I’m forever blowing bubbles/ Pretty bubbles in the air /They fly so high, nearly reach the sky /And like my dreams, they fade and die/Fortune’s always hiding /I’ve looked everywhere /I’m forever blowing bubbles /Pretty bubbles in the air.
Whenever I hear the words ‘West Ham’ the tune of the their club anthem ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ immediately springs into my mind. I have to admit that it is one of my favourite club anthems, but why is the old ballad so synonymous with West Ham United? There are a couple of theories to why, but some would answer it’s because of none other than my team, Swansea City (well, Town at the time). In the past decade, a theory has arisen that the Swans were the original bearers of the anthem ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ and that the East London club borrowed and then snatched it from South Wales. In 1921-22, West Ham travelled to the Vetch Field to play out a goalless draw with the Swans; there was an ensuing replay at Upton Park, ending 2-2, which triggered another replay at Ashton Gate. Word has it that during the 1920s, Swansea fans were very fond of the song, which was a big hit at the time, and sung it regularly on the North Bank of the Vetch. Swansea historian and eventual president David Farmer stated that newspapers from the 20s regularly recounted the Swans fans singing the song referred to in the local papers as ‘Bubbles’ to give the theory further substance.
“Then came the ever popular Bubbles, and the crowd simply yelled. The spectators on the main bank took their cue from the Mumbles end, and there was one tremendous sway, together with the singing, on the part of about 25,000.”
After the three cup replays between Swansea Town and West Ham, many claim that the song stuck with the Hammers fan and was eventually taken on as their own. Regardless, despite the song’s historical links to Swansea City, there was not a chance in hell I would be singing ‘Bubbles’ as I strolled through the East End in my Swansea shirt. In fact, the song would very much grate with me by the end of the day.
Tom was joining me for today’s trip to London complete with his new Football Ramble ‘What Would Zlatan Do?’ t-shirt and as per usual on our trips to the ‘Big Smoke’ we arrived into London Euston just before 10.30am. It seems to now go without saying that the London Underground had a whole range of journey debilitating closures, so instead of delving head first into solving the conundrum of getting from London Euston to the East End, we headed to the pub. The Doric Arch, which is very much on the door step of Euston station, has become a real favourite of mine on trips to London over the past two years or so. The pub is hidden away upstairs, but it is a real gem. There is the usual range of drinks and a nice selection of ales, but it is the welcoming and classic look of the small pub that makes it worth a visit. The Doric Arch was very quiet on today’s visit, but go there in the evening and the place is usually full of life, particularly with football fans making their way back home from London. Whilst sitting on the ‘upper deck’ area of the pub gazing out at the bus station below, we learned that Medwyn was just about to get into London, so we decided to wait for him and take advantage of his far superior knowledge of the London Underground to get us from one side of London to the other. Medwyn, who was accompanied by daughter Sophie for today’s trip, joined us in the Doric Arch and indeed he had detailed plans of how to navigate the many Tube closures and get us to our destination of East Ham. I should clairfy now, that West Ham United Football Club is not actually in West Ham, but in the Upton Park region nearby (hence the ground name). Upton Park station is right by the ground, but the majority of pubs, the ‘away friendly’ ones anyway, are near East Ham station, the stop following Upton Park. The stadium is also not too far from East Ham station – I would estimate 20-25 minutes walking.
We began our travels through the underground shortly after 11am and after three train changes we found ourselves at East Ham station just before 12pm. Whilstworking our way through the underground, Sophie claimed the award for insult of the day.
Medwyn jokingly stated “Soph, do you know this train goes to Loserville?”
Soph wittingly replied “Yeah, that’s where you are getting off!”
You can have all the taunts you want at football by bloodthirsty fans, but you cannot beat an innocent child’s insult. Medwyn had left us halfway to meet up with Calvin, but we had bumped into Dai Cox and the family on the route to East Ham and handily Dai had a map to get us from East Ham station to the designated rendezvous spot of the Miller’s Well pub. Admittedly, Dai took us the scenic (and much longer) route around the main high street, but nonetheless he got us to the Miller’s Well.
