Book Review

Nearly Reach the Sky by Brian Williams: A Valediction to The Boleyn

FROM THE ARCHIVES: 12 February 2015

When Iain emailed me a few weeks ago to ask if I would like to review Brian Williams’ new book Nearly Reach the Sky: A Farewell to Upton Park I was both flattered and nervous. I haven’t been asked to write a book review since I was in my Headmistress’s Good Readers Club when I was 8. I said yes straight away as I’m already a fan of Brian’s writing and I anticipated a funny, clever and interesting read. I wasn’t disappointed, it was such a good read that I finished it in a day; my only hope now is that I can do it justice.

I suppose the first thing that a prospective reader might want to know is which literary genre this book falls under. To be honest it could easily be categorised as a tragicomedy, a memoir or even a history of sport. The one category I wasn’t expecting was romance.

Nearly Reach the Sky is more than just a collection of one West Ham fan’s musings on his life as a football supporter; it is a billet doux, a letter to his love of more than 50 years. It’s an explanation of his feelings for his club, which moves through the widest range of emotions – devotion, disappointment, hope and ambition, joy and elation, grief and anger, humour, impatience, self-reproach and resignation. They’re all there.

It is also a valediction. A claret and blue thread has been a part of the fabric of Brian’s life since 1964 and as he weaves and embroiders his personal love story of West Ham United it becomes apparent that a snag has appeared in the cloth. Throughout the book there is the stark realisation that the club is on the verge of leaving the ground that has been its physical and spiritual home for more than 100 years. Very soon that small tear will become a gaping hole and it’s clear that a part of the author’s heart will be ripped away forever.

Ultimately this is a paean to West Ham United but the other love of Brian’s life, his wife Di, also appears regularly in the book, together with her East End family. He has obviously enjoyed a harmonious, if polygamous, relationship with his two amours. Even so, I can’t pretend that I wasn’t shocked and a little horrified to read of Brian’s first ménage à trois. In fact it wasn’t a ménage à trois at all but a foursome! West Ham may have easily seen off other women in Brian’s life, including the girl who distracted him from Tonka’s performance on the penalty spot in the 80s and the lissome 17 year old Sharon and her hotpants; but the admission that I read in chapter 9 is nothing short of scandalous. Brian is now full of contrition and guilt for playing away and fortunately for him Di is obviously a very forgiving woman. I’m not sure that fellow West Ham fans will let him off quite so lightly and if I were Di I’d keep him on a very short leash. Despite his repentance he’s still singing love songs to other ‘birds’ to this day, and right under the nose of his true love too!

Not being born within the sound of Bow Bells has obviously caused our hero some consternation in life and he makes no secret of his delight that Cupid’s arrow landed smack bang in the middle of Beverley Road in East Ham. Here we meet Brian’s future in-laws, including the inimitable Sid, who is possibly the man originally responsible for the term ‘the elephant in the room.’ Fortunately for Brian he’d already lost his heart many years before to the aptly nicknamed ‘Ticker’ when he scored twice in the 1964 FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United, so his claret and blue credentials stood up to Sid’s suspicious scrutiny. Having passed the test with flying West Ham colours he was welcomed into the bosom of Di’s family as an honorary East Ender. He had found his dream woman who not only shared his love for West Ham but also lived just streets away from his beloved Boleyn. Love blossomed and it was clear that it was going to be a match made in heaven when their marriage was given the personal blessing of John Lyall.

If you are beginning to worry that Brian has written some kind of Mills & Boon novel or worse, Fifty Shades of Claret and Blue, fear not! As a member of the fairer sex I’m perhaps more inclined to focus on the more human elements of this story but there are more than enough match reports and reminiscences of seminal goals, games, fouls and finals to dissuade the average woman from reading it. Equally, if you are one of our more youthful West Ham fans and you think that this is a tome that would appeal only to the more decrepit members of our fan base who like to bang on about how much better it all was in their day, you would be wrong. Whilst this is a very nostalgic collection of anecdotes the author has seamlessly woven stories of past glories and defeats with accounts of recent players and games to create a narrative that every West Ham fan will be able to place themselves in at some point and say “I was there.”

