Former Chelsea Stopper on Wimbledon, Liverpool, the FA Cup and the Mariners

FROM WIMBLEDON to Wembley to the World Cup, goalkeeper Dave Beasant will forever be remembered for being the first goalkeeper to save a penalty in an FA Cup Final, when he denied John Aldridge on the way to the Dons’ famous 1-0 victory in 1988.

What many football fans outside North East Lincolnshire will forget is that the stopper, affectionately referred to as ‘Lurch’, had to resurrect his career with Grimsby Town after being cast onto the scrap heap at Chelsea.

In 2006, I was fortunate enough to sit down with the former England international, who talked about everything from the ’88 Final to his spell in Cleethorpes to the fortunes of then-club Fulham.

The magic of the FA Cup is still alive and kicking, even in the big money playground of the Premiership. That is the opinion of former FA Cup winner and Grimsby Town loanee Dave Beasant.

Beasant, who captained Wimbledon to their FA Cup success in 1988, is now on the coaching staff at Fulham and he queried: “It’s all new isn’t it?”

“With the new Wembley being built it’s going to be a totally different experience for all of us.

“Where will the trophy be collected?

“Will it still be climbing up the stairs to the Royal Box or will it be presented on the pitch like at Cardiff?”

It’s nearly 20 years since the Dons triumphed over red-hot favourites Liverpool in the FA Cup Final, but the match is still fresh in people’s minds as one of the ultimate underdog success stories. As the first ever goalkeeper to captain an FA Cup winning side Beasant has extra reasons to remember that day, he recalled:

“It was a fantastic feeling because obviously it had never been done before by a goalkeeper.

“What we had at Wimbledon at the time were a lot of leaders, both on and off the field – people like Vinnie Jones and John Fashanu. Dave Bassett (then-Dons manager) liked what I brought to the team and saw that I had a good influence on the lads, so he made me captain – he thought I could lead the team from the back.”

Despite being a top-half First Division side, Wimbledon were made rank outsiders by the bookmakers, a position that the 47-year-old former England international feels was unwarranted.

“I think that was something that had been built up by the media,” he declared.

“At the end of the day there were two top flight teams playing, it wasn’t as if we were a Second Division side.

“I think what they looked at, was that Liverpool had stormed the League and won it with eight or nine games to go.

“They were the team of the 80s and had something of an unbeatable aura around them.

“We finished sixth in the First Division though, so it wasn’t as if we went to Wembley expecting to lose, although we knew we weren’t favourites.”

A first-half Lawrie Sanchez header put the London club ahead, but in the second half the Reds rallied and had the perfect chance to equalise when they were awarded a penalty.

The usually reliable John Aldridge stepped up to take the kick but Beasant dived full-length to save – another first in a Cup Final.

He said: “It wasn’t like today’s game where Sky has a camera at each game and you can get a video of each penalty and really do your homework.

“It was just a case of picking your side, sticking to it and hoping for the best.

“Back in 1988 there was only one game live on TV each week.

“However, because Liverpool were the top side they were the team likely to get the most coverage, so I had the opportunity to see a few of John’s penalties, not all of them, but some.

“It was just a case of going the right way when the opportunity arose.”

He continued: “I think the most important thing for us was that we were 1-0 up already.

“If the scores were level then I don’t think it would have been as significant.

“Because we were ahead we got that feeling that it was our day – you could visibly see the team’s heads rise.”

Dave’s afternoon was complete when he led his victorious side up the famous steps to collect the trophy.

He vividly recalls those moments: “A representative from the FA comes onto the pitch and informs you what to do and the best you can do is try and take it all in.

“I think it was extra special for us because of where we had come from.

“As I said, not a lot of people expected us to win, but also because of where we had come from – we had risen through the League in such a short space of time – Liverpool had been a force to be reckoned with for a while.”

Four years later, England International Dave Beasant was out of favour at Chelsea, and desperately in need of a new club, to the surprise of many Grimsby Town was to become that club, Dave said:

“My fall out with Chelsea manager Ian Porterfield has been well documented.

“I was eager to get some first team football and was looking to go out on loan.

“To be honest a number of big-name teams came in for me, but it just didn’t feel right.”

He went on: “Then Alan Buckley rang me and asked if I fancied joining Grimsby for a month to help out with a tricky run of fixtures.

“He told me which games were coming up and it started with Newcastle and included Portsmouth, Wolves and a few others.

“I thought to myself ‘that is a run of big games where I can really make an impact’, so I agreed to join.”

Beasant’s first game for the Mariners was a trip to runaway leaders of Division One, Newcastle United, he was prepared for the daunting task ahead: “Alan mentioned how they were set to break a record for home games unbeaten and how difficult it was going to be – I was more than prepared though.”

“I didn’t meet up with the lads until two or three hours before kick-off at the team hotel.

“I rode on the bus with them to the ground and we prepared for the game – we didn’t have a lot to lose.”

“In some ways the game was a bit like the 1988 FA Cup Final.

“Grimsby were such rank outsiders that the pressure was off.

“The lads defended really well and managed to get a foot or a head to most things and you could see them getting more confident.

“I again had the feeling that it was going to be our day.”

“The crowd were getting frustrated and you just felt if we could hang on for a point it would be a great result.

“Then Jim Dobbin pops up in the 89th minute with that strike – it was a great goal and the perfect time to score because they had no time to regroup.”

He continued: “The remainder of my spell at the club worked out well.

“We picked up a few more wins and a couple of draws.

“When I joined we were 18th and in some trouble, that run pulled us up to sixth so you can see it was a worthwhile month.”

Beasant must surely rank as one of Buckley’s most inspired captures and the 6’4” stopper is full of praise for the Grimsby boss:

“Alan is a football man, you know what type of game you are going to get with him and it works or him and the fans enjoy watching it.”

Speaking before Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Manchester City, Beasant is confident that Fulham can surprise a few people this season.

“We always seem to be the bookie’s favourites to go down,” he admitted, “but we’ve started well.

“We’ve lost three games and if you look at it Chelsea have lost two and so have Arsenal.

“Our away form has picked up – we have seven points on the road and that’s more than we got in the whole of last season.

“If we can keep our home form going then we might cause an upset or two along the way.”

Since his cameo Blundell Park career came to an end, Beasant has always received a warm welcome off Town fans and he concluded with a message for the Mariners’ faithful.

He concluded: “It just goes to show you that the fans appreciate what you do.

“I may have only been there a month but they remember that and I’m grateful.

“They’ve been through some hard times recently but I’m sure Grimsby can bounce back in the near future.”

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