The story of football clubs is often told through those who are recognised as shaping their history and more often than not that is a predominantly male viewpoint. Thinking about this was the starting point for our project, as we realised that there was a whole other side to the story and began to seek out the women who have been integral to Wimbledon FC / AFC Wimbledon.
“The Women of Wimbledon” is designed as a living work, the idea being that it will be added to and expanded through new stories as they come to light: we want to celebrate all of those women who have played a role in the club’s history and those who continue to shape the future.
We’ve started by talking to some of the women that we know have been integral to our club’s success, primarily during the Plough Lane and Selhurst Park eras, but also touching on Kingsmeadow, and finding out how they became involved. We will be expanding this and pulling in stories from the last 20 years too and we hope that this taster will inspire others to share their stories or to start creating new ones.
These women we spoke to were often unseen or working in the background but, listening to their stories, you can see that the roles they have played have been hugely important to the club. They range from working in the boardroom to manning phones, organising events, developing women’s football, and in one case, playing a hugely significant role in players’ fitness.
Most of the women we spoke to were introduced to football by friends or family, something that will be familiar to many reading this. Some went from a young age, some were older, some had a period of watching, drifted away and then came back.
Margaret Adam remembers her cousins taking her to Plough Lane when she moved to Wimbledon as a child in 1948 and then, after decades away from football, finding the club again through her son and becoming a season ticket holder at Selhurst Park. Eileen Samuelson also has her son to thank for her introduction to Wimbledon at Plough Lane, having grown up watching Brian Clough’s Derby County at the Baseball Ground.
Vicki Lowndes had no chance of avoiding football, being born into a family which lived and breathed the game and she loved it from the first moment she encountered it. Jenny Archer grew up playing football with boys on Wandle Park and watching Wimbledon from the terraces, while Anne Eames’ brother got her interested in her local club when the Dons won the Amateur Cup. Noella Manns’ first game was Chelsea v Liverpool before her best friend suggested going to watch their local club, Wimbledon, in around 1986 and they were immediately hooked.
Maureen Batsford used to go to Walton and Hersham games with her dad and brother, almost as a sense of duty, and would later meet her future husband, Allen, at a New Year’s Eve party at the club. It was through him that she would begin watching Wimbledon and really fall in love with the game. It was a relationship that led Kathryn England to the Dons too, when she was introduced to the game by her ex-husband, Alan Cork, who asked her to go and watch him play at Plough Lane in 1978, after which Wimbledon became a really important part of her life.
These early interactions led to involvement at different times and in different roles, but what all of these women share is a stake in Wimbledon’s history through the roles that they have played.
Anne Eames revelled in the increasing success of Wimbledon FC and the club being part of her local community made it even more exciting. Over time she became more involved and when she organised a charity football match she met people who worked for the club, which in turn led to Ron Noades employing her as his secretary and an involvement that would last for decades:
“I worked in the football club office working for Ron Noades,” Anne says, “Adrian Cook, Allen Batsford, Dave Bassett, Eric Willcocks and Peter Prentice worked in there too and when Allen left I then worked for Dario.
“On match days my cousin Sally and I used to run the Dons Draw in the Vice Presidents lounge to raise money for the club and it was while I was doing this that I was one of the girls photographed with Elton John.
“Outside of Plough Lane I also was landlady to Alan Cork, who had moved down from Derby and wasn’t used to living in London and so I was able to introduce him to the social scene in Wimbledon.”
“I also helped with setting up first Wimbledon Ladies football team.”
“I’ve been involved with AFC Wimbledon too, helping to run the Football Academy for youngsters on Saturday mornings for the kids, which I absolutely loved doing. And I shouldn’t forget that I had to support my husband who was, at the time, the Manager!”
Maureen Batsford had her wedding party at Plough Lane, which gave it a very special place in her heart. She supported her husband “soothing his brow when we lost which fortunately wasn’t that often!” and also helped out in the boardroom when needed.
Eileen Samuelson was one of many fans who, horrified at the prospect of losing her club, began to get involved through the protests at Selhurst and she and her family became founder members of the Dons Trust. But it was when her husband Erik became voluntary finance director, and then CEO, that Eileen’s involvement ballooned. She explains:
“Erik and I went from watching games home and away as a family with WFC, to the protests and then being heavily right from the start of AFC Wimbledon.
“My voluntary roles included reserve receptionists, covering sickness and holidays, joint sponsorship secretary, catering, hospitality in the President’s Lounge, Club Welfare Officer for eight years, event organiser (fundraising dinners, Minithons, etc) and all the Volunteer Work Weekends (except the last one as I had just had a major op!)”
Kathryn England was also galvanised by the proposed move to Buckinghamshire.
“From the eighties to the 90s I would go and watch Wimbledon play at Plough Lane and then Selhurst,” she explains, “and It was during the time that the Wimbledon board wanted to go to Milton Keynes that I became involved with supporters’ efforts to stop this happening.
“I joined WISA and took part in demonstrations against the move and when the Dons Trust was born I became a founder member.”