Brian is obviously not a fan of the linear approach, this is not one long hoof from 1964 to the present day. Instead he weaves nimbly in and out of the decades, moving from one story to another and back again with a clever little one-two and some nifty back passes to yesteryear without ever losing his reader along the way. His story is inevitably populated with all the West Ham icons, heroes and villains that we all know and love … or hate; but we are also introduced to some of the people who make up the true heart of West Ham United ….. the fans. It’s these people that elevate this tale from being ‘just another West Ham book.’ Of course you’ll be expecting to read of Brian’s adulation of Billy Bonds and even the emotional moment when a Wolves fan broke ranks during the wreath laying ceremony for the late, great Bobby Moore. But the real pleasure of this book is being able to identify with the joy and pain of Brian’s West Ham supporting family, friends, colleagues and passing acquaintances. Their stories are as much a part of our club’s history as yours are and they all deserve to be recorded alongside the oft told tales of the people on the pitch.

This is essentially a very funny book but, like all West Ham fans, Brian also has a talent for pathos and there is an ever present poignancy between the lines of humour. His anecdotes evoke the whole gamut of emotions and I laughed out loud and shed some tears several times before I turned the final page. As I wiped away the last tear and the final smile faded from my lips I was left feeling proud and grateful. Proud because I was born a Hammer and grateful that all the wonderful characters in Brian’s book are my kith and kin. I realised that I am also a part of the same story, we all are. That sense of belonging is priceless and I can’t help but feel that something will be lost when the doors of The Boleyn are finally closed for the last time. No matter how positive any West Ham fan feels about our impending move, I challenge them to read this witty but poignant book without feeling wistful and nostalgic for a time that will never come again.

For the benefit of any newcomers to the site Brian Williams has supported West Ham United for the past 50 years and for the last 25 of those years he has been a journalist for The Guardian newspaper. He also writes a regular Tuesday column for West Ham Till I Die. This is his first book.

You can order a copy of Brian’s book NEARLY REACH THE SKY from…

Biteback Publishing for £8.99 in paperback (Use promotional code WESTHAMBW)

Biteback Publishing for £9.99 as an eBook

Amazon for £12.99 in paperback

Amazon Kindle for £10 as an eBook


Guest Post

Life, the universe and everything …… Part 4

Guest Post by Beniron

It’s 1973, I’ve just seen the careers master (remember grammar school, so teachers were given grandiose titles, he was just a teacher not an expert in job placement etc). Being a grammar school the questions went like this:

“Do you want to go to University?”

I didn’t tell you this but I was quite a clever lad, always top or in the top 2 / 3 of the year, university was something I was really interested in but reality in those days was you needed money, you could get a grant but that only covered less than a quarter of costs, we never had a summer holiday away so university was a no.

“No.”

I replied.

“Do you want to work in banking?”

Our school had a very special relationship with some big banks in the city.

“No – I’d like to get an apprenticeship in engineering.“

I replied. This in effect put paid to me staying on to do 6th form!

“You need to make an appointment with the careers officer.”

He said and that was my interview over!

I don’t know how it worked elsewhere but in Poplar (I suppose Tower Hamlets) there was a careers office run by the council on East India Dock Road, next to the Doctor Barnardo’s house at Limehouse.

It was just up the road from my school, so I was given time off to go up there. The fella was a smashing bloke, smoked like a chimney but was always trying to help. He got me an interview with 5 companies and I passed all of them – so I had job offers from Marconi, STC, Plessey, GEC and GPO engineering (now BT).

I was like a pig in poo, I’d cracked it. My initial thoughts were that STC and Plessey were nearest being in Ilford, the Marconi job was out in the wilds – Chelmsford, GEC – Basildon, and GPO in London. I opted for GPO engineering – turns out all the other companies went bust or were taken over and stripped over the coming years – so the lure of women and beer in the city saved me!

Even better was that I joined the part that looked after international telecoms, I’ll explain why some other time.

So future sorted – no mean feat at that time, we were known as the sick man of Europe: strikes, unemployment, 3 day week, everything. The Tories had just taken us into the Common Market (EU) and the country was not a happy place.

Having said that the ’70s were also a great time to be young in East London, the pubs along Whitechapel, Bethnal Green Roads, Stepney, Hackney were great; Old Globe, Black Boy, Jug House, Carpenters, Tipples, Green Gate, Hospital Tavern, Blind Beggar ..… oh happy days. Clubs you had Snobs, Benjy’s, Spooky Lady, Cherries, Room at the Top, and you could venture up West.

Saturdays were great, meet in the pub for a few if we were at home and off to the match – if not, in the bookies until the pub opened again. Simple but enjoyable, I can only assume beer was weak as piss back then as we used to go out mob handed (15-20 of us) and virtually everyone bought a round, I think our record was 17 pints of Worthington E in one night!

