Guest Post by John Bayfield
During my time supporting West Ham United, I haven’t seen as many away games as I would have liked. 13 in total, that’s all. A meagre tally compared to a lot of us on here. What with playing a lot of local football in my teens, twenties and early thirties, getting married and bringing up a family has restricted me via time and finances one way or another to see the boys play both home and away as much as I would have hoped. I have read with some envy on this site of numerous stories and anecdotes when it came to away travel to see the Hammers across the country and some abroad too. Many a day the wit and wisdom written about your claret and blue travel adventures or horrors have left a grin on these not so pristine chops of mine. We have a history of our away fans being amongst the best, if not THE best, for brilliant support whatever the teams form at the time, our position in whatever league we were in or the cup games we were contesting over many years. Most of my away ventures were in the late 70’s and early 80’s, times when you had more of a chance to get a ticket at the turnstiles on the day of the game. Nowadays, the chances of seeing the team in a competitive match for an away game are a lot less as many of us know all too well.
Having spent some time and pocket money on round rail trips from Cambridge to Liverpool Street onto Upton Park via the Hammersmith and City Tube line for my early visits to home games, the words of my driving test examiner brought a new personal landmark,’ You have passed …..but only just’. I wasn’t too worried about the’ just’ bit. You either do or you don’t. After many months of saving up the pennies and purchasing my first car, a metallic bronze Ford Cortina Mk 3 1600L in 1976, it gave me more freedom to explore a bit more West Ham football away from Upton Park. I had a playing card sized West Ham crest on a nice fine cloth and stuck it above the cassette player in the car, my own paradise by the dashboard light item not too obvious to be seen from the outside. My thought being if I had put some sticker in the car window I might return from a game minus the window and more. The car gave me the chance to go to games, not always West Ham ones, but just to see some football anywhere within a few hours from my house, off to the Midlands and beyond. Once I knew my local Cambs. league game had been called off, a team mate and I would find out which football league fixtures had passed pitch inspections in or around East Anglia and see if any was worth a visit. For example, one cold Saturday in February, 1977, one of the few games on that day was Ipswich v Stoke City in Division 1. It was good just to see a game and struggling Stoke won 1-0 with Peter Shilton playing a blinder for them. It was worth the admission just to see his display alone that afternoon. So a Saturday afternoon not wasted.
Although my work at that time meant some early morning starts, that didn’t deter me going to watch some midweek games further afield. The Cortina or Dagenham Dustbin, as my uncle kindly referred to it, took me to my first Hammers away game at Filbert Street on August 24th 1977. A draw looked on the cards but Leicester won 1-0 thanks to a late Steve Kember goal in the Division 1 clash. It had been a very hot and humid day but it ended in heavy rain just before the end of the match. Dressed for the weather in t-shirts and jeans we got drenched bucket loads all the way back to the car. The Leicester trip was also the first of the ‘spot Steve Bacon behind the goal’ on away games. Steve being the larger than life lens man and his photos graced many a home match programme. But the satisfaction of seeing the team away from the Boleyn Ground was a positive experience none the less. What’s the saying? You never forget your first time………. Team; Day, Brush, Lock, T.Taylor, Lampard, Curbishley, Devonshire, Pike, Radford, Robson, A.Taylor, Sub; Outlakowski.
Next up, scorched tyre marks all the way up the A11 to the Norwich City clash on January 2nd 1978. A 2-2 draw at Carrow Road in another Division 1 encounter, Alan Devonshire and Derek Hales our marksmen. Hales getting a late equaliser near the end with a flicked near post back header from a corner. Or was it off his moustache? One loss, one draw but I was getting into this away travel lark when I could. Team; Ferguson, Brush, Taylor, Bonds, Lampard, Brooking, Curbishley, Devonshire, Hales, Cross, Robson.
The bronze dustbin then dashed off south via the A10 and north circular road to Shepherd’s Bush. Whist waiting to get into the Queens Park Rangers stadium for an FA Cup 4th round replay on January 31st 1978, there was a big roar after a goal. For whom though? Pop Robson had given us the lead five minutes in and I didn’t see it. Saw all the other goals in our 6-1 defeat though, lucky me. As Chris Rea might have sung it, ‘This is the Loftus Road To Hell’. Phil Parkes watched most of the game in the home goal, Stan Bowles, Don Givens and Martyn Busby mullered us the longer the game went on. Each mile on the journey home was made that much better with a QPR mate in the passenger seat. He talked, I listened and my left ear took the brunt of it. Team; Ferguson, McDowell, T. Taylor, Bonds, Lampard, Curbishley, Devonshire, Holland, Hales, Cross, Robson. Sub; A.Taylor.
