The year after West Ham won the FA Cup and had returned to the First Division, I was deemed big enough to go to a football match on my own. This would entail getting the London Underground, changing tubes and making my way to Upton Park and along Green Street during the days when the atmosphere and who you’d see either at, or on your way to, the ground could be called “interesting” to say the least. How tasty the game was going to be was judged on the amount of police horses lining the junctions towards the ground.
Hats, scarves and programme sellers were dotted along the road and as you got closer to the ground, you could be swept along by the crowd. I’d always stop to get last week’s away programme then regret it because it was too big to fit in any pocket. The old West Ham ones were a perfect size. If I was with my dad we’d get some sweets, I could never fight my way to the front to get goodies from the kids who were no older than me who used to walk around selling their stuff like they do in posh cinemas and the theatre. I think when I was 10 that was my dream job: watching West Ham and eating all those sweets.
I’d nearly always squeeze in with my dad through the turnstiles, my dad giving the fella a drink, which was probably about 20 pence. Like a few hundred others.
I joined the travel club and my dad would dispense me to Upton Park asking some poor sod to “keep an eye on my boy” as I boarded the coach.
I’ll save my away days for another day but I used to travel as a mere kid on coaches and trains without a parent or mobile phone to watch a game of football leaving at silly o’clock and arriving home in one piece at stupid o’clock.
My dad had taken me to see us play Southampton and, in particular, Kevin Keegan in a night game. Kevin Keegan had joined Southampton which was a big shock at the time. A footballing superstar plying his trade at a somewhat unfashionable club.
This was a big thing for my dad seeing as he worked at Smithfield meat market and got up before 4.00 AM every morning. We drove to the ground and parked in the side streets and headed to the ground, it was absolutely packed everywhere. In those days you just walked up to the turnstile and went in.
People were walking back and the police on their horses were telling everyone the match was sold out. The turnstile guys must have made a killing that night (allegedly). So that was it, we turned around and went home. West Ham won 4-2 that night, the attendance of 34,026 cramming into Upton Park. Paul Goddard scored a hat-trick. Kevin Keegan failed to score which I’m sure was a delight to the faithful, including myself and my dad, who were probably tucked up in bed whilst supporters dodged the horse poop heading home.