Tribute

Mabel Arnold: A West Ham Love Story

On Valentine’s Day our thoughts turn to love; and what better day to say a fond valediction to a remarkable woman, West Ham’s oldest season ticket holder and best loved fan, Mabel Arnold. In fact, Saint Valentine plays a bigger part in this story than you may think; if it wasn’t for cupid’s arrow Mabel may never have begun her long love affair with West Ham United at all.

As “the war to end all wars” raged across the globe, Mabel Rose Harris was born in Camberwell in South London on Sunday 2nd April 1916. She was the ninth of Reuben and Phyllis Harris’s ten children and the family home at 47 Edmund Street was just a couple of miles west of The Den, the ground of West Ham’s arch rivals. If geography had prevailed and the course of true love hadn’t intervened we could quite feasibly have lost one of our most loyal and long-standing fans to Millwall! Thankfully for us and unbeknown to baby Mabel the two great loves of her life were waiting for her just across the water.

As Mabel came into the world the little boy who was to become her first love was still a grubby-kneed six year old busy kicking stones around Ricardo Street, the road where he was born in Poplar; while her second true love was in a state of flux.

When war was declared on 4th August 1914 it was expected that the Football Association would follow the example set by cricket and cancel all matches. However, despite opposition, matches continued to be played in the Football League throughout the 1914-1915 season and the FA Cup was held as normal. It was during this season that the formidable striking partnership of West Ham’s Syd Puddefoot and Dick Leafe produced 31 goals between them and contributed to the team’s fourth place finish in the Southern League, resulting in their election to the Football League.

Unfortunately for the Hammers their ascent into the upper echelons of professional football was immediately interrupted as the Football League programme was then suspended for the remainder of the First World War. However, clubs were still allowed to organise regional competitions and the London Combination League was inaugurated in 1915 with the following twelve founder members: Arsenal, Brentford, Chelsea, Clapton Orient, Croydon Common, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Millwall, Queens Park Rangers, Tottenham Hotspur, Watford and West Ham United. First team matches were played until 1919 and thereafter the reserve teams took over as the Football League was resumed. Croydon Common and Watford dropped out and were replaced with Charlton Athletic and Southend United.

West Ham finished a respectable 4th in the 1915-1916 London Combination League (LCL), although unfortunately behind Chelsea, Millwall and Arsenal. However, by the time baby Mabel had celebrated her first birthday the Hammers were riding high and they went on to win the 1916-1917 LCL with 65 points; 7 points clear of South London rivals Millwall, who had to settle for second place.

At this stage of her life Mabel was probably oblivious to the two teams of dockers slugging it out in competition for her affections and in fact she’s on record as saying that the only football match that she attended in her youth was at Charlton. I doubt that as a seven year old in 1923 she was even aware that West Ham had made it to the first FA Cup Final at Wembley; I can’t imagine that there were many people shouting that particular piece of news from the rooftops of Camberwell.

However, all that was to change, as Mabel blossomed into a beautiful young woman cupid was busy nocking an arrow bearing her name onto his bowstring.

Mabel had a tough start in life as her father and mother sadly passed away in 1930 and 1932 respectively, leaving her an orphan at the tender age of 16. By the age of 18 she was a young girl about town, living independently in the West End and supporting herself with a job just off Fleet Street.

As Mabel recalls in an interview with Iain Burns of the Barking and Dagenham Post in 2016:

“I ended up at the YWCA and in a hostel on the Tottenham Court Road while working in Fetter Lane.”

It was at this point that cupid let Mabel’s arrow fly and it pierced the heart of that little boy from Poplar who was now a dashing young man called Richard Herbert Arnold. It was 1934 and for their first date Richard invited Mabel to go to a game with him at Upton Park. As she recalled:

“I had just met my husband-to-be the week before and he said, "Would you like to go the football?

“We stood on an old chicken run watching the game. I fell in love with Richard so I had to take West Ham with it. I didn’t have a choice.

“After that, neither of us ever looked at anyone else again; as the days and years went by, I only loved him more.”

