A HISTORY OF THE WEST HAM UNITED SUPPORTERS' CLUB

image18

Recently updated from an original article by Sean Whetstone on www.westhamtillidie.com dated 15th October 2017 also with  thanks to Nigel Kahn and Paul Christmas.  To read the original article click here 


West Ham United Supporters’ Club also known as the Hammers Social Club was formed over 70 years ago in 1947.


Just like the football club itself,  the Supporters' Club has had its fair share of ups and downs but despite a recent attempt to close it down by some of its members and its current struggle to find a new permanent home close to the club's new stadium in the Olympic Park, the West Ham United Supporters' Club is refusing to fade and die..........

image19

It was founded by six members with their headquarters in a front room in Wigston Road which was the home of the then Club Secretary Mr Syd Russell. Their existence came into being after a public appeal from the then West Ham Board of Directors who invited suggestions on how to repair the Boleyn Ground which was badly bomb damaged by a German flying bomb in 1944. A few years earlier the 1939/40 Football League season was only three matches old when World War Two broke out. The League programme was immediately abandoned as the Government introduced measures to restrict large gatherings at cinemas, race-tracks and, inevitably, football grounds. Regional competitions were set up in place of the Football League, with West Ham United taking on local rivals from across London and the Home Counties between October 1939 and May 1946. Football League competition only resumed for West Ham after the Second World War with a trip to Plymouth to face Argyle on 31 August 1946 in the Second Division.

image20

Relations between the West Ham Board and the Supporters’ Club didn’t start off well with the directors writing to the newly formed Supporters’ Club on 17th December 1947 suggesting the newly formed Social Club had no special status and deserved no special treatment so a relationship with the board was neither required nor wanted. Six months later the Social Club requested a face to face meeting with the Board but again the Directors rejected the request referring the club to the letter they wrote the previous December. The relationship at the time was described as distant at best or hostile at worst.


The Social Club wrote again and asked the West Ham Directors to agree to a name West Ham United Supporters’ Club or West Ham United Football Supporters’ Club. In the board minutes of the time they recorded "We, West Ham United FC were not interested in what tile they gave themselves".  Despite various knockbacks, the Social Club grew and they moved to Hartley Avenue School around 1948 and opened up membership to everyone. They stayed at the school until the 1964 FA Cup Final after which they bought three caravans which they used around the Boleyn Ground.


The second annual dinner of the Supporters’ Club was held at Robin Hood Hotel with 120 paying members for the gala event. Membership at that time stood at 400 and a local newspaper article talked about increasing membership to 1,000.

image21

Probably the most influential figure in the history of the West Ham United Supporters’ Club was local politician Councillor Tom Jenkinson who became Chair of the Supporters' Club in 1951.


Thomas Alfred Jenkinson (28 November 1911 – November 1994) was a Labour Party politician who was active in the East Ham area. His working-class roots came from the Poplar workhouse where he lived with his mother and father in 1923. He broke free of the workhouse in 1926 when he found work as a delivery boy.


He was a member of East Ham Corporation, he was the last Mayor of East Ham in 1964-65 and was elected unopposed to the successor Newham London Borough Council to represent the South Ward in 1964, he was re-elected in 1968, 1971 and 1974. Following boundary changes in 1978 he was elected as a Councillor representing Custom House and Silvertown Ward. He also sat as a member of the Greater London Council representing Newham North East from 1973–1977 and Newham South from 1977–1981.


In 1990 he returned to Newham Council as a Councillor for South Ward. He held the seat at the 1994 borough council election, dying in office later that year.

It was Jenkinson who finally forged a close relationship between the Social Club and the Directors through then West Ham chairman Reg Pratt. They were to set up a joint fundraising campaign with the Supporters' club, running jackpot, lottery and pools competitions. The Supporters' Club purchased a caravan for £250 to make sales from.

image22

It was the Supporters' Club which founded the Hammer of the Year award at the beginning of the 1957/58 season when members wanted to recognise the outstanding player for the season with an official award. The first recipient was defender Andy Malcolm, whose form helped Ted Fenton’s side to win the Division Two title on the final day of a memorable campaign.


