Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Zavon Hines: Part 2

I wrote on my West Ham blog on 2nd August, 2009:

"West Ham's pre-season games have been disappointing so far. The one bright spark is Zavon Hines. Although he only played the last ten minutes in the two games in China, he looked very lively and was impressed by the way he took his goal. (You need to see it in slow motion to realise just how good it was.)... The way Hines moves reminds me of Ian Wright. He seems a confident lad, a vital ingredient if you are going to be a top striker. It would not surprise me if Hines is our breakthrough player this season."

I was very impressed with the way he played yesterday. The reason he caused the Liverpool defence so many problems was his electric acceleration. One can understand why Jamie Carragher thought he had time to clear the ball in the 2nd minute that led to Hines hitting the post. As Stanley Matthews used to say, it is the speed that you have over the first 10 yards that really causes defenders problems. This is why he was fouled so much and Martin Skrtel should have been sent off for his last ditch foul on Hines as he raced through the middle.

Hines’s first touch is very good but he needs to improve his passing and tackling. However, he will not be truly effective until he plays in a 4-4-2 system. His talents will be wasted if has to stay on the wing defending his own full-back.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Guillermo Franco

Guillermo Franco claims he has signed for West Ham. He did not score for Villarreal in 18 games last season. However, he did score four goals for Mexico in 2009.

Here is the latest goal against Costa Rica:


Friday, 11 September 2009

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Zavon Hines Update

On 2nd August 2009 I wrote the following:

West Ham's pre-season games have been disappointing so far. The one bright spark is Zavon Hines. Although he only played the last ten minutes in the two games in China, he looked very lively and was impressed by the way he took his goal. (You need to see it in slow motion to realise just how good it was.)

The Hammers handed him his debut at the start of the 2008/09 season as a 27th minute replacement for Valon Bahrami in a Carling Cup tie at home to Macclesfield. Hines scored the third goal in a 4-1 extra-time win.

Hines signed on loan for Coventry City on 27 March 2008. He scored his first goal in his second game for Coventry City on 1 April 2008 in a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday. According to the BBC: "Substitute Zavon Hines looked to have snatched victory for the Sky Blues with his sublime left-foot volley late on."

Hines missed much of the 2008–09 season with a knee injury but signed a new contract in March 2009, keeping him at the club until summer 2010.

Hines was born in Jamaica and grew up in the East End of London. On 10 February 2009 Hines was called into the Jamaica team for their friendly international against Nigeria on 11 February 2009. However, he remained on the bench.

The way Hines moves reminds me of Ian Wright. He seems a confident lad, a vital ingredient if you are going to be a top striker. It would not surprise me if Hines is our breakthrough player this season.

Last night he scored a hat-trick against Birmingham City reserves. Hopefully he will be in the first-team on Saturday against Wigan.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Why West Ham fans sing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”

In the Spring 2005 edition of “Soccer History”, John Northcutt published an article on why West Ham fans sing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”. He points out that the song was written in 1919 and became a popular hit in the UK in the early 1920s. At the time it was fairly common for football crowds to sing popular songs together. At Upton Park the club employed the Beckton Gas Works Band to play before the game started. One of the songs they played was “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”. However, the mystery remains, why did the Upton Park crowd adopt the song as its anthem?

John Northcutt spends sometime discussing the most popular theory of why this happened. It is a fascinating idea as it involves a famous painting, a soap advert and a young West Ham player named Will Murray.

In 1886 Sir John Everett Millais, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, painted a portrait of his five-year old grandson watching a soap bubble he had blown through a clay pipe (erroneously, Northcutt claims it was painted in 1829). The painting caused a sensation as it was completely different from his previous work. It was first exhibited under the title A Child's World in Grosvenor Gallery in London, and was acquired by Sir William Ingram of the Illustrated London News. The painting was reproduced and presented in the magazine as a colour plate, where it was seen by Thomas J. Barratt, managing director of A&F Pears. Barratt purchased the original painting from Ingram for £2,200 which gave him exclusive copyright on the picture. Millais' permission was sought in order to alter the picture by the addition of a bar of Pears Soap, so that it could be used for the purposes of advertising. The painting/advert now became known as “Bubbles”.

Northcutt then goes on to argue that as the Pears Soap Works was based in Canning Town, there would have been a lot of Bubbles posters around the ground at the time the song was popular. Therefore, the fans would therefore have associated the song and the poster together. There are several things wrong with this argument. First of all, Pears was a national company and their posters would be no more likely to have been around the Upton Park ground at that time than any other stadium. More importantly, Pears were no longer using the Millais’ Bubbles painting in the 1920s.

