After months of campaigning, planning and designing, Wimbledon in Sporting History was proud to unveil on January 15th the first part of AFC Wimbledon’s heritage timeline in the main concourse of the West Stand at the Plough Lane stadium. Around sixty fans and a number of Wimbledon footballing legends from the 1970s were on hand to see project manager, Matt Couper, reveal the huge photo mosaic of the iconic image of the big blue gates at the old Plough Lane stadium emblazoned with the graffitti “Womble Til I Die”. “It’s a real celebration of us”, said Matt at the launch, echoing the feelings of so many present when he concluded: “it’s all been very emotional”.
The image itself captures the defiant spirit of Wimbledon football fans which saw them rebuild their club from the grassroots again in 2002 when the FA controversially allowed the club’s owners to move to Buckinghamshire against the fans’ wishes. AFC Wimbledon is testimony today to the sheer determination, constant financial support, relentlessly hard work – and the deep rooted never-say-die attitude which has resulted in a new stadium and a League One club playing football again in Plough Lane.
The mosaic is a wonderfully creative design putting those fans and the club’s history at the heart of the new stadium. The image itself was chosen in a vote by the 401 fans and others who donated to a WiSH driven crowdfunding campaign in the autumn of 2021 to raise £12,000 to pay for this mosaic and the rest of the heritage timeline which will adorn the stadium’s main concourse. The rest of the timeline will be installed in the next couple of months, and will highlight key moments in the history of football in Wimbledon from its origins in 1889 to its return to Plough Lane in 2020 – “the Greatest Story in Football”.
The fans who donated to the crowdfunder were able to submit their own photographs to be included in the mosaic unveiled on January 15th, with 1,443 photos submitted in all – many of them being used multiple times to make up the mosaic which comprises over 5,000 photos. The mosaic also includes a number of QR codes, which when scanned take you to video footage of some of the highlights of Wimbledon’s footballing history, from the 1963 FA Amateur Cup Final through to the present day.
At the unveiling, and in the hours before kick-off of that afternoon’s League One game against Morecambe, hundreds of fans spent ages looking through the mosaic in detail to find their images and their stories embedded there in the heart of Plough Lane – enjoying a moment of fun, but also one of pride and a time to reflect on the ups and downs of football and fans’ lives in Wimbledon. As Matt Couper said: “You’ve got pictures on the mosaic with fans lifting the FA Cup, on the terraces, with their pets, at weddings and even at the top of Everest. What’s also important is that there are pictures of people who are no longer with us, so it’s also a memorial in a way”. One fan, Jess Barnes, told BBC Radio London of the special meaning for her of the mosaic:
“My dad unfortunately didn’t get to come to the opening of the ground, he sadly passed away before we got here. So it’s really lovely to see a picture of him with my sister and his last game at Wembley in 2016. He passed away in 2019. But he’s part of the ground now. So you feel like he’s been here…happy memories. I grew up down the road and my dad used to take me to the games, and went over to Selhurst Park, so we’ve followed the whole journey and my dad was part of the set-up of the whole process of getting back here. So it’s really lovely to see. And there are other faces on there too who obviously couldn’t be here, so for other people you feel it’s going to be a permanent fixture here. It’s lovely. For my Dad, he will always be here when I come in. My eyes go straight to him because he’s on the bright bit. It’s just lovely.”
The mosaic has a special place too in being the result of collaboration between WiSH and every part of the AFC Wimbledon football club. As well as fans, the mosaic was paid for with the support of the AFC Wimbledon men’s and ladies first teams, the Academy, the Dons Trust Board, the AFCW Foundation and the Dons Local Action Group. WiSH works closely with AFC Wimbledon on a number of heritage projects, but WiSH Head of Partnerships, John Lynch, was keen to emphasise the significance of this particular project:
“Every strand of the club donated, as well as 400 supporters to make this happen. I believe this is the first time that every section of the club has come together like this, making this a symbol of what ‘One Club” means”.
WiSH would like to thank everyone who contributed to and supported this mosaic project, and looks forward to delivering on further heritage projects which will help to celebrate the rich history of football in Wimbledon. We are proud to have ensured that some of that history is now so prominently reflected in Plough Lane. The mosaic will be the first thing that people will see when entering through the turnstiles in the stadium’s main West Stand, helping to ensure that countless special memories for fans and players alike will now be kept engagingly and vividly alive with pride of place in the home of football in Wimbledon.