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.