Given where we are and with all of us largely confined to our own surroundings I’d imagine like me you’ve all had extra thinking time. Me and me brothers are constantly on the blower, harping back to when we were kids and as a consequence we usually end up in fits of laughter. I really could write a book about us as kids and young adults; but so as not to get banned by Iain I best stick to some of my fondest early memories of the long school summer holidays, if it makes one person smile I’ll consider it job done.
There’s only a year in age between me and me elder brother so we obviously have a lot of shared experiences, not least the start of our West Ham journeys. We’d both been indoctrinated by me dad and grandad from a really early age. The exact details of which games we first attended are all blurred into one marvellous collage of kid-like excitement, I really couldn’t tell you who we played on my first visit. My earliest vivid memories started a few years later when, aged 11 or 12, we were allowed to go on our own but I swear if I close me eyes I can remember walking in that place for the first time ….. the colour, the smell of the grass ….. embedded in me bonce for life.
We obviously fell in love with the ‘ammers but we liked all sport, in fact we were sport mad, our entire early lives revolved around it. We weren’t poor in the strictest sense but we lead basic lives; dad a Ford worker, mum a stay at home mum to us 4 kids. Our house wasn’t the first choice if you wanted the finer things in life, no good asking for an ice lolly as up until we were about ten I don’t remember having a fridge, let alone a freezer; but if you wanted fun it was a Mecca and all our mates were welcome.
We used to have brilliant improvised mini tournaments of all the top sports, everything from cricket to croquet, we couldn’t do show jumping but I swear if we could’ve found an ‘orse we would’ve had a go, which brings me to the title of me post. One of the benefits of the social media boom is all the funny videos that do the rounds, I love ‘em. I got one from me brother this morning of kids playing football in their garden, they were shooting into the same goal with their dad as the keeper, top of the range it was, proper posts and nets. Cutting to the chase, one of ‘em scores after tripping the other one up and then legs it, when the other one catches him up it leads to the inevitable punch up. Me brother sent it to me with a little sub heading, “1 nil to me, done yer.” It struck such a brilliant chord with me as it’s exactly the type of thing he would’ve done to me with the same end result. We were close in ability in all sports, but luckily for me he couldn’t fight. It was only nipper level violence and he obviously thought the Mickey take was worth the minimal pain, lol.
Our back garden was ahead of its time in so much as it was a multi-purpose stadium with an all-weather pitch; which basically means we had no grass but flattened mud that me dad turned over once a year with his garden fork to stop the weeds coming through. Our goals were 2 half buried metal bedsteads, the mesh still attached, which made for terrific nets. Hours of 2 or 3 a-side games would take place dependant on how many mates were around and when they’d all gone home me and me bro’ would switch to shooting to each end, taking it in turns to be Hurst and Peters. They were who we mimicked as we blasted a goal in …… “HURSSSST!”
Our basketball nets were the old style 4ft high metal ringed council-supplied paper bin bag holders; the lift up metal lid was a perfect back board and would close when the ball rebounded off it on its way through the ring to register your 2 points. At this point I would like to put on record my sincere apology to the house round the corner that we nicked the second basket from, we weren’t happy doing it at the time but each house only got one and the Harlem Globetrotters had just been on the box and needs must.
We had a painted set of stumps on the wall between the back door and the toilet window, the boundaries were our fences, which were worth 4 runs, providing the ball stayed in our garden; but unlike Lord’s, if you cleared ‘em, instead of getting 6 you were given out by the bowler, who doubled up as the umpire. On top of that it was your job to go and retrieve the ball; now this was fine if you hit one too long to the left of us, as all the gardens in reach were mates’ houses, as were the ones over the back fence, and most of ‘em would be playing anyway. However, it was prudent to show restraint if hitting to our right as next-door-but-one was where old Ted lived, his garden was out of bounds (in other words don’t get caught), if he got to the ball before we did we never got it back.
He had these posh wooden trellises which were his pride and joy and we only realised after a while that the miserable old so-and-so was decorating it by gluing our captured tennis balls on top of it. When we sussed him out I’m afraid we took the difficult decision to tell our old man, who promptly went round to talk to Ted. I don’t know exactly how the conversation went but given that 10 minutes after me dad got back about a dozen tennis balls mysteriously flew into our garden I’ve got a pretty good idea. From that moment on dear old Ted was like an extra fielder, me dad insisted we thanked him every time though.
The Olympics were great and as we were sticklers for tradition they only occurred every 4 days. All kids are competitive but in fairness us lot were pretty reasonable and would make sure the medals were shared around. Sometimes this happened naturally; in the javelin for example luck played a big part and all largely depended a lot on how well mum’s broom handle flew through the air at any given time.