During her first season as a Hammer Mabel would have been privileged to witness the twilight of West Ham legend Vic Watson’s career with the club. Watson, a centre forward, played 505 times for West Ham between 1920 and 1935. The club paid just £50 for Vic, bringing him in from Wellingborough to provide cover for Syd Puddefoot. To this day Vic Watson remains the club’s record goal scorer with 326 goals to his name; 298 scored in the league and 28 in the FA Cup competition.

In 1935, the same year that the young couple were married, Mabel would have stood alongside Richard in the Chicken Run and applauded during the historic moment that Vic Watson said farewell to the Hammers. He went on to play for Southampton for just one season before hanging up his goal scoring boots for good.

A few years later English football was interrupted once again by war and Mabel’s husband Richard, or Dick as he was known, joined the RAF. His role in WW2 was as an engineer servicing the Lancaster bombers which took part in the famous Dam Buster raids. Mabel’s pride in Dick’s role was palpable when she said during an interview in 2016:

“He helped stop the Germans getting the atom bomb.”

In recent years Mabel kept a small model of a Lancaster bomber in her home which she bought in Dick’s memory. She said:

“I always told him that I’d buy him a plane one day, so I bought him that last year.”

In 1940 Mabel and Dick moved into the house in Amesbury Road in Becontree that was to remain Mabel’s home for almost 80 years. As they settled into life in Dagenham and began to raise their family of four children the couple were to become even more entrenched in the West Ham community. Dick became involved in coaching local lads and his passion for football was eventually spotted by the club, who offered him an administrative role with the West Ham youth team. Mabel also became involved behind the scenes and sometimes used to stand in as tea lady at the Hammers’ training ground in Chadwell Heath. It was at this time that she first encountered the 15 year old Bobby Moore who impressed her with his manners when he politely asked her for a glass of water.

Almost a decade later Mabel enjoyed a more significant encounter with the Hammer’s famous captain following the 1964 FA Cup final, when West Ham beat Preston North End 3-2 at Wembley. She recalled:

“All the staff and their wives, right down to the toilet ladies, went to this hotel and stayed the night after the game. After the dinner Bobby asked me to dance because he knew Richard was a dancer and I was quite nifty on my feet too.

“I said "You’d better ask Richard because he has the first dance wherever we go.” Richard said yes alright, so I danced with Bobby Moore.

“All the girls wanted to dance with him but we only got down the length of the room. He didn’t dance very well our Bobby. He had football feet.”

Sadly Mabel’s husband Dick passed away in 1981 but she continued the legacy of their love affair by continuing to go to games with their son Graham, who they had been taking to Upton Park since he was 4 years old.

Even away from football Mabel had a strong sense of love for her community and she became well known locally in her role as councillor for Barking and Dagenham and during her office as mayor between 1987 and 1988.

In 2013 Mabel was back behind the scenes at West Ham when Graham contacted the club and nominated Mabel for a Christmas treat as part of the club’s ‘Just Like My Dreams’ programme.

The club were obviously impressed with 97 year old Mabel’s record as a West Ham fan because 3 years later her 8 decades of loyalty were rewarded as the club ensured that her 100th birthday was celebrated in style during our last home fixture against Crystal Palace at Upton Park.

As Mabel reflected on her 80 years of memories of The Boleyn that day she said:

“Upton Park, it’s been our life, it gives you something to grab hold of and look forward to.

“But moving is progress. I’ve worked in business and everything changes. Some of the old West Ham boys, they make me cross.

“They say they’re taking our club away from us. But if we don’t go and support them what are they going to do then?

“The boys are going somewhere else, so of course we’ll still support them, because at the end of it all, they still need us. And of course, we need them.”

Mabel clearly believed in the notion of a West Ham family and coincidentally that was probably best demonstrated during her encounter many years ago with a young lad who was to go on to become a well-loved member of our very own West Ham Till I Die community.

