Our dad’s walk and free entry to white horse’ Cup Final
DESPITE living a goal-kick from Upton Park as a boy, and hanging around there then in the hope of odd-job ha pence, my dad was never the greatest West Ham United fan. Finances meant the only games he got to were the result of bunking in, a mischief he an
DESPITE living a goal-kick from Upton Park as a boy, and hanging around there then in the hope of odd-job ha'pence, my dad was never the greatest West Ham United fan.
Finances meant the only games he got to were the result of bunking in, a mischief he and his mates developed to a fine art.
But mostly a tough father kept him too occupied to leave any time for the Hammers. Later, a young family (me and a big brother) took priority. He also was of the view the club lacked real ambition, citing their failure to buy some adjacent land when it was going cheap.
A game he didn't miss, though, was West Ham's appearance in the 1923 first Wembley FA Cup final, the famous "white horse" one gatecrashed by thousands - including him.
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Once in, he battled his way up to the back of the terraces, where he sat in relative space while the crowd-filled pitch was cleared and the chaos sorted out.
Dad always claimed he walked to Wembley that day in order to save dough in case he had to pay to get in. Such a walk would have been a mere stroll for someone who not long before had spent several years foot-slogging the Western Front's mud.
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What was established fact was his return to East Ham that night in time to take mum out to see the beaten but unbowed Hammers touring the area in an illuminated tram, cheered by mobs of whom a good many were also well lit-up.
No matter there was no trophy, it was an evening mum never forgot.
Another of dad's tales was how he was walking past West Ham's ground one match day when the ball came sailing out of it to drop virtually at his feet.
He took it to the nearest turnstile where, mistaken for ground staff, he was let in and ended up taking the ball right round to the pitch-side player's pen.
There he found himself exchanging opinion on the game with Hammers not afield, including the unmistakable "Big Jim" Barrett.
Dad reckoned it was the easiest ever bunk-in. All you needed was a football.
Wartime evacuation ended my chances of going to West Ham with dad. By the time peace broke out the family home was Ilford not E6, and it was Ilford's amateurs we went to watch at the excellent Newbury Park premises.
The few times we did get to West Ham we stood in the old "chicken run" where, if nothing else, the banter alone was worth the entrance money.
In those dire early postwar seasons Hammers' fans needed a sense of humour.
Years later, I scrounged an extra press pass and took dad to a Good Friday morning Upton Park game.
He was worried about whether he should pretend to make notes and relieved when I said all he had to do was sit there quietly and not shout and cheer like he was in the chicken run.
He managed that, with some effort.
Going for a post game cuppa we ran full tilt into West Ham legend Charlie Paynter, who dumbfounded me by staring at dad and exclaiming, "Blow me, its young Alf Smith".
Charlie was nigh 80 and dad about 60, but the old West Ham manager still recognised his one-time errand boy.
He took us in the boardroom, where he regaled the club's directors with how he used to send dad to ask to borrow the baker's horse to pull the mower over the pitch.
If he'd finished his round, that was.
And how dad would turn up with mum to tell Charlie certain players were not brassing up for the coal they'd had off her father.
Charlie always paid up on the spot, but admitted to us he stood the loss himself if aware of extenuating circumstances.
As he and dad yarned away, Hammers' chairman Reg Pratt muttered to me it was such stories he was always imploring Charlie to set down.
Reg had even bought a tape recorder, then not everyday items, for Charlie to use, but without success.
Dad and me were late home that day, believe me.
West Ham have come a long way since those early years he and Charlie joked about.
But if they don't watch their backs a bit more, they might yet be asking to borrow the baker's nag again!