I was Born Under the North Bank Bar

Or was it, “I was born under a wandering star” by Lee Marvin?

It was a Saturday morning, late January and the year was 1972. The night before had been a bit rough. Trying to drink as many pints of lager and lime (yuk) as you can, two weeks before your 16th birthday can have that affect on you. A bleary eyed start to the day meant nothing as this was what the whole week was about. This was Saturday and the Hammers were at home. This was what life was all about. It was all that mattered. Only West Ham mattered.

Today’s game was against Derby County, but that is irrelevant to this article. However, some may say – Derby, so what! Well Derby won the title that year and the following season were beaten in the semi final of the European Cup in a match that was clouded by allegations of Juventus bribing officials before the game. Anyway, I digress. Our past two home games had seen us beat Manchester United 3-0 and we had progressed into the 4th round of the FA Cup by beating Luton.

So, Derby it was today. A quick wash and some tea and toast and now it was time to get a move on. Grandad vest on, check. Ben Sherman shirt on, check. Braces, green docker trousers and Dr Marten boots, check. Steel comb in back pocket, check. Now, a quick honesty check here and I must admit I didn’t quite have all that clobber but I am trying to set a scene here? All that was needed now was my West Ham scarves. One tied around a belt loop and the other tied around my wrist. I was ready to go! It was mid day and my mates were already knocking on the door. A quick walk up to the train station and as we walked through the tunnel under the train lines a chorus of “Bubbles” was sung just for the echo effect.

Banter and football talk continued to Mile End where we got off to change onto the District Line. Now it was getting better, this next train ride was chock full of other West Ham supporters and with it the realisation that the pinnacle of the week was getting closer. As we disembarked at Upton Park tube station and moved our way on to Green St the whole experience started to change. Despite it being a dreary day with showers the colours of claret and blue lightened the mood everywhere. Every few yards there were program sellers and vendors selling scarves, bobble hats, rosettes, badges and the like. The smell of hot dogs and hamburgers, you know, that delicious smell of onions on a hotplate, it seemed to affect all the senses. As we walked past the front gates of the ground we made our way past the queues of mainly older fans lining up for entry to the West Stand. We weaved our way around to the left, to the only place we wanted to be – the North Bank. The famous West Ham North Bank!

Years earlier we would already have queued and entered the ground as the turnstiles opened. It was a race then to be first in and get the coveted places, down the front and right behind the goal. Back then we were small and it was a necessary ritual just to get a view of the game. Now we were bigger. It meant we could go up the back with the “boys”. We still had our favourite place though – a stanchion about two thirds up from the front, just to the left of the goal as you look from the pitch. The gates had opened a half hour before we had managed to get into the ground and by 1.30pm the ground was starting to fill up and the singing had started. Not long later and we were “informed” by the line of gossip that the Mile End boys had arrived. That always seemed to tip the volume up a few notches.

The vendors were selling their monkey nuts in typical fashion. Their throwing arms were amazing and if the England cricket team would have used a few of these boys in their team we might have had a bit more success in that sport. Then we heard them! From the South Bank came some muffled singing in some strange accent. Their blue and white scarves went up nearly all as one. The North Bank responded. To the tune of “I hear the sound, of distant drums” our version was the same except bums was sung in the place of drums. “Over there, over there” in sequence with thousands in unison throwing their right arm forward and pointing towards the Derby fans. “And do they smell, like farking hell…..over there, over there”.

Many songs were sung that next ninety minutes and more. That time in the North Bank prior to the match was often better than the game itself. It was tribal. “We are the West Ham boys”, Bubbles, and many versions of “United”. That is one chant that has disappeared over time except for the two that follow our current singing of Bubbles. Why are we not United any more? We always used to be. We rarely chanted West Ham back in the old days. Why have we given Manchester United almost exclusivity to the name United beats me, it really does. Anyway, back to the singing. There were so many songs. To the tune of Land of Hope and Glory came “we hate Nottingham Forest, we hate Chelsea too, we hate Crystal Palace but West Ham we love you.” Many of the chants were accompanied by the raucous kicking and banging of the Dr Martens clattering into the corrugated iron that formed the back of the North Bank….”we are the famous, the famous West Ham.” Once the game started if the opposition went ahead it was almost immediately followed by “you’re going to get your f…ing heads kicked in” – and most meant it! The Hammers taking the lead would undoubtedly get the iconic East End “knees up Mother Brown” going, of course followed by the crowd surge. If we scored early it was “we’re only warming up.” At the end of the day you went home and your mood over the next few days could be almost entirely put down to the result of the game. Ohhhh, “those were the days my friend, we were the North Bank end”…….by the way, the game finished 3-3.

