Post war memories
We are posting this feature on our fans and their memories of our historyin five parts. This, the second part, covers the post-war period which for Wimbledon was a re-building process. Off the pitch the community spirit remained as strong as ever and was becoming a key part of the club’s unique spirit that it would serve it well in the years ahead.
Below two fans share their memories of that time…
Shirley Wootton (first game 1947)
There used to be around 20 or so girls who used to travel to all the away matches, and in those days most of the time we would only have the one coach. Among the 20 were my two aunties, Sis Martin and Rose Ball, and Gwen Hall and Peggy. I was the youngest.
On the coaches most of the men had their wives with them too and although it was never 50:50, it would get close sometimes.
Even in those days there was no problem with being a woman on your own at football. It wasn’t all flat caps and men, and I never felt like I shouldn’t be there.
We girls even had our own song: “We are the Wimbledon girls, we are the Wimbledon girls. We know all our manners, we spend all our tanners, we are respected wherever we go. See us marching down the old Plough Lane, doors and windows open wide. We are the girls that make all the noise, damn sight worse than all the boys, we are the Wimbledon girls.”
For the away games, me and my aunties would always rush to get the back seat on the coach. Most of the games were fairly local so they weren’t that difficult to get to, but there would be the odd one that was miles away and Willington in the FA Amateur Cup in 1950 was one of those. The town is situated in the North-East of England.
The coach left Plough Lane at midnight. I was only 15 at the time, but there was never any problem with me going. My dad had died at the end of the war and my mum didn’t mind me going as she knew my aunties would look after me.
Those were the days before motorways and it must have taken nearly 12 hours all told to get to the ground – and after all that we lost 4-2. But Wimbledon in 1950 wasn’t the strongest of sides and we had become good losers. I had my friends with me and that was really all that mattered.
It was such a lovely family club back then. Everyone would do something to help. I would go the club with my friend Sylvia and we used to go to the laundry and pick up the kit and sew on any of the buttons that had come off the shirts.
The club wasn’t selling merchandising so it was up to the girls to make most of the stuff. We used to knit all the hats and scarves. I remember my aunties making the “Up the Dons” banner on their sewing machine. I was really proud of the banner as rationing was still in place and it was difficult to get the materials.
I also remember being collared by the club secretary Bert Corke at a Tooting & Mitcham game. He said to me and Sylvia: “Are you girls here to watch the football or to find a husband?” I laughed it off at the time, but a few years later I married one of the players.
It was a real family club; we were always having parties round at our house. I loved the players and I’ll admit to chasing Ron Wootton as soon as he signed for the club. I used to go to Haydons Road on Mondays and Thursdays when they were training. I’d watch the Wallis brothers and Doug Munday, all Wimbledon legends, but I was secretly spying on Ron.
I used to take my 78 records down to the club and play them at the socials after the game. We’d have a meal first and then the music would start. There was one Anne Shelton classic, “Lay down your arms”, that was very popular and we used to all sing along to that. But most of the players didn’t really pay much attention to the women. They would be playing snooker in another room and then, come 10pm when the football started on the TV, they would all shuffle over move the chairs into place and watch it. That would be as close as we’d get to most of the players.
Ron was the exception. We used to talk in the club room a lot, and one day he asked to carry my records home for me. Then we started to share drinks together after training, Ron would always have his hot blackcurrant and gradually I won him over. We were married in 1959.
It was a special club back then, and the spirit I knew existed all the way through the 50s and 60s. It diminished a bit in the 70s, and by the time the club turned fully professional it had faded. I was never really interested in the club after that and I stopped going for a while. But those early years will live with me forever. AFC Wimbledon reminds me so much of those times – all the volunteers, the family spirit – it could so easily be the Dons of the 1940s and 50s.
Taken from The Spirit of Wimbledon, with thanks
Geoff Seel (1956)
I was brought up in a rugby household; I even invited my primary school headmistress to Twickenham - well she was Welsh! I’d still enjoyed watching football on the black and white television we had acquired for the Coronation but only really got interested when I found in the small print of the Telegraph that Wimbledon had a football team. That started me asking to go and see them and eventually I nagged enough to get taken to Plough Lane.
The Wandle End at that time was still a grassy, or muddy, bank and besides offering a wonderful view down on the pitch you could head down the other side to look at the river when you got bored. I can’t remember the first game I went to, I have lived through the 60s since, but one of the early ones was away in Kingston, at Richmond Road in those days.
My favourite players of those days were Norman Williams, a small and tricky outside left and Geoff Hamm, the cultured inside forward. This was the start of the club dominating the Isthmian League and eventually winning the Amateur Cup as well, a match I missed as we had a full six days of school a week. It is hard to remember what fixed my allegiance but I can’t remember ever thinking of supporting another club.
College and working abroad meant I rarely saw games until we were elected to the Football League. The next decade was probably the most enjoyable years of Wimbledon until we reformed and resurrected the old spirit in 2002.
My favourite Wimbledon player of all time was John Leslie, more for his attitude of just being there with his boots round his neck and getting on with things than for his undoubted talent. He always epitomised what Wimbledon was to me, even more than the Crazy Gang era.
There have been many memorable matches over the 50-odd years but probably the favourite is the Amateur Cup semi-final against Leytonstone at Highbury. It was my first visit to a big football stadium and we were right behind the goal where Les Brown craftily jumped over Norman Williams pass, sending the Leytonstone goalkeeper the wrong way as the ball rolled into the opposite corner of the net. Sandhurst in 2002 runs it close as a celebration of what fans can do.