The Iron Liddy Column

Our Museum is Missing - Part Two

Welcome back!

If you’ve just logged in for the first time today this is the concluding part to my article, the first part was published at 8:00am today.

Following in the Moore family’s auspicious footsteps Mr L and I also paid a visit to the museum sometime during the 2002/2003 season. If my memory serves me correctly, the entrance to the museum was via the club shop through a door located to the left at the back of the store. You simply paid for your tickets in the shop and you were then admitted by a member of staff. I can remember being very impressed with the quality of the curating and presentation of the artefacts and it was a fascinating insight into West Ham’s history. Younger readers have to remember that in 2002/2003 Google was still in its infancy and online resources that allowed you to find historical images and information on West Ham United were still extremely thin on the ground (or rather, in the ether), so a resource like this museum was very exciting for anybody interested in the history of our club.

As well as being open to West Ham fans and the general public the museum was also used by the Club for PR and educational enterprises. In August 2005 fans were invited to the museum prior to a couple of home games for their chance to put themselves in Nigel Reo-Coker’s boots and lift the Coca-Cola Championship Play-Off Final trophy.

In December of the same year the Club gave access to the museum and other areas of the stadium to year 13 students from the Sydney Russell School to enable them to research the club, the stadium and in particular Bobby Moore as part of their ‘A’ Level Performing Arts coursework. The students went on to write and perform a tribute piece based on their research in the museum.

In 2006 Terence Brown sold West Ham United to Eggert Magnusson & Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson. There is evidence that the museum continued to thrive during this period as it was being used by the West Ham United in the Community initiative as an educational resource for their Football Education Days for local schoolchildren; and in 2007 an article with a glowing review of the museum appeared on the Football Shirt Culture website.

The last mention I could find of the West Ham United Museum on the Club’s website was on 16th October 2008 in an article on the new BM6 range, which was created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bobby Moore’s debut for West Ham. The article stated:

“The jewel in the crown of the BM6 limited edition range is a box set which includes and exact replica of the first shirt Bobby Moore ever wore for West Ham United in 1958. The original shirt was taken out of the museum where technicians measured it to ensure the replica was identical …..”

The trail on our missing museum then goes cold and the only evidence of its closure that I managed to track down on the internet was in a brief amendment to the museum’s entry on the Timeout website. According to this notification the West Ham United Museum had closed permanently by 20th June 2012, by which time the club had been under the ownership of David Sullivan and David Gold for two and a half years.

However, as the old adage goes, it’s not what you know but who you know and a quick text to a friend who has worked at the club for over two decades confirmed that the museum was closed during Eggert Magnusson & Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson’s tenure because it was deemed to be a waste of space and money as the number of visitors had fallen.

Presumably at that point all the valuable and historic artefacts which had been acquired with the assistance of West Ham fans’ donations were put into storage somewhere in the stadium for safekeeping. Quite how safe they were in the clutches of Gold, Sullivan and Brady is questionable though, as Sean Whetstone’s article which appeared on West Ham Till I Die in September 2014 revealed that when the new board took over in 2010 they considered selling the collection to raise funds to tackle the debt problem. Sean’s article states that Bobby Moore’s widow Stephanie said at the time:

“I was really alarmed when Karren Brady told me that they were going to sell it all, I think their research told them that they would get a lot of bad publicity if they were to do that. The fans would be up in arms!”

I have to say that I did find it rather odd that although the articles from 2001-2003 on the planning and opening of the museum can still be found on the West Ham website, any references to the fans’ financial donations seem to have been removed. I wasn’t a season ticket holder in 1995, so I didn’t receive communications from the Club, and I didn’t buy programmes, so I was completely oblivious to the fact that Terry Brown had asked fans for a financial contribution to help purchase the artefacts. It was only because of a couple of references on out-of-date external websites such as this one that I learned that the fans had a financial stake in the museum.

