There have been so many great games in the last 58 years and I’ve covered many of them throughout my book, Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford. Many are remembered because of the importance of the game, the goals scored, and the spine-tingling atmosphere generated by our fans. Hopefully my memories of these great games will evoke fond memories of fans, (especially older ones like me!), and the music in the charts at the time.
In August 1968 I was fourteen and a half. It was, of course, the school summer holidays, and I was soon to move into the fourth form at school. I think that is year 10 in modern terminology. I was on a caravan holiday in Weeley when news broke of the Russian (strictly speaking Warsaw Pact) invasion of Czechoslovakia on 21 August. Younger readers will only know of two countries now, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which were formed when the original country split (peacefully) in 1993. It was a major event in world history, and one that was discussed in current affairs lessons upon our return to school a couple of weeks later.
Another significant happening in history happened around the same time. England were playing Australia in the fifth test of the summer at the Oval. England were one down and needed to win the test to square the series. A famous test match ensued with England (or rather Derek Underwood) bowling out Australia on the final afternoon to win the match after a heavy rain storm had almost forced the abandonment of the game during the lunch interval. The large Oval crowd assisted in the mopping up process on this final day (Tuesday August 27).
Basil D’Oliveira, a mixed-race South African, had been playing cricket for England for a couple of years, and scored a magnificent 158 in the game and was one of the key reasons why England won the match. Despite this he was controversially omitted from the touring team to go to South Africa that winter, although later recalled to the party following an injury to Tom Graveney, and a public outcry. With the apartheid in South Africa at the time, the inclusion of a non-white South African was unacceptable to the hosts, and this led to the cancellation of the tour, and hastened South Africa’s isolation from world cricket soon afterwards. They didn’t return until 1991 after apartheid began to be dismantled. A further topic had been added to current affairs lessons on our return to school.
Meanwhile on the Monday evening of 26 August, West Ham had a home game against Burnley. It was a memorable game on a hot summer evening and we raced into a four goal lead by half time. We were playing some great stuff, and that first half was one of the best that I remember from that era. Martin Peters scored the opener, then Geoff Hurst added a couple before a teenage Trevor Brooking added a fourth. Shortly before Brooking’s goal, the referee had to go off the pitch injured. In those days we didn’t have a fourth official at games, so one of the linesmen took over the whistle, and a member of public (who was a qualified local referee) ran the line, dressed in his suit trousers, shirt and tie, as there was no spare kit for officials either! It wouldn’t happen today. To many observers Brooking’s goal was yards offside, but the deputy linesman dressed in his office attire, didn’t raise his flag, and maintained that the ball was last played by a Burnley player, with which the referee concurred, and the goal stood.
The Burnley players complained for ages, but I couldn’t see the point. They were already dead and buried in the game. Their chairman made quite a fuss the following day, and the whole thing was described, quite unnecessarily in my opinion, as a raging controversy. The referee had recovered by the start of the second half and resumed in charge. The deputy linesman had his ten minutes of fame, and made headlines being slated in the national newspapers the following day. Incidentally it wasn’t his first call up. He had been called upon in exactly the same circumstances just nine days earlier in our home game against Forest.
Brooking added our fifth goal with half an hour still to play, but we took our foot of the gas a little, and the game ended aa a convincing 5-0 win. It took us to the top of the Division One table (we eventually finished eighth), and was followed up with a 4-0 win over West Brom the following Saturday, and then a 7-2 victory over Bolton in the League Cup a few days later. But that wasn’t our highest score that season as we put eight past Sunderland in October. We scored 47 goals in our 21 home games in 1968-69, a figure only bettered by Manchester City, who finished in the bottom half! Burney finished 14th that year.
The West Ham team for the game was: Ferguson, Bonds, Charles, Peters, Stephenson, Moore, Redknapp, Boyce, Hurst, Brooking, Sissons. Roger Cross made his league debut coming on as a substitute for Sissons in the second half.
Number one in the charts in that memorable week in history was Mony Mony, by Tommy James and the Shondells, and other records close to the top were Fire, by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the Beach Boys with Do It Again, Tom Jones with Help Yourself, Dusty Springfield with I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten, the Bee Gees with I Gotta Get A Message to You. Simon and Garfunkel were in the top 20 with Mrs. Robinson, one of the songs from the soundtrack of the film The Graduate, which I greatly enjoyed watching (Dustin Hoffman had the leading role). Days by the Kinks was another great song I recall from that week’s chart.
By any stretch of the imagination, I don’t think that I could possibly include this season’s game at home to Burnley in any future favourite games feature!