In April, East London Press are publishing their next book. 5MANAGERS - The Final Season Issues. While there was The London Stadium Special out this season, the book covers all 4 issues that came out during our last season watching football in E13. I think it will be a very original West Ham book and I'm buzzing more editing this than any of the issues. And that is because under one roof, it really is something else. Plans for a book launch after Spurs at home. For now here is a small taster from a few of the important interviews that made the fanzine what it became.
I remember about the 73/74 season. It was like a sea of snorkel parkas, all long hair, refugees from a T Rex gig, and you could smell the pitch, and the game was different then as much as Upton Park. When I see these players today roll around on the ground and I think about Billy Bonds, could you imagine him doing that? Him and Frank Lampard used to play with their socks rolled down. They were both swashbuckling heroes.
In 1975, playing against Bobby Moore in an FA Cup Final, well you couldn’t write a script for that and get away with it, could you! Not a great game and actually Fulham were the Division Two team that day. But of course the Arsenal game was the special one. The way we got to the final, me scoring the winner in the semi final and then Brooking in the final. I mean with West Ham, we were never going to win the league. We either won the cup or went out to a lower league team in the 3rd round. We didn’t mess about!
I always remember Alvin Martin, and him being a fellow Scouser, I remember him speaking to me and he said: ‘Listen. I’m telling you now, that Chicken Run will either make or break you, and what you’ve got to do Mark, is as long as you are going at it one hundred per cent then they will back you all the way. They know the game inside out, and they will know instantly if you are not giving one hundred per cent or if you’ve bottled out of a tackle and they will be on your case. But the thing was, that was my game anyway. And I think that is why they took to me and it was great to be so close to them, it really was, and sometimes they’d reach out and touch your hand, shoulder, tap you on the back when you was taking a corner and it was great, it really was. It was a fantastic stadium back then to play football.
Billy Bonds was my number one and always will be but of course I also had a lot of love for the great man Bobby Moore, how could you not have? My Dad told me this story once, how a fella had got killed over the docks, and his fellow Docker mates were having a benefit match for him over Terence McMillan at Mile End, and my Dad and his mate went over the training ground to see if they could get a few bigs signed that they could raffle for the fund, and Bobby Moore's walked out and my dad said how they were doing this thing for this docker mate, and Bobby’s just gone, ‘So what do you need?’ And my Dad was like, ‘Well, whatever you can do Bob.’ And he asks my Dad when it was, and my Dad says a couple of Sundays time and Bobby just said on the spot he’d round up a few of the boys. Two weeks later up turns him, Martin Peters, Brian Dear, Johnny Sissons, Alan Stephenson, with bundles of signed shirts and loads of other bits for the raffle. Unbelievable. That was the first time I met Bobby and am as protective of his autograph I got that day as I am of anything.
So on the Monday there was no Bill or Harry and we had the Tuesday off and we were all talking amongst ourselves, like you do, and no one really knew what was going on, blaming Joey, and then Harry came in on the Wednesday in the little changing room, by the old gym, got everyone in, all the players and staff and said: ‘Listen, Bill’s left, whoever takes over, give them all the best, work hard, we had a great season last year, but good luck to all of you.’ And then we all went back outside, and then I think Tony or Paul Hilton was preparing us for the first home game v Wimbledon and no-one knew what was happening and we came in next day and Harry was in. It was all a bit strange but he said, ‘I’ve spoken to Bill about it, the job, and he said I deserved it.’ But I was very close to Tony Gale and Galey was close to Bill and Galey came in and said Harry definitely ain’t spoken to Bill. And vice versa.
I remember we did put a run together towards the end of the season and nearly stayed up. Like when we nearly won the league, the relegation battle went to the wire and then John got sacked. And I still thought he had the makings of a decent team there. Even though we’d gone down. You still had Julian Dicks, Liam Brady, Alvin, Wardy etc. And I know how you all fell out with Paul Ince, but I don’t think if John had got sacked all that business would have occurred. Paul Ince wouldn’t have left. No way would he have left. I know Paul. John was a father figure to him and he hated Lou Macari when he took over from John, like everyone else. Because the fact is, Macari was never there. John was always there for you. He had everyone’s respect.
When football hooliganism was at its height, the media was obsessed with football hooliganism being connected to the far right, and there were large parts of West Ham’s hooligan element that were black. You had Cass of course and the likes of Matthew Thomas, and they were West Ham as much as anyone and colour never came into it. We were all West Ham. We weren’t a racist club, we were football supporters, young men from working class areas, and the media really wanted to say that we were right wing extremists and that was simply never the case. It was at other clubs but never at West Ham, as has been well documented. I’m not condoning football violence by the way. But it was a different time back then, and things happened because that’s the way it was.
West Ham were fighting against relegation after winning the cup the previous season, so it would be 75-76. We lost a silly early goal when Mervyn Day was lobbed. John Radford had been signed from the Gooners and earned West Ham a penalty equaliser by falling over in the box. I think Robson got both goals. It was a 2-2 draw and we dominated, but we gave away our goals very cheaply. This game kind of set me up for the same West Ham disappointments I’d become used to at Hibs. Outplay the opposition, nice football, and bang! The sucker punch. The terrace banter was also instantly recognizable: a guy I was standing next to was screaming at Kevin Lock the whole game – ‘You fucking useless wanker!’– and it made me feel at home. I don’t know if there’s something in the air around dock communities, but the general vibe was familiar: passionate, but often somewhat unforgiving.
My first game over West Ham was in 1978. As a kid, I had this image of West Ham as a homely, friendly club, going on the football they played and from watching The Big Match. But it wasn’t like that at all. It was a shock to be honest. Chelsea were doing badly and the turn-out was one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Teenagers. Low numbers. The North Stand never got out of Victoria apparently. The police were West Ham fans and letting all these massive blokes into our section. ‘Five-by-fives’ as my dad used to say – short and stocky. Loafers. Mullet haircuts. These were the Dockers I’d seen when Millwall came to Chelsea in 1976. It was literally men against boys. A massacre. It’s funny now, but it wasn’t at the time. We were forced onto the pitch and both the sides were trying to get on as well. I can’t remember going back to the tube. Erased it from the memory probably.
Almost all of my family are West Ham. And I once went to a wake over at Upton Park and I walked in there and one of me uncles says to me, ‘Bet you love coming over here don’t you!’ And that was his brother who had died, and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve probably got as many happy memories coming over this ground as you have!’ But we have always had in our family, a good sense of humour. But my dad was Millwall and but his dad, my grandad, was West Ham – he went to the 1923 FA Cup, The White Horse Final, and I’m certain he got nicked on the pitch. In fact I was told how back then he ran on the pitch at Upton Park quite a few times because he reckoned he was a better player! So possibly my grandad could be construed as one of the first breed of West Ham football hooligans!