Sports Museums

The next mention on the WHU website of a museum of any kind was on 17th May 2010 when it was announced that West Ham United and Newham Council’s Olympic Stadium proposal had just been submitted to the Olympic Park Legacy Company. The proposal was for “a vibrant centre of sport, culture and education” which would “inspire learning.” It was to include a specialist studio school for 300 pupils aged 14 to 19 and a further education and skills and enterprise campus in and around the stadium providing for up to 4,000 learners every year. The proposal also stated that one of the ideas being examined was the inclusion of an Olympic visitor centre and a football museum at the stadium.

In an ‘Olympic Stadium Update’ posted on the official West Ham website on 28th January 2011 it was revealed that the first image of how the Olympic Stadium could look as part of the proposed bid had been unveiled by West Ham United vice-chairman Karren Brady and Mayor of Newham Sir Robin Wales at a House of Commons reception.

The report also stated:

“The stadium – at the heart of the Olympic Park – would include a football museum, interactive learning facilities and be a home sport for elite, club, community and school athletes of all discipline. Under the plans, it would be open for use as soon as summer 2014.”

However, two years later the plan for a museum had clearly been scrapped, as evidenced on 13th April 2013 when Karren Brady published answers to the Olympic Stadium Q&A Part Two on the Club’s website. One of the questions was:

“Would the club consider opening a West Ham museum at the Olympic Stadium?”

Brady’s answer was:

“Although there are no plans as yet to open a West Ham United museum within the stadium, all of the club’s memorabilia and trophies will be coming with us and will be displayed for all to enjoy with the pride and reverence they deserve.”

Whether this was a commercial decision taken by the Board or a restriction imposed on them by the Olympic Park Legacy Company, as the LLDC was known then, I don’t know. What I do know is that despite Brady’s assertions, the West Ham United Museum artefacts held in storage now had an uncertain future.

On 7th April 2016 their fate was revealed when the West Ham United Board announced that there would be an ‘extensive auction’ of the majority of the club’s historic artefacts and memorabilia as part of the Farewell Boleyn campaign. The announcement stated that the “most cherished” items would be retained, including the World Cup Winners’ medals, England caps and match-worn shirts belonging to the Club’s famous three sons, Moore, Hurst and Peters. It also stated that the proceeds from the auction would be invested in the West Ham Academy.

You can find a link to the full announcement and an embedded link to the auction site here:

Farewell Boleyn Auction Plans Announced

The rest, as they say, is history.

Having completed my research thus far I still remained angry that the current Board took the decision to auction off so much of our heritage; particularly as some of it was acquired with fans’ money donated expressly to create a West Ham United Museum. On top of that, leaving the Boleyn Ground at Upton Park was a hugely emotional wrench for some West Ham fans and I believe that some fixtures and fittings should have been retained with a view to creating a specific installation to commemorate our spiritual and physical home of over 100 years. As it is, the only artefacts from the Boleyn that are available to the general fan base are three of the John Lyall gates, which have been installed in the club shop in the Olympic Park. The remaining three gates are apparently now in the possession for former Club Chairman Terry Brown, who bought them from the auction for an undisclosed sum.

While some would argue that as the owners of West Ham United David Gold and David Sullivan were free to dispose of the assets, fixtures and fittings of the Boleyn Ground as they saw fit, I would argue that as custodians of a historical football club they had heritage and cultural obligations which don’t come with a ‘normal’ business or company. If they were prevented from creating their promised museum by the LLDC then the original WHU Museum’s artefacts plus the most significant fixtures from the Boleyn Ground should have been retained and held in trust for future owners and fans until such time that a new museum could become a reality.

Another worry is what will happen to Moore, Hurst and Peter’s very valuable caps, shirts and medals when Gold and Sullivan eventually sell West Ham United?

I already felt frustrated and upset at the loss of our home and heritage and this research just served to compound those feelings, so I decided to take some action.

At the end of 2017 I emailed Dr Charlotte Woodhead who is a member of the Museums Association’s Ethics Committee. Dr Woodhead is an academic in the School of Law at the University of Warwick and is a non-practising barrister. Her research focuses on the legal recognition and protection of cultural heritage and how this is supplemented by codes of ethics.

