Celebrate our history through our fans
There has always been a special bond between the community of Wimbledon and its football team – and the fans have always been at its core. In today's article, and as part of the build up to the FA Cup tie on Sunday, we look back at Wimbledon’s past through the eyes of those who matter most – the club’s supporters.
First, the 1920s and 30s…
Louise Ellen ‘Sis’ Martin (first game 1922)
I was the only girl at home. I had three brothers and most Saturdays they used to go to football. I really wanted to go as well, and one day I nagged them enough to let them take me along. I was only eight.
We walked up Plough Lane to the back of the Wandle Valley End where the greyhound stadium was. We were going to bunk in.
There was a hole in the back of the stand there, a gap in the corrugated iron. It wasn’t all that big, and Alf Goldsmith, one of my brothers, pulled it open and we all crawled in.
We were spotted straight away. I remember hearing this bloke on the other side. “One, two, three… Cor blimey! There’s only a girl coming through too!”
I remember the sound of the rattles and being pushed to the front. I think I ended up sitting on the pitch. I loved it all. I can’t remember the game or the opposition, but the excitement of the day made me want to come back. There was no problem being a girl then. Wimbledon always had its fair share of female fans.
In those early days we were regulars sitting on the pitch. There weren’t really any railings round the edge of the pitch so it was the best place to be.
We had such great players in the 20s. There was Fred Gregory, our own little terrier. Then there was Sammy Soutter. He used to dribble the ball all over the pitch. He played like Stanley Matthews. We had Whisker in goal. Cath Hardiman’s mum used to knit his goalkeeper’s jumper. But the hero of the side was Doc Dowden. He was our centre forward and he had everything. He was a leader on the pitch, he could head, he had a powerful shot and he was a total gentleman.
Wimbledon was not just about the football though, it was also about the social side and as I grew older I got more involved with events off the pitch.
In the early 1930s, I used to go to the dances that were held in the dining room above the old North Stand and mix with the players. The football club was the centre of our social life. Our group all used to go: me, my sister Rose, Nell Warner and Peg Potter. The room would be full.
Sometimes the girls and the players used to go out on the stand and do a bit of courting. There were no lights on in the stand. My friend used to say to me: “You will never get a bloke because you won’t go out there with them.”
That’s not to say I didn’t fancy some of the players. I used to like Boogie Barnes. He was quite posh. He shouldn’t have been at Wimbledon. He should have been at Corinthian Casuals – they were all university types.
Then there was Boy Turner, Jack Turner’s brother. Boy Turner’s first name was Ellis but he used to not let us call him that.
It was such a great little community club. Football was part and parcel of life. It was all so integrated back then. If you were part of the Wimbledon community, you were part of Wimbledon Football Club.
Taken from The Spirit of Wimbledon, with thanks
Ken Randall (1929)
My dad and my two brothers all followed Wimbledon, but I didn’t start going until I was 16 or 17 and that had little to do with my family.
I was working at Connolly’s leather factory in South Road and there were two lads there who would come in every Monday wearing all blue and white, the club’s colours in those days, and talk non-stop about Wimbledon. Frank Tinder was one of them and I just got interested and decided to go along. But the Dons were not the first team I supported. I used to follow a side called Colliers Wood, but from the moment I stepped into Plough Lane that all changed.
It could pour with rain at Plough Lane and you would never feel it. I just liked the atmosphere and the way we played. I just took to it and that was that.
I first saw the Dons in 1929. It was the year of Whisker, Balkwill, Dowden, Goodchild, Goodens, Gregory and the like. Whisker was my favourite goalkeeper. He was a thick-set chap; I can still picture him now. He was a good goalkeeper, up there with Dave Beasant who would lift the FA Cup for the Dons nearly 60 years later. It was also the year we beat Polytechnic 15-2 in the FA Cup.
It was also the start of a roll for the club. We won the title in 1931 and 1932, but that was nothing compared to the exploits of 1935. That was the year we got 18,080 at Plough Lane against HMS Victory in the third round of the FA Amateur Cup. It was to be the highest attendance ever at Plough Lane.
Plough Lane will always be special for me. There were no real big songs or chants as you get these days, it was more about the humour and there was lots of it. That’s still there now. I think that’s always been a unique part of Wimbledon.
But despite the lack of songs, we still had our characters on the terraces. There was a bloke called Leather Lungs, who lived on Grove Lane. He used to just scream “Wim” all the time. Then there was Alfie Mangem, who used to be full of jokes. Those of us who went regularly back then got to know those two really well.
I used to like walking round the pitch at Plough Lane so I could stand behind the goal we were attacking. But against HMS Victory it was packed, I was stuck next to the North Stand. I couldn’t move at all.
I remember Doc Dowden got the first from a free-kick. He had a terrific kick on him and was a real favourite with the fans. He hit it as hard as anything from 18 yards, and it hit one of their players in the wall and went in. The poor guy was knocked clean out. Dowden headed the second and we ran out 3-0 winners.
It was part of a great cup run. And we had a great side. Dowden was the goalscorer. Then there was Ken Wright. He was the captain and a school teacher. And Jack Goodchild, who always had his sleeves rolled down and looked a mess. But he couldn’t half move.
We went on to meet Bishop Auckland in the final at Middlesbrough. We drew 0-0 up there and the replay was at Stamford Bridge in front of 32,000. After the draw up north, we were the favourites and we all thought we had the game won when Doc Dowden gave us the lead after just three minutes. It was a terrific atmosphere and a massive gate for an amateur game. But I felt so down when we ended up losing 2-1. We went on to win the League, but that was just a consolation.
A year later we won the League again, but I remember that season more for the arrival of Harry Stannard. He was one of the legends of the side. He used to always go in on the goalkeeper and the pair of them would often end up in the net with the ball.
I remember Stannard against Walthamstow. He went in on the goalkeeper and bundled the ball in as he always did. Their goalkeeper was fuming and he charged after Stannard ready to thump him. Some of the other players stopped him first. But that was the sort of forward Stannard was, and the fans loved him. He was physical, but no one really had a bad reputation at the club until the days of Fashanu and Jones.
Taken from The Spirit of Wimbledon, with thanks