The long and triple jumps were pretty much hit and miss as well, as the measuring mechanisms weren’t that great and tended to vary on the shoe size of the current measurer, not to the mention the fact that no 2 of us could ever agree on the exact landing site. The high jump was one of my favourites as I was one of the tallest. An old folded in half double mattress that had been fermenting behind dad’s shed was the perfect crash mat, with 2 of us standing in front holding a skipping rope and adjusting the height as the competition went on. We used to just take a run up and dive over it as I don’t recall any of us being familiar with the Fosbury Flop.
We couldn’t facilitate the track events in the garden and as this was the sixties we were allowed out the front to play. The running posed a bigger problem with sharing the medals around as, short of kicking him in the shins at the starting line, our mate Pete would win everything from the sprint to the marathon. Whichever relay team he was in the second runner would have half a lap start over the opposition, if he went last he could make up an half a lap deficit. The track was our immediate block of streets, which for convenience we estimated to be about 400 metres. The truth is it was more like 600 but what’s 200 metres when you’ve got an Olympics to organise? Good old Pete got in the spirit in the end and an accidental handicap system sort of self-developed. We had to let him win as often as the rest of us but when it weren’t his turn he developed a bit of a convenient cramp and invariably went out in the heats.
I’m extremely grateful for my early childhood and I really do mean it when I say I wouldn’t swap it. Given the current circumstances I’d imagine a few nicely manicured lawns are gonna take a bit of an ’ammering; but the grass will grow back and hopefully there’s a lot of kids that will build a lot of nice memories around all the gloom. Garden Olympics anyone?
As you may or may not know, this Saturday 5th October is Bookshop Day, which is part of the Books Are My Bag campaign.
Books Are My Bag is a nationwide campaign run by the Booksellers Association to celebrate bookshops. It launched in 2013 and today comprises Bookshop Day and the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards. At the centre of the campaign is the iconic BAMB tote bag. Since the campaign launched, over a million people have worn a Books Are My Bag to show their love for their local bookshop.
Every year over a thousand bookshops around the country take part in Bookshop Day by holding special events, creating bespoke window displays and more. The BAMB Readers Awards are the only awards curated by bookshops and voted for by booklovers.
Newham Bookshop in Upton Park is one the bookshops taking part in this event and is the same bookshop that was part of many West Ham fans’ match day routine for the past four decades. In the unlikely event that anyone reading this doesn’t know about Newham Bookshop you can read more about them in this article that I wrote last year.
Earlier this year Newham Bookshop won the Bookseller’s award for London’s Best Independent Bookshop, beating some very stiff competition in the process. To celebrate this achievement an oral history project called Writing and Reading Newham will be in the bookshop this Saturday to record the stories of East London’s readers and writers.
Writing and Reading Newham is inspired by local author Gilda O’Neill and funded by the Gilda Street Trust in her memory. The oral history project aims to record the stories of local people who have bought their books, worked in or been inspired to write by Newham Bookshop. The project then plans to share these stories with local schoolchildren to inspire a new generation of writers and readers in Newham.
For 40 years West Ham fans have been an important part of Newham Bookshop’s history and the shop has hosted many West Ham players, managers and related authors at events and signings to promote their books. As I said in my previous article, 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 West Ham fans browsing the overflowing bookshelves was no doubt a part of your match day routine.
If you would like to share your stories and experiences of Newham Bookshop with the oral history project and are going to our home game against Palace this Saturday, why not consider leaving home a bit earlier and taking a detour via Green Street and the Barking Road to pop in and become part of the history of the shop. Apparently the West Ham fan, journalist and author of ‘Goodbye to Boleyn’ Pete May will be calling in, so there may be the chance for a chat about all things claret and blue with him.
As part of Bookshop Day there will also be 15% off all books purchased on Saturday. Newham Bookshop still has a wider range of West Ham books than any other shop plus a well stocked sports section with a heavy emphasis on football. Even more importantly ….. there will be free cake!
West Ham fans and Newham Bookshop have been so indelibly linked for 40 years that it’s important that we are recorded in their history. As well as inspiring the next generation of readers and writers in Newham it could also help to breed a new generation of Hammers and to preserve our link with Upton Park.
Oxford United v West Ham United Carabao Cup September 25th 2019
With the previous round being held in Newport just a few miles from where my West Ham ST holding sister now lives it almost seemed destiny that the next round was held somewhere equally convenient for me as an away fixture. I was brought up in Oxford living close enough to the old Manor ground to walk there in half hour and my mother still lives there. The laughably incomplete Kassam stadium has a whole side missing as well as a corner. From my seat I could see across the end where there is no stand to a local Vue Cinema. By half way through the second half the doubtful attractions of “Rambo, Last Blood” might have called me away from what was happening on the pitch.
My first matches were at the Manor ground when Oxford were a lower league side and I remember a league cup match against the Wolves of the Derek Dougan era. (Derek; now there’s a name you don’t see in schools alongside the endless Harrys!)