I outlined the situation regarding the West Ham United Museum to Dr Woodhead and asked her whether a football club museum partially funded by fans’ money is subject to the Museums Association’s Code of Ethics and if so, would there be any legal implications for the memorabilia that has been sold by the current owners or that may have ended up in their private collections. I also asked if these artefacts should have been held in trust for future owners and fans.

Dr Woodhead replied as follows:

“I’m afraid that, as an individual member of the committee, I don’t feel able to comment directly on the matter. However, I would suggest that you contact the MA policy officer, Alistair Brown with your enquiry and he can then correspond with you about it; if necessary he can then direct the matter to the entire Ethics Committee who could comment on it.”

I then wrote to Alistair Brown as suggested and posed the same questions. Mr Brown replied as follows:

“Thanks for getting in touch. It sounds like a real shame that this collection has been sold and is no longer accessible to fans.

“In terms of your question about the Code of Ethics – all museums that are institutional members of the Association are bound by the Code of Ethics. (The vast majority of public museums in the UK are members of the MA, but it is less likely that a privately-run museum such as the West Ham museum would be a member.) However, we believe that any institution that calls itself a ‘museum’ should abide by the general principles of the code, which include the principle that collections should not be treated as financial assets and should be held for public benefit.

“As to your question about legal implications – I’m afraid there are none via the MA, as our code is voluntary and has no legal force. However, it would be interesting to explore under what legal status the collection was held from 2002 onwards, as most museums hold their collections in trust in order to protect them from sale or mismanagement.”

And that, dear readers, is as far as I got. While I remain angry, concerned and frustrated at what has become of West Ham United’s heritage, as an individual I feel impotent in the face of it all. We can’t turn back the clock and it feels all too late to try to influence any kind of change as far as the current board are concerned.

Which leaves me with just a wish and a hope.

My wish is that more of us had listened to passionate and dedicated West Ham fans and historians such as Nigel Kahn and helped him to oppose what the incumbent board were doing to our club and heritage.

My hope is that in the future a new owner will see the cultural and educational value in restoring the West Ham United Museum to properly preserve our heritage in a meaningful way. I also hope that it can become a community hub for education, as well as for reminiscence therapy for West Ham fans suffering with dementia. Hopefully some fans who bought culturally significant items in the auction will see the value in loaning them to the museum for all fans to enjoy, rather than keeping them hidden away in private collections. Most importantly it will provide a permanent home for the medals, caps and shirts that the Moore, Hurst and Peters families wished to be made available to all West Ham fans. That is if they don’t mysteriously disappear when the club is sold …..

NB credit for the lovely photograph of Bobby Moore with his three medals belongs to Rod Ebdon

The Iron Liddy Column

Our Museum is Missing - Part One

Brace yourselves Hammers, it’s a long one …..

As some of you may recall, back in March 2017 I wrote an article on how football is being used within care homes and community spaces in England as a key to unlock dementia patients’ memories and to engage with them in a meaningful and therapeutic way.

As I explored the subject I discovered that directed reminiscence therapy based on football has also been adopted in Scotland and that group sessions have been held for sufferers and their carers in the Hampden Park Museum amongst the football artefacts and memorabilia in order to help trigger memories. As I wrote in 2017:

“Thinking about the fact that these sessions took place within the setting of the Hampden Park football museum really served to compound my profound anger and disappointment that the current West Ham board took the decision to auction off our club’s memorabilia when we left Upton Park last year. They may only be dusty artefacts to some but for many older West Ham fans, especially those suffering from dementia, they could have been valuable portals to memories which would enable them to reconnect with their past and their present and give them back their sense of identity and self-esteem. Some of these items were procured with the assistance of financial donations by fans for the West Ham museum that was opened at The Boleyn ground in Bobby Moore’s memory on 23rd October 2002; and which silently and mysteriously disappeared ….. but that’s a story for another article.”

At the time a couple of WHTID readers did ask me to go on and write that article on the disappearance of our museum. Unfortunately life took over and sad and difficult circumstances meant that the rest of 2017 went by in a horrible blur. By the time I came up for air it was December and although I did then revisit the subject and began to investigate the history of the West Ham museum and what had become of it, the information I found never did manifest into an article.

