We all love West Ham here at TBIR towers. We actually have three generations of fans, all of whom have been down the Boleyn on hundreds of occasions. Lolly became the fourth generation of supporter to gain the privilage of a season ticket and now takes up her spot on the Bobby Moore lower each home game along with myself and Football Jo – quite an influence I can tell you. With Littlest Fuller now showing an interest too since discovering that you can buy a West Ham scarf and gloves set in pink I thought I would educate them at Half Term with a behind the scenes tour of the ground along with ten facts that very few people ever knew about the club….
1. Claret and Blue as a bet– West Ham started live as Castle Swifts FC, before being taken over by Thames Ironworks FC who became West Ham United in July 1900. The original colours of the team were dark blue due to the owner being a former student of Oxford University, Claret and Blue came a few years later in bizarre circumstances. Father of one of the players Bill Dove had been at a fair in Birmingham, close to Villa Park, and was challenged to a race against four Villa players, who wagered money that one of them would win. Bill Dove defeated them, and when they were unable to pay the bet, one of the Villa players who was responsible for washing the team’s kit offered a complete side’s ‘uniforms’ to Dove in payment of the bet. The Aston Villa player subsequently reported to his club that the kit was ‘missing’.
2. Barrels of beer every 30 seconds – West Ham fans like a beer and in line with the growing trend in new stands/stadiums, the quick provision of alcohol is important on a matchday. So West Ham have a cellar under the West Stand and employ 2 cellar men. Most of the week these guys spend their time making beer barrel towers and rolling them down the empty concourses of the stands, but in the hour between 2pm and 3pm (obviously for a 3pm kick off) they have to change a barrel on average EVERY 30 SECONDS!!! During that period the club will use over 120 barrels of Carlsberg. And who said we had a drinking culture here in the UK!
3. Pizza post match meal – To dispell the myth that all of today’s footballers are shining beacons of health, after each home game the players can tuck into pizza, made by the West Ham chef in the players lounge. Back in the dark ‘Appy ‘Arry days the post match meal used to be Fish and Chips (acquired via a 3rd party no doubt for a whopping commission for delivery) but Gianfranco loves nothing more than a Four Seasons.
4. Second biggest employer in Borough of Newham – West Ham is now a 24 x 7 x 365 operation when you factor in the Hotel, Learning Zone and Conference Centre. Since the demise of Tate and Lyall the club (and Compass who the catering arm is outsourced to) have become the 2nd biggest employer in the London Borough of Newham behind the PCT NHS Trust run out of Newham General Hospital. Including matchday staff, the club employ over 500 people.
5. Ten showers in away dressing room – Not only do the away teams have a smaller changing area, with more radiators that work in the summer and don’t budge in the winter but they are also faced with a big plaque on the wall informing them that “This is Upton Park – Home of the Hammers” just in case any had missed the subtle decor outside the ground. There are also only ten showers in the changing rooms meaning that either one away player goes smelly or has to patiently wait whilst his team mates play hide the soap on the rope. Interestingly enough, West Ham has one of the lowest sending off rates from away teams, which just proves they can’t all be desperate to steal a march on their team mates.
6. House not a castle– The Boleyn Ground, named after the castle which was home to Anne Boleyn is simply a myth. There was a decent size house on the site of the ground, and it was home to a Boleyn but not Henry VIII’s plaything and of course, mother to Queen Elizabeth. Nope in fact it was her brother Dave* who lived here, happy that he was a fair few miles away from his royal relatives. Although Anne did come and stay for a few nights on her way to Southend for a weekend…probably.
*I am not sure what his name actually was but Dave would be a good name for the King’s Brother-In-Law I think.
7. No ashes scattered on pitch – A few years ago it was the done thing for any loyal fan to have their ashes sprinkled on the pitch of your beloved club. Nowadays when Pitch Technology is a degree course in its own right most clubs do not offer the fulfilment of this one last request as the picthes are dug up at least once a season and the mortal remains would be shipped off to some tip. So instead West Ham have created a memorial garden where the ashes are sprinkled….in the players car park! So when Reg eventually pops off he will be resting in peace next to Porsche’s, BMW’s and Hummers.
8. First ground to have executive boxes that convert into bedrooms – With new stadiums trying to generate more and more off the pitch income, most now offer conference facilities but few can offer a hotel as part of the stadium. Reading’s Madejski has the Millennium Hotel, Bolton’s Reebok has Whites and the new Twickenham South stand has a 4 star hotel but West Ham were the first, and still only club to offer hotel rooms that double up as Executive Boxes. Ingenious and a major source of income as there simply aren’t any hotel around the stadium to cater for the conference traffic. Each Executive box can be converted to a bedroom by one person in 10 minutes. On a matchday guests have to vacate the room by 7am so the process can begin and they are allowed back in their room at 7pm. The sliding doors onto the seating area are centrally locked so you cannot sneak out in the middle of the night for a quick game. The club also do not allow you to hire the box on a matchdy and then stay in bed unfortunately.
It is certainly an unusual situation. The Reebok offers some rooms that overlook the pitch but there is no sound frm the stadium and you have to promise not to drink any beer when a game is going on as it would be “in sight of the pitch” and thus you could be subject to arrest. CMF and myself once stayed there and drank beer out of mugs so as to confuse any prying security cameras!
9. Why we have a Chicken Run – One of the best known and named stands in football – West Ham’s East Stand is still affectionately known as “The Chicken Run”. The
closeness to the pitch was always one of the characteristics of the ground and why many away teams hated playing at Upton Park. The crowd would almost seem on top of wide players and during the dark days of the 70’s and 80’s it didn’t take much of an aim to launch missiles onto the pitch. The name many think relates to the look of the old East Stand, demolished in 1968 from the mesh that was used to surround the terracing but it is actually related to the farm that once stood on the site of Priory Road. It is now a very dated stand and only offers seats for 5,000 (in fact the upper tier has some very poor sightlines and some seats do not have a view of anything above head height). The plan is that at some point soon (and soon we mean a) when the club has a rich owner again, b) when all the talk of a move to the Olympic Stadium nearby has stopped and c) if we stay in the Premier League) it will be demolished and a new two tier stand will be build 5 metres closer to the pitch making the stadium 40,000 capacity.
10. The “new stadium” was opened by the Queen – Betty doesn’t really follow football. Since her last visit to Wembley in 1966 to see good ol’ England beat the Bosch she has prefered to mix with the common man at the likes of Royal Ascot. But back in 2003 she turned up unannounced at Upton Park to see what all the fuss was about the new Dr Martens Stand, at the time the biggest club stand in London. Good job Joe Cole and Jermain Defoe were cleaning boots that day and had time to don a suit, learn how to do up a tie (alas Defoe still cannot manage such a grown up act without asking his agent, or is it his Mum these days?) and to pop down the 24 hour BP to get some flowers for her. The trip to Upton Park remains her last foray into a football ground in the UK. Blessed we are (although West Ham were relegated later in the season).