The next stage of the story is even more unconvincing. Northcutt argues: “The West Ham Boys team often played their home games at Upton Park in front of huge crowds and one of the team, Will Murray, having fair curly hair resembled the boy in the advert. He soon gained the nickname Bubbles Murray and whenever he played the crowd would sing I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, this being the popular song of the day.”

Wikipedia has a slightly different version of this story. It claims that Murray was given the nickname “Bubbles” by his headmaster Cornelius Beal. It goes on to argue that Murray “had an almost uncanny resemblance to the boy in the famous Bubbles painting by Millais used in a Pears soap commercial of the time.”

There is a photograph in existence of Murray in 1921. He looks nothing like the Bubbles painting. Nor could he, as the painting shows a five year old boy, not a teenager. He has dark rather than fair hair. It is fairly curly, but nothing like the original painting or indeed the Pears adverts that were in existence in the early 1920s.

The other important point is that the record books show that Will Murray never played for West Ham first team. His early promise was not fulfilled. However, is it really credible that the Upton Park fans would sing a song about a player who never made it into the first-team?

The club’s historian, John Helliar, added to the story when he wrote an article (17th October, 2009) about the song on the West Ham United’s official website. He follows the claim made by John Northcutt (not referenced) that “Billy Bubbles Murray, so-called because of his distinct and almost uncanny resemblance to the boy in the famous painting by Millais”. He goes on to add some more information on the story. Helliar quotes a letter from a former member of the Beckton Gas Works Band, to the “Pensioners’ Bulletin” in 1983. He recalls that the band “were engaged by the West Ham United Football Club to play for 20 minutes before the kick-off and 10 minutes at the interval.” He added: “We played Bubbles and it very quickly became a favourite with the crowd.” The problem is that the man does not give a date for these performances. It could have been in the early 1920s that would give some support to the story about Murray. However, it could also have been in the 1930s when the promising schoolboy footballer was no longer a topic of conversation at Upton Park.

John Helliar does at least expose the myth that “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” was sung by West Ham fans before the start of the 1923 Cup Final at Wembley. His research shows that the song adopted at that match was “Till We Meet Again.”

Despite the obvious flaws in the Will Bubbles Murray story it became the official explanation when it featured on BBC television last year. As is often the case with television, the story was told as fact rather than speculation.

John Northcutt, in his original article in “Soccer History”, made it clear that the story might not be true. To emphasise this he put forward two alternative theories. The first involves a FA Cup tie against Swansea Town in 1922. Unlike West Ham historians, Swansea Town have carried out research to show that “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” was sung at the Vetch Field. He quotes from the Sporting News (8th January, 1921) that the Swansea crowd sung the song before a FA Cup tie against Bury. “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.”

Northcutt speculates that the West Ham crowd might have developed this tradition after hearing the Welsh fans singing this song in the FA cup game played against Swansea in 1921. Well, this story has been dashed in an article that appears in the current edition of Soccer History. Ian Nannestad has studied newspaper reports of the game and according to the Football Post “there was no singing” before the game.

This raises the issue of why West Ham historians such as John Northcutt and John Helliar have not been able to find newspaper reports in the 1920s and 1930s that remark on the fans singing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” at Upton Park. If they had found such reports, they would surely have used them in their articles.

Northcutt also includes a third explanation for the singing of Bubbles. He points out that West Ham historian, Brian Belton, has argued that Bubbles was sung as crowds gathered during air raids in shelters and underground stations in the East End during the Second World War. This led to a rise in communal singing by the general public to raise morale. According to Belton, the first time the song was reported to be sung by West Ham fans was during the 1940 League War Cup Final at Wembley. This was a game that the Irons won and maybe the fans took it as a good luck omen. Anyway, that appears to me to be the most logical reason why the fans sing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” at Upton Park.

History Repeating Itself

The philosopher George Santayana once said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” However, as Aldous Huxley has pointed out: “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”

This is unfortunately true of West Ham. Ever since Arnold Hills decided in 1900 that he was no longer in a position to finance the club he had formed when managing director of the Thames Ironworks & Shipbuilding Company, the club has experienced one financial crisis after another. The solution to this problem has been to sell our best players. For example, in 1901, the club sold their star player, Charlie Dove, to bitter rivals, Millwall.

This failed to solve the problem and the directors of West Ham were seriously concerned about the financial situation of the club at the beginning of the 1903-04 season. It had lost £900 in the past two seasons and had an overdraft of £770 and assets of less than £200. The main problem was a fall in season ticket sales (not surprising given their transfer policy). The club was forced to sell to sell their best players. This included Charlie Satterthwaite, who had scored 18 of West Ham's 38 goals that season.

The following season, Syd King, once again had to sell his leading scorer, Billy Grassam, to Manchester United. These sales meant that West Ham could never reach their full potential. However, King was a genius at developing young players and so the club was able to survive.

