Watching Bobby Moore by Brian Belton

Watching Bobby Moore by Brian Belton

I think I probably saw about 70 percent of all the games Bobby Moore played for West Ham and England. At Upton Park my view was almost wholly from what was once the North Bank. The North Bank was where I was born as a Hammer.

My debut on those terraces was my first game at Upton Park. I was taken by my cousin, Steve, and a few of his mates. I was not really supposed to be in the ground, being only in my fourth year life, and my ‘carers’, well, were more than twice my age. However, the dad of one of Steve’s pals worked on the turnstiles and got us in about an hour before the game.

We were squeezed up on the ‘shelf’ of the North Bank for the initial home game in West Ham’s first Division One match for more than 36 years. It was 25 August 1958 and the Wolves of Wolverhampton were the old gold clad visitors.

The first thing that hit me was the shear colour of it all – the turf, the strips and the crowd. I knew the players faces and could recite the West Ham side that had beaten Middlesbrough in the last game of the Hammers promotion season without fault, and recall getting on Steve’s nerves as every time a West Ham player received or won the ball I shouted out his name.

It was close to half-time when I yelled ‘Musgrove’ as he picked up the ball on the right of my right (West Ham were playing towards us in the first half). He seemed to run like lightening before sending a perfectly weighted pass to Vic Keeble (‘Keeble!’ I screamed). I can still see him look up for a split second that has lasted the better part of 50 years. His cross blasted into the middle of Wolves goal mouth below us. I found myself shouting ‘Dick’ as the tall Scotsman dodged a challenge before, about 20 feet from the goal-line, in a flash, cracking the ball with a satisfying ‘Tump!’ into the back of the Wanderers net. Unfortunately I don’t recall seeing John Smith’s goal, but I do remember for most of the same year.

On 8th September, Bobby made his West Ham debut in a 3-2 home win against Manchester United. I was at the game, but am sad to say that all I recollect is the density of the crowd (Upton Park was packed to the gunnels) and the tension of watching Bobby Charlton tearing the West Ham defence apart in the final minutes of the match.

In 1990, West Ham were required to convert the Boleyn Ground into an all-seater stadium. The work had to be completed for 1994–95 season in order to comply with the requirements of the Taylor Report. The first stage of the redevelopment came in 1993, when the South Bank was replaced by a 9,000 seat, two-tier stand named in honour Bobby, who had passed earlier that year.

The stand incorporated executive boxes as well as a digital clock. The North Bank was demolished in 1994 and a new 6,000 seat, two-tier stand named the "Centenary Stand" was opened on its site the following year; it was later renamed the "Sir Trevor Brooking Stand".

As a teenager, as the 60s gave way to the 70s, along with the rest of the ‘Mile End Mob’ personnel, I held and defended the North Bank against incursion from Gooners and Spuds, Manc Greasers and Liverpods. The MEM were the precursors of the Inter-City Firm, but in all honesty made the latter look like a kindergarten outing. This was the generation made up of the children of gasworks stokers, dockers and stevedores. Their fathers had fought a World War, while their mothers had held a country together, shift working in factories and ship yards between dodging Nazi bombs.

The Mile End were lighter, brighter and jollier than their successors, but they were a Hammer hard cockney regiment, wrought from iron. The North Bank is where I fell to my knees as England’s World Cup winning goalkeeper saved Hurst’s penalty in the League Cup semi-final second leg. I knew it would happen, by that time the Stoke City keeper had spent endless hours with Geoff in penalty practice on England duty; Banks knew what to expect. Ten days later the thought of it ruined my Christmas 1971.

The North Bank was hard as nails, as cold as terrace stone but by the time it disappeared it had been warmed and softened by close to a century of years of claret and blue tears.

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