Last week Iain asked me if I would write a regular column for WHTID again so I’ve been trawling through all my old research for inspiration and I came across the information I’d compiled on the museum. This is what I found.

Establishing a West Ham United museum became the dream of Club Chairman Terence Brown and his fellow Director Charles Warner during the Club’s Centenary Year of 1995, at the beginning of a £35 million redevelopment project. Around the time that the Centenary Stand (latterly the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand) was opened the Club made an appeal to West Ham fans for financial donations to help make Terry Brown’s dream of a museum a reality.

Fast forward five years to the year 2000 and the old West Stand was demolished so that work could begin on the Dr Martens Stand. The new stand would also incorporate conference and banqueting facilities, a hotel, the club shop and the longed-for museum.

In May 2001 Stuart Ryan was appointed as Commercial Director of the Club and at the time he had this to say about the Dr Martens Stand and the new West Ham United museum:

“The cornerstone of the club is the friendly atmosphere and heritage element that West Ham is synonymous with, so the design and development of everything within that is trying to make sure we don’t lose the roots and real feeling of the club, the tradition that everyone has come to know, love, and respect.

“I was just chatting with the Chairman and we were in agreement that the uniqueness and one thing we must never move away from is the great heritage of the club.”

In August 2001 the Upper Tier of the Dr Martens Stand, named after the Club’s sponsors, was opened for the first home match of the season against Leeds United. An article featuring an interview with Sir Geoff Hurst which appeared on the official WHU website that same month talks of some of the acquisitions for the planned new museum:

“Sir Geoff Hurst admits that his World Cup medal, which will be one of the attractions of the West Ham museum in the new stand, once formed part of a bracelet that was worn by his wife in public! Along with his FA Cup winner’s medal from 1964 and his Cup Winners’ Cup medal from 1965, which will also be on display when the museum opens next summer, Mrs Hurst wore surely the ultimate piece of jewellery on nights out.”

Sir Geoff explained:

“For many years my wife had the three medals on a bracelet and would go into public places.

“More people talk about the World Cup today and the significance of it, so its value is higher, but then you could get away with it.

“To wear a World Cup medal on your bracelet today would be unthinkable, but that is how it was.

“It is held in more reverence today than it ever was before.

“There would be a huge risk today; it is a treasured item and a token of England winning the World Cup in 1966, which people of our generation are very proud of and remember fondly."

The West Ham article continued:

“Not that there will be any more soirees with the medals jangling on Mrs Hurst’s wrist – all three are safely in the possession of West Ham now that the World Cup medal has gone to the club for £150,000.”

Sir Geoff expounded:

“West Ham have it now and that’s it; it will be next seen at the launch of the new museum.

“I auctioned most of the memorabilia last year through Christie’s but I retained the World Cup medal as I decided I would keep that.

“But I always knew that we were going to release it somewhere because it has been locked away in a bank vault and nobody ever sees it.

“You can’t split the medal between three girls and two grandchildren, and I always felt it was fitting to go to West Ham because I spent 15 very happy years there and it is a club I am extremely fond of.

“With the new stand and the museum, and the fact that they had acquired Bobby Moore’s collection, I felt it was a very nice thing to incorporate my medal into the collection as well.

“I think you could argue I could have got more for it but I didn’t want to put it on the open market.

“West Ham made some overtures to me, and talked about the new stand and the museum; the money was a secondary thing.

“I felt it ought to finish up at West Ham and the price was not a consideration, though with the shirt fetching £85,000 last year, which was remarkable for a shirt, the medal might have gone for more.

“I very rarely look at the medal because it is locked away. The last time I saw it was after a specific request from the members of the 1966 club in the Bobby Moore stand about a year or 18 months ago.

“They joke about whether I really played in the final as they’ve never seen the medal so I wanted to ram their words down their throats and produce it.

“That’s the only time it’s been seen in public over many, many years; so it will be nice to share it with a lot of people who can have a look at it.

“The museum will provide an opportunity for fans to see not only my medal but Bobby Moore’s collection and Martin Peters’ medal, which will be lovely.”

