A player kissing the badge is a common feature of any goal celebration. But all fans know it’s an empty gesture that only lasts until the end of a player’s contract. The badge is second only to the club’s colours with its unique symbolism.
As a West Ham supporter I nailed my colours to the mast in the early 1970s. But where on earth was the badge? Still only a child of tender years I felt cheated, seriously a football shirt without a badge was fraught with danger. If I pulled on a replica shirt people might think I supported Aston Villa or Burnley: how could they do this to me?
Our local rivals were so well sorted in the badge department. Arsenal had a noble white cannon, Spurs had a sleek cockerel perched on a football and Chelsea had a rampant white lion. However, West Ham weren’t the only club to be similarly bereft around this time. Manchester United, Everton and Sheffield Wednesday were among half a dozen clubs in the top flight missing that vital ingredient.
The crossed hammers first appeared on the club’s shirts in the 1923 FA Cup Final. It was reinstated in 1950 and became synonymous with the club’s promotion to the first division in 1958. The blue patch with a claret outline shield later became a standard feature. The Boleyn Castle was added for the Hammers’ Cup Final wins but the badge was strangely omitted between 1967 and 1975.
The drought ended in 1975 when West Ham defeated Fulham to win the FA Cup Final. The shirt manufactured by Bukta looked classic and modern. Short sleeved claret and blue shirts with white shorts and socks. White numbering made the shirts stand out even more on the lush green turf at Wembley. The badge duly restored easily trumped Fulham’s dull FFC logo.
The shirt was retained for the 1975/76 season, which proved to be memorable on so many levels. It was my first season attending games at Upton Park, which fixes the shirt even more firmly in the memory. There was an unbeaten 15 game run that lasted until October.
West Ham was actually top of the table in November; these were indeed strange and exciting times for West Ham fans. But it was a glorious campaign in the European Cup Winners Cup that marked the season with such distinction.
European nights under floodlights have entered into the football lexicon and Upton Park hosted some classic encounters. The cup winners from Finland, Soviet Union and Holland were dispatched to set up a semi-final with Eintracht Frankfurt. A 2-1 deficit from the away leg required victory by a two goal margin.
And so it came to pass as the Hammers triumphed 3-1. The Bukta shirts were all present and correct with splashes of mud to emphasise the heat of battle. Surprisingly, it would be the last time the shirt featured in a major game. West Ham had signed a contract with Admiral, brash new kids on the block who also made England’s shirts.
The equally iconic chevron design received its premiere at the Final against Anderlecht in May 1976. West Ham was beaten 4-2 after extra time in a pulsating European final. I was convinced the change of shirt worked against us.
We hadn’t worn the Bukta shirt and was obviously a schoolboy error. In reality, we were beaten by one of the finest club sides in Europe. Arie Haan and Rob Rensenbrink were among the ranks of a team glittering with stars.
I dearly love the Admiral shirt but it will always have negative associations for me. We lost the Cup Winners Cup Final and were later relegated wearing the same shirt. Even in the 1980 FA Cup Final, West Ham wore their all-white change strip as Arsenal was beaten by the only header of Trevor Brooking’s career.
Nothing could ever match the simplicity of the Bukta shirt with its discreet logo opposite the badge. Free of corporate embellishment an authentic claret and blue came to the fore. There was no hint of the garish shades that invaded later designs.
It only lasted for one season but stands out as one of the great shirts of the pre-branding era. When the club moved to the London Stadium in 2016 the badge was re-designed. The Boleyn Castle was discarded leaving the crossed hammers emblazoned on a shield. Today the shirt looks like it was designed by a hyperactive three-year old but at least we have the badge?