West Ham’s legendary snapper Stevie Bacon tells David Blackmore he is optimistic for the future despite his long battle with diabetes
For more than 30 years, he enjoyed a unique view on goings on at the Boleyn Ground and undoubtedly remains West Ham’s most loved photographer. There is, of course, only one Stevie Bacon, but the Newham Recorder’s legendary snapper is facing an uncertain future after having had his lower left limb amputated as a result of complications with his diabetes.
Confined to a bed in a room in his ‘wheelchair unfriendly’ house, Stevie knows life will never be the same again. Even now, a few months on from his operation, the 63-year-old admits he does not know where he will live and how much care he will need moving forward.
‘My big problem is I’m living in a rented house but it’s not wheelchair accessible so I’m stuck in a room and confined to bed,’ he explained. ‘I’m currently waiting for the council to find a property for me which will enable me to get around and, most importantly, help me to get out and about. It might sound like a silly thing to say but you don’t realise how difficult things can be. It’s so very difficult for me to do anything at the moment but I’m trying to make the best out of this situation.’
While Stevie still harbours dreams of returning to the touchline at some point he admits it is highly likely he’ll never work again. ‘I’ve only got a year left before I retire and, as things stand, I don’t think I will be back working,’ he continued.
Bacon, who turns 64 in the same month as West Ham will begin life in the Olympic Stadium, hasn’t been able to get to the Boleyn Ground for a couple of seasons and admits he would love to see the old ground one more time before the move. ‘I love Upton Park,’ he explained. ‘I’ve spent half my life there from starting to do my first games there in my late teens, right through to a couple of years ago.
‘I’ve got really fond memories of the place and the players I have met and the fans. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to get over there before we finish there this season but it just depends on my situation. ‘West Ham have said I can go when I want which is really nice of them and I really want to get there sometime soon.’
However, while he admits it will be a sad day when the John Lyall Gates are closed for the final time, Bacon says the move to the Olympic Stadium will allow the club to move forward. ‘Given the choice I would have stayed at Upton Park but then you realise they have probably done as much as they can there, he added. ‘They could have redeveloped the East side but at the end of the day it makes more sense to move to the Olympic Winners: Stevie Bacon gets his hands on the play-off trophy In his pomp: A young Stevie Bacon poses with a camera Stadium. Getting in and out of Upton Park is a nightmare so we have to think of the fans because it’s much easier and better to get out of Stratford. I just hope the atmosphere will be just as good there.’
Bacon admits he is always pessimistic about West Ham, but even he now admits the Hammers will be able to avoid relegation and that things are looking good – ‘for once’. ‘We’ve been unbelievable this season,’ he said. ‘My biggest fear coming into this season was getting relegated and moving to the new stadium as a Championship club – it would have been a huge dent in our plans.
‘We started the season brilliantly though with all the away wins and, despite our bad run of injuries we held our own and managed to keep going and now we can start to push for a European slot.
Bacon says he is especially delighted about how the season has panned out for Slaven Bilic, a man he got to know well while the Croatian was a player at the club back in the 1990s. ‘I got on very well with Slav when he was here. He was great – a very friendly guy and very knowledgeable,’ he added. ‘He always preferred to sit and chat rather than play cards on the coach. I’ve always said he didn’t do bad for us but that he didn’t stay too long. He was a decent man.’
Bacon was able to get to know Bilic, and many of the players, when he travelled on the team’s coach as his role as club photographer. ‘I always tried to make new players feel at home,’ he added. ‘I can remember when Ray Stewart joined us and I got a call from the manager John Lyall asking me to come to the ground to get a few pictures. John had been the first person Ray saw at West Ham and I was the second. Ray and I got on really well and we went on to form a great friendship. He still keeps in touch today.
As for the players he connected with the most, Bacon his closest friends in football are from ‘Boys of 86’ – the team that came within a whisker of winning the old first division. ‘They were more my generation when I was working closely with the club,’ he added.
‘I didn’t have much access to the current crop of players. Mark Noble I always got along well with as I did with Scott Parker when he was at the club. Football has changed completely. I was talking to a journalist the other week and he said that in the old days, press officers were there to help you make contact Happy days: Stevie on West Ham’s tour of Australia Chats: Stevie got to know Slaven Bilic on the coach with players but now they are stopping you making contact with the players and that sums it all up .
‘This isn’t just at West Ham – it’s the same wherever you go. Players are kept away from the fans as much as they are the media. Some training grounds are more like fortresses now and you can’t get anywhere near where you used to be able to go.’ The conversation turns to his highlights from working as West Ham’s official club photographer for three decades, and Bacon says he still feels privileged to have done a job he enjoyed for so long.
‘Being involved with the club was great for me being a local boy and a West Ham fan,’ he explained. ‘To get to travel with the team was incredible. The biggest highlight for me was when I was able to go to Australia with them on tour. It was three weeks with them and it was superb.’
However, it was the big European nights that really stick in his mind. ‘I’ll never forget when Dinamo Tbilisi came to Upton Park and were applauded off the pitch,’ he explained. However, it was the big European nights that really stick in his mind. ‘I’ll never forget when Dinamo Tbilisi came to Upton Park and were applauded off the pitch,’ he explained.
‘Then there was the game behind closed doors [in October 1980 after rioting by fans in the first leg against Castilla in Spain in the European Cup Winners’ Cup]. That was eerie. Everyone was desperate to see the game but it was only played in front of such a small number of people .
‘Travelling abroad with West Ham for European games was also something I really enjoyed. I covered the Cup Winners’ Cup final when we got beat by Anderlecht and also the Intertoto Cup in 1999.’ While Bacon is happy reminiscing over the past, the future hangs like an elephant in the room. However, he remains determined to be positive and reveals he still has high hopes for the future.
‘Hopefully the council can come up with a property that I can move to and I’m looking at getting a prosthetic leg which would give me at least a bit more mobility.
‘I do like to travel and I love driving. It would be nice [once I retire] to be in a situation where I can get a car under the Government’s Motability Scheme that will allow me to do a bit more driving and take some photographs .
‘I’d also like to shoot some football again somewhere but at the moment I’m taking everything one step at a time – if you excuse the pun what with me having just the one leg!’ Whatever tomorrow holds though there will only be one Stevie Bacon, and he’ll always have a special place in the hearts of West Ham fans.