This next part was going to touch on the politics and social issues of the time but after recent events I’ll leave that to when the pubs open again! Suffice to say there was a touch of extremism everywhere, National Front at football grounds recruiting and selling the Bulldog mag. Trade Unions marching and striking – the Labour party got in and had a referendum on EU membership in ’75 and the country overwhelmingly voted to stay in (67%) despite most of the Labour Party campaigning to leave (it’s ironic that throughout this period the Labour Party, which was then more to the left, consistently opposed membership of the EU as they saw it supporting big multinational business, whilst the Tory party, which was then more traditional right wing, campaigned to stay!)

The consistency for us was football, John Lyall was to take over from Ron Greenwood. There will always be the debate over greatest manager for us, my view is that it was Greenwood by a nose. He was a ground-breaker in terms of thinking and coaching and won us an FA cup and the European CWC trophy and was joint manager with Lyall for the ’75 win. John got us two trophies but also got relegated twice. What elevates John to being close to Ron was the ‘86 season, something I’ll never forget especially as it eventually led to me proposing to my missus!

There were great games in those days, my first away game was Chelsea in ’73/74 – 2 nil down at half time, won 4-2. Perfect introduction, even though I thought Stamford Bridge was a crap hole and getting away was a bit naughty. New Year’s Day – terrible hang over but we beat Norwich, I can’t remember the score but Brooking scored a wonderful curling goal, but once again we were consistently inconsistent and were fighting relegation. Mervyn Day was the find of the season and after the Ipswich game mid-week that we won 3-1 Lyall said he could be the keeper for the next 10 years …

We escaped by the skin of our teeth again, we sold Bobby Moore a couple of weeks after Best had gone to Fulham. After Moore left we lost 3 out of 18 league games, whilst all were disappointed in him going and I don’t think it looked good. At the time I didn’t realise that maybe it was right for the footballing side of things but my heart said keep him and give him a coaching role or something, but who knows perhaps Bobby wanted to carry on playing? And the next season will soon be along.

And what a season, it started off reasonably well – in fact by Boxing Day if we had beat Spurs in an early kick off we would have been top of the league! But we drew, but still in the top half a dozen so not bad first half of the season. After that it was usual West Ham, win one, lose one, draw one, but the cup had started. I was going to most games now and the cup run was something we were all looking forward to – the more things change the more they stay the same to paraphrase the French fella!

Beat the Saints first up, courtesy of some dodgy keeping, good away day at the Dell back then, lovely little ground, next up Swindon at home – easy.

No, wasn’t easy, but a cracking tie, drew 1-1 at Upton Park and to be fair to Swindon I’m not sure how our goal stood. Tommy Taylor was holding everyone back as Jennings scored, but that’s life and luck of the cup. Swindon equalised and we went to their place the following Tuesday, I couldn’t get there as I was on a course, but had it on the radio, it sounded better that the first game and we came from behind to win.

QPR next and probably the only game of that cup run where I relaxed. Despite the poor start we won it 2-1. Big boys next – Arsenal at Highbury, I managed to get a ticket but we were all surprised by Alan Taylor coming in for Patsy Holland, who not only had scored in the last couple of rounds but came from Poplar and was in the same class as my brother years back! What a stupid decision.

Anyway, typical London derby, we went 1-0 up and the singing was loud, trust me; then just before half time Mervyn Day tackles that eventual West Ham legend John Radford with what can only be described as a rugby tackle. We thought the worst but the ref gave nothing! Just after half time Alan Taylor scores his best goal I saw during his time at West Ham to make it 2-0, I knew he would come good the young lad!

We’re in the semi- final, another away day somewhere! Back in the league we beat Burnley, I think it was the next game, then didn’t win again until the last game of the season! Fortunately we never quite got dragged into a relegation scrap.

Semi Final day – Villa Park, we are at the mound end – basically a grass embankment, but great atmosphere. For the record I’d had a few beers but I can honestly say if it was a boxing match the ref would have stopped it. Ipswich lost both centre halves and there was only one sub in those days, so were at 10 men for a while but they battered us, we even had to clear one off the line in the last minute – phew lucky escape. Next game 4 days later at Chelsea, it can’t be as bad as the first match, well not quite but we were still second best, Taylor scores again to put us 1-0 up. Ipswich come at us again (I think they had at least 2 goals disallowed) then we score an OG, I can’t remember if it was Gould or Jennings. 1-1 at half time, second half was much the same but the little fella Taylor (I always said he was a star!) comes up with another cracker in the last 5 mins – we’re all going to Wembley!

