Any Old Irons are welcome to share their memories of West Ham heydays
PUBLISHED: 14:32 12 September 2018 | UPDATED: 14:32 12 September 2018
Hammers heroes Alan Taylor and Keith Robson are guests ar group's latest get-together
It is a sunny Monday lunchtime at the East Ham Working Men’s Club close to the now demolished Upton Park ground and something is stirring.
A group of West Ham fans are there to meet ex-players Alan Taylor and Keith Robson for a special Q&A session and the connection with all of them is they are over 65.
It had all started with 10 West Ham fans meeting in a care home, but the innovative Any Old Irons programme is now reaching out to around 60 over-65s all over East London.
Loneliness is one of the biggest blights on modern society and so a chance to meet up with fellow fans, talk about old times as well as the current team is something that has to be commended.
The Hammers stars of the seventies are certainly impressed.
“I think it is absolutely fantastic for this generation and some of them have seen us play which makes it all the better,” said the smiling Robson, who scored in the memorable 1976 European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final against Eintract Frankfurt as well as playing in the final, when they lost to Anderlecht.
“They have done really well to organise all this, the club should get plenty of credit and I would like to see more of this happening and have some of the current players coming here and seeing what an occasion it can be.”
Taylor, who scored both goals in the FA Cup final win over Fulham back in 1975 certainly enjoyed the occasion.
“Obviously they have a lot of great memories and their knowledge of the game is surprising and the things they remember even jogged my memory,” he said.
The whole thing was the brainchild of supporter Steve Maynard who takes up the story.
“I started in 2015 with the very first one and it was up in my mum’s care home,” said the 69-year-old Hammer who has been a fan since he was just five years old.
“We started and it has just grown from there. One of the things that has been close to my heart is that I lost my mum to dementia and that is why if I see people sitting on their own, I go over and try to engage them in conversation.”
Things have certainly come a long way since those days. The Any Old Irons project is run in conjunction with Friends of the Elderly and is backed by the Premier League and the Professional Footballers Association.
Since its inception more than 200 over-65s have signed up and made friendships, learnt new digital skills and reconnected with their community.
“On a personal level I love it,” said Steve. “I have made so many acquaintances and friends since I have been doing it.
“I am a fanatic like everyone else here and that connection brings us all closer together.
“In this group here today I don’t think there is any loneliness any longer. But last week I went to a new cohort of ours with some new people and there was a father and a son there.
“As soon as I began to talk to the father I could tell there was dementia there but talking about West Ham gave him a real kick and it was great the son brought him along because he wasn’t really a football fan.
“Hopefully he will now come on one of our stadium tours.”
For Ilford 71-year-old John Chapman, the group has been so important.
“I have been supporting West Ham for over 50 years,” said Welshman John.
“Last Tuesday was the 50th anniversary of my first game.
“It was a victory against Bolton Wanderers, 7-2. I was attracted because of the style of the football rather than anything else that was going on in the sixties.
“Any Old Irons is very, very important as a focal point. It is an opportunity to exchange views, reflect on the past, have dialogue and the guests have been absolutely fantastic with their openness, their willingness to engage and have some banter and sometimes have to answer some sharp questioning as well.
“Last week we had Paul Allen and Bobby Barnes which was great.
“I think it is important as a meeting place. This working men’s club is part of the past history of the club so it carries it on. It is easy access for the locals, although there is one chap who travels down from Birmingham to most of the meetings.”
Monday’s gathering is certainly no rabble of people moaning about the demise of Upton Park. Most go to the London Stadium and they ask serious questions of their guests without the agendas of other similar meetings.
“I am still a season-ticket holder and I also go to the women’s matches and the development games at home, so I am still very much an active fan,” said John.
“All credit to the club for backing it, I think it is very important to the community and vital to the Olympic legacy.”
For Steve, who has moved out to Leigh-on-Sea but still goes to the games as well as these meetings, he is confident it can expand.
“I think it can go and go,” he insisted. “We do a spin-off every four weeks with all the different cohorts we have and now we have grown from 10 people to 50 or 60.”
These people are Hammers through and through and Steve is just one of them.
“My first game was in 1956, 2-2 against Lincoln. I remember Malcolm Allison coming out for the warm-up and I remember him doing a flick up over his shoulder. I was only four but it was fantastic and that still sticks in my mind.”
Loneliness can be a killer and so great credit must go to West Ham and this bunch of dedicated volunteers for helping to alleviate that for so many Hammers.
If you know an over-65 who could benefit from the scheme should contact Stephen Camacho on 0330 3321110 for details.