I also saw the testimonial of George Eastham (Stoke), which was, bizarrely, held at Oxford under the pretext that Stoke’s opponents were an Oxford “All Stars” team. Believe me, Oxford had no stars in those days. In my teenage years I completely lost interest in football, otherwise I might have become an Oxford supporter. Instead my money went on albums and many Reading festivals starting in 1974. In the early 80s I occasionally went to a match there plus a couple of aways including Millwall away in 1983 and Spuds away in 1985. By then I was living in Ilford, as I do now, but Oxford friends were coming up and I joined them to watch a 0-5 rout when Hoddle was in his pomp. For those of you who are younger it was very easy to go to the poorly attended matches of that era. I drove to Liverpool Street, picked up my friends and drove up Bishopsgate which eventually becomes Tottenham high road, before parking close to the ground and buying away tickets at the turnstiles with no problem. As the 80s went on I got more and more into West Ham, seeing my first match in 1983 and getting my ST in the second division years of Macari and Bonds as the 80s became the 90s.
Anyway, I digress so back to Wednesday night. No chance of a ticket in our end but I have kept up with many Oxford school friends so a mate from my late 1960s primary school days who is a ST holder there got one for me and another for my sister. A nice touch was not being searched even as an away fan. The bleak Kassam stadium area is sandwiched on a route between the old British Leyland car works and my old secondary school which is so rough that a former colleague who did teacher training in Oxford around 2000 and her friends prayed that it would not be their school for teaching practice. That area and where my mum lives both featured heavily on the national news during the plague of joy riding and burning stolen cars in the early 1990s. Time to get back to the football …
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I have made a point of not going on WHTID since before the match. The 11 selected to start were, similarly to the 11 who started v AFC Wimbledon earlier this year, certainly capable of beating their opponents 9/10 times IF THEYPLAYEDTOGETHERREGULARLY. Personally I would have liked to see a stronger line up but with Anderson and Haller available as back ups I saw no great reason to be concerned. As the match got under way home fans around me were concerned how easily Wiltshire waltzed through the middle and HOW easily Fornals cut through on the left. When his crosses arrived we needed more than Ajeti to go for them and it would have been a night made for Antonio. When BSB called me for an update early on I thought we were having slightly the better of it but soon Oxford were getting more shots off, even though they were pretty wayward. Then a free kick from Oxford hit the bar and, as I said to BSB at half time the game was even. Despite all the wailing I assume went on our various forums it was very much up to what happened next, and there was no reason that we had to lose. Watching our attacks on the right hand side below was not pretty in the first half with no Fredericks or Yarmolenko. I thought this game would be made for Snodgrass but he chugged up the right with their defender ambling next to him for company. As everyone in football, including Oxford united, know he was never going to burst for the byline and cross it with his right so it was just a matter of shielding him towards the centre; Arjen Robben he ain’t …
Early on in the second half Roberto received a poorly hit back pass and sliced it horribly, though not quite as badly as Brian Deane for West Brom’s 4th goal in the 2003-4 season. Soon after Oxford scored, and as 35 minutes were left and Haller immediately came on I thought we would grind out a functional win as we did at Newport. Although Roberto flapped at times he also made two superb fingertip saves and I am not sure any of the goals were directly his fault. With four very decent defenders in front of him as well I would, despite the final score, look far more at the collective failings of our midfield and attack. We only had one meaningful shot in the first half and a decent headed chance late on when the game was long over. Snodgrass I have mentioned, Holland was so anonymous, and Wiltshire was subbed far too late when he had long run out of steam. Fornals played pretty well and Ajeti received little service, while lacking the hold up physicality of Haller. Some are writing him off already but he needs to be seen playing among a first eleven more often to make that call. (Haller’s arrival signified better hold up play but not much more threat on goal.) When Oxford were two up Anderson and then Noble came on but neither had enough time to make a significant impact. With men committed forward for obvious reasons an Oxford clearance left a one on one situation where our man (either Sanchez or Arthur, I think) fell over and the Oxford man only had the keeper to beat from just past the half way line.
First goals matter a lot psychologically, (would the Wimbledon FA cup match have ended up as it did if Hernandez had scored rather than hitting the post?!), and we just didn’t threaten the Oxford goal in a meaningful way. After being indifferent in the first half their early second half goal boosted their morale, improved their play and led to their deserved victory. Given that Sunderland are in the next round Oxford might be worth a small a bet for the quarter finals.
The Women’s World Cup has been a popular subject for discussion on WHTID recently and this has also prompted some conversations about the history of women’s football. As some of you may know, in December 1921 the women’s game was banned by the Football Association from using all FA affiliated pitches and referees. The men who ran the FA at the time were so perturbed by the fact that women’s football was drawing larger crowds and making more money than the men’s game that they dealt with their feelings of emasculation by exerting their authority to prevent women from playing football in any official or professional capacity for the next 50 years.
