West Ham Memories
While I have always been a dyed in the wool Arsenal fan, West Ham was geographically the closest club to where I grew up. But not all Londoners pick their nearest team and far too many of them choose Manchester United for my liking. But, as a result, I visited the Boleyn ground for several matches and a huge majority of my friends and relations supported the Hammers.
The First Visit to the Boleyn Ground
My first memory of the Boleyn ground was going to a match with some primary school friends. We couldn’t have been more than 9 or 10 years old and went on our own. The West Ham world cup stars Hurst, Moore and Peters were all still playing there, as well as Frank Lampard Senior and Harry Redknapp, who lived just across the road from me.
Walking down from the station to the gates of the ground was exciting, the smell of the hot dog and peanut stalls purveyed. Merchandising was in its infancy, compared to nowadays, but there were numerous stalls selling rosettes, scarves, programmes and posters and it’s these colours and the atmosphere that they created that hang in the memory.
I don’t remember what the result was, or even who West Ham played that day, but the memory of going to the ground lasts and many people mention that walk from the station to the ground, when they talk of their memories of Upton Park.
My uncle Stan became a coach at West Ham and would take me, along with my brother, his own kids and some of my other cousins to the ground. He introduced Johnny Ayris, a local player from Wapping, who replaced Harry Redknapp on West Ham’s right wing.
I have a strong memory of leaving the ground with Johnny Ayris in Stan’s car and crowds of people outside peering in, to see if any of the players were inside.
Sadly Johnny suffered a career ending injury and his stay in the big time was cut tragically short.
John Lyall was the West Ham manager for 15 years and during that period my uncle Stan became his right hand, left hand and backup man.
What I mean by that, is whenever West Hamwere on TV we always looked out for Stan in the coaching box and he always made sure he was either side of the manager, or behind him, to ensure that he got in the TV shots.
The 1980 FA Cup Final
West Ham played Arsenal in the 1980 FA Cup final. My loyalties were not divided, even though both camps surrounded us. Me, my dad and my brother were firmly Arsenal fans, but West Hamfans were everywhere around us.
My dad got a ticket for Wembley and went with some friends, while we stayed home and watched on TV. One of his friends owned a prominent local business, Barney’s of Billingsgate. It included a fish stall on the corner of Goulston Street, near Aldgate East station, which became Petticoat Lane on Sundays. The stall was opposite an even more famous fish purveyor, Tubby Isaacs. But mainly Barney’s was a fish wholesaler, on the periphery of London’s famous fish market.
Eddie was quite a dapper man and I never forget him showing up for a drink at my dad’s pub, before going to the game, wearing a pale blue business type shirt, under a claret crew neck pullover. He had replicated the Hammers kit and colours in a very smart, but casual way.
Of course no West Ham or Arsenal fan can forget what happened that day. In a close fought, scoreless, battle Trevor Brooking bent over to tie his boot laces in the Arsenal area and the ball hit him on the head, scoring what was probably his only ever headed goal. Well, that’s the way I remember it anyway. West Ham won 1-0 and I went into mourning.
Later that night lots of the family and the locals were celebrating the West Ham win in the bar. I sulked and went upstairs to bed. I would like to have been the bigger man, my dad managed it and he had been an Arsenal fan far longer than me. But they were throwing plenty of money into his till, so maybe he consoled himself with that. My mum wasn’t happy with me; she obviously did not understand that Arsenal losses hurt and none more so than in big games like this.
The Brooking Opening
Although Trevor showed up for the Boleyn ground closing party, he never made it to dad’s pub re-opening. We had to make do with a mascot from one of the beer companies, an unknown man in a plush suit. I make no further comment on who was preferable to me.Some years later my dad had the pub renovated and planned a grand reopening. The brewery promised him a celebrity to perform the launch. He said that he had booked Trevor Brooking. I asked, why him and not an Arsenal player? He said that he was probably a better known local name, but I suspect that he was only offered the choice of a few.
The Arsenal Connection
There has been plenty of traffic between Arsenal and West Ham. Lots of ex-Arsenal players chose Upton Park to play out the twilight of their careers.
Liam Brady, John Hartson, Ian Wright, Nigel Winterburn, Freddie Ljungberg, John Radford,and Stewart Robson are amongst a slew of ex-Arsenal stars who had their final tip at the big time at the Boleyn Ground.
I hope that this will not prove to be the case for Carl Jenkinson, who spent the last two seasons on loan at West Ham, but they sent him back crocked at the beginning of 2016.
West Ham have had a good record for producing solid central defenders and that is really what Arsenal need right now, to go that step further. They could do a lot worse than to put in a bid for Winston Reid.
I will miss the old Boleyn ground, even from afar. We wish West Ham luck in their new stadium… just not too much luck.