When he was 14 years old the member of WHTID known as Big Safe’s Buddy (BSB) went through a very difficult period in his life. I won’t go into the details here but his circumstances brought him into contact with Mabel and Dick Arnold. When they learned of his situation the couple went out of their way to show him kindness and compassion. They spent time with him talking about West Ham and they even bought him a season ticket in the old West Stand at a time when they were the only seats available.

Although he only kept the season ticket for a year and then moved into the Chicken Run BSB has never forgotten the kindness and generosity that Mabel and her husband showed him at that time; and he sincerely believes that if it wasn’t for the guidance of them and their social group he could so easily have taken a wrong path in life. As he moved into adulthood BSB lost touch with the Arnolds and he doesn’t know if they would have even remembered that troubled young lad that they took under their wing all those years ago but he will certainly never forget them.

Anybody who has watched the extremely touching video of Mabel celebrating her 101st birthday with Slaven Bilic and the team at the Rush Green training ground will know that she was a beautiful soul who radiated love for her family, her football team and for her community as a whole. How fitting then that the name ‘Mabel’ derives from the Latin name Amabilis which means ‘lovable or worthy of love’.

I think that every West Ham fan took Mabel Arnold into their heart and her life truly was a West Ham love story. You were a remarkable woman Mabel and your loyalty to your club will never be forgotten. May you now rest in eternal peace with your beloved husband Richard.

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In Loving Memory of Mabel Rose Arnold
2nd April 1916 – 9th February 2019

Interview credits:
Iain Burns & Tom Allnutt


The Iron Liddy Column

West Ham Supporters Are Tree-mendous!

As the proverb says ‘great oaks from little acorns grow.’ When I wrote that little article about football’s role in creating the First World War Centenary Woods on the spur of the moment on Sunday afternoon I had no idea that it would develop into something so fantastic and that’s all thanks to the response and generosity of you amazing West Ham fans.

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For anybody who missed the first article and would like to know the background to this one the link is here: For Club and Country: Help to get West Ham United to the top of the WW1 Remembrance League

On the afternoon of the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day the total sum of donations in memory of the West Ham footballers and supporters who fought and died in the First World War stood at £52. As soon as my article was published that evening the donations started to flood in and by the end of the day you had donated an amazing £970, bringing the total to £1,025, which was just over the halfway mark of the West Ham target of £2,000. Over the next 3 days donations continued at a steady rate and the total to date now stands at an incredible £1,701. Take a bow West Ham fans; you are a credit to your club.

In the meantime, despite the press coverage of football clubs all over the UK taking part in planting WW1 memorial trees at their grounds last week, the donation levels for the other clubs featured on the For Club and Countrywebsite failed to move significantly, if at all. Although the campaign has been running for almost two and a half years and the clubs themselves were made aware of it the message clearly wasn’t filtering down to the people it was aimed at ….. the fans themselves. In fact 10 of the 62 football teams featured still have yet to receive a single donation.

The flurry of activity on the West Ham page and the fantastic and sudden increase in donations didn’t go unnoticed by the Woodland Trust, the conservation charity behind the First World War Centenary Woods. Upon reading numerous references to West Ham Till I Die in the comments which accompanied the donations, they investigated our blog and read my article. The Woodland Trust then contacted me on Tuesday via Iain Dale and today I spent half an hour on the phone to a lovely guy called Daniel, who has been behind this campaign since 2014. His role in this brings him into regular contact with our hero Sir Trevor Brooking, who is the ambassador for the For Club and Country campaign; and in fact he had dinner with him just last week at The Imperial War Museum as part of the Games of Remembrance project.

Daniel said that he was blown away by your response to my article and that he will be telling Sir Trev that his beloved West Ham has lead the way in donating to this important memorial and that we will almost certainly be the first club to reach their £2,000 target. This money will be converted into 100 trees, which will be planted in our name in March within the football section of the First World War Centenary Woods at Langley Vale. You can read more about this project here.

