Photo: Gary M. Prior/Getty Images
Nov 07, 1999
My Dons dressing down – Wimbledon, 1999
Many people may not see the funny side to having their Armani suit burned, but John Hartson saw pranks like this as just part of the bonhomie at Wimbledon
* The Guardian, Thursday 21 May 2009
On my first day as a Wimbledon player I decided to come in nice and tidy, with my Armani suit on. To be honest, the label didn’t mean anything to the lads, it could have been from Marks & Spencer for all they cared. I went out to train before the press conference and a few of the injured lads – Ben Thatcher, Carl Leaburn and Jason Euell – decided to have a bit of fun.
At that time Joe Kinnear had paid a lot of money – £7.5m – to take me from West Ham to Wimbledon. Obviously that comes with its own pressures, but straight away that pressure was taken off me by how relaxed the boys were around the training ground. They were obviously very professional on match days and when we trained we did everything right. But, yes, there were plenty of antics.
We were coming back in from training and there was this almighty fire hanging out of the window. I was thinking, “Jesus Christ, the dressing room is on fire!” But there was no fire alarm going off and everyone seemed to be laughing their heads off. As I got closer to the dressing room I saw that it was my suit that they were actually burning. I just couldn’t believe it and, of course, it was all the clothes I had with me. I had nothing to put on after the training session so I ended up wearing a pair of Wimbledon training shorts to the press conference that day. I never got the suit back, I never got the expenses back, but that was all just part of it.
I don’t know who did it and I guess I’ll never find out. That was the Wimbledon way, what happened in the dressing room stayed in the dressing room. It wasn’t the kind of place to get angry. If you got angry or started throwing fisticuff s about the place you were soon pinned down and tied down and all sorts of stuff.
It was just the way the boys were and you had to take it in good jest. Whenever there were new signings after that I was one of the first to get involved. I couldn’t wait for the next signing so I could get in on the fun. We used to play all sorts of jokes – moving people’s cars from the car park and stuff like that. I was the only one who had their suit burned, though. That was just Wimbledon and even the chairman used to get involved.
Sam Hammam would come in the morning and the lads would have him up on the treatment table and they’d ruffle his hair and pull his trousers down and hide his shoes. Sam was just bonkers and you’d be looking around thinking, “well Jesus Christ, if your chairman is getting involved then everybody gets involved.” It wasn’t the kind of thing you kept quiet from the manager, the chairman, the tea lady or the kit woman – everybody was just on a roll at Wimbledon. That’s just the way it was.
It worked, too. It was the best team spirit I ever worked in. I played with Celtic under Martin O’Neill, we had some great times there – winning trophies and playing in Europe. But my days at Wimbledon were the best two years for morale and spirit I’ve ever had in my life.