Consequently, I doubt that you would believe me if I told you that in fact two women’s teams did play at Upton Park in front of a packed crowd in 1927. It’s said that fact is often stranger than fiction and this is the story of how I came to learn of perhaps the most bizarre day in the Boleyn ground’s history.
A couple of weeks ago I was on my way home when I bumped into one of Mr Lids’ aunties just as she was crossing Queens Road, the street that we’ve all queued in down the side of Upton Park tube station. Although she only lives a few streets away in Plaistow I was surprised to see her because not only was it pouring with rain, Mr L’s Auntie Iris will be the grand old age of 93 in a couple of weeks’ time. We stopped for a chin wag under the shelter of the shops by Queens Market and I took a quick selfie with her to send to my Mum-in-Law to show her who I’d found on my travels. We said cheerio and as I watched her carry on her way, pushing her shopping trolley down Green Street towards the Barking Road, it struck me how much Iris now looks like an outsider on the street that her mum would have pushed her along in her pram almost a century ago.
On the tube home I began to think about how different Upton Park must have looked when Iris came into the world and I started to Google ‘West Ham 1926 1927’ to see what was happening at our beloved club during the season that she first passed by the ground in her pram.
The first thing that I found was this British Pathe News compilation which begins with West Ham beating Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 in the third round of the 1927 FA Cup. Anything that involves us beating the Spuds is always a gratifying discovery!
The 1926/27 season was an auspicious one for West Ham as we finished in 6th place in Division One. This performance was not equalled by the Hammers until the 1958/59 season during Ted Fenton’s tenure. Part of the reason for our success in 1926/27 was due to Syd King signing players who went on to become West Ham legends and record holders, as well as England internationals, including Jimmy Ruffell, Ted Hufton & Vic Watson.
The next item I came across was the one that revealed that our hallowed turf was probably the only professional pitch touched by football boots containing female feet during the FA’s 50 year ban. Although the stands were filled with bubble blowing fans of a certain kind, the two games played at The Boleyn that day in 1927 were almost certainly not as you would imagine.
Watch this video and you’ll see what I mean ……
Amused and intrigued by the claret and blue spectacle that I had stumbled upon I decided to do some further research into this strange event.
I discovered that on a Thursday afternoon on the 27th April 1927 West Ham United played a charitable friendly against the Froth Blowers XI and as the video reveals, this was followed by a rather unconventional exhibition match between two teams of female footballers.
The Froth Blowers side was made up of members of a humorous British charity organisation known as the Ancient Order of Froth Blowers and also included celebrities of the day such as the music hall favourites Harry Tate and Billy Merson; and the 30 stone film comedian Tubby Phillips, who played in goal. The men’s game was refereed by Jack Hobbs, the most famous and most popular cricketer of the age. Twelve year old Master R.C. Fripp was the “prolific goal-getter” for the Froth Blowers that day and they raised £500 for charity, which equates to almost £40,000 today. The final result wasn’t documented but the crowd was recorded as 20,000; with many of those being the East End children or “wee waifs” that the charity was supporting.
I haven’t been able to find out any information about the female teams who graced the pitch that day but it appears to be a conventional women’s football team playing against what looks like a team of “Nippies.” A “Nippy” was a waitress who worked in the J. Lyons & Co tea shops and cafés in London. Beginning in the late 19th century, a J. Lyons waitress was called a “Gladys”; but from 1926, because of the quick way that the waitresses nipped around the tea shops, the term “Nippy” came into use. Nippies wore a distinctive maid-like uniform with a matching hat and their images were so widely used in advertising campaigns that they became a national icon.
As you can see, the women’s sides didn’t play a conventional football match that day, almost certainly because they were forbidden from playing the beautiful game on an FA affiliated pitch; but I rather like to think that the huge over-sized ball was their way of circumnavigating the FA’s spiteful ban, cocking a snook at them in the process. That’s just supposition on my part but I bet some of those girls on that pitch were thinking “we’ll show them who’s got the bigger balls.” Their game was ‘refereed’ by Hetty King, another music hall performer who had a solo act as a male impersonator.
Further research into the “The World’s Cheeriest Charity” proved to be very entertaining and interesting. I know it’s not strictly West Ham related but as we share the leitmotif of blowing bubbles of one kind or another and they chose to play us for their charity match in 1927 I thought I’d elucidate a little more on the subject of this rather marvellous fundraising organisation.
