Inside the bowels of the Boleyn

What club historian John Helliar doesn't know about West Ham United, probably isn't worth knowing.

The Hammers' very own walking encyclopaedia, Helliar has been guiding supporters around the Boleyn Ground for some years now, granting visitors the rare opportunity to peruse behind the scenes.

Guests are invited to amble alongside the hallowed Boleyn Ground turf, sit in manager Sam Allardyce's seat in the dugout and take a look inside the home dressing room, all packed into a 90-minute stadium tour. Whether it be in the Alpari Stand Upper or the Press Room, Helliar is on hand at every turn to explain the whys and wherefores, blending the club's illustrious history with the present day goings on.

In July, Helliar will hand over the reins to Hammers greats Phil Parkes and Alan Taylor, who will lead a series of special Former Player Tours around their old stomping ground. For full details, click here.


Helliar told West Ham TV: "I show our visitors all parts of the ground - everything from the Chairman's Suite upstairs to the Alpari Stand. Then I take them down to the dressing rooms, the Press Room and all around on pitch side as well. It gives them the chance to actually see where the action takes place and sit in the seats where the manager, the staff and all the substitutes are on matchday.

"The tours have grown over the last few years and I really enjoy it. I find it fascinating. It's nice to get so many people coming and saying how much they get out of the experience. It's great to be able to share with them something about West Ham United, from the very early days of the Thames Ironworks right through to the present day.

"No two tours are alike. You can always count on getting different reactions to the various parts of the ground we visit. Different people ask different questions and about different eras. We get a lot of fans who still remember the club in the 1960s and 1970s, who have been going with their fathers and grandfathers for some 30 or 40 years. And then, of course, there's the current generation who know and love West Ham from the present day."

Helliar himself has long-established family connections with the Hammers, seeing as his father Jack was club historian and programme editor before him. The family printing business, Helliar and Sons, which published the programme for decades, is still based in Barking Road.

As a result, John has no shortage of his own West Ham stories and memories to share, though it's England's FIFA World Cup triumph in 1966 that still ranks at the very top.

"One of my favourite parts of the tour is in the Legends Restaurant, where there is the iconic picture from 1966 of Bobby Moore lifting the Jules Rimet trophy, on the shoulders of Ray Wilson and Geoff Hurst. There's also the famous Champions Statue at the end of the Barking Road now, and looking at them both, it brings back very fond memories of being there with my father.

"I was fortunate enough to see the glory days of the '60s and then other very special occasions, particularly the European nights under the lights."

For all the satisfaction Helliar gets from the experience, his guests are typically every bit as enthused with their day out in east London. Martyn Vincent, with his young nephew Charlie in tow, told West Ham TV: "It's great, because when you're sitting in the stands, you don't get to see what's going on behind the scenes."

Meanwhile, young Hammer Elliot Paterson was particularly thrilled to have seen where his heroes prepare prior to kick-off. He said: "I loved going along the sideline and sitting in the manager's seat, but mainly walking around the home dressing room, to see where all the players sit. It's really exciting to think they actually sit there! I can't really put it into words."

Helliar urged his fellow Hammers to take up this exciting opportunity, insisting visitors can be sure of the warmest of welcomes.

"We'd certainly enjoy having you here. We think it's a worthwhile experience and the feedback we get shows just how much people enjoy it, while they tell us it's the best tour of any football club they've been to. I think that says it all."