The article revealed that the new £3.5 million museum would also house Bobby Moore’s £1.45 million collection of memorabilia and it concluded with the following quote from Chairman Terry Brown:

“This will be a unique collection and we were very lucky; the odds against being given the opportunity to acquire these three World Cup winner’s medals at the time when we were building our museum at Upton Park must have been very long indeed.

“There is a lot more to a football club than buying and selling players – having three players from one club playing in a victorious England World Cup final team is a unique feat and we are immensely proud of it.

“What better way is there of commemorating that achievement than to display all three of their winners’ medals?”

In November 2001 the 15,500 seater Dr Martens Stand was completed and the Lower Tier was opened for our home game against Spurs. In the meantime work continued on the front section of the stand that would house the new museum and club shop.

On Thursday 9th May 2002, the Dr Martens Stand was officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen as part of her Golden Jubilee celebrations. Joe Cole, Jermain Defoe, and Glen Johnson all skipped training that Thursday morning to meet the Royals at the Boleyn Ground before both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh paid a visit to the new museum to sign the visitors’ book.

Then, after more than seven years of planning, the West Ham United Museum finally opened its doors to the public for the first time on Saturday 24th August 2002.
Speaking at the time about the donations made by West Ham fans to fund the museum Terence Brown said:

“I can assure all supporters who made contributions that every penny went into this massive project that has cost around £4 million.”

In a review of the museum for the Culture 24 website David Prudames wrote in August 2002:

“From the grainy photograph of boys knocking a ball about in the street to the artist’s impression of the club’s soon to be 40,000 seat stadium, this Museum not only traces the history of a football club, but that of the game itself.

“On entering, visitors are greeted with a projected image of Arnold Hills, owner of the Thames Iron Works and Shipbuilding Company. Lamenting the decision by his works’ football team to turn professional and change its name to West Ham United, Hills admits: “It is important for each community to have its own football team.” Hills could never have foreseen what would happen to the amateur game of Association Football, but, as this Museum attests, his sense of community undoubtedly lives on. West Ham United’s connections to its East London home are ever-present from a video installation of the local Boleyn Pub to the celebration of the Hammer’s most famous locally-born son, Bobby Moore.

“An intriguing timeline runs the length of the Museum space, flagging up world events with the coinciding achievements of West Ham United and their headline-making players. This gives a colourful insight into the way such events have affected the game of football. For example, West Ham United’s war time recruitment of Irish players when the local lads had all been called up to fight the Nazis.

“The Museum centres on the Champions’ Collection, which, with its medals, shirts and caps worn and won by three of West Ham United and England’s most famous names, is a true football treasure. Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Sir Geoff Hurst’s involvement in the World Cup winning side of 1966 is well documented. Visitors can hear all about it from recordings of the players themselves, experience it with the late Sir Kenneth Wolstenholme’s famous commentary and see it in the form of three winner’s medals.

“A £4 million project, the Museum doffs a cap to the fans with a song sheet for crowd favourite I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles and offers profiles of current players. Charting football’s evolution, the West Ham United Museum is a worthwhile experience for any fan of the game, not just those whose favourite colours are claret and blue.”

Two months later, on 23rd October 2002 the Club held an official opening ceremony for the West Ham United Museum in Bobby Moore’s memory. The ceremony was attended by Bobby’s first wife Tina, their children Roberta and Dean and granddaughter Poppy. Martin Peters, Brian Dear, and Sir Robin Wales, the mayor of Newham, also attended, together with other guests associated with West Ham’s history. Among them was Patrick Hills, a descendant of Arnold Hills who founded the original Thames Ironworks club in 1895, and who was quoted on the club website at the time:

“It was a wonderful day, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself, and I am enormously pleased with how it has turned out.

“It is all extremely interesting and, I thought, very well done.

“We are delighted to see what has been happening; history is important to visitors and fascinating for the children.”

