Liverpool won nothing last season. They finished second best to Everton in the League Championship and that is a situation that won’t be tolerated at Anfield.
In have come England international stars Peter Beardsley and John Barnes, big money captures from Newcastle United and Watford and they have gelled nicely to support John Aldridge. So the Reds have a new look and a different pattern of play this season, for those ‘doubting Thomas’s” they have already sent a chilling message through the First Division with impressive wins at Arsenal (2-1) and Coventry City (4-1).
(West Ham official programme 5 September 1987)
The Liverpool side that walked out at Upton Park that autumn went on to become one of the greatest teams in the history of English football. That season Liverpool would win the League, losing just two games, a club record. The only fly in the ointment was the shock defeat at the hands of Wimbledon in the 1988 FA Cup final.
The powerhouse of that mighty Liverpool team was John Barnes, one of Britain’s greatest football players. That season he was awarded the player of the year award by both the Professional Footballers Association and the Football Writers Association.
But that day at West Ham, many supporters did not treat John Barnes with admiration or even grudging respect. From the first moment he gathered the ball he faced a torrent of racist invective. “You black bastard” rang out across the ground, handfuls of monkey nuts and several bananas were thrown on the pitch. If that wasn’t gut wrenchingly awful enough a handful of British Movement supporters spat arcs of phlegm at John. To those who say this sort of thing could never happen, I say you are wrong and I know – because I was there.
I have been going to West Ham for 44 years; that was the first and last time I have ever walked out of the ground before the end of a match. It was a sad, pathetic and individualistic protest against the racism I saw.
Fast forward to Saturday 20 September 2014, once again West Ham were playing Liverpool, but the atmosphere was totally different. Outside Upton Park tube station were two banners, the first stated “Hammers Against Apartheid” and the second “The Kop Against Apartheid”.
It was fantastic to see football fans from both clubs giving out leaflets in support of the Palestinian struggle. More impressive was the response of the fans, both sets of supporters eagerly took the leaflets, photos were taken and there was no abuse.
That was a far cry from the early 1980s, I used to see skinheads sell their racist rag Bull Dog both inside and outside the ground. As a young socialist I used to help organise sales of Socialist Worker, they always ended in violent standoffs.
Things got much better in 1984. We held regular collections for the miners and lots of fans gave generously, but there was always a vocal minority that despised what we did.
When the Nazi British National Party won their first ever council seat on the Isle of Dogs in east London in 1993, we decided to launch West Ham United Against the Nazis. It was a great little group – we made our own claret and blue anti-Nazi badges and a banner, which we hung in the ground, and we leafleted a number of home games.
We were warmly received by a lot of fans, but at one leafleting a large group of Nazis gathered near our stall and were threatening to smash it. What occurred next was amazing and something I will never forget. A large group of Inter City Firm (a notorious hooligan crew that followed West Ham) went up to the Nazis and forced them to beat a retreat. ICF Against the Nazis – now that would make a great badge.
Since then, there have been stalls collecting money for a number of strikes including firefighters and ambulance workers.
It certainly isn’t all peace love and harmony. Only last season a small group of bigoted West Ham “supporters” abused Muslims praying in the ground before the start of a match and some West Ham supporters sang anti-Semitic chants at the Tottenham match. Both incidents were strongly condemned by the club and the supporters’ group.
On Saturday there was none of that crap: West Ham fielded six black players, women made up more than 25% of crowd and families over 14%.
I walked down Green Street last Saturday believing that despite all the problems of commercialisation and ticket prices things really have got better.
My day was made that much better when a dear friend of mine gave me a signed copy of Neville Staple’s biography Rude Boy – from borstal to The Specials. It seemed fitting: The Specials were after all one of the cultural symbols of black and white unity back in the day.