Guest Post by Barney Magrew
It starts as a trickle in the Cotswolds, which unusually for me, is not a Carry On style euphemism. I refer of course to the mighty River Thames. Over 200 miles long, running through nine counties, it has over 50 named tributaries and 80 islands. Whilst those who are so inclined pop off to check I have indeed lifted a few lines from Uncle Wiki, I confess to those still reading, I just wanted a fancy opening (no Sid) with some kind of reference to ‘source’.
The source, the start, the beginning was News Now. Filtered to suit my every need, ie daily West Ham content from everywhere, a modern day but cheaper option to Club Call (I confess, not the only premium rate number I knew by heart). Iain Dale’s West Ham Till I Die became an increasingly regular port of call. Tentative steps at first, it was fascinating to find there were many others with the same obsession. Lurking for a while, I finally signed up and made my first comment.
Initially, it was very difficult to get a feel for the comments. I struggled to differentiate between the serious, the wind up merchants and the migraines. To my shame, on a few occasions I fell into the “my Dad’s bigger than your Dad” trap. Strangely, this did tend to happen after an England game rather than West Ham. Over time, I learnt to stay away immediately after an International.
Being West Ham mad for as long as I remember, my first visit to Upton Park at the age of 16 was ridiculously overdue, the FA Cup quarter final versus Aston Villa, March 1980. In subsequent seasons, I followed the team home and away, mostly travelling alone. For some reason, I did prefer to go to games on my own. I’m not sure why, but when I went as part of a group and as much as I liked beer, I felt others were intruding on my match day experience. Maybe with the passing of years and subsequent wisdom (not), I looked back on these times as missed opportunity.
Enter stage left, WHTID. Even with just the odd comment here and there (and believe me, some were very odd), it was impossible not build up a personality profile of the various contributors. Next step, was to meet a few, wasn’t it?
My adult son is West Ham too. He is also not one to miss an opportunity to take the rise out of his old man. Imagine his joy when sat in The Barking Dog I tell him a couple of people from the site have said they will pop in and say hello. The concept of me on a chat forum gave him enough material for a month, the fact 50% of the aforementioned couple happened to be female was manna from heaven. All his material was as if it had been pre-written, it flowed without hesitation but with plenty of repetition. “You, a divorced and recently re-married man, arranges to meet two people from a predominantly male frequented website and one of them just happens to be a blonde woman of similar age…..etc, etc.” He almost burst when it was obvious they’d walked in and sat two tables away. Twenty minutes (or was it 3 hours) passed and the ribbing was relentless. My natural instinct was to leave as quickly as possible. Even though I managed the briefest “Hi, I’m Barney, this is my son, nice to meet you, got to go, bye”, the difference must have been milliseconds. I’d just ‘met’ Lids and Longtimelurker, who sat with a bemused look of what the f….and did he just say “Hi m Barn my son bye”?
I made my on-line apologies, but the first meet had been disastrous. An organised get together had been arranged and I was extremely reluctant to attend, given my previous. This time though, Mrs M was in attendance and Mini Barney was many miles away and blissfully unaware of my second attempt. Crammed in a corner of The Millers Well on the Barking Road, we were introduced to a constant stream of people. I won’t attempt to list everyone as I know I will forget to name a few, but one does need to be noted . I will never forget the feeling that someone was turning the lights down, but on spinning around, the light blocker was unmissable. “Afternoon, I’m Safehands." My instant thought was “you can be whoever you like mate, I ain’t gonna argue."
The Barking Dog also happened to be the venue for a very German encounter. Mr Hamburg Hammer was over for what became known as the ‘WHTID Sleepover’. I’d like to point out here that even if I’d wanted to be part of the overnight stay brigade, Mrs M’s tolerance of my on-line dabblings would not stretch to camping out with people we’d never met. At one point (before she’d met anybody I might add), she did mutter “why can’t you watch porn like other blokes." Mrs M was awaiting a call from her insurance company as she’d had a minor car prang with a cyclist the day before and was otherwise engaged, so I introduced myself to the bloke who’d just walked in with a mini suitcase on wheels. Thankfully it was HH as I dread to think of the consequences if it hadn’t been him. Walking up to men you’d never met, in East End pubs isn’t a recommended pastime I would suggest. I confirm the Hmeister is a top man. The ‘Maximus’ on tap was also extremely pleasant. A regret of not being around for the sleepover was I didn’t get to meet Tony Hanna, but in safer times I intend to put that right.
Over time, I met more people and safe to say, a few have become good friends, although they will no doubt deny this fact for comic effect. I’ve even been lucky enough to enjoy the odd away game or two in their company. Living in the West Country generally means a few extra miles on the journey in order to meet up, but I can assure you every single mile is worth it. The characters are varied and the travel time flies by. I’m convinced there must be some mathematical equation that divides distance travelled by belly laughs and claptrap spoken to find perceived time taken.