The Ancient Order of Froth Blowers (A.O.F.B.) was founded in 1924 by a gentleman called Bert Temple, a silk merchant, soldier and sportsman who was born in South London in 1879; and it was Mr Temple who played as Centre Forward in the charity match against the Hammers. In the Autumn of 1924 he needed a lifesaving stomach operation and this was performed by an eminent surgeon of the day called Sir Alfred Downing Fripp. Sir Fripp was was Surgeon in Ordinary to King Edward VII from 1897 to 1910 and also to King George V from 1910, and to H.R.H. Duke of Connaught from 1909.
Whilst Bert was recovering from the operation he apparently requested an ale, a slightly unusual request but one which was granted and Alfred Fripp watched as Bert drank with “apparent gusto.” According to the story, Sir Alfred was not averse to the apocryphal (or not) medicinal properties of beer and the affect that it may have upon a patient.
This extract from an article in The Sporting Times dated 7th August 1926 explains what happened when Bert Temple went to see Sir Alfred for his post-operative check-up in his consulting room at his home in Portland Place in November 1924:
“In clubs, messes, hostelries of all descriptions, barrack rooms and many other places where two or three Bohemian and charitably inclined do congregate, the stunt of the moment is Ye Ancient Order of Froth Blowers.
“The story is the inception of the A.O.F.B. as it is known to its ever increasing band of adherents, is interesting in the extreme.
“About eighteen months ago an eminent and world honoured surgeon placed his hand affectionately on the shoulder of a middle aged man. This man, with face lined by the ravages of the big war, with the worship of Bacchus and the neglect of Morpheus, gazed intently at the surgeon’s boots.
“Bert my boy, " said the surgeon, " you have been a bad lad; you have always taken the best out of life and put nothing back. In future try and bring some sunshine into the lives of others. Your own life has been saved by the skill which has been granted to me, and I want you to help me saves the lives of others. My ‘wee waifs’ in the East End of London can be helped by you and your cheery but thoughtless companions."
The conversation then turned to one of Sir Alfred’s worthy causes, the Invalid Children’s Aid Association; and Bert, eager to show gratitude for having his life saved and possibly by being shamed by Sir Alfred’s comments, offered to raise the sum of £100 for Sir Alfred’s charities. This would be no mean feat as the average weekly wage at that time was £3.00. The following day the A.O.F.B. was born, with Sir Alfred Fripp becoming Froth Blower No.1 and Bert, as Honorary Secretary, Froth Blower No. 0.
The Ancient Order of Froth Blowers was a lampoon of secret societies such as the Freemasons and meeting places for A.O.F.B. members, usually pubs and clubs, became known as ‘Vats.’ The orders and rules for this beer drinking and fundraising society make very amusing reading and you can find them in full here:
Bert initially produced around 100 Blower membership cards (later to become a booklet) together with silver A.O.F.B. cufflinks which were snapped up by the ex-members of Bert’s regiment, The 1st Sportsman’s Battalion. Membership was charged at a one off, life membership of 5 shillings. The first batch was quickly followed by another 500, some of which found their way to Southsea and the A.O.F.B. began to bloom. A very successful dinner was held in Southsea with attendees from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Volunteers and soon word was spreading right around the globe through HM Forces. How many membership cards were produced before the booklet appeared is unknown. One of the earliest books in existence has a membership number of 29,198 and was issued around the 20th May 1926.
Not to be outdone, and keen to be included, women of the day also joined up and became ‘Fairy Belles’ under the Angelic Order of Fairy Belles. Life membership for women was also 5 shillings but instead of being issued with silver cufflinks an A.O.F.B. wristlet was designed, consisting of a silver badge on a black silk ribbon.
The fundraising was slow to gain momentum initially, with only £5 raised for Sir Alfred’s charity during 1924, rising to £150 during 1925. However, as more prominent individuals came on board, lending credence as well as much needed publicity to the charity, events, meetings and funds escalated. The Sporting Times_, colloquially known as the_’ Pink ‘Un’, which was run by David Henry Cain, became an official A.O.F.B. organ and mouthpiece, printing news from the A.O.F.B. at home and abroad.
Applications began to arrive from around the world for Froth Blowing permits to participate in the Arts and Crafts of Froth Blowing; and when Jack Haes sang the Froth Blowers Anthem ‘The More We Are Together’ in the London Stock Exchange membership of the A.O.F.B. exploded.
David Caine founded the ‘Pink ’Un’ Vat in Bury Street, London and for his role in leading the recruitment drive for membership, he was awarded the A.O.F.B. special rank of ‘Grand Hurricane.’ Similarly, because Jack Haes so successfully promoted the A.O.F.B. through the Stock Exchange he was awarded the special rank of ‘Cloudburst.’ The wind related epithets are obviously a reference to the ‘blowing’ aspect of the organisation and every synonym for wind that you can think of was similarly applied to other members of the A.O.F.B.