The Miller’s Well was a generic Wetherspoons pub, so there is really very little to say about it other than it was much smaller than mostof Wetherspoons. I should also comment that the staff in the pub did not seem too impressed with Tom and me when we returned our pints for being ‘off’ – the staff didn’t seem to believe us, but it really was a horrible tang to both drinks. Medwyn rejoined us along with several other Jacks. The pub’s small size was becoming a hindrance, as the place was soon packed to the rafters and purchasing a drink was becoming an arduous task with long queues at the bar. A new pub was needed, so we made the two minute walk down the road to the Denmark Arms (also, I just wanted to go there, as I felt we should embrace Swansea’s manager’s nationality in pub form).
Externally, the Denmark Arms was not the most aesthetically pleasing to the eye and we had raised doubts about the friendliness of the place. However, the place could not have been more welcoming. The pub was a hell of a lot more spacious than the Miller’s Well and far less crowded. Obviously, the colours of West Ham were far more dominant, but there was a scattering of Swansea fans around the pub, who were untroubled by the locals. Our little huddle of support grew with Andy and some other Jacks that I had met down in Southampton joining our party. Andy was kind enough to buy the whole lot of us a drink (there was a worrying amount of scotches being passed about). Top man! Overall, the prematch drinking had been very pleasant. However, things were about to get a whole lot more stressful.
Tom and me departed the Denmark Arms and within ten minutes we were outside Upton Park and at the turnstiles to the away end. This was where the day took a turn for the worse. Initially, the ticket scanner system was denying me access to Upton Park as an omnious red light repeatedly flashed up – Tom’s ticket was having the same problem. Eventually, after trying a different turnstile, the ticket scanner gave me the green light and I was in. Tom still wasn’t. Whilst waiting on the other side of the turnstiles for Tom, a side door opened with a steward and Tom appearing before me: “Someone’s already used your’s mate’s ticket to get in. You’ll have to go to ticket office to sort it out.” I was slightly confused. There was still 15 minutes until kick off, but this was really not what I wanted. Anyway, I was sure the issue could be easily resolved. How wrong I was.
On arriving at the ticket office and explaining our problem, the helpfulness I expected never came. In fact, the people that served us, particularly the manager, were utter dicks. “You’ve duplicated this ticket. This is Elliot Jones’ ticket!” they told us as they took Tom’s ticket off him. “Of course we haven’t duplicated it you stupid woman!” is what I wanted to shout at her, but I restrained my anger realising that this woman was going to be a nightmare andtook on my most diplomatic demeanour. I asked in the calmest of manners what we should do then as Tom was now ticket-less. “Speak to your club about it. They’ll have to sort it” was her retort. When I asked could they phone them she said “No”.
“OK, do you have their number for us?”
“No, Google it or something.”
“Cheers for all the help. Much appreciated”
A Swans fans behind us had seen what was going on and kindly gave us the club’s number. Swansea City were a little more helpful, although even when we passed over the phone to the West Ham ticket manager, she was still being funny about the whole thing, as she seemed determined to not give us a ticket. Finally, we were getting somewhere as I could hear “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” booming out of the PA system within the ground, confirming to me that the teams were walking out onto the pitch ready for kick-off. The ticket manager then told Tom that Swansea City would be phoning back in the next ten minutes with his details and she stated, quite aggressively, if he could not match the details provided by Swansea, then he wouldn’t be going in. Even the offer of a driving license with all Tom’s details on was dismissed with a ‘not interested’.
With the waiting game now in play, Tom told me to go in as it’d be silly for us both to miss the game. After much deliberating, I walked back towards the away end and went in via the side door which a helpful steward had promised to let me back in earlier. “Any luck with the other ticket mate” asked the friendly steward.
“Ah, they can be right pains in the arse in there.” replied the steward.
I couldn’t have agreed more.
Soon enough I found my seat in the second row of the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand, coincidentally right next to Dai and his family. However, I found my seat taken (well, everyone was standing, but you know what I mean). “I’m guessing one of you is Elliot Jones?” I asked the people standing by our seats. When one of the two men replied in the affirmative, I explained our ticket debacle and asked could I kindly squeeze in by them. “Of course.” It turned out Elliot Jones and his mate are Swansea City away season ticket holders – my assumption was that Swansea City had not realised they’d already given away the two tickets and put them on general sale to Jack Army Members such as Tom and myself. Moments after I had found my seat, over 5 minutes after kick off, an angry looking Tom emerged and came bustling towards me having eventually being allowed into the ground. “I’ve just met Elliot Jones and his mate,” I said.
