‘They don’t make players like they used to’ is a familiar cry from football fans of a certain age, but when it comes to Dennis Wise they’re absolutely right.
The Chelsea legend was a brilliant technical player who led the Blues to glory in the FA Cup and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, with an FA Cup title during his Wimbledon days, too.
However, it was his s***housery which is why he’s most fondly remembered.
Having come through the youth ranks at Southampton, it was with the Dons that he really learned his trade as a footballer, forming part of the infamous ‘Crazy Gang’ alongside Vinnie Jones, Dave Beasant, John Fashanu and Lawrie Sanchez.
His reputation clearly left a lasting impression with Gary Neville, who played alongside the no nonsense Roy Keane at Manchester United. “Dennis Wise was unbelievable with what he used to get away with. He’d gouge your eyes out, Dennis Wise!”
One of Neville’s Man United teammates really got on the wrong side of Wise during a clash in 1999.
After being clattered with a challenge more akin to a kung-fu kick, the Chelsea midfielder wiped out Nicky Butt in the middle of the park, leaving both players lying on the floor.
Wise then muttered some words to the United player, with the Blues’ skipper reportedly saying: “I hope I didn’t hurt you too much, you little ginger ****”, before pulling a hair out of the United star’s upper leg.
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It turns out that these sorts of antics weren’t a one-off either, with former Arsenal star Perry Groves telling talkSPORT exactly what it was like to come up against the Chelsea star.
He said: “Everybody loved playing against Dennis because coming from Wimbledon, he was a real top-quality player but he had that housery that we were talking about.
“With Dennis Wise, he would two-foot tackle you and try to break both of your kneecaps. You’d be on the floor and the old school thing to do is put your arms up to the referee to say sorry and go up to the player on the floor, rub his head and say, ‘sorry about that, mate’.
“He’d then go to pick you up and as he’d go to pick you up, he’d go right under the fatty bit of your arm and pinch it as hard as he could.
“That used to wind you up more than the two-footed tackle! The two-footed tackle, you know it’s part of the game and you know it’s coming and what players are going to do it because it’s a physical game.
“That skulduggery and housery is like ‘you little so-and-so’. That’s what used to send you over the top because you’d react and he’d go to the referee ‘I can’t believe that, sorry mate’.
“You knew he’d do it again and again because he’d get the same reaction.”
Playing much of his career over the line what many disciplinary experts deem to be acceptable, you’d think that Wise would start to mellow as he made the transition out of playing and into a career in management.
In classic Wise style, that wasn’t the case.
The midfielder moved to Millwall in 2002 as he looked to wind down his playing career, being offered the opportunity to become player-manager in 2003.
As part of his newfound duty, Wise’s first clash came against Sheffield United where even from the safety of the director’s box at The Den, the no-nonsense midfielder proved to club owner Theo Pathitis that he was cut from a different cloth altogether.
Pathitis explained to VisionSport TV: “We were playing Sheffield United who were top of the division.
“I said ‘you sit next to me and we’ll talk. I want to hear what you’ve got to say, I won’t do a lot of talking, you do the talking because I need to get to know you’.
“The team were playing out of their skin. I was so chuffed and pleased and he said ‘right, I’m going to put myself on now’. I said ‘don’t be so stupid – one, you’re unfit and two, leave it, they’re doing really well’ and I turned away from him and was watching the game, then turned back and he’d gone.
“He’d disappeared and I could see he’d gone down to the touchline, I couldn’t believe it.
“I shook my head and I wasn’t best pleased. He went on the pitch and 30 seconds later he put in a tackle, 10 seconds after that he was sent off and 25 seconds after that he was sitting next to me.
“I refused to talk to him and after about five minutes he chipped in with a comment, it was as if nothing had happened. We were down to 10 men, the manager’s been on and been sent off and it’s as if nothing had happened.
“What did happen is that we won that game 2-0 and we really didn’t look back.”
Pathitis wasn’t wrong either, as Wise led second-tier Millwall all the way to the FA Cup final in 2004, before leading them into the UEFA Cup the following year, the first time the club has played in the competition.
Wise’s career in management was just about as long as his cameo against the Blades in that match, with a caretaker spell in charge of Southampton being followed by short spells with Swindon Town and Leeds United, before moving into the boardroom.
He spent just over a year as technical director of Newcastle, before becoming sole administrator for Italian Serie B side Como.
However it’s his reputation as the pantomime villain in Premier League football which he’ll be most remembered for as whether you liked him or not, he rarely struggled to make an impression.
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