In those days to get a ticket there was a draw, plus you had the chance by queuing up at the ground. There were about 10 of us that used to go regular, it was going to be tough to all get a ticket. By some chance we did – two of us were in the Fulham end, the rest scattered around the ground. Bobby Moore led Fulham out – bit of a tearjerker tbh. The game started and to be fair to Fulham they played well, the better team to be honest, but they had a keeper of similar ability to Allen McKnight that day – he fumbles two in 5 minutes and that little maestro Taylor pops up to score ‘em both – see I told you he was great – oh ye of little faith! Rest of the game played out with us under a little pressure but no danger.

Got back to East London in the Old Globe at Stepney Green giving it large, cracking night and back to a party somewhere near Chrisp Street afterwards, absolutely mullered but up the next day to see the parade! What a season!

The next year was Europe, the league was happening in the background along with the cups to be fair. First round, some Finnish team, we drew 2-2 away coming from behind twice, Day looked uncomfortable. Second leg at home, we left it late but ended up comfortable 3- 0 winners. The next round saw us paired against Ararat Yerevan (I hope that’s how you spell it), this competition was also improving my geography! They were in the then USSR but I think they are Armenian? This again was a draw away, win at home. I don’t know if I’ve got it right but I think this was the one where one of their players heads it out of Day’s hands whilst he’s standing holding the ball! I don’t know if there’s any footage anywhere? Anyway, comfortable winners at home, 3-1 through to the business end of the comp.

Next came Den Haag from Holland – strange away game that we lost 4-2 with the ref getting stick from all around, 2 dodgy penalties to them – ref seemed a right homer! The home leg again was comfortable as we went 3-0 up at half time and I recall they played the offside trap very high and got it right. Squeaky bum time at the end as they scored with about 25 mins to go, but all good, ended 3-1 and through on away goals, semi-final here we come!

Eintracht Frankfurt next, they were at the time one of the top teams, they’d won every leg home and away, it was a tough draw. I’d been trying to get away tickets for these games all season but was struggling and with work it made it difficult. I got the time off for the away leg but couldn’t get a ticket anywhere, we got beat in the first leg but got a crucial away goal, back to the Boleyn under the lights.

Now people talk about night games being special but let me tell you that home leg was unbelievable, it was packed to the rafters, I can’t do it justice as I would run out of superlatives but it was the best game I’d seen for years and the floodlights made it special. They were playing well early doors and we didn’t create too many clear chances in the first half; in fact if I’m being honest after 15 mins we could have been out of it but ol’ Merv pulled off a couple of good saves. Second half and early on Brooking scored to put us ahead on away goals – the place was rocking. Robson curled a beauty, a 30 yarder at least, 2-0 up and 3-2 on agg, Brooking gets another and the place is wild. Then they score with about 5 mins to go, 4-3 on agg but if they score again they go through on away goals. I’m sure the crowd saw West Ham home that night we were the 12th, 13th and 14th man it was crazy, the final whistle goes and that’s it we’re in the final!!!!

I got a ticket to the final, it was in the Heysel Stadium against Anderlecht so they were at ‘home’. The journey there by coach was overnight but we had some beers on the coach and on the boat and got there about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The ground is in or by the park that housed one of the Expos with a massive structure called the Atomium nearby, also a couple of bars!

There were quite a few, shall we say, ‘disagreements’ all around town and the ground was falling apart (this was years before the Liverpool incident), the segregation was chicken wire fences but the posts could be pulled out the ground. I also found out years later when I worked in Amsterdam that there were quite a few Dutch ‘fans’ there helping to settle the ‘disagreements’.

Neutrals will tell you it was the best European final to date – I can understand that but to me it was horrible. We started off so well – Holland put us 1-0 up, they equalise just before half time through Rensenbrink, then Van der Elst puts them 2-1 up (we signed him later), we equalise – a real game. Now I’m thinking “we can do this” but almost straight after we give away a penalty and go 3-2 down with 15 mins or so to go, we try and claw it back but with 5 minutes left Van der Elst scores again.

Our coach was leaving after the game and a few people didn’t make it back onto the coach for whatever reason and ended up in some state run hotels, so to speak. A miserable journey home, got back mid-morning and had work the next day so I went down the pub with my pals to drown our sorrows.

