WHEN the Premiership took a break last weekend, Wimbledon FC also sat on the soccer sidelines . . . and went to Newmarket races. 'It was a typical Wimbledon team-building exercise,' Dons' midfielder Robbie Earle told Premier Soccer this week. 'We didn't win much because Vinny Jones was in charge of the betting and he's not exactly the world's best tipster. But it was a great couple of days away in terms of team spirit and keeping everyone together. This is a big part of Wimbledon Football Club.' Indeed it is, as the Premiership has discovered this season. After a dreadful start, losing against Manchester United, Newcastle United and Leeds United without scoring a goal, the critics were already writing them off. But Earle and Co. knew better - and silenced the anti-Wimbledon factions once again by winning their next five games to stand in fifth place. 'We didn't play badly in those first three matches and thought we were worth at least a couple of points. We never lost our confidence and now we're on a bit of a roll. 'Our opponents this Saturday, Sheffield Wednesday, were flying at the start of the season and now they're struggling, so the roles are reversed.' Earle, from Newcastle in Staffordshire, learned his trade as a professional footballer in the not-so-glamorous surroundings of Port Vale, for whom he played from 1981 to 1991. He moved to Wimbledon for the 1991-92 campaign and is now in his sixth season with the Dons. With all this money flying around in the Premiership, how does such a modest club like Wimbledon survive? 'Obviously we haven't got the finances to sign people like Ravanelli and Vialli so the boss [Joe Kinnear] looks for people who can come in and do a job,' says Earle, 31. 'He works very hard on coaching the players we have rather than always looking at the transfer market.' So what qualities do you need to be a Wimbledon player? 'The most important thing,' adds Earle, 'is that you have to be a team player and play to the plan. We are not a team of individuals. Southampton, for example, rely on Le Tissier but with us it's very much a team thing. 'We are fit, well organised and always well prepared for the opposition.' The Wimbledon spirit is embodied in the controversial figure of skipper Vinny Jones, who has been sent off 12 times in his career. Earle knows him as well as anyone and says there is more to his game than most people give him credit for. 'He's a motivator and makes sure people give 100 per cent,' says Earle. 'He's also the first one there in a fight. To outsiders he's all about aggression and intimidation but there's more to his game than that.' Anyway, Jones and Wimbledon don't care what outsiders think. They are part of something special, as Earle points out. 'The club was known as 'The Crazy Gang' as they came up through the divisions and won the FA Cup in 1988 and I suppose we still are, compared to other clubs. Things happen here that would never happen anywhere else because we're pretty much off the wall; the boss likes to be spontaneous and keep people guessing. 'One day we'll turn up and the boss will suddenly say 'there's no training today' and we'll have to go to the cinema together. 'Vinny Jones loves to organise things like the races and days out. I just wish he could pick some winners.'