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West Ham’s Boleyn ground through a camera lens over the years

The ashes of the Hammers favourite Johnny 'Budgie' Byrne were buried in the pitch in front of the old South Bank in the eerie silence of the empty stadium.  Pic Steve Bacon The ashes of the Hammers favourite Johnny 'Budgie' Byrne were buried in the pitch in front of the old South Bank in the eerie silence of the empty stadium. Pic Steve Bacon

Thursday, February 20, 2014
4:51 PM

With the recent announcement that West Ham has sold the Boleyn ground to a property developer it is not surprising that the focus has shifted to the club’s new home, the Olympic Stadium.

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The Hammers won 5-1 in the second leg of the European Cup Winners against Castilla of Spain. West Ham were forced to play behind closed doors as punishment following crowd trouble in Madrid.  Pic by Steve BaconThe Hammers won 5-1 in the second leg of the European Cup Winners against Castilla of Spain. West Ham were forced to play behind closed doors as punishment following crowd trouble in Madrid. Pic by Steve Bacon

Although developer Galliard Group has said it will maintain links with the iconic site’s past with a tribute to the legendary Bobby Moore, fans are bound to miss the ground at which 5,000 watched the club play its first home game fifteen weeks after the season began in December 1944 in a roofless stand due to fly-bombing.

For the tens of thousands of die-hard fans that have followed the club’s mixed fortunes over the years, the ground in Upton Park remains hallowed turf steeped in tradition and memories.

Here we take a backward glance, through pictures that catalogue some of the major developments at Upton Park.

The two pictured were taken by our own correspondent Steve Bacon who has been capturing the club and its players and managers on film since the mid-1970s and became the official club photographer in 1980.

Steve said: “Two of the more unusual events I photographed during my long association with the club both involved an empty Boleyn Ground. The first, in October 1980, was the European Cup Winners’ Cup match against Castilla of Spain. The first leg in Madrid had been marred by crowd trouble in the Bernabéu Stadium, so EUFA’s punishment meant that West Ham had to stage the second leg ‘behind closed doors’. As a result, an official attendance of 262 was recorded which included players, coaches, club staff, press and television and I was one of the lucky few! The empty stadium had an eerie atmosphere and you could here the players talking to each other with no crowd to mask the sound. For the record, Hammers won 5-1.

“The second, in November 1999, came after the death of former Hammers favourite Johnny ‘Budgie’ Byrne at his then home in Cape Town, South Africa, the previous month. Byrne’s family had requested that his ashes be scattered at the Boleyn Ground, although they were actually buried in the pitch in front of the old South Bank. Following a home game, when the crowd had long left the stadium, I joined members of Byrne’s family and former team-mates as Club Chaplain the Rev Elwin Cockett offered prayers and gave a short eulogy. Once again the eerie silence of an empty ground was quite chilling, but again I was taking part in a little bit of Boleyn Ground history.”

These are just a few of the tens of thousands of photos taken at Upton Park. If you have photos you would like to share email kay.atwal@archant.co.uk We would also like to hear your stories of your first match at Upton Park.

See next week’s Newham Recorder for more pictures.

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