As Bert Temple wrote in the Sporting Times in his Christmas message to Froth Blowers on 18th December 1926:
“In June of this year we totalled 6,000 A.O.F.B.’s; September 25th, 25,000; November 10th, 70,000; December 10th, 112,000 and before the year ends over 150,000 Blowers will have received their little booklet and silver cufflinks or wristlets. Every moment of the day and night new recruits are falling over each other, hastening to the cause of Companionship, Charity and Cheerfulness, in their rush, scattering their gifts to the wee waifs.”
Bert went on to say
“Sir Alfred Fripp has acknowledged £7,500 already, and before Christmas Day ten thousand pounds will have definitely been paid to the Sir Alfred Fripp’s Wee Waifs’ funds by Ye Ancient Order of Froth Blowers. And not a single penny will be wasted. All this money from the little booklet in addition to many donations which are to a great extent anonymous and are not included in this amount!
“My first Christmas wish to you all is astounding good health and astonishing good times! To all at home, to all overseas, and especially to all those boys in the outdated British Sentry Boxes dotted all over the world who were the first to acclaim with boyish glee the advent of Ye Ancient Order of Froth Blowers and all it stands for: CHARITY, COMPANIONSHIP and CHEERFULNESS. Our Blower’s Booklet will be read round hundreds of camp fires this Christmas by wandering sons of old Mother England; wandering, and perhaps wondering why things are not as they might be. Possibly there are of my opinion, and that is, if everybody in this great big nation sang our Froth Blower’s Anthem once a day, a spirit of cheerfulness and give-and-take duty might prevail. Anyway, tens of thousands will insist on singing the inspiring refrain during this festive season. We have no class or creed distinctions, and in castle and cottage, battleship and barracks our own little song will make for jollity and good-fellowship, and wherever it is sung the British boys and girls will let themselves go. Sing it on Christmas day and give a little thought for the Wee Waifs. Sing it on New Year’s Eve just before 12 o’clock as a good finish to a mouldy year. But, above all sing it one minute after the New Year steps in as a good augury for a really happy year, with no labour or class dissentions, international strife, or interference from anybody. Would that the League of Nations adopt a spirit of the F.B.‘s Anthem, and then the world would be worth living in. A.O.F.B. wireless waves are linking TIENTSIN with PATAGONIA, COCOSISLES with TEXAS, DEMERARA with ADEN, VANCOUVER with IRAQ, and the boundless ether will be for the next few days VIBRATING with the strain of ’The more we are together, the merrier we’ll be.’ There is one bad lad in Britain whose heart is busting with pride at the spontaneous answer to his appeal. His name is No. 0. and it is not only the boisterous and brawny Briton who answers, but the dainty, angelic, Fairy Belle who is helping Sir Alfred and Lady Fripp’s wonderful work in the East End amongst the Wee Waifs.”
Bert finished his Christmas message with a direct reference to the American prohibitionists and the Temperance Movement:
“A MERRYCHRISTMASAGAIN, and may next year be a merrier one for all of us – a merrier one for the Wee Waifs and a merrier one for No. 1 and his good Lady, a merrier one for all A.O.F.B.‘s , and don’t forget our slogan "LUBRICATION IN MODERATION, " and thus give old Pussyfoot Johnson, and all his freakish tribe, no opening for foisting his unnatural tastes on to our British beer-loving, baccy-loving and beef-loving palates.”
The following week the monies received allowed Fairy Belle No. 1, also known as the Mother Superior, Mrs. Mary Temple (Bert’s mother) to call upon Sir Alfred and present a cheque for £2,500, the largest single amount to date, bringing the total for the ‘Wee Waifs’ to £10,000.
The following years saw a total of £76,000 handed to Sir Alfred in 1927, a proportion of which was obviously raised by the charity game with West Ham; with donations rising to £100,000 by 1928. £100,000 in today’s terms would equate to over £6 million, which is a remarkable amount when you consider that Britain was still recovering from the effects of the First World War and there was a looming economic depression on the horizon. Bert’s rallying call had struck a chord, originally within the British Armed Forces, then capturing the imagination of so many members of the public. The fact that it was fun added to its appeal and its aim to transcend class, creed and gender boundaries, thus ridiculing the secretive elitism of the Masons probably increased its popularity.
As usual my article is in danger of turning into a rival for ‘War and Peace’ in its length, so if you’d like to know more about the Ancient Order of Froth Blowers and their sad demise in 1931 please follow this link to the home page of the excellent website from which I gleaned most of this information.
Getting back to the A.O.F.B.’s relationship with our club, I couldn’t help wondering who at West Ham might have been a member of this beer loving organisation and responsible for organising the charity match.