At this point, I’m tempted to write a cast list and short descriptive profile, but that may best be done as we go, not to mention the bickering and tantrums it would cause if BSB wasn’t at the top of the pile. The cockney Fred Dibnah lookalike, with a heart of gold and naughty schoolboy wit. A man who texts in English, but it comes out Polish and who feels passionately that a story should be told with bells and knobs on or not at all. An old fashioned trouper who never likes to mention his own burdens (yes we know you’ve got a bad feckin’ finger) and who frowns on mickey taking of any kind. My nose grows but I shall persevere.
Before my first trip, I wasn’t sure of the food and drink etiquette and didn’t really get any helpful feedback when the question was asked. Do we stop on a regular basis or do we bring a good old fashioned packed lunch? I decided to go half way house. A few nibbles and chocolate bars and bottles of water for all. These seemed to go down well with my fellow travellers, apart from our favourite cabbie. I had trodden on some curled up Dagenham toes and the barbed comments let me know it. Buffet Boot Wars had begun. When trips required two cars, our wares were revealed to entice the occupants of each, the aim to maximize embarrassment with the drift from one vehicle to another. Safe to say, I played a blinder with the Coleman’s English Mustard! The final nail was away at Southampton where I didn’t even have to bring a sausage. My rival pranced around the six yard box with an open goal at his mercy, rolls distributed, only for a comment from the patrons to make him scoop it over the bar…..“too much Utterly Butterly.” The ‘IFCF’ flag was officially unveiled by Safehands and VOR in the pub car park and I had the pleasure of meeting Soldier Tom for the first time. Ten man West Ham lost narrowly and Lids managed to leave the game with ribs intact after being the filling in a Barney/Russ sandwich. Amazing how excited grown men can get with a West Ham equalizer.
Huddersfield away. There were more of us for this game, so I drove from Devizes to our link up point of Donnington Park Services on the M1. Punctuality being my middle name, I arrived two hours early. The London contingent of BSB, The Original Russ, Chicken Run Boy, Voice of Reason and Irons 1959 (aka ‘gawjuss’) luckily arrived in time for me to avoid a parking fine. Russ jumped in with me and we headed off to the working men’s club car park about a mile or so from the ground. Even better, we arrived before the others and managed to take a picture of a scotch egg drizzled with mustard to highlight the futility of our cabbie’s boot buffet.
The more sociable members of our group struck a conversation with the locals, who kindly invited us into the club to enjoy their ‘hospitality’. I must admit to feeling uneasy at this point as most of my previous away trips in the eighties needed to be with eyes on both sides of my head and with utmost caution. I needn’t have worried as the hairy, tattooed Yorkies gave us our space, albeit with slightly curious side glances. The blokes left us alone as well. I felt like we’d gone back in time, it were proper northern and very 1975. BSB was driving and seeing as the bar was quite packed, he caught the attention of one of the staff collecting glasses. “Ere darlin’, ain’t any chance of a cuppa tea is there?” A brief pause followed as north and south collided, “I’m sorry loov, r ent got a flippin clue wot yer sayin.” I did try to say to her even we struggled with him at times, but my words got lost amongst the laughter. We hung around in the car park waiting for the group to gather, which was surreal in itself as Irons1959 and Ebiwhu were conversing in fluent German. I stood back, looked at the people and my surroundings and thought “this is all because of you West Ham.” I was very impressed with the stadium and the atmosphere created by both sets of supporters, with the home fans staying with their team despite a heavy defeat. Real people, proper fans.
Newcastle away. I left home at stupid o’clock with the words of the semi-conscious Mrs M, echoing round my comatose brain. “You must be bloody mad!” For the first half hour or so of the two hour journey to our meeting point in Cockfosters, I couldn’t bring myself to disagree. By the time I met BSB, Russ and VOR, I was buzzing, not that they’d have noticed. All was well until we came to a juddering halt on the A1 somewhere north of Leeds. One of those jams where people felt confident enough to get out of their cars and stretch their legs and do the obligatory lean to the right, looking into the distance before returning with “no, nothing’s moving.” There is something about being in a stationary car that makes the human brain link directly with Mother Nature, or to be more specific, calls of nature. The number of people climbing the grass bank to experience that “aaahhh” feeling increased by the minute, which had also started to dominate our own discussion. When BSB finally decided to take the plunge, I couldn’t help think how funny it would be if the traffic started moving again. The slapstick comedy gods were looking over us, as the traffic did indeed slowly start to move. A car length at first, then more as BSB tried to get back to us. The only thing that could have made the situation funnier was if he hadn’t quite got his trousers back up, but you can’t have everything your own way I suppose. It was now touch and go according to the sat nav as to whether we would make it to Newcastle by kick off. As it turned out, we made up lost time and still managed to pick up a Geordie friend of VOR’s. Tim was built like a brick out house, so even if he hadn’t turned out to be a lovely bloke, we’d have got on fine anyway. It did make for quite a tight squeeze with three of us in the back for the rest of the journey, but it wasn’t too far and besides, having a local with us felt like we’d picked up the harbour master to guide us into port. The atmosphere around the ground was extremely pleasant, with both sets of fans mixing without any hint of trouble. Tim bought us a beer in a pub next to the ground (I still owe you one mate) and outside we met Dan Coker and his wife. Chatting with a few Newcastle fans, the general consensus was that none of us had a bloody clue which way the game was going to go with both teams being so inconsistent. The next mission was getting to our seat in the cumulus section of St James’ Park. The steward at the foot of the stairs informed us cheerily how many steps we were about to encounter, which I’m afraid I forgot by the time we’d reached the summit, probably due to lack of oxygen. Not being one for heights, I was relieved our seats were near the front of the upper tier but confess to not joining the others who were further up at half time as my bottle had well and truly gone (a point I’ve not been allowed to forget).
