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“It has a sentimental value for them to find them”

How modern football is saved by ground principles of being a football fan

Photo: Josefin Johansson / Private.

The wave of modern football moves clubs from their main home grounds into world class stadiums to make supporters dream of even bigger greatness.

But what about the history?

Well, sometimes it’s saved by the ground principles of being a football fan.

It is matchday preparation outside London Stadium in Stratford. The town, located in east London, is described in terms of getting a real “facelift” since being the host of the Olympics 2012.

The hypermodern shopping mall has all the restaurants and stores you can wish for, and offers a quite clear distinction to the more rough environment just a fifteen minute walk away. But today it is all about the game. Merch is on sale. Food trucks around the stadium are ready to serve, and fans have gathered before the game.

Since the season 2016/2017 this is the home of West Ham United. Their old stadium, The Boleyn Ground at Upton Park - a bus ride about twenty minutes away from here - is demolished.

But still there is some history left, thanks to the young hammer named Jonjo Heuerman.

"A lot more than a name on a brick"

Jonjo Heuerman is the one saving, storing and rehoming the Commemorative Bricks from The Boleyn Ground. Now some of these messages have new inscriptions on the ground outside of London Stadium, but that is nothing compared to the excitement of the people who are reunited with their old bricks.

– When we moved out of that stadium the brick wall was going to be demolished and we decided it made perfect sense to take them in and try to rehome them to people. There is a lot more than a name on a brick on that wall. For example, I have a brick for my nan, it is amazing, quite a few other ones have bricks for people that passed away and it has a sentimental value for them to find them, says Jonjo Heuerman.

Jonjo Heuerman has been a season ticket holder for West Ham United since he was two years old and his charity work around the club arised seven years later.

In February 2009 he lost his grandmother Lyn to bowel cancer - the same illness the great Hammers legend Bobby Moore suffered from. Jonjo decided to raise both awareness and money to cure the disease.

He walked from Wembley to West Ham United in both their memories.

– Long story short, that is how it started, says his mother Donna Heuerman and continues:

– When he started walking people were giving him names of people they lost and when he came to West Ham he called out all of the names. He was nine years old when he started his fundraising journey. He has raised 1,5 million in awareness and about 400 000 pounds in cash for the Bobby Moore Fund for cancer research. When he was 13 he became the youngest ever to be honored by the queen for his charity work.

"Ultimately he was a football fan"

Jonjo Heuerman’s adventures have been many. Once he cycled between every team in the Premier League. It was not a coincidence he was the one being contacted by the demolishing company when they were about to tear down The Boleyn Ground. Mainly they wondered if he would like some seats from the stands to auction for the charity. But they had more concerns about the leftovers from the stadium.

– Then the manager for the demolishing company came to Jonjo and said that he was an Arsenal supporter, but ultimately he was a football fan and there were two very special walls in the stadium that he felt he couldn’t demolish. He said: “These walls have names of people, and as being a football fan I can’t have a wrecking ball to them. If I pick down the wall, one by one, and give you the bricks, will you find their owners?”.

– So then Jonjo said: “Mommy, I’ve got some bricks coming”.

At the beginning all the bricks were stored at the supporters club. Through different messages on social media Jonjo and other volunteers have now returned about 80 percent of the bricks to families who were longing for them. They have been sent all over the world - Australia, Texas, Singapore and Dubai for example.

The Boleyn Ground was the home of West Ham United between 1904 and 2016. Many of the names of the bricks have passed away but to their families they have a great value.

"It was a piece of him"

One of the first bricks they returned belonged to a young boy who unfortunately was hit by a car on his way home from West Ham United's training ground. His inscription was brought back by a relative.

– She was desperate to actually have his brick back, it was a piece of him for the family, says Jonjo Heuerman.

– Every single one of the bricks on the wall has a meaning to everyone. They are very important to a lot of people and I feel like if I didn’t step in and help, or we didn’t step in and help, me and all my volunteers, maybe they wouldn’t be rehomed.

The club did what they could to help but they couldn’t promise to return the bricks to their owners. But when Jonjo took on the project with his team they got some help with lists of the people behind the bricks.

Some bricks were damaged during the demolition process. But a big majority have been saved and today West Ham United have replicated the messages on the old bricks onto their new ground at London Stadium. Outside the arena there is “The Champion Place” filled with inscriptions.

– The original ones are very special to a lot of people. More than the ones incopied at the stadium. We still have about 300 (bricks) in our garden and refuse to throw them away. Every now and then we have someone asking if we have their brick and we will go have a look for them, says Donna Heuerman.

The Champion Place. Photo: Josefin Johansson

The Premier League might be viewed as just another money driven vehicle but to Jonjo Heuerman there is only one thing crucial in football.

– For me West Ham is always about the fans, it doesn’t matter where we play. We always follow the club. I do miss the Park and the Boleyn. I had a lot of good memories there, as a club we got a lot of good memories there. But it is this way football is going now. It becomes modernized, in my opinion I felt like it was inevitable that West Ham was going to move ground one day. It was just a matter of time. It’s something we needed to do, says Jonjo Heuerman.

People walk up to the stands and watch West Ham United finish the game with a draw against Tottenham. But as the place empties a woman and her family stay to search for her fathers inscription on the ground. History continues to be important.

By: Josefin Johansson


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