1989 from the unusual source of New Zealand side Napier City. He spent just over a decade with Wimbledon, where his first team involvement fluctuated wildly: 50 of his 85 league appearances came in the 1992/93 seasons. By the time of the latter season, his career seemed to be taking off, and he was called up for three Scotland matches, but injury struck at the worst time. His last game was in May 1998, and he retired due to a heel injury two years later.
Steve Anthrobus (striker), 1990-1994
Tall striker Steve Anthrobus turned professional with Millwall in 1986, just after John Fashanu had left the club to join Wimbledon. The club were promoted to the top flight in 1988, and Anthrobus became a first team regular a season later. After fifteen appearances and four goals in the first half of the 1989/90 season, he joined Wimbledon in February 1990. In five and a half years with Wimbledon, Anthrobus never established himself as a first team regular, and made just 28 league appearances, failing to get on the scoresheet. Nearly three years after his last league appearances for the Dons, he joined Shrewsbury in August 1995, later playing for Crewe, Oxford and TNS.
Aidan Newhouse (forward), 1990-1997
Newhouse had been a promising player in his youth, and made his league debut, for Chester City, two weeks before his 16th birthday, in May 1988. An England youth international, he joined Wimbledon in February 1990, making his debut the following season. He made twenty appearances over the following two seasons, and scored on his first – and only – Premier League appearance, a 3-2 home defeat against Aston Villa, the match in which Dalian Atkinson scored his goal of the season. Curiously though, this was his last league appearance for the Dons, although he would stay at the club for nearly five more years. He had four loan spells in that time (including one at Tranmere where he didn’t make an appearance), and played every match in Wimbledon’s 1995 Intertoto Cup campaign, in which they used a reserve squad. He eventually left for Fulham in 1997 and later had spells with Swansea and Brighton, before dropping out of league football in 1999.
Gerald Dobbs (utility player, 1991-1996)
Variously listed as a right-back, a striker and a midfielder, Dobbs’ apparent versatility didn’t help him cement a regular place in Wimbledon’s first team. After making his debut late in the 1991/92 season, the following year proved to be his most successful, with 19 appearances, and one goal, which came in a 2-0 win against Sheffield United in which he assisted John Fashanu for the other goal. Ten appearances followed the following season, but in the last two years his only involvement came as part of the Intertoto Cup squad. Dobbs was released in 1996, joining Dover, before moving to Ireland with Cork City and later Cobh Ramblers.
Stewart Castledine (Midfielder, 1991-2000)
Dons youth product Castledine made his debut late in the 1991/92 season, ast a substitute in a First Division match against Norwich. Not used in Wimbledon’s first Premier League season, he returned to the first team in 1993/94, with three appearances. This set the tone for the rest of the decade – he made just 23 league appearances in the next six years, finally leaving for Wycombe, where he’d had a loan spell five seasons earlier.
After two years with Wycombe, Castledine retired, and has had a varied career. He has worked as a model, a TV presenter, acted in the remake of the Pink Panther (in which he played a french Goalkeeper), and is now the sporting director of a talent management agency.
Justin Skinner (defender, 1991-1996)
Skinner, a left-back, came through Wimbledon’s youth system and made his Premier League debut in a 3-2 win at Anfield in 1992. His second, and last appearance, was around three years later, in a home defeat against West Ham. In between these matches, he had had loan spells with Bournemouth and Wycombe, and had also been part of the Intertoto Cup squad. Released at the end of the 1995/96 season, Skinner dropped out of league football altogether, going on to play for Aylesbury, Gravesend, and Margate.
Steve Talboys (midfielder, 1992-1996)
Another latecomer to league football, attacking midfielder Talboys’ performances for Gloucester City impressed Wimbledon enough to take a chance on him in 1992. He made his Premier League debut against Norwich that year, and went on to average around seven appearances a season before leaving the club in 1996. Two years with Watford followed, but he struggled to establish himself there, and dropped back into non-league football. Talboys sadly died of a heart attack in July 2019, aged just 52.
Gary Blissett (striker, 1993-1997)
Described as “robust”, Blissett had been a consistent goalscorer in the lower divisions before stepping up to the top flight as a 29 year old. He joined Wimbledon from Brentford, where he’d had his most successful spell, winning the third tier title in 1992, and partnering Dean Holdsworth up front. He had also just come off a court case, having broken the cheekbone of Torquay defender John Uzzell in a challenge, which was deemed an accident.
Blissett managed 18 Premier League appearances in his first season with the Dons, mostly as a sub, but was less involved as time went on, and didn’t feature at all in his last season. Having been released, he joined Singaporean club Sembawang Rangers for a year, before ending his career in the German regional leagues with SV Elversberg. He now works as a coach in Florida.
Andy Pearce (Defender, 1995-1999)
Central defender Pearce was another player who made the step up from non-league to the top flight, joining Coventry from Halesowen in 1990, along with goalkeeper Tim Clarke (midfielder Sean Flynn would follow a year later). By the time Pearce joined Wimbledon in November 1995, he’d made over 130 top flight appearances for Coventry, and later Sheffield Wednesday. He played seven times for Wimbledon in the remainder of the 1995/96 season, and… that was it. He stayed at the club for three more seasons, never playing for the first team again, before his contract expired in 1999. After a brief spell with Aldershot, he retired from the game.
Duncan Jupp (defender, 1996-2002)
Duncan Jupp was a promising young right-back at Fulham, emerging at a time when the club were stuck in the basement division, before the Al Fayed takeover. A Scotland under-21 international, Jupp earned a move to Wimbledon in 1996, but in six years at the club, never managed a double figure number of league appearances, even after the club were relegated in 2000. Eventually leaving in 2002, he had spells with Notts County and Luton, but these were no more productive, before he finally got back to regular football with Southend in 2003. After three years at Roots Hall, in which the club achieved two consecutive promotions, Jupp left for Gillingham. After eighteen months with the Gills, his league career came to an end in December 1997.
Kjetil Wæhler, (defender, 1999-2002)
It’s fair to say that the Norwegians that took control of Wimbledon in 1999 didn’t stick to many of the club’s traditions, but they kept one alive in signing Wæhler, a 23 year old with more than 110 Norwegian top flight appearances for Lyn. Wæhler joined Wimbledon in late 1999, and didn’t make a single appearance in two and a half years in England, before returning to his homeland. His career picked up significantly after this – he won the league with Valerenga in 2005, and also began an eight year international career that year. Spells in Denmark with AaB, and Sweden with IFK Gothenburg, followed, before he returned home again, finally retiring in 2018.