Swansea City had clearly cocked up by selling two of the same ticket, but West Ham also have to take some fault for the whole thing by sending Swansea City two of the same tickets in the first place. Also, the staff in West Ham ticket office need to learn how to speak to customers since they are in the industry of ‘customer service’. We may not have cockney accents or be wearing the blue and claret of the Hammers, but we are still giving your football club money and thus putting you in jobs. All we had come to East London to do was watch our football team play football and for some reason West Ham United wanted to deny honest football fans like ourselves entry because of an administrative error and even suggested that we had purposely duplicated tickets. It takes a hell of a lot to get me angry, so the fact I could feel such rage boiling up in me as we spoke to the ticket office manager, must have meant that the staff behind the counter were doing something very wrong. We did get the manager’s name, but I thought better of publishing it. I do hope they read this though. They can expect a letter/email anyway. Disgraces.
Anyway, sorry for the rant. After such a bad start to proceedings at Upton Park, I did not have high expectations for the game, but I decided to try to forget ‘Ticket-gate’ (for now) and just enjoy the game. I also finally had time to really take in my surroundings and make my verdict on the ground.
I’ve noticed that throughout this piece so far I’ve solely referred to the stadium as Upton Park, but many know the ground as the Boleyn Ground. Technically, the ground’s actual name is the Boleyn Ground and it is only in more recent times that the name Upton Park has come to the fore. The name, The Boleyn Ground, comes from an association with Anne Boleyn, who is said to have lived at Green Street House, where the ground was built, for some period during her life. Some even suggest that the ground is haunted by one of Boleyn’s maids who died at Green Street House in childbirth. Spooky indeed.
For almost the entirety of West Ham’s history, the club have played at the Boleyn Ground. Before the birth of West Ham United, their former guise as Thames Ironworks FC (hence the nickname the Irons) played almost solely at an amateur level until 1900. The new ‘West Ham Untied’ that was born in 1900 originally played at the Memorial Grounds in Plaistow until 1904 when they purchased Boleyn Castle, which was home to a catholic school in the middle of East London, and this was to become the place where Upton Park was built.
Upton Park now holds over 35,000 fans after significant redevelopment over the past two decades. Today, the away fans along with a large contingent of home fans, were housed in the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand behind one of the goals. This two-tiered stand had been rebuilt in 1995 for the club’s centenary year and was renamed from the Centenary Stand to the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand in 2009. To our left was the East Stand complete with the club’s famous ‘Chicken Run’. Opposite our stand behind the furthest goal was the Bobby Moore Stand, built in 1993 and named after the legendary Hammer and former England captain who had died earlier that year. Finally, to our right stood the Alpari Stand, the largest and newest stand in the ground and the club’s main stand complete with executive boxes, the main offices and the changing rooms and dugouts. The stand was built in 2001 and was opened by The Queen and many refer to it as the ‘Rio Stand’ as the £18m sale of Rio Ferdinand to Leeds United practically funded the building of it.
The game was well underway and the expected direct football of West Ham was in full flow. The first real chance of the game (which I saw anyway) came when Joey O’Brien turned Ben Davies, hit the ball across the six yard box to Kevin Nolan, who’s first time hit was stopped by Gerhard Tremmel in the Swansea goal. Tremmel denying West Ham was going to become a recurring theme throughout the game. West Ham had dominated the opening exchanges,but Swansea slowly began to find their feet in the game with Pablo Hernandez looking at his tricky best.
After Swansea’s brief spell of ball-hogging, a high ball to Andy Carroll was headed onto Nolan who hit a powerful left foot volley towards goal from 10 yards out – once again, Tremmel dived low to save spectacularly. The Jack Army chanted Tremmel’s name for the majority of the first half with a particular highlight being the chant:
“Oh Gerhard Tremmel, you are the love of my life,
Oh Gerhard Tremmel, you could shag my wife,
O h Gerhard Tremmel, I want ginger hair too.”
And there was reason to continue singing his name just before the close of the first half, as the German goalkeeper made another flying save to stop a thunderous Ricardo Vaz Te drive from outside the box which was flying in. Half time 0-0. Thank you Gerhard Tremmel.
Half time was a bit of a joke. The concourse was perhaps the most claustrophobic I’ve ever been on and the queues from the food/drink outlets and toilets caused anarchy. Tom had begun queuing for drinks at the start of half time and he had got to within two people of the front by the end of the break. I told him to call it a write off. Some Swansea fans decided to embrace the squeeze and liven the place up a bit by deciding to go ‘Mental!’ as the chant goes. It was some much need enthusiasm, as I felt that the Jack Army, despite an initial bit of volume in the opening ten minutes, had been quite quiet throughout the game.
