Regular readers will be aware that during my formative years I had the ‘pleasure’ of knowing a number of West Ham followers. Every day at school it was a verbal joust to prove which team was best. Mind a look at the league tables normally helped our cause. Over the years a couple of them have managed to share some gentle Mickey-taking between ourselves without them once dragging their knuckles along behind them. Indeed one even helped with the research for this article. As Tottenham are about to make their last trip to Upton Park forgive my indulgence as I dig out a few golden moments to help pass the short journey.
All these stories are absolutely true.
The top image is of the Boleyn ground in August 1944 after it was hit by a V1 rocket. In fact the Germans managed to hit the ground on four occasions and had several near misses. West Ham had to move out for months and upon their return their first game was against Tottenham. The game was played with no roof on the stand, they only had one stand for many years. The game was a 1-0 win for Spurs as we went on to win the Football League South that season. The Spurs goal coming from left winger Gilberg, one of six goals in the eight games he played that year.
Way back on a Saturday night in 1980 an old school friend asked if I wanted to go into his office on the Sunday morning. Possibly not as odd as it sounds as he was a senior official with Newham Council and West Ham had just won the FA Cup. The following morning I felt a fraud standing in one of the big reception rooms when their team carried the cup pass me and out on to their balcony. My friend whispered to me ‘If I tell anyone where your heart lies you wont get out of here alive.’ I laughed and told him to enjoy it while you can you wont win it again in your lifetime. Sadly he passed away a couple of years ago and they hadn’t.
Their ground record was set when Tottenham visited them in 1970 and more than forty two thousand squeezed into their ground. As Mike England and Alan Mullery earned us a 2-2 draw in the year we finished third and they avoided the drop by one place.
Memories of that tiny little ground, like Ledley King scoring late on to make it 2-0 in 2008, (pic below). Dier’s very late winner last year and at the same North end another full back Paul Staleri in the 90th minute to win 4-3. Then there was Greaves and Gilzean in a 2-2 (68) at the same end, we were right behind the goal that night, but I cant remember why we went that end and not the usual south. The League Cup win in extra time in 75 after the game had been delayed due the floodlights failing.
Then was sometime in the mid 60’s Jimmy Robertson, in amazingly heavy rain shot went wide and knocked out a press photographer near the goal (north end again) who had to be carried away.
This next image is from a few years earlier than that, I’ve used it before but it warrants a repeat, is this one of German prisoners of war who were taken to watch West Ham matches.
Another tale from the forties was the one when in March 1947 they traveled to Newcastle and found the gates locked and the place deserted. The game had been called off but the message did not reach West Ham until after the team had left.
Jimmy Greaves is our top scorer against West Ham with 12. While Ron Burgess struck a hat trick there in 1940.
Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this but I have mention it before. Just near to where we lived was a cousin and she married a Hammers supporter and he use to take me along to games. (well would you say no), anyway I was about eight - nine at this point. He would never take me to the Spurs games. Anyway after a number of trips he said I wont take you any more unless I supported West Ham, I had never booed them (as I was brung up good). I said in that case thank you but I was a Spurs supporter. He demanded to know why I wouldn’t change so I told him. This is why I mentioned my school, I was a cute little rascal but in a battle of wits he stood no chance. I pointed out that being a Tottenham fan is about glory and winning whilst West Ham its about washing powder and losing. He never spoke to me again (grown up‘s). For any confused readers, West Ham’s song ‘Bubbles’ came about because one of their old players use to look like the child in a soap advert. The words of the song are ‘then like my dreams they fade and die.’ Or as we use to sing ‘then like West Ham they fade and die.’
West Ham and White Hart Lane have something in common. The land where they stand use to be used to grow vegetables. When they acquired the land to build the Hammers wanted to call it ‘The Castle’ but the local fans tended to continue to refer to it by its usual name, either ‘the potato field’ or ’the cabbage patch.’ (no cabbage patch doll jokes please).
I don’t remember this trip but we won there 10-0, Woodward getting five of them in 1905
In recent years they have made a big issue of saying Spurs would not be allowed to use the ground whist WHL is re-developed. So wondering why I asked a loyal West Ham supporter of many years standing. I pointed out back in the 90’s Charlton shared with them for nearly two years. The reply came that at that time the Board were respectable business men and that. Actually I’m not sure I should quote him in case there are children reading this. I can say the words- petty-minded, pornography and spivs were included. So that’s clears up that mystery. I did also come across a report from1582, yes that’s even before my time, which tells of a man being murdered during a game of football being played in West Ham.
One last story, I’ve had this conversation twice and I swear to you this is the truth, when I was telling someone a few years back they said they had had the same experience. Hammers fan ‘I hate Spurs’ why, because I do, why, cos I do, You can repeat this for as long as you like or till you start sounding like the sheep in Orwell’s Animal Farm, however just before you die of boredom you ask instead well how much do you hate Spurs. The answer comes ‘I hate Spurs, eer I don’t care if we lose every other game in the year as long as we beat Spurs.’ Spurs fan ‘In that case you would finish bottom and go down.’ Did you ever wondered where the expression the lights were on but there was nobody home came from. After a moment they look at you and say ‘I hate Spurs.’
Oh. Ok, this just came back to me. Schooldays, and one of our masters (a west ham man) loved setting us puzzles. One day he said has any boy got a ten minute puzzle for the class. One boys hand flew up and we knew we were in trouble. Yes sir, I’ve got one that will keep most of the class busy until home time. The teacher looked slightly worried, ok what is it. Well sir we draw a massive circle on the sports field and everyone stands in the middle, then you tell the West Ham supporters to move to the corners. I really don’t think you should get a detention for laughing.
When I’m back in London and go past Upton Park I always think of those games in the old Chicken Run (east side) where my uncle took me as a kid. I (unlike the Luftwaffe) will miss Upton Park. The Chicken Run as even their fans will tell you was a piece of cracked terracing covered with a zinc sheeting roof and when it rained the noise drowned out their fans. It wasn’t a major step up from some of the non-league ground’s near where we lived. The first time I climbed up the steps inside White Hart Lane I thought I had entered a cathedral in compassion with the impressive East Stand looming over my head and up in to the sky as I pointed out to an open mouth Hammers fan in our group its that high so that even God could sit down and watch us play.
Have a great weekend and one more chorus, ‘then like West Ham….’
t- Keith 16024542
f- peter shearman (old non de plume)
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