It didn’t take too long from Noella Manns going to watch Wimbledon with her best friend to her becoming involved in the Supporters Club a year or so later. She then went on to join the Supporters Club Committee and the club really started to become “a way of life” for her, as she threw herself into all kinds of activities:
“I was particularly involved in the Social sub-committee at Plough Lane and also at Selhurst,” Noella recalls, “arranging the children’s Christmas party for the Junior Dons, selling the Grapevine fanzine, presenting the Man of the Match trophy, and organising the Player of the Year function.
“As well as the social activities, four of us also ran the Family Enclosure on a match day, welcoming not just families who were Wimbledon fans but also those who had come to support the opposing team. As part of this we also organised matchday birthday parties and encouraged players to come and say happy birthday to the child whose birthday it was. We even managed to persuade away players to do this on occasion, including Ian Rush!
“I also helped with Supporters Club administration at Plough Lane and Selhurst, processing memberships and organising away travel as social events, including day trips to France.”
Vicki Lowndes was born into a Wimbledon-obsessed family and so it is no surprise that her own involvement went way beyond the terraces. She told us about some of the many ways in which she helped the club:
“I started “working” for the Club at Plough Lane in the 1987-1988 season when I was 13. The highlight of that season was my Dad telling my school that I was sick for the week leading up to the FA Cup final so that I could help sell tickets, which were mainly to Liverpool supporters who all turned up with their three vouchers from previous matches! Unfortunately, the school found out that I wasn’t actually sick when I was seen on television but they did forgive my Dad as he did so much volunteering for them. And then of course, we won!
“My normal match day duties started with assisting in the main office, where I helped out with administrative tasks like answering the phones and photocopying, as well as preparing the manager’s office and the referee’s room. It is a sign of those times that I always had to make sure there was sufficient alcohol in both rooms, as well as a fruit bowl in the referee’s room and lots of chewing gum for the manager’s office!
“Once I had completed all of these duties I would move on to sell match day tickets in the ticket office with Sandra and Laurence Lowne and then when the ticket office closed I would carry the cash over to the Club Treasurer in a plastic shopping bag help him count it. Depending on the time, I would either pop out and watch ten minutes of football or I would wait in the main office for my half-time duties. There was one occasion when I stayed in the office and the phone rang. Naturally, I answered it and on the other end was someone saying there was a bomb under the home dugout seats. To say I was freaking out is putting it mildly but I had to try and keep the person on the phone so the police could try and trace it! Thankfully it turned out to be a hoax.
“At half time it was my duty to photocopy the scores in the other games and distribute them to the manager’s office and the President’s Lounge and after the break, I would usually get to see a lot of the second half, unless there were jobs that needed to be done.
“At full time I photocopied the final scores and distribute them to the manager’s office, referee’s room and President’s Lounge, following up with copies of the league tables once they were available.
“Eventually my day would be finished and I would join my friends in the Sportsman, which normally then ended up in Nelson’s! I loved those days working at Plough Lane and even spent every school holiday there.”
Margaret Adam had a season ticket at Selhurst Park but it was at Kingsmeadow that she began to get more involved with the club after her husband, Tom, was elected to the Dons Trust Board. Margaret says:
“My first involvement was getting a small team together to clean up the stadium and empty bins. It snowballed from there.”
Jenny Archer’s contribution to Wimbledon was very different to that of the other women we spoke to. The former middle-distance runner was coaching young athletes with considerable success when she was approached by Don Howe and Bobby Gould to work with Wimbledon’s squad, using the skills and techniques she employed with athletes to improve players’ fitness. Having grown up dreaming of being Eddie Reynolds, Jenny jumped at the chance to work with the club she had supported all her life. She spent a decade with Wimbledon FC, forming lifelong friendships with players and staff and counts Don Howe as a great mentor.
“This is what moulded me into what I am today,” she says, “Don Howe as a mentor. He sat me down and talked about behaviours and said ‘Never be afraid to ask questions and get respect from the players’.” And that’s what she did, with Don’s advice helping her to believe in herself.
Jenny can count some incredible achievements throughout her career and in her time at the club she created the cone and ladder work, still used today across the globe, some ten years before anyone else, as confirmed by Warren Barton. She was also fortunate enough to visit some of the most prestigious clubs and stadia in the country with the youth teams and is still honoured to have represented Wimbledon FC.
Today, away from football, Jenny continues to train athletes, both known and upcoming, all of whom are focussed on Japan and the Olympic Games. And in a very 2021 departure from her days at the Dons, the training sessions are taking place via Zoom.
One thing that all of the women we have been in touch with agreed on was that their experiences have been really positive. They have made lifelong friends, felt part of a real community and made a difference. They also concurred that anyone considering getting involved in the game, whether as a volunteer or to start a career, should take that plunge and that they wouldn’t regret it: the new generation of Women of Wimbledon (and beyond) is out there and we hope that these stories will inspire them to get involved.
These are just a few snapshots of women who have influenced, supported and made our club what it is today. We know that there are many more stories out there and we’d love to include them. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or complete our survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/JR8WRRY.
We’d also love to see any photos, clippings or articles that you may have.