The perfect memento to Upton Park and the people it served

Lucy Woolford discovers the Boleyn was always more than a stadium

Get the tissues at the ready; Iron Men encapsulates all the feelings you had as West Ham’s final season at the Boleyn Ground drew to a close.

As fans, we know how much that place meant to us, every one with their own stories, memories and experiences. Iron Men gives us a real insight into the thoughts of those closer to the club and the Upton Park area. The feature film consists of a number of narratives with mixed views. Ahead of watching this, I was expecting there to be a purely positive light shone upon the move to Stratford, but was pleasantly surprised to find that the accounts were honest and open.

Mark Noble’s journey is fantastically documented. As we’ve come to expect from the Hammers’ captain, he wears his heart on his sleeve within the film and his emotions are there for us all to feel. Similarly, Slaven Bilic comes across as someone who wasn’t all for the move for sentimental, and footballing reasons. The film makes a great way of illustrating his emotions, but without making it too cheesy or obvious. The viewers are left to see the rawness for themselves.

Both Noble and Bilic give interviews in their cars, a tactic that tends to bring the best discussion. People feel at home in their vehicles so I love the use of questioning on the move in Iron Men. One of the contrasts the film brings was one of the most interesting, and in equal measure irritating, things to me; that is the ways that the co-chairmen come across on camera. David Gold shares his story in a poignant and sensitive way and it’s one of the standout parts of the film to me.

Standing on the balcony of one of the famous Boleyn Ground towers, Gold points to the house he was brought up in on Green Street. He then points at where he is standing, followed by a point over to the Olympic Stadium on the skyline between the houses. He describes that as the past, present and future, just from standing in one spot. David Sullivan, on the other hand, bares limited emotional attachment in his manner.

He does introduce us to a vast collection of West Ham memorabilia in his bowling alley but the majority of the conversation is around making the club accessible for people that fans consider as ‘football tourists’ as well as making the club look like a top six side. A few important things to note here – yes, David Sullivan has a bowling alley in his house.

In fact, the DVD is almost worth watching just to witness the sheer tackiness and extravagance of his home. And also make note of his wish for us to look like a top six club rather than actually strive to be a consistent one. It’s great for the filmmakers to have captured this difference in our chairmen with subtlety, allowing the viewers to make their own assumptions.

Ray Winstone also features heavily throughout, and it’s great to hear his story of living a stone’s throw from the stadium, going to games and experiencing the highs and lows of supporting West Ham, the same as the rest of us. His insight adds another dimension to the various character stories of those who support the club through thick and thin.

The film’s journey is towards that final game at the Boleyn Ground, under the lights against Manchester United, and very slightly beyond. But what it really highlights well is the impact on people, whether they are fans, traders or both. Personally, I kept tears at bay until 100-yearold Mabel Arnold was getting ready for her last Upton Park day out.

She had featured in the film before this point, but as she reflected on her many years attending games there, she was reminded that this really was the last outing to be made there. Her emotion at that point was reflective of all of us on that morning, whether we were lucky enough to have tickets to the game or not. It brought it all back and did honestly make me well up.

Then to see her leaving again stirs the same feelings of remembering your last steps in our spiritual home but remembering that life goes on, regardless of your emotional attachments. The footage from the night is lovely with a mixture of modernly framed manager shots, plenty of crowd reactions and exciting commentary.

I was glad as well to see that although the crowd trouble from an idiotic few was slightly glazed over, it was still represented. While it was a shame to have happened, it was important that it wasn’t completely ignored, even if just to document the night as it occurred. All in all, Paul Crompton and Suri Krishnamma made a sound documentary film that highlighted the importance of football to players, staff, chairmen, fans and local communities alike.

A nod as well to the musical arrangements throughout the feature, which accurately complement the sentiments and pictures as well as they should, without taking anything away from the visuals. There were hints of a positive future at the London Stadium, which was nice. It’s not all doom and gloom, and I think Iron Men reflects that thoughtfully. The end of the film shows Mark Noble, a man who had the Boleyn Ground etched in his heart, still enjoying life as a Hammer.

It’s a fitting ending to a really nicely put together documentary. Iron Men serves as a memento of an era that we’ll never forget, but also as an informative look at the community that a single football stadium created and maintained.

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