Guest Post

Guest Post by Beniron

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

“Do you want to go to University?”

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

“No.”

I replied.

“Do you want to work in banking?”

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

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

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

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

He said and that was my interview over!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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