The 1905 edition of Association Football included the following passage: "It is the proud boast of the West Ham club that they turn out more local players than any other team in the South. The district has been described as a hot-bed of football and it is so. The raw material is found on the marshlands and open spaces round about; and after a season or so, the finished player leaves the East End workshop to better himself, as most ambitious young men will do. In the ranks of other organizations many old West Ham boys have distinguished themselves."

Every time it looked like Syd King and his coach, Charlie Paynter, were beginning to build a successful team they were forced to sell their best players. A good example of this was Danny Shea. Born in Wapping, he was 21 years old and playing football for the Builders Arms pub team in Stratford when he was discovered by Paynter, in 1908.

Shea, a skillful inside-forward, was an immediate success. In his first season in the Southern League he ended up as top scorer with 20 goals. This was followed by 31 (1909-10), 28 (1910-11) and 24 (1911-12). All told he had scored 103 goals in a 166 games. Shea was described as "an artful schemer and delicate dribbler who had the knack of wheeling suddenly when near goal and unleashing a thunderbolt shot."

Blackburn Rovers, who had won the First Division of the Football League title in the 1911-12 season. They struggled for goals the following season and decided to pay a British record transfer fee of £2,000 for Shea. West Ham fans were devastated.

In the 1913-14 season Blackburn once again won the league title. Danny Shea was in great form scoring 27 goals. He also went onto play for England. Everton’s Patsy Gallagher, described Shea as "one of the greatest ball artists who has ever played for England... his manipulation of the ball was bewildering."


West Ham’s next outstanding talent was Syd Puddefoot. Born in Bow on 17th November 1894 he was educated at Park School in West Ham and played football for Limehouse Town. Puddefoot was signed by West Ham United manager, Syd King, after he saw him play for London Juniors against Surrey Juniors in 1912.

As John Northcutt and Roy Shoesmith point out in their book, West Ham United: An Illustrated History (1994): "The 19-year-old Syd Puddefoot arrived and he found the net on 13 occasions in his first 11 games... He proved he could find the net when opposed by a quality defence, scoring in both games of a replayed cup-tie against Liverpool."

Puddefoot established an FA Cup goal scoring record for the club on 10th January, 1914, when he scored five times in an 8-1 victory over Chesterfield. That season he scored 16 goals in 20 cup and league games.

West Ham United finished in 4th place of the Southern League in the 1914-15 season. Puddefoot was top scorer with 18 goals in 35 league games. This included a hat-trick against Exeter City on 2nd January 1915. The local newspaper reported that: "Some 14 minutes elapsed before Puddefoot, who completely outshone every other forward on the field, opened the scoring for his side and ten minutes later he was again successful in finding the net."

The outbreak of the First World War resulted in the disbandment of the Southern League in 1915. Puddefoot returned to league football in the 1919-20 season and he was once once again top scorer with 26 goals in 43 league and cup games. He continued in good form in the 1920-21 season with 29 goals in 38 league games.

Syd King and Charlie Paynter had managed to build a very good West Ham team that included Jimmy Ruffell, George Kay, Edward Hufton, Jack Tresadern, Vic Watson, Sid Bishop, Richard Leafe, Billy Brown and Jack Young. The team relied heavily on Puddefoot's goals and it was great shock to the fans when King sold him to Falkirk for the British record fee of £5,000 in February 1925.

As the authors of the The Essential History of West Ham United (2000) pointed out that his departure "nearly caused a riot among Hammers fans". However, the club blamed Puddefoot in a statement issued after his transfer: "The departure of Syd Puddefoot came as no surprise to those intimately connected with him. It is an old saying that everyone has one chance in life to improve themselves and Syd Puddefoot is doing the right thing for himself in studying his future. We understand that he will be branching out in commercial circles in Falkirk and when his football days are over he will be assured of a nice little competency."

The truth of the matter was that Puddefoot was very reluctant to move to Scotland to play for Falkirk. However, at this time footballers had little control over these matters. At the time of his departure, it looked like West Ham United would win promotion to the First Division. However, without their top goalscorer, the club lost five of their last seven games and finished in 4th place.


Hopefully, Zola and Clarke are as good as King and Paynter and they will continue to build a good team based on local youngsters. If not, we may be seeing the demise of West Ham as a leading club in the country.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Football Skills

The history of West Ham United colours.

On 29th June, 1895, Arnold Hills, the managing director of the Thames Ironworks & Shipbuilding Company, announced in his newspaper, the Thames Ironworks Gazette, that he intended to establish a football club. The information appeared under the headline: "The importance of co-operation between workers and management". He referred to the industrial dispute that had just taken place and insisted he wanted to "wipe away the bitterness left by the recent strike". Hills added: "Thank God this midsummer madness is passed and gone; inequities and anomalies have been done away with and now, under the Good Fellowship system and Profit Sharing Scheme, every worker knows that his individual and social rights are absolutely secured."