The first cheque to the West Ham United Football Club Ltd Building Fund was paid over in 1961. In 1962 the Supporters' Club gave the club over £4,000. In the following 18 months, £23,000 was given to the Board at West Ham which they spent on improvements to the East Stand, the training ground at Chadwell Heath and the building of the new ‘A’ block in the West Stand which opened in 1965.


By 1964 the Supporters’ Club Annual Dinner invited West Ham Chairman Reg Pratt as their main speaker with the FA Cup on show on the main table.

When a piece of land became vacant they purchased a mobile dining room from Wimpy which they used as a makeshift clubhouse.

 

In 1972 a piece of land was leased by the then chairman Mr Tom Jenkinson with a mortgage from West Ham to build the existing Clubhouse in Castle Street.

On 25th March 1993, the clubhouse was refurbished and the Supporters' Club entered a new lease with Newham council for 99 years with £30,000 up front and a peppercorn rent of five pence per year.


In 1980, when West Ham won the Cup, Tom Jenkinson borrowed the FA Cup and took it to the Clubhouse for Club members to have their photos taken with it.

image23

 By May 2016 the Supporters’ Club had a thriving membership and on the last game at the Boleyn Ground against Manchester United, they took £15,000 in takings at the club.


In contrast, when West Ham moved to Stratford in August 2016 they took just £21 in takings when West Ham took on Bournemouth for the first game at the London Stadium.  The club continued to lose £7,000 per month until the bank reserves dwindled to nothing and a member stepped in to personally bankroll them.


In September 2017 the club sadly closed their Castle Street premises after a Health and Safety audit.  Membership secretary at the time, Paul Walker, told the Newham Recorder:  

“We came in here and we thought that some of the stuff didn’t look very safe, so we agreed to have a health and safety expert come in,” he said. 

“I think we underestimated the problems. The maintenance was not up to date, so the insurance certificate was totally invalid."  

“We opened the boiler cupboard and there were a load of fag butts in there. Then we found out that the flue was not connected to the boiler so it is seeping carbon monoxide and there are asbestos panels in there and someone has been smoking."

“The boiler is condemned, the fire doors are not compliant. I remember Grenfell and we didn’t want it to happen here, so as a committee we unanimously decided to close,” said Walker. "We had 500 or 600 people here on match days, but the fire precautions were not connected, so what might have happened doesn’t bear thinking about.” 

“We reckon we need a couple of hundred thousand to get things right,” said Paul Christmas. “You have to think about bringing things up to date. We are not in it for the glory or for personal gain, we just want to save this club" 


With the closure of the Castle Street premises, the new committee, with financial support from the football club, set up a pop-up bar close to the London Stadium for members on match days.  

image24

Without the cash funds to renovate and reopen the Castle Street Clubhouse, the premises remained closed.  Disappointed with its closure and no impending reopening date, a number of members called for the Supporters' Club to be closed down with any residue of cash after the sale of any assets being split between approximately 45 longstanding members.  As the Supporters' Club owned a property opposite the Boleyn Ground in Green Street, this would have meant a payout of several thousand pounds to each of the 45 longstanding members.  A bitter legal battle commenced between the core of the membership and some of the existing Committee over their right to vote at an AGM on closing the Club down.  In September 2018, the members won their battle and voted in a new Committee with the aim of keeping the Club alive and finding a new permanent home whilst investigating the feasibility of reopening the old Clubhouse.


The new pop up venue at Stour Space Cafe worked well until September 2019 when new management at the Cafe decided that they would no longer rent the venue out as a change in business strategy.

As of September 2019, the Supporters' Club is once again looking for a temporary home whilst it tries to find a permanent venue.