Going to the Dogs – Remembering our links to the history of the site

WiSH has always been dedicated to preserving the history of sports in the borough, and none could be more significant than the ones that took place at the Wimbledon Stadium before the closure, and subsequent arrival of our beloved football club.

One of the most popular events to take place at the stadium was that of Greyhound racing. With the trusted work of our close friends at Digital-Works we set about the ambitious task of making a film of people’s memories from that era, one that lasted from 1928 to 2017.

Going to the Dogs was the result and can be seen here, with full interviews from those who contributed to it https://goingtothedogs.org.uk/film.html

With so much history already on site, it was fitting that racegoers, dog owners, and staff at the old stadium were present when the film was premiered at the ground, some of those involved had previously stated they would not come back to the site after the demise of racing.

Such is the appeal of our work, and the trust given to us through many involved, that thankfully some did and were thrilled with the work we have done in making sure that their memories of the days gone by are very much part of the new building and its surroundings. The centrepiece is the Mick the Miller mosaic that has a permanent home outside the main entrance to the club.

The club and WiSH give a big thank you to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and also the contributions by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, and Gailliard, who worked with English Heritage to ensure the preservation of the mosaic and the large mural on the brick wall at the back of the stadium.

As always there are many people to thank for the work that goes on in making sure these projects come to life. The team at Digital-Works, Sarah Gould at Merton Heritage, and the huge mosaic was taken up by Mark Gadsen and his team. Moving two tonnes of concrete with a listed item on it was a very arduous mission. Our ongoing thanks go to Ben at Bark for the fine storyboard and plaques that accompany our work around the stadium.

Heritage Weekend Review

The weekend celebration of our unique history was a big hit with supporters – and they even got to see a Wimbledon player making his acting debut!

Our young midfielder Morgan Williams showed his talents off the pitch with a cameo performance on stage for the rewritten play by Matthew Couper (pictured second from left above with Director Mark Stevenson) all about our reformation – A Fans Club, Birth of a Phoenix.

The play was sold out on all three days, featuring as part of the very first Wimbledon in Sporting History (WiSH) weekend.

The whole weekend was well received and included the unveiling of fantastic new artwork – ‘The Greatest Team’ – and the launch of the ‘Womble Till I Die’ book by Niall Couper – chronicling our history from 1889.

On the Saturday afternoon also featured a guest speaker talk by Alan Blower on the history of sports on Wimbledon Common and Mick Taylor on the history of sports along the River Wandle.

Anita Gibbons, Dons Season Ticket holder, said: “It’s great to be back at Plough Lane and to be celebrating with a new book that chronicles the story all the way back here. I started going to Wimbledon games when we were at Selhurst Park and my son was mad on football, so I got a Season Ticket to come along with him. We’ve been a part of the journey ever since and some of our favourite memories are contained in this book.”

Watch a recap of the weekend

“A Fans Club – Birth Of A Phoenix”

WiSH is venturing into exciting new territory, bringing history and theatre together, with plans to produce a revised version of “A Fans Cub”, a play based on the reformation of Wimbledon FC as AFC Wimbledon. 

Wimbledon fan and WiSH volunteer, Matthew Couper, wrote the original version of A Fans Club back in 2004, when it was performed at Wimbledon Studio Theatre. The following year the play was adapted and shown in the main house Wimbledon Theatre before going to Edinburgh.  Now 21 years later the play has been re-written again and with your help will be performed for three nights from 23-25 June at the Cherry Red Records Stadium, Plough Lane. Matthew explains the decision to re-produce the play at this time:

“Back in 2019 I was approached by John Lynch at WiSH to reproduce the play as part of a

series of events that would mark our move from Kingsmeadow back home to Plough Lane. The pandemic put an end to those plans, but it feels serendipitous that the play should be performed now, twenty years after the club was reformed.”

The play has metamorphosed since the original, on quite a journey since it was originally conceived. Matthew explains: “When I first came up with the idea for the play I wanted it to be like Jerry Springer the Opera (a smash hit musical by comedian Stewart Lee), but soon realised that was a little ambitious!” The original play did include a live band that performed at the show and a large cast, which featured a guest appearance from screen legend and AFC Wimbledon fan Alun Armstrong.

“We managed to track down Alun and were thrilled when he agreed to take part. We filmed him at the Colour House at Merton Abbey Mills, and the clip was incorporated into the original production.  Naturally, he played a character called Mr Big.” The play performed to sell-out audiences at Wimbledon studio theatre for three weeks. “Turning up to the theatre with signs saying ‘sold out’ was one of the biggest thrills of my life”,  says Matthew. The following year Matthew made a few changes, including introducing the football Gods. “I did a little bit of research and found out about these two Mayan Gods called Hun Batz and his twin Hun Chouen who seemed to be a perfect fit for the play.” The revised 2005 version did a mini tour of London, including a performance in the main house at Wimbledon Theatre before heading up to Edinburgh, with a cast that included former East End actor Mark Homer.

Now it’s the next stage of the play.

“I’ve been working on the script for the last four years, which has included a series of read throughs, one of which was broadcast live during the pandemic and another last year at The Sultan pub with Hannah Kitcher, Peter Leng and multi-talented Kevin Borras reading the parts. It has been completely re-written from the original, with a smaller cast and no music, or Mayan Gods! The script focuses on two fans as they come to terms with news of the FA’s decision to allow the owners of Wimbledon FC to relocate the club to Buckinghamshire.  It also features actual events and speeches from the time. Looking back, it still feels odd that a decision was made to move a club 70 miles north and some of the reasoning and promises are still shocking.”

The new version of the play “A Fans Club – Birth of a Phoenix,” will be directed by Mark Stevenson, the joint Artistic Director at Teatro Vivo, and will be performed at the Cherry Red Records Stadium in June. To make the play a reality we need to raise funds in advance, and today we are launching a crowdfunding campaign, which will give you a chance to secure a ticket for the show, plus

there’s a series of other rewards on offer for contributing including limited edition prints and CDs.  Contributions start from £20. The initial target is £8,000 and you can contribute by scanning the QR code, or following this link: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/a-fans-club

Please do help us achieve this exciting new artistic, heritage project here in our local community.  Profits from the play will go towards WiSH, and its ongoing, crucial work to preserve and promote the history of football and other sports in Wimbledon.

WiSH helps with Seedrs project

The Seedrs investors rewards are finally being put into place in and around the stadium. This has been a while in the making and the WiSH team recognised that, so offered to help the club with planning and installation. This was something that was often asked about, as those that had chosen a specific area to “sponsor” had yet to see. There are still lots more to do, but John Lynch has headed up this project with the amazing team at The Bark Group Ltd. Very soon the many thousands of brick plaques will be visible, so watch this space…

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