During our conversation I suggested that tapping into some good natured football rivalry would definitely pique the interest of fans of other clubs. Although the message of the campaign is a serious one and those who have donated obviously did so to commemorate the West Ham footballers and supporters who died or suffered in the Great War, there’s no doubt that the prospect of coming first in the ‘donations league’ was an added motivating factor. I mentioned the fact that Tottenham had previously been near the top of the ‘DL’ and that I had used this as an extra incentive to get Hammers to donate. Daniel acknowledged this and it was at this point that he wryly admitted to me that he is a Spurs supporter! Naturally this provoked a bit of banter and lots of laughs between us; he even referred to himself as Spud. :)

I also mentioned to Daniel that a WHTID reader and poster called Claret! had suggested including a dynamic league table on the For Club and Country website to reflect the number of donations coming in and he said he would look into whether this would be possible within the functionality of the website. So your idea may become a reality Claret!

And now for the exciting part ….. thanks to your generosity the Woodland Trust are going to be using West Ham and our sterling fundraising efforts as a case study in a forthcoming national press campaign about football’s role in creating the WW1 Centenary Wood and West Ham Till I Die will feature in the articles! If we can reach our £2,000 target before the media campaign takes place it will make Sir Trev doubly proud of us; so I’m appealing again to the members of the wonderful West Ham Till I Die family who haven’t yet donated to consider pledging whatever you can afford to help us over that line. Not only will your name then appear alongside the name of Sir Trevor Brooking CBE in the Roll of Honour in the National Football Museum; you will also have played a part in creating a beautiful green memorial to the people and animals that died in the terrible conflict of the First World War. A memorial that will benefit our environment and stand for centuries to come.

This link will take you directly to the WHU donation page: For Club and Country: West Ham United

Come on you Irons!


The Iron Liddy Column

For club and country: Help to get West Ham United to the top of the WW1 Remembrance League

Today I’ve been browsing the array of online articles commemorating the 100 year anniversary of Armistice Day and I came across one that was both surprising and a bit shameful.

Apparently the Woodland Trust and the National Football Museum launched a joint project on 1st July 2016 to plant trees in memory of footballers who fought in World War One. For every £20 raised by the fans of 62 football clubs a tree will be planted at England’s First World War Centenary Woodland on the edge of the Epsom Downs in Surrey, with a target of 100 trees per club.

The name of the project is For Club and Country Remembering the Greater Game and its aim is to create a living and digital legacy to remember the sacrifices made by footballers on the frontline as well as the home front effort during the First World War. As their website explains:

“The direct effects of the First World War are still felt on today’s landscape, with the UK having the least woodland cover in Europe. During and after the First World War, trees were planted in remembrance, marking the loss of life and the sacrifices made. We feel strongly that this tradition should be continued to create a living and growing legacy as a fitting tribute.”

Shockingly, in almost two and a half years the project has only raised £2,621 of its £139,000 target. I can’t believe for a moment that this is due to football fans failing to donate to such a worthwhile cause. It must be down to a lack of publicity, especially as over £500 of the money raised so far was donated since the news article about the lack of donations appeared yesterday. Clearly the PR departments of both the Woodland Trust and the National Football Museum need a kick up the butt. I’m a member of the Woodland Trust and this is the first that I’ve heard about this project!

So I’m appealing to all West Ham fans to consider making a donation in memory of the Hammers who fought and died in WW1. There are several good reasons to do this, not least because helping to restore our green and pleasant land in the name of those who died in her name is a very fitting and environmentally sound idea; but also because the ambassador of the project is none other than our very own Sir Trevor Brooking. As Sir Trev explains on the project website:

“The Woodland Trust and the National Football Museum’s For Club and Country project is the perfect way to commemorate football’s important role in the First World War.

“We’re planting groves of trees for the clubs whose players bravely fought for their country and creating something beautiful and long lasting for future generations.

“Every football fan needs to get involved and make sure their club is remembered in the football groves at Langley Vale Wood. If you love football as much as I do, please pledge just £5 to get your team represented and see your own name listed on the supporters’ roll of honour.”

So not only will you be helping to create a living, breathing tribute to those fallen men, you will also have the opportunity to add your name to the Roll of Honour alongside Sir Trevor Brooking’s name. Once the First World War commemorations conclude in 2019, your name will form part of a permanent exhibition at the National Football Museum.