West Ham were as pathetic as I was and got a hiding, so the initial plan to hang around for an after match beer was jettisoned in favour of shooting back down the A1 with our tails between our legs. Hanging out the car window, BSB still had time to run an impromptu poll on whether the passing Geordies would take Andy Carroll back. The result, though not scientific, I’d suggest was a resounding “no.” The journey back went surprisingly quickly, although I did struggle with the return from Cockfosters to Devizes, with Mrs M guiding me home via the hands free car phone for the final twenty miles or so.
Stoke away was notable for meeting Carlinsir and his wife. I mention this as it’s a perfect example of interpreting people’s on line comments differently once you’ve met. Tongue firmly in cheek and very funny. Long delay to kick off due to a local power failure, but it was worth the wait for a cracking atmosphere and the Marko Arnautovic show. “He left cos you’re s***, he left cos you’re s***, Marko Arnautovic, he left cos you’re s***.” Note to BSB – Lanzini didn’t dive. :)
Swansea away. “It’s going to be called off, isn’t it? With snow like this it will be too dangerous to travel.” I met the London firm at Chippenham services. BSB, Russ, VOR and Gawjuss’s sister, who was going home and we were dropping off in Newport. The M4 was down to two lanes with the outside still snow covered. All of this more interesting than the West Ham performance, a pitiful surrender to the Ayew brothers. The likes of Irons1959 and Dan Coker, along with my IFCF travel companions and hundreds of others, all represent West Ham impeccably and I’m proud they support West Ham. Just a shame we have a minority of morons who also come along for the ride. I felt the need to apologise to a couple of Swansea stewards as we left. We also made it to Cardiff away, another abject performance but at least I was able to show BSB and Russ that Devizes has a really good curry house.
Since the chaotic first meet, Lids was kind enough to obtain tickets for Liverpool away for my son and subsequently they arranged ‘Barney’s Birthday Bonanza’, home match tickets with ‘personal’ mock up invitation ticket to boot. Even the King Eddie in Stratford played all my favourite music, though completely down to serendipity I’m told.
I remember I did promise a cast list and profile, but maybe as I compared BSB to Fred Dibnah, I should follow in the same vein. The Original Russ is a stuntman by profession and looks like a tall Mitchell brother, tells it like it is whether you like it or not. Voice of Reason, a man of great life experiences (I didn’t say old, did I), concludes with the final, sensible word and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. MCC Member who kindly invited me to the Ashes Test at Lords, a truly memorable day. A Colonel without the stuffiness. Chicken Run Boy, the thinking man, always seems to be interested in what others have to say. Would make a good TV interviewer and very genuine (not that the others aren’t). Safehands, the Guv’nor, enough said. Gawjuss (Kaiser) Irons1959, a history teaching intellectual with a ticket tout mac (now there’s a combination). As for Lids, she knows so many people there is no need for any profile description or picture. Every bit as warm and giving as you find her on WHTID. The list could go on and on, where do I stop? Ennate, mad hippie professor, lovely man. Nigel Kahn, Mr West Ham and so funny on the podcasts. Stop there, I’ll be here forever.
A special mention to Stevo. A spare ticket shout out on WHTID and you took me up on my offer, all the way from Devon. A few pints and talking like we’d known each other years. Top bloke.
That’s my West Ham Till I Die story so far. I can understand some may feel I’ve just described a ‘clique’. To those, I would say look at how it started. The site is what you want it to be, from lurking to embracing friendships. I guarantee all of the people I’ve mentioned would be as friendly to a new face as they would be to a familiar one. We live in circumstances none of us have ever experienced in the past, hopefully when we emerge I can add another chapter or two and a few more names to the cast list.