The rest of the ’70s were a let down on the football front. The next year was a struggle, the year after John Lyall took sole charge as Greenwood took the England job. Relegation in his first season in charge but in those days clubs stuck by the boss and we had some great days in the 2nd Division. This was before the Premiership so players stuck with clubs as well. The 2nd division was a setback, not a disaster and you got to see more wins. We also got rid of some crap that we’d bought in the last couple of years – Derek Hales, John Radford etc, what a waste those two were!

I’ll end on the ‘78-79 season, we finished 5th so no promotion. We got beat by Newport County in the FA Cup third round (I told you the more things change!), got beat by Swindon in the League Cup 1st round.

Our last game of the season was away to Millwall – we had nothing to play for as we couldn’t get promotion, they needed to win their last 3 games to stay up – so we could have relegated them! We lost – what a shit season!


Guest Post

Clique Bait

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.


Guest Post

Life, the universe and everything …… Part 3

Guest Post by Beniron

It’s the start of a new decade the glorious 70’s, the innocent days of growing up are over I’m 13 and beginning to realise that school could be over soon (ROSLA – Raising of the School Leaving Age to 16 wasn’t to become law until 2 years later) as in those days you could leave school the term you became 15, so in my case I could leave at 14 and 300+ days, for some it could mean a lot closer to 14.

Also this is the age when all sorts of things are happening with puberty – but I promise this won’t be one of those soppy coming of age stories just my version of life then, theoretically this should be the clearest part in my life no drink or drugs to cloud it – at least the first year of it ….

I still spent most of the holidays playing football – this time a bit more organised. I had a trial with East London District (most kids did in those days), got through the first stage but not any further. I would describe myself as talented but being short sighted and before contact lenses were around I struggled seeing the ball until the last minute, so was alright in possession but playing right back meant I was often squinting to see where the ball was!

At that time and for a few years anyone who was any good ended up at Senrab – just look at their record of ex-players! Suffice to say I never got to Senrab.

On a side note, reading CRB’s history of the boot etc around these times it was Puma (my brother’s old ones to be precise!) and Gola that my mate had, I didn’t know anybody who had Adidas at that time.

As I said in the last episode, I was getting pocket money now – not loads but a bit of independence. If I remember (Dan can check this) because of the World Cup, in Mexico I think, the season (69-70) finished ridiculously early and we played about 6 games in 2 weeks.

We’d sold Peters and got Greaves, and whilst past his best I think that signing saved us from relegation. In those last games I think we only lost one, and beat Man C 5-1, Liverpool 1-0 and Wolves 3-0. I was at the Wolves game and I think that made us safe with a couple left, all sounds so familiar.

Next season football was back on, I managed to get to two games in the summer holidays, both packed to the rafters. Arsenal 0-0 I think, it was one of the worst games ever seen, I remember there was aggro everywhere in the south bank; and a cracker against Chelsea 2-2. I didn’t get to many more games that season, I had a Saturday job, but I got to a couple. One was a night match against Forest – we had new floodlights I think and it was magical – 4 shadows, yes 4 shadows unbelievable! And we won 2-0 and new boy Pop Robson scored. The journey home was a nightmare, I didn’t get home until nearly midnight, no mobiles etc so my mum was waiting and she went spare, we’d just got a phone and I kept forgetting to call.

Talking of phones – we got one because me and my big brother spent more time out now so mum and dad relented and got one. As I’ve said before, we weren’t swimming in money so the cheapest option was a party line. This, to those that don’t know, meant that some other house shared the line; so you picked up the handset, if no one was talking then you pressed a button and got the dial tone and Bob’s your uncle, you’re away. If someone was talking then you hung up as they were using the line – yeah, like that happened – we always listened into each other’s calls that was the only good thing about it!

We struggled all that season though, one of the highlights for me was being allowed to stay up to watch the game on Sportsnight with Coleman (younger readers should Google David Coleman, he came up with some great cock ups that were known as Coleman Balls, my favourite was on the Olympics and Alberto Juanterena was running in the 400m, Coleman’s commentary went something like “he’s making a move now and look at the length between his legs!”). The football was normally on about 9:45 – 10:00 pm, which in those days was amazing as the matches didn’t finish until 9:15. The other was one of my favourite players entering a new phase, Billy Bonds was moved into midfield and John McDowell came in as right back. I remember Bonds was described as a marauding player, I think that he was deployed by Greenwood as one of the first fullbacks to push forward and one of the first true box to box midfielders – but I am a tad biased – I think he was Hammer of the Year as well.