If all of that isn’t reason enough to pledge whatever you can afford then consider this …… at the moment the top six clubs in the WW1 Remembrance League are as follows:

  1. Nottingham Forest – £315
  2. Tottenham Hotspur – £260
  3. Queens Park Rangers – £155
  4. Cardiff City – £150
  5. England – £140
  6. Plymouth Argyle – £105

I know! We need to climb up that table above the Spuds ASAP! Many clubs’ supporters have yet to donate anything at all, so at £72 West Ham aren’t in the relegation zone but this is a league that we can actually win. So please dig deep and pledge what you can, every little will help. Let’s make West Ham the first club to reach their £2,000 target and make Sir Trev proud of us.

This link will take you directly to the WHU donation page: For Club and Country: West Ham United

Come on you Irons!


The Iron Liddy Column

Putting football into perspective

When tragedy strikes it puts the importance of professional football into perspective.

Since the horrific accident at the King Power Stadium on Saturday night I’ve read many comments to that effect in the media and on social media. The truth is though; there is death, disaster and heartbreak globally every day. We are surrounded by it and immune to it to an extent. Sadly “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.”

Of course the death of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and the four people who perished with him is a tragedy, especially for their loved ones. However, I think what really makes us put things into perspective is not the tragedy of the situation but the shock at the fragility of life. When something like this happens to somebody within our local sphere we are forced to reflect on our own mortality and how unexpectedly life can be snatched away from us in the blink of an eye.

This week Hamburg Hammer (HH) clearly found it difficult to know how to approach his article and he was concerned about discussing the ‘triviality’ of the game itself. He was worried that talking about Mark Noble’s red card and the frustration of Leicester’s late equaliser would seem crass and insensitive in the circumstances.

However, I don’t think that Mr Srivaddhanaprabha would have minded us discussing the game at all. He clearly loved football and Leicester City were much more than just an investment to him. I hope that his family can take some small comfort from the fact that his last emotion was happiness and elation as his team scored with only a minute left on the clock. Reflecting on the game itself is to discuss something that was very important to him and there’s nothing disrespectful in that.

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While the world of football reels with shock and Leicester fans are stricken with grief, I think the one positive thing that I can find to say about the tragic loss of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha is that it has helped me to put modern football into perspective in a unique and optimistic way.

Ordinarily I would be reflecting on how ugly and ridiculous the professional game has become in commercial terms and just how unimportant it all is in the face of mortality and grief. Except the story of the commercialisation of Leicester City isn’t ugly or ridiculous. The thread running through every news report that’s emerged from this tragedy is how universally loved Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was by Leicester fans and this was because he invested so much more than just money into the club. It’s evident that he was a kind, humble and generous man who, despite being from a vastly different culture, had managed to maintain an old-fashioned family ethos at an English football club while leading them to commercial success. I doubt the words ‘commercial success’ were on his mind or that of any Leicester fan on that wonderful day in May 2016 though; I’m sure that all they felt was the elation of sharing that magical moment with their extended football family. Their story has given us all hope that money and integrity are not mutually exclusive in modern professional football.

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Ironically, while I was typing this piece my finger slipped on the keyboard and I accidently typed Kind Power. I stopped to look at it for a moment before I corrected it and I thought to myself “yes, that’s exactly what Leicester City had.” Thank you Mr Srivaddhanaprabha, your legacy was to bring something beautiful back into the game. May you and those who died with you rest in peace.


Parish Notice

Calling all book loving West Ham fans!

It’s hard to believe that over two and a half years have passed since we left Upton Park and anyone who’s visited the area since will tell you that a certain part of Green Street sadly looks very different these days.

While some local businesses didn’t survive the exodus of West Ham United one very tenacious enterprise that enjoyed a longstanding relationship with the club and our fans is still hanging in there just around the corner in the Barking Road.

