We all find it easy to romanticise our childhood. There is fascination in discovering things for the first time; and we believe no one’s childhood could be as good as our own. Time undoubtedly lends enchantment, but sometimes the present can barely hold a candle to the past.
West Ham’s main club shop is now located on the perimeter of the London Stadium. There are also satellite branches in Romford, Thurrock and Basildon. But back in the day, there was just one club shop located deep in the bowels of Upton Park. A visit to the club shop sorted my birthday and a fair part of my Christmas wish list. It felt like I was stepping into an Aladdin’s cave.
Programmes, books, posters and pennants filled every corner of the shop. The walls were adorned with images of the past. They smiled on customers as if to convince them they were buying a piece of history. The shop was run by elderly gentlemen who regaled us with stories of past glories. Moore, Peters and Hurst, the first Wembley Cup Final of 1923 and players with names who could only have played before the war.
Like Syd Puddefoot, West Ham’s very first leading goalscorer in the 1919/20 season. The range of gifts available were limited by modern standards but of the highest quality. Mugs, key rings and pin badges were all enamelled in vivid claret and blue with omnipotent crossed hammers dominating the club crest.
Birthday and Christmas cards were embossed with the club badge. Replica kits were expensive but made of 100% cotton. I still have a beautifully made table lamp that smacks of real craftsmanship.
A white shade is edged in claret and blue with a canvas badge attached in the middle. The round base is finished in green material to create the effect of turf. Whilst on the base is a hand painted figure of a West Ham footballer. When the lamp was switched on it threw off a rosy glow of the Hammers primary colours.
The shop would also stock any Hammers-related products which made it an even more convenient one stop retailer. In the 1970s Subbuteo was the must have table football game. I could barely contain my excitement when the shop took delivery of the eleven man team in the new Admiral chevron design.
I was fascinated by the feat of painting such an intricate design on tiny 3 inch players. Naturally they never left the box and I just played with the old home kit, which doubled up as Aston Villa and Burnley.
The Hammers classic away kit was also reproduced in blue with claret hoops; they couldn’t be used as any other team but West Ham. But these days the club shop is a different affair from the cosy cave I remember as a kid. The main shop is carefully annexed to the ticket office; just to make sure people have to walk past the shop to get there.
On match days there is a queue to even get in the shop let alone pay for anything. Hammerhead and Bubbles the Bear can often be seen posing for pictures outside. The anarchist lurking deep inside me wishes Mr Blobby would turn up and inject some much needed chaos.
Once inside you see just how many places you can slap a pair of crossed hammers. Jewellery, watches, baby grows, water bottles, mouse mats and kitchen magnets are among the many trinkets available. I always snigger when confronted with a West Ham stress ball; heaven knows how many of these we must sell. I’m surprised there isn’t a tattooing service offering exclusive Conference League winners designs?
Downstairs in the cafeteria is the shirt printing service. I’m amazed how many fans opt for shirts with players’ names on them. They could be left with a relic when a player moves on or is simply out of favour. I might pose a question to owners of replica shirts with ‘Scamacca’ emblazoned across the back: were you happy to pay £72 and an additional £8 for the name and number?
Surely a number 16 with the very apt ‘Noble’ would have been a much wiser investment. Merchandising always has been and always will be, the name of the game. West Ham behaves no differently to any other club.
And I don’t blame them for exploiting the commercial opportunities available. But it’s yet another example of where the game has lost its soul. The club shop feels more like a fast food outlet with its seemingly endless bank of payment tills.
Customers gently snake through grabbing the latest replica shirt; willing victims of pester power inflicted by children who must have the latest shirt, even if the collar is only slightly different. It dawns on me that we no longer support a football club, but a business driven by a slick corporate structure. That has always been the case but never has felt more blatantly obvious.