It was also at this time that I was into music, I bought my first album by Cream – Goodbye (it was their last album). I got it second-hand as I couldn’t run to a new one, and my first single was All Right Now by Free. My music taste was heavily influenced by my big brother (5 years older than me) and his collection consisted of Yes, Genesis, Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Sabbath etc. Perversely I also liked pop and loved Sundays when you found out who was number 1 – no downloads or mp3 and all that stuff but people buying vinyl singles!

So ‘71 comes along and now it’s all Crombies, Prince of Wales check, Solatio shoes and Harrington’s. The fashion of the time was a strange mix – I also got my obligatory DM’s from Blackman’s near Petticoat Lane (one of the very few shops that sold them).

Back end of that season I managed to get a few games in – now in the North Bank as it was cheaper and you could still get two for one at some of the turnstiles. I saw us lose at home to Derby and Leeds two weeks on the trot, next game I went to was home to Manu – we won 2-1, played really well and a great atmosphere. I’m not sure if that’s the game where the wall collapsed but someone will remember I’m sure.

Finished just above relegation again – getting too common that was; and had the debacle of Blackpool in the cup all over the papers, next year will be better though!

Well it didn’t start too good – I went to the first game against West Brom and it was awful, lost 1-0 and lots of moans about Greenwood already. I don’t think we scored in our first few games and we were all over the place – even Bobby Moore was looking lost. Picked up a bit but the season was like that, good run followed by bad run etc – sounds so familiar! But this year was the year of the cups for the Hammers, first the League Cup – we must have played 9 or 10 games and didn’t reach the final – unbelievable. The League Cup, like today, was night matches mid-week and I loved them – I’m 15 now and I have a Saturday job down the market so can’t get to many Saturday games. I went to the Leeds game and we battered them at Upton Park, and these along with Derby and Liverpool were the best in the country! Ended 0-0 and thought that was our chance gone but I went to Elland Road and in extra time Clyde Best nods in the winner – get in!

Next up Liverpool – went to this one as well and beat the Mickey Mousers 2-1. Pop got the winner at the far post, that I can see to this day, he seemed to hang in the air and wait for the ball at an almost impossible angle – the crowd went mad and Bubbles at a night match makes me tingle – was this our year! Quarter Final next – Sheffield Utd at home (the draw was kind to us with so many home games) and we murdered them, Robson with a hat-trick again I was there it was another big crowd – oh what joy, Semi Final here we come!

The Semi Final deserves its own paragraph, the 4 games had everything (yes 4 games, in those days you played extra time and then another match until there was a winner – none of this namby pamby penalties nonsense!). Away Leg first and it was on the box – Stoke were all over us initially and went 1-0 up, but we came back and Billy Bonds was magnificent, came away winning 2-1 with a cracker of a goal from Best to seal it. We are odds on now to get to the Final. Night match at Upton Park, 35,000 plus crowd, it was all set up – I can honestly say I’ve never felt so deflated as when Banks saved Hurst’s penalty – I can remember now thinking it was nailed on – anyway Stoke score and it’s 0-1 and that’s how it ends after extra time.

The replay is at Hillsborough, I think and it’s a dour game that ends 0-0. I couldn’t get there as it’s a school night but listened to it on the radio. The second replay is at Old Trafford – Conroy whacks Ferguson and he has to go off so Bobby Moore goes in goal , he saves Stoke’s penalty but not the rebound (it’s all going wrong) I’m screaming at the telly – mum says it’s only a game (arf arf). Bonds equalises and it’s 1-1 , all is looking good, even better after half time as Brooking scores straight away, 2-1 and Wembley next. Next 10 minutes and it’s all over, Stoke score twice and I think it took the wind out of our sails as watching it on the box it looked like we were treading water. It was the worst moment of my West Ham life, these games took place before and after Christmas, a joyous time spoilt by Stoke. I went to bed and could hear my mum saying “what’s up with him?”

Next came the FA Cup – and to get it in perspective Britain was in turmoil, known as the sick man of Europe we were in trouble, energy crisis, strikes etc – so night matches were banned as floodlights weren’t allowed, which meant in January and February kick off times were brought forward so matches could be finished before dark. So the infamous FA Cup game against Hereford from the Southern League kicked off at 2:15 on Monday 14th Feb 1972.

It was a very strange day, nobody expected a big crowd, being a Monday lunchtime kick off (ok it was a late lunch). Me and a couple of pals had agreed we’d bunk off just after lunch and get the bus there – my school was on East India Dock road so the 15 bus stopped outside – easy peasy! It became clearer during the day that we weren’t the only ones thinking of this. Lunchtime came, we had the register called after lunch and then we skedaddled out of there to the bus stop.