This will be my last article for the foreseeable future as I will be taking an extended break. COYI.

Talking Point

What is Presently West Ham's Strongest Line-Up?

So far this summer, the squad has had another significant refurbish. And there is likely to be further comings and goings before the Transfer Window closes. Based upon the current composition of the squad, and putting aside any injury issues, what is our strongest first XI and substitutes bench?

After careful consideration, my selection is as follows:

Adrian, Jenkinson, Cresswell, Noble (Capt), Tomkins, Ogbonna, Obiang, Kouyate, Valencia, Sakho, Payet (in a 4-4-2 formation)

Subs: Randolph, Reid, Poyet, Amalfitano, Lanzini, Zarate, Carroll

I have left Alex Song out of the equation because we are currently unsure whether he will be re-joining the club this summer. I have also consciously decided to leave out the youngsters, such as Oxford, Cullen and Samuelson. The more controversial issues? Probably the selection of Tomkins and Ogbonna ahead of Reid and also picking Valencia over Carroll. While some others may prefer to select Poyet over Noble. Another is leaving Matt Jarvis off the bench. One could reasonably question whether, in his absence, we are denied the option of additional pace and width down the flanks. Also, there are predictably no places on the bench for O’Brien, Collins or Nolan. But I am sure that the majority of readers would agree with that call. While with others, such as Lanzini, it is very difficult to assess them because they have not been in action yet. So, he gets a place on the bench – based mostly on reputation and potential.

Anyway, using the same set of assumptions, which line-up do you think is currently our strongest? I have used 4-4-2, but deploy a different formation if you so wish. Over to you!

SJ. Chandos.

Guest Post

To support, or not to support, that is my question.

Guest Post by Gary Troia

I was born and brought up in southeast London. When I made the transition from primary to secondary school, I still had no team of my own. One day, a new boy from a place called Plaistow appeared in my class. At first we viewed him like the Victorians might have viewed a traveler from the Far East, never mind the Near East, but soon he and I hit it off. His father still took him back for West Ham home games, and one time I was invited along. And that was that. I now had my team. If his dad hadn’t invited me, it is very likely I would have been a Millwall or Charlton fan.

It wasn’t long before Ray and I made our own way to games, getting the bus to Woolwich, then walking under the tunnel, or sailing across on the ferry, before catching the 101 on the other side. Initially, I felt like a bit of a traitor, probably like Burgess, Philby and Maclean did, but just like them, I soon accepted West Ham in my heart like a metaphorical communist.

My earliest memories are of the European nights, Eintracht Frankfurt, and the little white programmes. It didn’t really get any better than that, so like many West Ham fans, many of my other fond memories are generally perverse but fun, singing our hearts out while being thrashed by six goals at Arsenal, QPR, and Oldham. But the thing was: we may have moaned, but I don’t remember calling for anyone’s head. We were all in it together, come what may. The fickle fan had yet to emerge.

Shortly after the “we almost won the league season”, I left Britain to live much of my subsequent life abroad. I’ve listened to games on cheap transistor radios in Los Angeles, stared at the Spanish version of teletext in Bilbao, hoping for it to change in West Ham’s favour and give me a boost before going out. I even wrote a match report for “Forever West Ham” once from a remote farmhouse halfway up a Spanish mountain, where I had moved to find myself.

I am now back in England and living in Hampshire. The last home game I saw was against Palermo, but the last time I saw West Ham live was at Southampton last season. And if it wasn’t for my friend, a Saint’s fan, buying me a ticket, I doubt if I would have gone.

The reason for this has been a fundamental change in the way I see elite football in general. The best posts on this site, for me, are when people reminisce: The almost mythical Eintracht Frankfurt game, the peanut thrower, the North Bank bar, etc.

