Dennis Wise: the ultimate ‘scrappy midfielder’

Jason Rodgers

Dennis Wise spent over 20 years battling in the heart of midfield for English clubs across the country. Once a member of the “Crazy Gang” at Wimbledon, Wise became a cult hero at Chelsea, spending more than 10 years at Stamford Bridge.

Wise started his career as a youth player at Southampton but left after falling out with manager Lawrie McMenemy. Fortunately for Wise, Dave Bassett’s Wimbledon saw the potential in him and signed him up as an 18-year-old in 1985.

Before settling in the Wimbledon first team, Wise had a bizarre loan spell at Swedish non-league side Grebbestads IF, where predictably, he was a class above. After just a few months, he returned to London and helped Wimbledon to promotion to the First Division at the end of the 1985/86 season.

Wise soon established himself as a key member of the “Crazy Gang” which took the league by storm. Top half finishes were impressive enough, but an FA Cup final victory over Liverpool in 1988 had to be the highlight of Wise’s Wimbledon career.

In July 1990, Wise made the move to Chelsea for a then-club record fee of £1.6million. The Englishman initially struggled to settle at Stamford Bridge, and despite 13 goals, was below his usual level. The signing of his Wimbledon midfield partner, Vinnie Jones, solved that problem in the 1991/92 season, with Wise finishing as the club’s top goalscorer with 14 goals.

By 1993, Wise’s impressive club form was rewarded with the Chelsea captaincy. However, in 1994, Wise’s temper starting to get the better of him both on and off the pitch.

In a game against Newcastle United, Wise was sent-off for swearing, but worse was to follow when he was handed a three-month prison sentence (later overturned on appeal) and a fine for assaulting a London cab driver. Wise was stripped of the captain’s armband, and picked up a major thigh injury soon after. It was a terrible time for the midfielder.

Wise spent the next few seasons trying to rebuild his Chelsea career, as well as his reputation. Gradually, he managed this, even becoming captain of the club again. Discipline was still a major problem though. In the 1998/99 season, Wise missed an incredible 15 games in all competitions through suspensions.

Under Wise’s leadership, Chelsea won two FA Cups in 1997 and 2000, as well as picking up their highest league finish, third, in the Premier League era to qualify for the Champions League.

When Claudio Ranieri took over the Blues in 2000, he wanted to lower the average age of the squad. This meant that Wise was sold to Leicester City for £1.6million, after an incredible 445 appearances for Chelsea.

At Leicester City, Wise’s reputation fell apart again. After a mediocre first season with the Foxes, Wise was sent home from a pre-season tour in Finland, and was eventually sacked, for breaking the nose and jaw of teammate Callum Davidson. Wise initially won an appeal against his sacking, but this was reinstated when the club complained.

Wise’s career then dwindled down into the lower leagues, playing for Millwall in a player-manager role (where he helped them to a historic FA Cup final), Southampton and Coventry City before retiring in 2006.

Representing England throughout the 1990s, Wise picked up 21 caps for his country and scored a goal on his debut against Turkey. Wise missed out on call-ups to the Euro 96 and 1998 World Cup squads, but did a play a part in England’s awful Euro 2000 campaign where they failed to make it past the group stage.

Wise, as well as his player-manager stint at Millwall, briefly had a go at football management after retirement. He had potential to be great. At Swindon Town, he had them fighting for promotion in his first season in charge before Leeds United came calling.

Whilst Wise was unable to save Leeds from relegation to League One, he was kept on to try and rebuild the club. A 15-point deduction made life even more difficult, but incredibly Wise had Leeds battling for promotion by Christmas. Sadly, he left the club in January to pursue an ill-fated executive role at Newcastle United.

No longer involved in football, Wise’s career and reputation remains somewhat in tatters after his alleged influence in the departure of Kevin Keegan from Newcastle in 2008. Despite this, Wise will forever be known for his aggression and goalscoring ability.

Wise helped shoot Chelsea to fame in the 1990s, and is still adored by Blues today. He even took Chelsea’s Premier League trophy out onto the pitch a couple of weeks ago to begin their celebrations.

What memories do you have of the ultimate ‘scrappy midfielder’? Let us know in the comments below!

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