Newham Bookshop celebrated its 40th birthday this year, which is no mean feat in the current literary climate; sadly over half of independent bookshops in the UK have closed in the last 12 years due to the growing competition from supermarkets and online booksellers. The bookshop was originally established by a group of local parents to provide an educational resource in the area and today it is a non-profit organisation owned by an educational charity and has a very strong relationship with the local schools. It was founded as a community bookshop and obviously a huge part of that community for 38 years were the fans, players and staff of West Ham United.

Over the decades Newham Bookshop has hosted many West Ham players, managers and related authors at events and signings to promote their books. The list includes the illustrious (and not so illustrious) names of Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Danny Dyer, Steve Bacon, Brian Williams, Jeremy Nicholas, Robert Banks, Iain Dale, Cass Pennant, Tina Moore, Brian Belton and Pete May. I’m sure that many of you have queued outside for the chance to meet one of your West Ham idols and to read the tales of their exploits and achievements; while for other bibliophilic Hammers browsing the overflowing bookshelves was no doubt a part of your match day routine.

During a recent interview for an article on The Spitalfields Life blog to celebrate the bookshop’s 40th year Vivian Archer, the shop’s manager for the past 33 years, said:

“When the West Ham ground was across the road, it was rammed here on a Saturday afternoon with football fans before and after the match. You couldn’t move in the shop for about two hours and we always did big signing sessions with footballers like Geoff Hurst and Trevor Brooking. Five hundred people came for Clyde Best last year.”

In May 2016 Pete May also interviewed Viv for his Hammers in the Heart blog for her views on West Ham’s departure from Green Street and what it would mean for Newham Bookshop. Viv recalled:

“The biggest signing was John Lyall just after they failed to renew his contract. They were hanging off the ceiling and he was a really nice man. Trevor Brooking spoke to everybody. Jimmy Greaves was lovely, but we had more Spurs fans than West Ham. The most unusual was Frank McAvennie before a Millwall game on a Sunday. He was a little late as he’d been out the night before, but it was a good signing even if it was a bit hairy because it was Millwall.”

Inevitably the shop has really missed our custom since we left Upton Park but evidence of the link between us is still there on the shelves as even now the sports section is heavily weighted with claret and blue tomes. There’s even a ‘timely’ clue that Upton Park was once the home of the Hammers above the till in the children’s section of the shop.

By now I’m sure you’re wondering where this article is leading. My reason for writing is to ask West Ham fans for your support for Newham Bookshop’s ‘Two Doors Down’ fundraising campaign. The adults’ section of the bookshop currently occupies 747 Barking Road and the landlord of that part of the premises is developing the flats above the shop and part of the shop itself into offices. This would mean that Newham Bookshop would lose one third of their space and it would cause huge disruption.

Fortunately serendipity stepped in when number 743, the shop adjacent to the other side of the children’s section, became available and the adults’ section of Newham Bookshop is now going to be relocated two doors down and relaunched this Christmas. However, before that can happen they need to raise £25,000 to cover the refurbishment and fitting costs because the empty shop is in a poor state of repair.

As I’m sure you can appreciate, this is a huge sum of money for a charitable organisation to find, so on Sunday evening the ‘Two Doors Down’ fund raising campaign was launched with a book auction at The Wanstead Tap in Forest Gate. The book lots were generously donated by authors and publishers and many of them were signed copies, including a copy of the recently published ‘An Irrational Hatred of Everything’ by Robert Banks which contained the signatures of all but two of the 1980 FA Cup winning West Ham squad. The auction raised over £3,000 for the cause, which was a great start but there’s still a long way to go.

In addition to the auction a Crowdfunder page went live on Sunday night so I’m appealing to those of you who used to frequent Newham Bookshop on match days and all the other book lovers among you to consider making a donation to an organisation which served our community for 4 decades. If you’re feeling especially generous there’s an opportunity to have a shelf dedicated in your name, which would mean that you would be immortalised in Upton Park just a football’s throw from the statue of our 1966 World Cup Heroes ….. not bad company to keep.

You can find the link to the Crowdfunder page here:

Newham Bookshop ‘Two Doors Down’

Thanks for reading.

Lids x


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