Your family history is linked to the club. Can you give an overview of this?
My great-grandfather was a brass founder in the Thames Ironworks Shipbuilding and Engineering Company so when the Thames Ironworks Football Club was founded in 1895 he supported them and then in 1900 when West Ham United Football Club was founded he supported them as well as helping out on match days. It was around this time that he started the family printing business “Helliar and Sons”. He became involved in printing some of the club’s various items of stationery and later the firm started to print the matchday programmes. Both him, and his two sons Henry and Frederick Samuel, were matchday stewards at the club for many years.
My father, John Frederick Helliar who was always known as Jack, then became involved in the family business after the Second World War. Interestingly when he joined up in the summer of 1939 it was with many of the players of West Ham United. Just after the Second World War, he was asked by the club secretary if he would like to write the content for the four page matchday programme. For this he was paid 10 shillings and sixpence then onwards until 1984 he was the programme editor.
In 1984 the family firm lost the contract to print the programme but my father continued to contribute to the matchday programme content up until his death in January 1992. The family business which he owned continued to supply most of the other printing requirements such as posters, matchday tickets, season ticket books, and other general printing for many years later.
You’re West Ham’s official club historian but you’ve had number of other roles at the club. Can you outline these?
During the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s before automated ticketing was introduced, I helped sell match tickets on Saturdays and Sundays to help the full time ticket office staff. When my father was programme editor he was in charge of the press room on match days and I assisted him for 20 years or so. I would attend matches with him and help him edit the matchday programme, writing reports on the reserve an youth team matches and collating statistics such as appearances, goalscorers, etc. Nowadays I work with the media department at the club and also assist newspaper reporters with questions about past matches, records, old players, etc.
I used to run the press room on matchdays, following the death of my father in 1992. That involved dealing with the various newspaper journalists, TV and radio commentators and taking the manager to various post match interviews for all forms of the media. I was also closely involved with the club directors – then chairman, Terry Brown, Charles Warner and Martin Cearns when the club museum was being planned and finally opened.
Can you give us an overview of what you do at the club on a day to day basis?
I work for the club on part time basis now so I don’t go to the Boleyn Ground every day. Working in my capacity as club historian I contribute a history article to the matchday programme and I’m also doing a very interesting job that I have had for some three years or so as the stadium tour guide taking some 30 or 40 people at a time around on a tour of the Boleyn Ground and telling them about the history of the club, how it came about, the various parts of the establishment, former times such as memorable matches, former managers and players, etc.
What is the most common question asked on your tours of the stadium?
I get asked a variety of questions but I suppose that the most common ones are where do the players sit in the dressing room when they are getting ready for a match. I suppose the other most common one is when whether it’s true that the medical room is known as “The Kieron Dyer Suite” after the former player’s injury hit time at the club.
The Elite Era: 1958-2009 was considered one of the West Ham definitive books. Are there any plans for an update?
No plans at all unfortunately. The publisher, Desert Island Books, informed me last year that there is no longer really a call for this type of book and with the advent of books now being able to be downloaded, printed copies such as “The Elite Era” are a thing of the past as the market is not there anymore.
What’s your favourite West Ham fact?
West Ham United are the only football club I know of in England – if not the world – that has a ground which is known by two different names – The Boleyn Ground and Upton Park. There was a question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire some years ago when a West Ham fan was answering questions and was asked: “What is the name by which the West Ham United Football Ground is known?” He answered “The Boleyn Ground” but Chris Tarrant said the answer was “Upton Park”. This caused big problems for the club and myself as the club’s switchboard was overloaded with calls from other fans and the media outlets all asking what was the correct answer as some knew the ground as Upton Park whilst others knew it as The Boleyn Ground and most knew it as both of them. The actual address of the club, however, is: West Ham United Football Club, The Boleyn Ground, Green Street, Upton Park, London E13 9AZ.
Another interesting fact is how the origin of “Come on you Irons” and “Up the Hammers” came about. Both can be traced back to the days of the 1890’s when the predecessors of West Ham United – Thames Ironworks F.C. – who were formed by the managers and employees of the “Thames Ironworks and Ship Building Company”. Those cries were shouted by the supporters in reference to the long-handled mallet headed hammers that were used in the boat building yards also the shortened version of “Thames IRONworkS” as they chanted the name of their team.
What’s been your favourite West Ham match?
There are too many to really pick out just one above all others but two matches played at Wembley at which I was present must top my personal list. The European Cup Winners Cup Final of 1965 and of course the World Cup Final of 1966 when West Ham United – on behalf of England – won the Jules Rimet Trophy. Other games that spring to mind are the 7 – 0 thrashing of Don Revie’s Leeds United in the League Cup in 1966 and the Semi-Final of the FA Cup against Manchester United in 1964.
What has been your favourite season?
Probably the 1985–86 season when John Lyall nearly made the impossible dream of every West Ham fan a near reality by finishing third in the First Division table when Liverpool were champions and Everton were runners-up.
But for a couple of unfortunate losses early on in the season and in March and April, the Hammers could have won the title as at the end they were just four points behind Liverpool and two behind Everton. At times in the last few months of the campaign the Hammers were playing three matches a week in order to fulfil their fixtures as they also got to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
What do you make of the current team?
Sam Allardyce has done well in difficult circumstances to get together a squad of players who look capable now of keeping West Ham United in the Premiership. One must admire him as the list of injuries that he has had to deal with this season especially in a squad that is not the biggest by any means in the division. He has done remarkably well in not only buying players but also by getting players on loan deals to help strengthen his squad. As the club has had debt problems for many years prior to his arrival, his ability to delve into the transfer market probably as much as he would like to have done has been severely restricted. We should never forget that a few years ago the club was in dire financial trouble and might well have gone out of existence if events had happened as was at one time feared would transpire.
What’s your prediction for the season?
I think we will finish in midtable somewhere in the region of between 10th and 13th place.