By Gerry McCarthy
I am not sure what my exact age was but I think I must have been 11 or 12 when I and a couple of friends ventured over to Upton Park one Sunday morning in the hope of collecting autographs. All of us lived within 15 minutes walk of Upon Park in those days, like so many other supporters of that generation and off we trotted with all of our scrapbooks in great anticipation of getting some of our heros’ signatures. We knew that there would not be that many first team players turning up at the ground but we did expect one or two would be there because they may need some treatment or something. After hanging around outside the ground for what seemed many hours we were eventually approached by ‘Paddy the Groundsman’. He was the one who always used to retrieve the ball whenever it went over the Old Chicken Run Stand and he used to walk along to the touchline to great cheers from the crowd whenever it happened. He listened to our reason for being there, but sympathetically told us that there was not much chance of any first team players being there as it was a Sunday, but there might one or two from the youth squad as they had to sweep the terraces and generally clear up.
That was not much use to us even if it may have included a budding Sir Trevor Brooking in the squad at the time. So we eventually we went over across the road to the ‘Bobby Moore Sports shop’ in Green Street to gaze into the window and eye up the things which we or our parents just couldn’t afford. I particularly longed for a pair of football boots under the label Chasseur’s OURS which I believe were a Hungarian brand and had always wanted since I saw them in Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly. Anyway there I was with my nose pressed up against the window when to our amazement we saw a Jaguar Mark 2 in the British Racing Green colours pull up outside the shop. My jaw dropped to my knees as out stepped Bobby Moore with his wife Tina. We immediately surrounded him pleading for his autograph but he only wanted to make his way into the shop and said he might sign for us later. He then obviously realised how disappointed we all were and invited all three of us into the shop where he promised us he would sign as many autographs as we wanted provided we helped him sort out some of the shelves. Well, of course, we did not need to be asked twice. In those days the shops were not allowed to open on Sundays so we knew we would not de disturbed.
I think we spent about an hour helping him doing things which I can’t really remember because I really was so star struck, and he then sat down and signed every autograph we required and chatted to us about our individual aspirations. He even gave us some glossy photos which he signed for us individually. Tina then ushered us out of the shop because I think she was a bit more interested in him doing some other type of work! So off home went three very happy boys to tell their stories which of course nobody believed until we showed them all the evidence.
Many years later, I was propping up a bar in Liverpool Street one evening when a bloke whom I vaguely knew came in with tears in his eyes and informed us that Bobby has just died. There was a strange hush in the place but people then started to remember the good times and stories about Bobby and by the end of the evening the whole pub which included many non West Ham supporters gave a full chorus of ‘Bubbles’.
The following day I just felt I had to go over to Upton Park and pay my respects and spent the whole day there just people watching and looking at all the flowers and momentos that people were bringing and laying. It really was an eye welling experience. I also remember that somebody overnight had already placed a plaque up on the old gatepost in tribute to him. I went back the following Sunday with my brothers to show them and just could not believe the scene it was just a mass of tributes from all over the world.
We eventually made our way on to the main forecourt when somebody tapped my on the shoulder. I turned around to see who it was it was – Alan Sealey whom I had become friends with over the years through his connection with Greyhound Racing. He of course played with Bobby in the final of the ECWC in 1965 in which he scored the two goals that lead us to that great triumph. He just stood there shaking his head in sorrow. Alan also tragically died a relatively young man of a heart attack at the age of 53.
A few years later I was helping my parents move house from East Ham to Hornchurch when I noticed one of the last items to be loaded into the van was an old black sack. When I asked what was inside my dad replied it was those old programs that somebody had given me when I was a kid. As they were mainly Arsenal & Chelsea ones I did not really have much use for them, but I do remember the driver asking me if they were going in but I said to him that he could have them if he wanted, as he was an Arsenal supporter. To my horror many months later I discovered that not only were those old programs in there but also all of the West Ham programs and my old autographed scrapbooks & photographs which included the ones signed by Bobby and one which was signed by all three of our world cup winning team. I contacted the removal company but not surprisingly they were unable to trace them. I can’t bring myself to look on eBay to see if they ever made it there.
I have been a supporter of West Ham for nearly fifty years now, and a season ticket holder for at least 30 of them, and to me Bobby Moore was the greatest player ever to represent this club and maybe even this country. In an a society where words are over emphasized these days the term “Legend” is a fitting and true description of a man who will always be close to the hearts of people from West Ham. It’s a shame that the club did not ever recognise this in the past and they certainly missed out in not employing him an ambassadorial role. Just think of the kind of esteem and respect throughout the world he would have brought to the club.