Since the inception of the Premier League, the game has become sanitized – in fact it is almost a different game. The half and half scarves, kissing the badge – if you have to kiss the badge to show your loyalty, you are not loyal. I don’t remember Billy Bonds feeling that he had to kiss the badge every five minutes; he just showed his commitment on the field. Advice for budding writers comes to mind; show, don’t tell. Probably the worst sin of all in modern football has to be the sock over the knee; it takes but little imagination to see that a suspender belt is merely a couple of seasons away.

So, to support, or not to support, that was my original question. I see the word support as meaning upholding and making a financial contribution to something you believe in. I no longer believe in a game that pays very average Premier League players more in a week than a nurse earns in four years.

And so I come to the sorry conclusion, I can no longer say I support West Ham, but I do follow the Hammers all the time. Can’t help myself.


My Pre-Season Interview with FourFourTwo

This is a ten minute interview I did with FourFourTwo magazine. You can read their full preview of West Ham’s season on their website “HERE”.


Q&A With the Evening Standard

I thought you might be interested in a Q&A I did for the Evening Standard sports pages. The original is HERE

What’s your target for the club’s forthcoming season (Incl. predicted finish)?
Any club with a new manager always has high expectations. Last season, after a fantastic start we underperformed dramatically and finished 12th. This season the aim has to be to finish in the top half and I think 8th is a realistic target as a springboard into the Olympic Stadium. We have the players to do it.

Which one player would you like to see your club sign before the transfer window closes (realistically)?*
Our weakness over the last two years has been that our main strikers have been injured too often. Our main priority has to be to sign a goalscorer, and that man is Charlie Austin. He’s similar in style to Diafra Sakho and vaguely like Andy Carroll. He’s proved himself at all levels. The Davids need to get their checkbook out. And if it isn’t him, let’s go for Chicarito!

Starting XI this season based on current squad (Incl. formation)?
Adrian, Cresswell, Jenkinson, Ogbonna, Reid, Noble, Kouyate, Payet, Obiang, Valencia, Sakho

Which fixture are you most looking forward to? 50-100 words explaining why
Perhaps somewhat strangely, the fixture I look forward to is playing Norwich, as they are my second team and I have written a history of Norwich City. Alex Reid has done a fantastic job and I really hope they survive this time. Having said that, I hope we take six points off them.

Which signing are you most excited about?
There is only one answer to that question. Dimitri Payet. In his debut in a friendly at Southend he scored two goals from outside the penalty area, laid on the third and put in a performance that was awe-inspiring, so much so that Southend manager Phil Brown asked Bilic to sub him. We love a playmaker with an eye for goal and Payet seems to be the real deal. He cost £14 million, our second highest ever fee. So far he looks worth it, but he now needs to prove himself in the Premier League.

Which young player excites you the most?
We have quite a few young players coming through. Diego Poyet has looked excellent and could well replace Kevin Nolan, while 16 year old Reece Oxford looks a real prospect. He’s a tall, gangly central defender but has played in central midfield in the Europa League. He’s got the languid style of a young Rio Ferdinand and I expect him to get quite a few substitute appearances under his belt this year, or to be sent out on loan to get some experience. An England player of the future.

Who’s the most important player in your team?
Whoever plays at centre forward is the most crucial player. And the most crucial thing is they stay fit and score goals. Diafra Sahko will certainly be in that position for the first couple of months, and when Andy Carroll gets fit (no, don’t laugh) they can duke it out. Sakho scored ten in 23 games last season. I have no doubt he’d have scored double that if he’d been fit throughout the season. That has to be his aim this time.

Who’s the weak link in your team?
I could repeat what I wrote above for goalscoring has always been our problem under the last few managers. Dean Ashton was our last semi-prolific goalscorer, and if we don’t have someone in that position who can hit the back of the net regularly, that will be our downfall this season. Otherwise it’s Kevin Nolan, who I’m afraid has reached his sell-by date. He will be replaced by Pedro Obiang or Diego Poyet.

Which opposing player will get booed the most at your ground?
Now that Frank Lampard has departed these shores, I suspect the most hated ex West Ham title is passed to Jermain Defoe, mainly because of the way he left us 12 years ago. Yes, we have long memories. Defoe and Lampard have one thing in common. They invariably score when they return to Upton Park. Perhaps we need to cheer Defoe when he comes back this season. That might put him off his stride.

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