Syd King seems a likely candidate, he was Thames Ironworks’ and West Ham’s star full back from 1899 – 1903 and went on to become West Ham’s manager, a position he held for 30 years from 1902 until 1932. It was well known that Syd ‘liked a drink’ and I can imagine him sitting in his office in Upton Park with a pair of silver A.O.F.B. cufflinks glinting in his shirtsleeves.
In his book ‘At Home with the Hammers’ (1960) Ted Fenton, West Ham United player (1932-46) and manager (1950-61) wrote:
“The boss at West Ham was Syd King, an outsize, larger-than-life character with close-cropped grey hair and a flowing moustache. He was a personality plus man, a man with flair. Awe struck, I would tip-toe past his office but invariably he would spot me. “Boy,” he would shout. “Get me two bottles of Bass.” Down to the Boleyn pub on the corner I would go on my errand and when I got back to the office Syd King would flip me a two-shilling piece for my trouble."
Whether or not it was Syd King who organised the charity game, there clearly was some kind of relationship between West Ham and the A.O.F.B. because the club apparently sent a representative to Sir Alfred Fripp’s memorial service at St Martins in the Fields following his death in 1930.
I wondered whether The Boleyn pub or the bar in the ground itself had been designated as an A.O.F.B. Vat but I couldn’t find either of them listed. There were a few East London boozers among them though, including my old West Ham watering hole The Black Lion in Plaistow. Apparently it was nominated as a Vat by a bloke called Blaster Joe Clark, I wonder if he was a Hammer? If you’re interested in looking at the whole list of Vats you can find them here:
The Black Lion appears near the bottom of the list as ‘Ye Olde Black Lion’
I can’t imagine that Arnold Hills, the founder of West Ham, would have been very impressed if he’d learned that the club was hosting the A.O.F.B. game. Hills was the first President of the London Vegetarian Society (1888) serving alongside the young Mahatma Gandhi on the Executive Committee and he also had close ties with the Temperance League. At one point he even planned to stand as a Unionist and Temperance candidate in the 1897 Walthamstow by-election. On 22nd January he said that would definitely stand unless the Liberals fielded a candidate, in which case he would withdraw to avoid splitting the Conservative vote and risk handing the seat to the opposition. So it was probably just as well that Hills passed away on 7th March 1927, just a few weeks before the charity match at Upton Park that saw the kick off being facilitated with a large tankard of beer. In fact the A.O.F.B. had a lot of criticism from the Temperance League so Arnold Hills was probably aware of them before he died.
One very vociferous opponent was the American prohibitionist and temperance advocate William Eugene “Pussyfoot” Johnson. Another ‘home grown’ objector was a Methodist minister, the Reverend Sam Rowley from Bradford. He did not object to the cause or motive but rather the methods used. He published leaflets in late 1927 stating that the A.O.F.B. was nothing more than a subtle method of beer propaganda. He was disappointed that the phraseology used in the membership booklet was:
“ …. beery, though alleged to be cheery and humorous, though its humour needs the incoherent mentality created by association with a Vat to appreciate it. Our impression of a Vat is it is a place where beer drinking predominates.”
The Reverend’s attacks on the A.O.F.B. centred on the morality issues of the ‘promotion’ of beer drinking and the fact that children were enlisted to the A.O.F.B. by parents. He suggested that “Britons raised on beer will always produce Wee Waifs.” The surgeon Sir Alfred Fripp countered this view by saying that, in moderation or otherwise, it was better to have beer drinking for charity than beer drinking alone, especially in a country where total abstinence was not going to happen. Rowley had to concede that there were more causes of poverty than beer consumption and drunkenness alone. In fact there were many teetotal members of the A.O.F.B. as well as those who loved to “gollop their beer with zest.”
As my mind continued to wander on the subject of West Ham’s association with the Ancient Order of Froth Blowers I couldn’t help but ponder the bubble blowing connection.
There are assorted theories on why West Ham United fans sing ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ as our anthem; but that’s all they are, theory and speculation. There’s no definitive proof of why this mournful lament became so strongly associated with our club. I’m sure that almost all of you will be fully aware of the reasons postulated but just in case you aren’t this very comprehensive article discusses their validity or not:
I began to wonder if I’d chanced upon the missing link in our bubble blowing history! Could it be that the band at the game between West Ham United and the Froth Blowers XI had played the popular music hall song ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ in the ground for the first time as a tribute to their froth blowing guests and the music hall stars gracing our pitch? Unfortunately I couldn’t find any references to our anthem being particularly associated with the A.O.F.B. but I thought I’d float my theory even if it does turn out to be just another lot of hot air among the existing theories. ;)
I did discover that the Ancient Order of Froth Blowers have their own anthem based on a traditional Austrian folk tune from around 1768. The original song ‘Ach du Lieber Augustin’ tells the story of ‘Augustin’ who consumes too much wine and passes out at the side of the road during the great plague. He’s mistaken for a dead man and loaded onto a cart with plague dead, only to wake up in the mortuary later, startling the attendants. The A.O.F.B. song ‘The More we are Together was written by Irving King using the melody of the old air. The A.O.F.B. also inspired a music hall song called ’I’m one of the Old Froth Blowers’ by Nat Travers.
