Mention the name Nigel Winterburn to football fans and chances are it will conjure up images of the Arsenal back four, arms raised, appealing for offside.

But most fans forget, or choose to forget, that the twice-capped England international first made his name as a pivotal member of Wimbledon’s ‘Crazy Gang’.

Clocking up 165 appearances in four seasons at Plough Lane, Winterburn was an integral part of the London side’s rise through the divisions.

And the former left-back reveals it is a period he looks back on with great fondness, even to this day.

He said: “The whole period at Wimbledon was great for me.

“I really appreciate what Wimbledon as a club did for me and I will never forget it.

“It was the launch of my career and really put me on the map.”

Warwickshire-born Winterburn started out at Birmingham and Oxford under the tutelage of Jim Smith, but it was a move to SW19 in 1983 that got the ball rolling.

Winterburn said: “Dave Bassett was looking for a left-back so off I went.

“I got there just as the whole ‘Crazy Gang’ thing was starting – John Fashanu, Dennis Wise and Vinnie Jones all came later.

“A lot of the players came straight from non-league.

“In a sense, we were a team of failed footballers.

“Wimbledon was a club built on a shoestring.

“I used to clean my own boots and take my kit home to wash after games.

“But I was young and didn’t really know anything else.”

Surrey Comet: Nigel Winterburn

Nigel Winterburn

The no-nonsense defender quickly endeared himself to the Dons fans, earning player-of-the-year honours in each of his four seasons at the club.

After a 1987 big-money move to Highbury, Winterburn could only watch on from his living room as the Dons famously beat Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final.

And he remained a keen observer as Wimbledon slipped into turmoil, and eventual relocation to Milton Keynes.

He revealed: “I did not have any regrets about leaving and I was delighted for the boys when they beat Liverpool.

“But to see what happened to the club over the years was really sad.

“The team I played for and started my career at does not exist any more.

“As far as I am concerned, neither MK Dons nor AFC Wimbledon count – the club died when Wimbledon moved and that is the sad part of it.

“With a bit of help from Merton Council, I definitely feel the club could have been saved.

“But I don’t think that the council even wanted a Premier League club, to be honest.”

Now a defensive coach at Blackburn Rovers, Winterburn will be back in the capital to play in the England-Ireland Legends match at Craven Cottage on October 9.

Staged for the Johnny Haynes Cup, Winterburn will line up alongside fellow Dons stalwart Dave Beasant and a host of former internationals.

And the 44-year-old is relishing the prospect.

Winterburn added: “I still like to play occasionally – but only occasionally!

“I was contacted when the idea was first suggested and I was eager to get involved.

“It will tough on the body but it is a lot of good fun.”