The first match was a friendly against Royal Ordnance on 7th September, 1895. The result was a 1-1 draw. This was followed by victories against Dartford, Manor Park, Streatham and Old St Stephens. Members of the team included Charlie Dove (apprentice riveter), Thomas Freeman (ship's fireman), Johnny Stewart (boilermaker), Walter Parks (clerk), Walter Tranter (boilermaker) James Lindsay (boilermaker), William Chapman (mechanical engineer), George Sage, (boilermaker), George Gresham (ship's plater) and William Chamberlain (foreman blacksmith).

I have been unable to discover any written documents that reveal the colours that the team played in. However, there is a photograph taken in 1895 that shows the team wearing dark shirts and trousers. If we assume that Arnold Hills selected the colours, I would think that they played in dark blue. The reason for this was that these were the colours of Oxford University, the team Hills represented in the varsity match and in the 1877 F.A. Cup Final.

In 1896 Thames Ironworks won the West Ham Charity Cup. A photograph of the team shows that they are still playing in dark shirts. The first detailed description of the kit appeared at the beginning of the 1897-98 season. The strip consisted of Royal Cambridge blue shirts, white shorts, red cap, belt and stockings. According to research by Grant Hole, these kits were probably inherited from Castle Swifts FC, the works side of the Castle Mail Packet Company.

We do know that Castle Swifts, the first football club to be formed in Essex, had gone bankrupt in March 1895, when the chairman of Castle Mail, Donald Currie, decided he was no longer willing to bankroll the club. They did play in light blue shirts, white shorts and red socks. Arnold Hills took over the tenancy of the Swifts’ Hermit Road ground and he also recruited Tom Robinson, Swifts’ former trainer, to work with the Thames Ironworks team.

The Thames Ironworks Gazette commented that the new colours were very impressive: "The contrast supplied by the delightful green turf is very pleasing." One newspaper reporter commented: "A prettier and more distinctive costume than theirs I have never yet seen on a football ground. Light blue shirts, white knickers and scarlet stockings were their colours." However, when the club played a game during a thunder storm in November, 1897, a local newspaper commented that the "Ironworks appeared on the field with brand new white spotless clean knickers and light blue shirts, but before they had been playing long they were like blackamoors".

There are photographs of the Thames Iron Works taken in 1897 and 1899. Although in black and white, they lend support to the idea that the team continued to play in light blue shirts, white shorts and scarlet socks.

Thames Iron Works was renamed West Ham United in September 1900. A team photograph taken that year suggested that the club had retained the light blue colours. According to club historian, John Helliar, on 14th September, 1901, West Ham “took to the field wearing their new colours of light blue jerseys, with a claret band, and white knickers with a red stripe.”

The earliest photograph I have been able to find showing West Ham wearing the current claret and light blue strip was taken on 16th January 1904. The game against Plymouth Argyle took place at the Memorial Grounds.

The team photograph taken at the beginning of the 1904-05 season clearly shows the team wearing claret shirts with light blue sleeves and hoop around the neck. However, it is recorded that on some occasions West Ham did resort to wearing their old “Cambridge blue shirts”.

According to the Historical Kits website, West Ham first began wearing claret and blue shirts in 1899: “There is a story that in the summer of 1899 Bill Dove, a sprinter of national repute who was involved in coaching the Ironworks team, was challenged to a race with four Aston Villa players at a fair in Birmingham. Dove won but the Villa men could not pay the wager so one of them pinched a set of claret and blue shirts from his club (he was responsible for doing the laundry) to settle the bet.”

This seems very unlikely and the author of the article admits that he got this information from Wikipedia. This story also appears in Brian Belton’s “West Ham United Miscellany” (2006). However, I do not find the story convincing. Nor is there any primary evidence of the club wearing these colours until the 1903-04 season.
It has been pointed out that Aston Villa was the most successful club side during this period having won the league title five times in seven years. It has been argued that the Hammers might have adopted Villa’s colours partly to be associated with the success of the club.

What we do know is that the directors of West Ham were seriously concerned about the financial situation of the club at the beginning of the 1903-04 season. It had lost £900 in the past two seasons and had an overdraft of £770 and assets of less than £200. The main problem was a full in season ticket sales. The club was forced to sell to sell their best players. This included Charlie Satterthwaite, who had scored 18 of West Ham's 38 goals that season. Given their perilous situation, did the wealthiest club in England, take pity on the club and donate them a set of claret and blue shirts?

You can see these early photographs on my website on the early history of West Ham United.