The fate of the little memorial garden on Green Street, next to where the Boleyn ground’s main entrance once stood, is just one of the problems facing West Ham United. Full of bedraggled scarves and wilting flowers and plaques dedicated to long-gone fans – should it be taken from its present location, where the roar of the crowd will never be heard again, and reinstalled in the club’s widely detested new home?
Another is the much loved statue 50 yards away, on the crossroads at the junction with Barking Road. It depicts Bobby Moore, the embodiment of the club’s self‑image, in his moment of greatest triumph, holding aloft the World Cup while borne on the shoulders of his club mate Geoff Hurst and Everton’s Ray Wilson, while a third Hammer, Martin Peters, looks on.
Across the road, posters in the windows of the Boleyn pub invite fans to join an online petition urging the mayor of Newham to stop the statue’s proposed move to the former Olympic Stadium in Stratford, four miles down road but a continent away in emotional distance. “The way I look at it,” the lady behind the bar says as she pulls a pint, “I mean, Bobby Moore and them never played at Stratford, did they?”
The football club has gone, leaving only echoes of the matchday crowds strolling along Green Street towards an institution that once gave life to this part of east London. The social centre of the West Ham United Supporters Club is shuttered and padlocked, a stained and crumbling hulk awaiting the outcome of a meeting at the pub later this month.
The Boleyn, Nathan’s Pie & Mash restaurant and the Newham Bookshop, celebrating its 40th anniversary this spring, are among the few visible survivals in a district whose demographics and culture have changed almost beyond recognition in the decades since Moore, Hurst and Peters returned in triumph to a tightly knit community.
On a wall at the back of the old supporters’ club centre, someone has spray-painted LONG LIVE THE BOLEYN in blue on a claret background. But the Boleyn is dead and gone, swiftly razed once the sale of the ground to developers for around £40m was completed. Whatever the football club’s destiny, it will not be played out in E13. The pre-match pie and mash delivered by Nathan’s to a new fans’ rendezvous on the edge of the Olympic Park is as close to the old authenticity as the Hammers’ more nostalgic fans can come in the club’s new age.
West Ham’s true legacy in this part of east London is the building site from which apartment blocks are rising, fronted by a landscaped sales suite where eager representatives give their spiel to prospective buyers of a range of 842 living units. Although attractive enough in the glossy brochure, these are not the kind of palaces in the sky currently rising in more prosperous parts of London. It’s hard to imagine members of the McMafia wanting to park their families or their funny money in this unpretentious location.