It was packed, we got the 3rd bus as we couldn’t get on the earlier ones, now thinking it might be a tad busier than we thought. When we got there it was heaving, none of us had watches so had no idea what the time was but suddenly they started closing the gates, people were shouting and hollering. We were gutted if we’d left 10 mins earlier – but as my mum used to say “if ifs and ands were pots and pans we’d all be jolly tinkers” (the last bit I toned down). We didn’t really have a scoobie what to do, we wandered around the ground looking at any other possibilities, there were loads of people heading to the flats behind the east stand etc, we turned round and headed home – gutted of Poplar! By the way, we won 3-1, Hurst with all 3, next round we got beat by Huddersfield, who were eventually relegated!

By this time at the tender of age of 14 and a half I went to the pub with my mates for the first time – no ID checking in those days. It was mid-week and the school dance was on and we went into the Greenwich Pensioner on Bazely Street, 5 of us all done up not knowing what to do. My brother used to drink Light and Bitter, so I walked to the bar and ordered 5 L&B’s, the barman looked at us, shook his head and started serving us, we’d cracked it. I think it was 10 bob for the lot, but that could be my mind playing tricks. We all put our money together and sat down and drank this stuff – it took some getting used to but we all agreed we’d do it again (only had enough money for one drink!).

That was the start of a slippery slope, by the next term (this would have been 72-73 season) we were in a pub most weekends. I had a job in Chrisp Street market, every morning I got the stall set up before I went to school and every evening put it away after school, exceptions were Monday – market was closed and Thursday when it went away lunchtime for early closing, all day Saturday for the princely sum of £4 a week. This wasn’t a bad wedge in those days and on Saturday I got two bags of fruit and veg to take home. But one Sunday night we went for a beer in the Steamship in Blackwall way (it’s gone now) and my mate and I won a bottle of whisky in the raffle, we thought we couldn’t take it home so drank it on the way home. To this day I can’t take the smell of blended whisky, I was so sick I made the obligatory oath never to drink again. It was school day the following day and my mum knew it was a hangover but she made me get up and go to school, certainly taught me a lesson for a few days I can tell you.

That season again I could only go to night matches but I can tell you it was a great season – my first game was Coventry on a Monday night, it was a terrible match but we won 1-0, a young kid called Ade Coker was playing and despite all the hype about West Brom and their coloured players I’m sure we were the vanguard in that area with John Charles, Clyde Best, Ade Coker etc. The only other game I got to was Southampton on, I think, a Friday night – a real cracker, 4-3 and Pop got a hat trick, notched up loads of goals that season, I think 25.

I suppose you’re thinking “how does he know it was a great season, he only went to two matches”, well the Big Match seemed to have us on every week and we were playing some good stuff – I think we finished 6th that year. Next year I’d be in a real job so hopefully get to some more games, looking forward to that.

Part 4 coming soon hopefully, and hopefully this one will get more than a couple of hours on the site!


Guest Post

Life, the universe and everything …… Part 2

Guest Post by Beniron

Ok, so part 1 was a quick tour of the early years, missed out loads but in the interests of brevity had to do this. If I get time I’ll introduce some of you to the wonders of growing up with no social media, no mobile phones, no tablets and limited children’s TV – worse still only 2 channels! That meant building camps, go karts, playing footie every day (fortunately the sun was always shining) etc. In the winter it snowed so it was snowball fights and snowmen, ahh the good old days – we also had icicles on the inside, so bad was the build quality in those days!

Part 2 will be from 10 – secondary school, there will be some overlaps I’m sure and you should treat this as a tale rather than a factual account of the times as it is based on my memory. That aforementioned memory took a bit of a caning during the years after this part all self-inflicted, but that will be part 3.

We are now living in a 2 bedroom maisonette on the Island with its own kitchen – not scullery, a little garden (8ft by 10ft), central heating and its own bathroom – really! I thought we’d struck oil so impressed was I at that tender age.

I had made some new mates (it always seemed easy in those days) some are still great friends today and whom I still go drinking and holiday with regularly. But let’s get started ….

Fortunately most of my mates were all West Ham fans (interspersed with Millwall and Charlton mainly) the odd Spud and Man U fan but most were of the claret and blue variety. We were still keen to go but money etc. seemed to be holding us back, anyway after Chrimbo we were all agreed that after the winter – I seem to recall it was freezing all through winter, but not as much snow as 63 – we would all try and save and pick a match.