The Club also invited Dorothy Young to the official opening of the museum. Dorothy was the daughter of the Geordie footballer Jack Young, who played for the Hammers in the famous 1923 ‘White Horse’ FA Cup final. In her interview for the Club’s website in October 2002 Dorothy recalled:

“Dad was right full back and Billy Henderson was left full back; they both came from the little village of Whitburn. I think he earned £7 a week in the summer and £15 when they played. A lot of people only earned £3 even in the 30s.

“We used to come and live in Shepherd’s Bush in the football season until we were kids and then had to go to school in the north east.

“It was very hard times in those days but he was a very good footballer. It was a £600 transfer when, as dad told me, in those days £200 was a good transfer fee to pay.”

Jack continued in the game after his playing days were over by scouting for a former playing colleague, George Kay, who went on to manage Liverpool FC. The Club’s article on Dorothy and Jack Young concluded:

“When the museum eventually expands – as it will – the contracts Jack signed are likely to be on display."

Later that same year, in November 2002, a promotional article in praise of the new museum appeared on the Club’s website stating that the museum had the approval of Bobby Moore’s family and quoted his daughter Roberta as follows:

“It was an honour to be at the opening of the museum recently – and it is exactly what dad would have wanted.

“We all have special memories of him and his part in something etched in our nation’s history.

“He was a giant of a man in his own quiet, unassuming, way – he was a gentleman and a gentle man.”

Bobby’s former wife, Tina, added:

“It is fantastic; I am so happy because I think everything that Bobby treasured, all his possessions, are in the right place.

“Upton Park was the place he felt at home, and it is exactly right; it is unbelievable to see all the stuff that I spent hours polishing with a toothbrush!

“It is where everything should be exactly as it is with people looking at it.

“I am just delighted and thrilled; I treasure everything in there because it meant a lot to us.

“He was a very modest man and also a very proud one, and what you can see at the museum is what Bobby had to display and admire when Bobby was here.

“Bobby has come to rest.”

Bobby’s son Dean was also delighted to visit the museum and said:

“I had a lovely day, but it was a bit nerve wracking because it was so emotional.

“It is a fantastic museum and it was great to be back; they have done the family proud – and dad especially.

“It is spectacular, brilliant, and it is just nice to see all the old stuff again which I haven’t seen for about 10 years.

“They have done a really good job and I will be coming back again to see everything.

“They have done it justice and I am sure my dad would have been very, very proud of it – I am.

“They have kept his memory alive which is the right thing to do; it is a reminder of the good times – and hopefully there will be plenty more to come.

“My sister is overjoyed by the museum and Bobby’s granddaughter Poppy loves it as well.”

Well done if you’ve made it this far, you’ll be pleased to know that there will now be a short interlude for a comfort break and light refreshments before the concluding part is published at 5:00pm. Until then …..

The Iron Liddy Column

Celebrating a European union

Good morning Hammers

Firstly, I hope that you’ll all join me in wishing our inimitable Hamburg Hammer a very happy birthday today!

Hopefully this will be a nice birthday surprise for him as he settles down for his first read of the day over a full English and his West Ham mug of Rosie Lee.

Secondly, in recognition of his dedication and hard work in helping to keep West Ham Till I Die online over the past four and a half years, Iain and I thought that you might all enjoy a little retrospective photographic showcase of HH’s West Ham (and related) exploits. The photography isn’t up to Dawud’s standard I’m afraid but hopefully it will capture the essence of West Ham United’s most famous German Hammer.

You have provided so much thoughtful, insightful and highly entertaining content for WHTID over the years HH and this is just to say a big thank you for all the hours you’ve put in on our behalf. Monday mornings just wouldn’t be the same without your thoughts on all things West Ham, your excellent puns, your numerous references to food and your reports on lower league German football. West Ham Till I Die would be a much duller place without you.

And please stop fretting about Brexit HH; whatever happens you will always be welcome on these shores because you are a right royal part of the sovereign state of West Ham United. Not sure how you’re going to cope with the food rationing over here once we leave the EU though. You’d better start practicing your sausage smuggling. ;)

Enjoy your trip down Memory Lane …..

Have a wonderful birthday mate and enjoy your celebrations.

Lids x


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!

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