It’s often been said that defeatist nature of ‘Bubbles’ doesn’t exactly augur well as a football refrain, perhaps we should adopt one of the Froth Blowers’ songs instead? Their official anthem is certainly inclusive and reflects the notion of the ‘West Ham Family.’ I’m not so sure about the music hall song but it’s got a definite cockney flavour. I’ll leave you with a link to both sets of lyrics and a couple of recordings and let you decide for yourself.
While I was scraping the bottom of the beer barrel for more tenuous links between West Ham and the A.O.F.B. I discovered that one of its more famous members was the British commercial artist George Studdy, who is best known for his comic strip dog called none other than Bonzo! First created in 1922 the pup quickly rose to popularity and starred in one of the world’s first cartoons, becoming an inspiration for mass-marketed merchandise. Bonzo the dog appeared in many adverts for the A.O.F.B. and reminded me of West Ham’s very own fund raising bulldog, also called Bonzo, who is sometimes spotted blowing the froth off one in the King Eddy on Stratford Broadway. If Karren Brady tries to get her mitts on you for mass-marketed merchandising purposes Bonzo I hope you’ll cock your leg at her.
If anyone is still awake and reading, you might be interested to know that in mid 2018 a reformation group began to put in place a modernised version of the A.O.F.B. The group, with foundation member groups in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and the United States, has begun building the structure for the organisation based on its original charter with provisions for a more inclusive membership. Not wanting to take anything away from the original organisation, the new group will go under the name of the Grand Ancient Order of Froth Blowers. The group maintains that its primary aim is "to raise money for charity and have fun doing so whilst blowing the head off one or five.” The expected official launch of the new organisation is September 2019, but it is already actively recruiting foundation members and Vats.
Perhaps we should pick up where Blaster Joe Clark left off in the 1920s and nominate the Black Lion in Plaistow as an Ancient Order of Froth Blowers Vat once more. I shall leave you with that thought my bubble blowing friends and sign off with the ‘fierce yell’ of the A.O.F.B.
N.B. Following publication of the article I’ve subsequently remembered that the West Ham fundraising dog isn’t called Bonzo, he’s called Bubbles Apologies for the mistake and hopefully you’ll grant me a little poetic licence for my mental aberration.
Following on from my piece on the museum, here’s something for those fans who are interested in collecting and preserving the history of West Ham United.
On Monday 15th April at 10:00am there will be a specialist football auction at Stacey’s Auctioneers and Valuers, who are located in Rayleigh in Essex. If you want to browse the whole catalogue click the following link:
There are a few West Brom items mixed in with this West Ham selection as Stacey’s search facility doesn’t accept search quotes. There are also some shirts that don’t seem to be related but if you hover over the images you’ll see that they’ve been included because they were swapped with a West Ham player after a game.
There’s the usual selection of shirts and programmes but one or two more unusual lots caught my eye in particular.
“West Ham Signed 57/58 Promotion Menu: Stunning condition claret and blue tasseled menu signed to inside back pages by players including Bond Gregory Brown Musgrove Dare Cantwell and Bond. Manager Charlie Paynter Chairman Reg Pratt invited guests Vic Watson Stanley Rous Entertainers including Anna Neagle and others. C/W seating plan for you to decipher other autographs.
Estimate £160 to £180”
Some great historic autographs among that lot!
“West Ham 36/37 Football Season Ticket: A rare ladies season ticket with nearly all counterfoils intact inside. Signed inside by club secretary Mr Searles. Nice item.
Estimate £80 to £100”
I wonder who Mrs J. Neill was? No doubt she was the wife or family member of one of West Ham’s players of the 1936/37 season. She clearly wasn’t much of a football fan as her complimentary season ticket didn’t get much use.
“West Ham 1960s Football Rug: 50 years old in very good condition featuring the West Ham crest with two players either side in West Ham kit. Measures 27 × 50 inches.
Estimate £35 to £45”
I really like this and I thought it might look nice mounted on the wall of a certain Mr Kahn’s personal WHU museum.
“Rare West Ham Football Season Summaries: Complete run from 59/60 to 69/70. Very rare and not available to the public. Each season has forthcoming fixtures and an in depth factual report on previous season with club records going back to 1900 and a list and description of every professional at the club. Given to teams hosting West Ham prior to a match mainly for programme information. Excellent. (11)”
These look like they would be of great interest to the true West Ham historian.
If you are interested in buying any of the items listed you can bid in person, by submitting a commission bid, over the ‘phone or online, all the details of how to do that are here: