I wrote an article about my campaign for a ‘Billy Bonds Stand’ in Blowing Bubbles back in September 2013, which then appeared in The Metro newspaper.
Since then, I’ve handed out flyers at home games, had petitions signed by thousands of fans, and bombarded the Board with tweets, emails and even Moonpig cards! If you are ‘young’ enough to remember the glory years of the 70s and early 80s when Cup Finals were ten a penny for West Ham, then you would have been fortunate enough to have seen William Arthur ‘Billy’ Bonds in his prime.
Arguably West Ham’s most influential player of all time, you knew that wherever you were watching West Ham, at home or abroad, Bonzo would give nothing less than 100 per cent once he pulled on that shirt. I had been banging on West Ham’s door about honouring Bill since 2006 when I asked if he would be guest of honour for the Cup Final at Cardiff.
No-one at West Ham had even given him a thought, instead Billy went to a family birthday party on the day and presented the FA Trophy to Grays at Upton Park the day after. All requests were falling on deaf ears for years. I lost count of the number of faxes and emails I sent through after 2006.
In February 2013, I went to a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of Bobby Moore’s tragic death, which was held at the statue opposite The Boleyn. It was a bitterly cold Sunday morning but David Gold, Martin Peters and Bobby’s daughter and grandchildren turned up.
Phil Bayles from ITV London News was there interviewing fans. I told him it was a shame that no current players were there to pay their respects and that I hope West Ham do not leave it too late to honour Billy Bonds as they did with Bobby. Later that evening my ‘rant’ about the current players made the news but they cut out the bit about Bill.
I was contacted by a number of people who had seen me and I decided to give the Billy Bonds Stand idea another shot and got many people to tweet David Gold that evening. Two weeks later West Ham announced the Lifetime Achievement Award for Bonzo – this may have been planned for months but it gave me the encouragement to get moving again and a month later I met David Gold at his book signing at Upton Park.
I stayed with my son until the end knowing that would be my chance to have my say and to his credit, Mr Gold listened and agreed with me that Bonzo kept the team going for years. I said to rename the East Stand the Billy Bonds Stand for three years until we moved to Stratford ‘wouldn’t hurt’. David Gold agreed and promised to think about it. I then decided the way forward was social media and @billybondsstand on Twitter was born.
Personally, I first started going to West Ham with my Dad during the 1964/65 season with my first game being a 0-0 draw against Leicester with the late great Gordon Banks playing in goal for them. Like the majority of West Ham fans, it’s in the blood. Along with my three sons, my brother and his two sons, we’re all just carrying on a family tradition that goes back to before the 1923 Cup Final.
In all those near 55 years, I have never seen a player that inspires and leads by example as much as Billy Bonds. In his early days at right back he sent many a left winger – including George Best – over the Chicken Run wall and it would have been poetic justice that the same stand be named after him. But better late than never.
The comments to the Twitter account have been fantastic and it’s clear that Bill was – and is – a hero to many. They say that you should never meet your heroes and before I met Bill, about 10 years ago, I was worried that I was doing the wrong thing, but Bill was just what I expected – an old school, unassuming, modest and thoroughly decent man.
I met Bill again five years ago at a fundraising event for West Ham Ladies and had a chat with him about the Billy Bonds Stand. I gave him a card with the online petition details on it and he said: ‘That’s lovely of you, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen, but my granddaughters will love that you’re doing this and will take a look.’
There were also comments from fans saying ‘it can’t happen’, ‘you’re wasting your time’, ‘the club can’t name anything else’, ‘they don’t have the right to do this’. Then others were saying: ‘Stop doing this. It’s not what Billy would want, he would be embarrassed by this’.
I even started to doubt myself as the last thing I wanted was to upset Bill. Then I thought – Bill never gave up on us on the pitch, so I wasn’t gonna give up on him. When the news was officially announced about the Billy Bonds Stand the club released a short video.
I must admit it brought a tear to my eye to hear him say ‘icing on the cake… Special… Great honour’ and, as a new grandad myself to a fifth-generation Hammer, hear him describe his pride that his granddaughters could say ‘that’s grandad’s Stand’.
Most importantly, Bill will be here to see it himself. In Bill’s words: ‘That’ll be lovely’.