So April ‘68 came and the sun was out – it was Good Friday and me and one of my mates had the readies to go watch the Hammers, by readies I’m talking bus fare and entrance money (I think it was 2 bob at the time) bearing in mind it was two buses – we agreed to walk to Poplar and trouser the tuppence fare! Oh forgot this was before decimalisation so two bob was 10p and tuppence was less than a penny.

I should mention that my mate was a Catholic and this game was on Good Friday – he’d missed Mass and everything that goes with it by bunking off with me – his mum was going to give him a right hiding when he got home and it got worse (for him!).

I have recounted this in a post on this forum but this will go into more detail, this was my first match without an adult and arriving at the Boleyn on the bus I was giving it the big ‘un as I’d been there once before, so we followed the same route and headed for the West Stand. I don’t recall any vendors or hot dog stands or anything like that in those days – there was the sports shop in Green Street, which I think eventually was taken over by Bobby Moore – but coming from the Boleyn end I can’t remember any, not sure it was any different coming from the station but that was alien to me.

Anyway, got to the turnstile and was told by the fella to squeeze up and lo and behold both got in for 3 bob so that was another tanner each trousered, this was turning into a right touch! Made our way to the front with over an hour to go and settled down, it was a roasting hot day and there was a massive crowd must have been 30 – 35 thousand, loads more than when my uncle brought me earlier in the season. I think we had just thrashed the bar codes so that may have helped – plus it was a bank holiday.

The match was against Forest and if I’m honest most of it like a lot of games just merge into one memory, I do recall certain things – Alan Stephenson was centre half and had his shorts pulled up so high the waistband was under his nipples, Hurst wasn’t playing, a young fella called Billy Bonds had established himself at right back. At half time the band came on, my mate looked a bit rough next thing he fainted – I had no idea what to do, fortunately the adults just behind clocked it and called to the St John’s Ambulance people who were near the tunnel and they came waddling over. I don’t mean that derogatorily but the first bloke looked like Fred Scuttle (youngsters can look it up).

They got him out of the crowd asked me if I wanted to go with them, I politely declined, he had come round and wanted to be left alone – they wanted to take him to hospital. It clicked with him that he was in enough trouble having missed Mass with his mum so insisted he was ok they relented but had someone sitting near the corner flag at the west side so we could call him back.

The match continued and I’m pretty sure it was this match where a Forest fan who could have auditioned for Jabba the Hutt ran (well moving faster than a walk) on to the pitch wobbling everywhere with his shirt off. We won 3 – 0, a great day despite the drama and we made our way home.

Waiting for a bus was pointless as they were all packed so we started walking back to Poplar. Got to the Abbey Arms and finally a bus was relatively empty, got home eventually to a bit of smoked haddock and mash, even though we weren’t Catholic everybody had fish on Good Friday.

That was my last match that season, the following summer was my last at primary school and then it was off to secondary school, I was lucky enough to pass the 11 plus exam and went to a grammar school, not as exotic as some might think but being a small school of around 600 pupils all in it was quite intimate and I really did have some great times. Even better was that I now had pocket money so the world was my oyster.

That summer was one of the best – played football most days over the park, Red Rovers to the museums, bikes over Greenwich Park over the cowboy hills ( I suppose early mountain biking) and cycling through the foot tunnel shouting at the tops of our voices to hear the echo. Always had to get off and walk the last few yards if the lift was there as the attendant used to shout at us for cycling “it’s a foot tunnel not a bike tunnel” miserable old sod. When school started it was scary being a first year (in those days you counted the years from secondary school) and fortunately for me most of the older kids knew my brother who had just left and got on well with him so I was ignored. At that age it was better to be ignored in the early days.

Outside school it was the same most evenings playing out but looking forward to when we could go to the next match. In the new school, as it was in Poplar, virtually all the kids were West Ham so got a couple of games in, most memorable was the home game against Sunderland. If I’m right it was a pretty low crowd and we set up in the West as was usual for us and watched the game unfold – and it was a slaughter 4-0 up at half time and Hursty had a hat trick, at half time we moved to the other end of the West stand so we could see close up the rest of the goals that were sure to come, lo and behold another 4 and another Hurst hat trick. Next day the papers were all on about the fact that Sir Geoff admitted that he punched one of those goals in (I think it was the first). Is Sir Geoffrey classed as the same villain as Maradona or more recently Chico – not in my book and I don’t care what anyone says about double standards!

It’s getting a bit long so I’ll leave it here for now and start working on part 3, 13 -16 years, is this where it all started to go wrong, innocence over and facing up to life.


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