Back to ‘our seats’ for the second half and it looked like the Swans were in for a similar aerial assault from the West Ham attack. I had actually been impressed with Carroll in the first half and he should have scored when a ball across the box from Matt Jarvis was blazed over by the Geordie striker. Swansea were getting overwhelmed, so Laudrup made a change with Luke Moore coming on for Leon Britton, who had been on the books at Upton Park 14 years before.
Michu dropped back into midfield and had two good chances to put the Swans ahead; first, the Spaniard was played through by Routledge only to blast his powerful effort over the bar and then he put a header just over the bar after a great cross from Hernandez.
Joe Cole came on for Matt Jarvis and West Ham almost scored when Carroll had a low shot saved by the feet of Tremmel. Swansea made their second change with Nathan Dyer replacing Routledge, who had not stopped running all game. However, the change would not inspire Swansea and West Ham finally put the ball past Tremmel. Unsurprisingly, the goal would come from a corner which was met by a towering Carroll to head home. 1-0 to West Ham with just under 15 minutes to go.
Swansea turned up the pressure and forced Wets Ham back into their own half. Ki Sung-Yeung, who had what seemed a huge Korean fan group in the Swansea end, forced Jussi Jaaskelainen into a save following his 20 yard drive and Hernandez’s follow up was tamely hit and easily held by the West Ham keeper. Swansea’s final chance to equalise came in the closing moments with a crazy goalmouth scramble being eventually cleared by the Hammers’ defence to secure their three points.
Final score: West Ham 1-0 Swansea. A strange game with West Ham perhaps deserving winners for purely demonstrating a bit more cutting edge than the Swans. The official Man of the Match was Andy Carroll, who I have to admit did play well. However, the best player on the pitch for me was Mohamed Diame – he won everything in midfield and drove West Ham forward throughout the game. I first saw Diame play against Swansea a couple of seasons ago in the League Cup fixture between Wigan and Swansea at the DW Stadium; he was similarly brilliant that night and it’s easy to see why bigger teams are snooping around him. Great player. Tremmel would have been a close second for the MOTM award though and many fans departing the ground were discussing should he now be our number one ahead of Vorm after some fine displays over the previous months (I’m still undecided on that one).
Overall, a quite crappy experience at Upton Park with the Swans losing, our fans being fairly quiet (not that West Ham were much louder), getting crushed on the concourse and of course, meeting the delightful West Ham ticket office staff. We decided to head back to the Denmark Arms for one last drink, before making our way back across London to Euston station. To help our mood we purchased some Carlsberg Export from a local Lidl to accompany us on our trip through the underground and back up North. We met a very friendly man on our journey across London, who claimed to have walked the entirety of Wales as a door-to-door salesman and who had also been a highly-gifted table tennis player – “TT is my game” he proudly declared. His friendly manner and interesting anecdotes kept us entertained on the train anyway and certainly bolstered our mood.
One last pint was had at The Britannia pub, which is inside Euston station, before we boarded the train back to Manchester. On the train home, I made the usual phone call to my Dad summarising the game and the day and obviously talk turned to ‘Ticket-gate’, before my signal went. The two men sitting in the seats nearest us said they’d heard the tale and said with a chuckle “Bad day all round then lads” also referring to Wales’ rugby team losing the opening game of their Six Nations’ game. We were invited to join the two men at their table seats after one passenger fled declaring “I can’t listen to this” as our football conversation got into full swing. The two men turned out to be brothers, Rob and Kevin Bourne and they had travelled down from Crewe to Twickenham to watch England’s Six Nations opener against Scotland. It certainly sounded like they had a better day than us and they were full of praise for the loud crowd and friendly atmosphere at the rugby. Anyway enough praise for rugby. The Bourne brothers were great company for the trip back and it was a nice way to end to end the day.
Highlights: the Doric Arch (again), The Denmark Arms, Gerhard Tremmel, the stewards were good and not too ‘jobsworth-like’.
Low Points: The Miller’s Well pub, the game wasn’t great, the ridiculously claustrophobic concourse, Swans’ fans quite quiet as were West Ham fans, not a great atmosphere and of course….WEST HAM UNITED TICKET OFFICE – hate them!