The dustbin’s next excursion on the long and winding road was northwards to Sheffield United on April 2nd 1979. Now in playing Division 2, we lost 3-0. We were out played for most of the game and we thoroughly deserved it. It rained all evening over Bramhall Lane as well. Nice. Another new ground visited, that was the only plus that evening. It didn’t matter how many Hammers devotees went away, a few hundred or a few thousand, we always let the home crowd know we were in attendance. Team; Parkes, Lampard, Brush, Martin, Bonds, McDowell, Holland, Devonshire, Cross, Robson, Pike.
Five days later it was at Cambridge United, April 7th 1979. Two West Ham games in a week was a real bonus for me. We drew 0-0 and it was my shortest (and cheapest) ever journey to see the Hammers play a competitive away game. I walked out of the house door and could see the floodlights, 15 minutes later I was inside the Abbey Stadium. (Dustbin left in the drive). Game was nothing special though we played well but lacked the cutting edge. That got me to five away games and no wins. It felt like I was on a road to nowhere. Team; Parkes, Lampard, Brush, Bonds, Martin, T. Taylor, McDowell, Holland, Devonshire, Cross, Robson. Sub; Pike. (September 27th 1980, we won at Cambridge 2-0 but I was playing elsewhere that day-typical!!) No promotion either that season after finishing seventh. The dustbin did me well for me as a first motor but it had one hiccup. Before driving back from a midweek England v Denmark Euro Qualifier game at Wembley on 12th September 1979 ( we won 1-0, Keegan I think)) I wound down the drivers’ window handle when pulling out of the stadium car park. But the window stayed in the usual up position for a moment before disappearing down into the door. It had come out of the mounting underneath it and I couldn’t get the window back up. I spent much of the 50 or so miles travelling home on a cold evening with my right arm and shoulder holding up my Parker coat covering the open window area as best I could and trying to stop my passengers in the car from getting a wind chill near minus. The left arm multi tasked with gears, steering, wipers and the occasional bit of ball scratching. Well….needs must.
The dustbin made its Hammers farewell journey on November 14th 1979. My sister braved the visit to Stamford Bridge with me for a midweek Division 2 match. The dustbin was parked a fair distance away from the ground for its own safety so a long walk ensued for us. My sister, Jane, had a soft spot for West Ham because of my support and it was her first game to see them play away. Pat Holland gave us a 25th minute lead but Lee Frost levelled six minutes later. A decent game on a heavy pitch ended with the home team’s winner from Mike Fillery on 75 minutes. I was gutted as it looked like we would get something from it. Not far from the ground after the game, I think it was on the Fulham Broadway, we heard shouting and the thunder of boots hitting the tarmac from afar and the noise was getting nearer to us. Some rabid wildebeest perhaps? I wasn’t far wrong in the description. A few hundred Chelsea louts, seemingly chasing after some of our fans and being followed by the old bill some on horseback, ran close by us. I shielded Jane against a wall, luckily they passed us without incident and we got back to the car in one piece. Glad I decided on the long walk after all. The team consisting of Ferguson, Stewart, Lampard, Bonds, Martin, Holland, Allen, Devonshire, Cross, Brooking and Neighbour with Landsdowne as sub, deserved better on the night but another trip home winless and pointless. No win in six. Never mind I thought it’ll come good.
New season, new hope and different a make of mobile rubbish container. I traded in the Cortina and thought I would try to up the street cred a bit (shakes head) and bought a two seater British Leyland Triumph TR7 with flip up headlights, a yellow colour with black go-faster stripes down the sides. No matter how much I tried, the stripes didn’t make much difference. To me or the team. The 1980-81 season opener, the Charity Shield on August 9th against Liverpool was not really officially an away game as such but unofficially that will do for me. At least I ticked it off my bucket list and managed to see us play at Wembley at least once. Liverpool always looked comfortable, the only real trouble for them being David Cross’ acrobatic overhead kick late on. Terry McDermott’s 17th minute decider after a rare Phil Parkes error meant another 1-0 loss keeping sister Jane’s 100% away record intact, before driving across the menagerie of London streets to Earls Court to see Pink Floyd knock down a rather large wall. Some excellent music thrown in as well. Team; Parkes, Stewart, Brush, Bonds, Martin, Devonshire, Allen, Holland, Cross, Brooking and Pike. Sub; Morgan. Guitar; D. Gilmour (sorry, thought I’d throw that one in).
After seven games and no victory, would The Holy Grail of that first away win be just around the corner? Or was I heading into a dead end? The search for that first away win would have to carry on.