Filed: Tuesday, 11th February 2014
By: Paul Walker
It all came as a bit of a shock in the end, something you always knew was going to happen but up until now it had been a rather remote, distant dream.
So when that annoying little yellow strap-line across the bottom of the SSN channel kicked into life, I was only half paying attention. More interested in my morning coffee and a good old laugh at Manchester United’s painful decline.
But there it was. West Ham have sold the Boleyn ground. Ouch! I must admit to feeling like I had been stabbed, and I was momentarily overcome by a cold, sinking feeling. So my second home for more than 50 years was really going to be bulldozed, the football ground that has been so very special to four generations of my family, has been flogged off, seemingly not even to the highest bidder.
Reality is such a painful thing. We all know that nobody really wants to go to Stratford, but the vast majority of us have accepted the need for growth, expansion and a bigger modern, new home. And yes, I voted that way too.
I have listened to Ms Torygirl CBE waffling on about how wonderful it will be, well ‘she would say that, wouldn’t she?’ with us paying her £1.6m for seemingly doing her job… Planning and organising our move to the Olympic Park was part of the job description so why the vast bonus? Wish I‘d been paid a bonus whenever I did my job properly.
I sense dear Karren will be around just long enough for the final details to be sorted out before she is off to become the prospective Tory party candidate for Cannock Chase, just up the road from where she lives. She could even find herself with Stan Collymore as her very own constituent. Now there’s a thought.
Of course I see the sense in the move to Stratford, I just hope the £40m plus we will get from the sale is used to pay off our debts. But there are still nagging worries.
With the detail of the financial fair play regulations making it clear that a small club will no longer be able to find a rich sugar daddy to pump in Manchester City style billions, and with Barry Hearn still an annoying sideshow, I just hope we get to the Olympic Stadium without any more hiccups. And, of course, when we get there we will have sold our home, our land and our memories.
And that is the real point for me. I had the chance recently to drive past what used to be Manchester City’s old Maine Road site, somewhere I have not visited for ten years. It is a shock really, the place is a mess of tiny white boxes (sorry, modern estate social housing) with bricked up roads stopping traffic flow through it, and those rather nasty allyways that cut through the area. Absolutely no Manchester City heritage.
We can only trust that the developers of Upton Park and Green Street will provide a very different legacy, the say they will and it all sounds very nice with statues and green space with buildings named after our past heroes.
It is hard to visualise it parachuted into the space between the flats behind the east stand and the old north bank, the school, church and supporters club premises.
So while we are on the subject of legacy, I challenge our club not to make a mess of three very important anniversaries coming up in the next few years, dates that really underline exactly what our true history is.
One of them, the 50th anniversary of our first trophy victory, the 1964 FA Cup Final win over Preston, is just a few weeks away now and so far I have only noted Tony McDonald’s excellent Ex magazine showing, not surprisingly, any real interest.
But May 2 this year, the day before our final home game of the season against Spurs, should be marked with every respect. It was the first great occasion of our golden 60s era, for me a magical day watching the heroes of my youth triumph at Wembley.
This weekend, in fact, will be the exact day 50 years ago that West Ham won 3-1 at Swindon in the fifth round. Of course we are just watching this season’s tournament from the sidelines after abdicating all interest in proceedings after that shameful third round defeat at Nottingham Forest, when the youth team were made to look silly on TV.
But I can remember that ’64 run in detail. We had already beaten Charlton and Leyton Orient--after a replay--when the Os were still a proper football club that saw 36,000 crammed into Brisbane Road when it was still a real stadium rather than Hearn’s lego ground.
The Swindon victory was followed by a stunning 3-2 quarter final victory over Burnley, when I can still see John Sissons squeezing the ball home from a ridiculous acute angle, two goal Johnny Byrne did the rest.
The memorable mud lark in Sheffield followed when a truly great Manchester United side were beaten 3-2 in the semi-finals, Ronnie Boyce’s double doing the damage that time. The Preston final did not live up to the billing, but it was still a memorable day.
I didn’t have a ticket until a few hours before kick-off, but my late father got a phone call from a mate and we drove like lunatics from west London to Slough to lay hands on the precious ticket(it had come south with a friend of former Burnley owner Bob Lord).
So I found myself being driven at breakneck speed back to Wembley, dumped there by my dad at the top of Wembley Way, only to find myself the only person in claret and blue in the Preston end. I was still all on my own there when Sir Bobby and the boys paraded the cup round the ground, seemingly just for me in a near-empty section.
I was too excited to be properly grateful to my dad. It was only a long while after that it dawned on me that he had given me his ticket for the final and gone home to watch it on TV with mum, who had also been to Slough and Wembley just for the ride! Not sure I could have done that.
That season saw Hurst and Byrne score 59 goals between them, with Sir Geoff scoring seven in the cup run. And we only managed to finish 14th. A really remarkable partnership.
The next 50th anniversary will be on May 19 next year, the day of our European Cup Winners’ Cup final victory over TSV Munich at Wembley. Dad even got mum a ticket for that one, the only time she ever went to a football match, when seemingly the whole of east London was there.
Dad and me saw all the home matches of the European run, tremendous occasions that will live me forever.
Now there are six players left alive of the seven who played in both cup final victories, Jim Standen, Jack Burkett, Ken Brown, Ronnie Boyce, Geoff Hurst and John Sissons. Sadly Mooro is no longer with us. To me these seven players are truly the greatest in our history by virtue of being in those two final line-ups, 12 fantastic months apart.
They need to be remembered in the planned memorial gardens at the Boleyn when we have all moved to Stratford, as well as in our new home. We used 15 players in those two finals, they must never be forgotten.
The final 50th anniversary will be on July 30, 2016 which marks the day we won the World Cup. It is hard to believe those wonderful days were 50 years ago, and I can recall them in great detail.
It should not be lost on our owners that the World Cup glory co-incides with our move to the Olympic Stadium, give or take a couple of months. It surely is not beyond the talents of our owners to build a tribute to our World Cup heroes into the celebrations that will mark our move to Stratford. It should nicely mark our legacy to England and to our great club.
I leave it in your hands lady and gentlemen. You need to get these three days spot on, anything else will disrespect the legacy of our club you keep on about.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
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