Boleyn People - Tony Sparkes

Head of Matchday Catering Tony Sparkes is one of the Club’s longest-serving members of staff
The phrase ‘I’ve seen it all now’ is commonly used in football, but few can say it more truthfully than Tony Sparkes.

A lifelong Hammer since being introduced to the club by his Granddad George, Sparkes began life as  a peanut seller in the North and South Banks.

For those of a certain vintage who can recall what life was like on the terraces, Sparkes really has witnessed the good, the bad and the bizarre.

“My mum and Dad used to work for Barclays Bank, one day she left me over here by the catering room and that was it, I was hooked,” Tony began. “I started by walking around the ground selling the peanuts and the drinks.

“It was an interesting experience to say the least! Back then you could drink in the stands, I would stand under the South Bank, so I think I’ve seen everything there is to see!

“After a few seasons, I moved to stocking the bars, and then the Players’ Lounge, which is where I work now.

“You do get a unique view of the players that not many people see, just before and after a game which is a real privilege. It’s obviously better when we win rather than lose, but being part of it all is something I cherish.”

One among the 500-plus matchday staff, Sparkes is certainly one of longest-serving Club employees. Now in the final season at the iconic Boleyn Ground, it is an emotional time for many.

Sparkes continued: “I remember the League Cup final at Wembley when Ray Stewart scored a last-minute penalty, that was a fantastic day, then I started working here the following September.

“It was an amazing moment, now this is my 35th year working at the Boleyn Ground. I finally had the time over Christmas to work out that I started working here in September 1981, I can’t honestly remember my first game working here but I do remember having to lie about my age!”

Sparkes has formed a close bond with his fellow catering colleagues, as well as players past and present.

“Away from West Ham I’ve worked at a number of different caterers but here has that added extra, that family feel. I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside the same people for years and years, and we’ve become very close.

“It’s nice when old players come back and say hello, Tony Gale does a lot of media and always says hi. When Julian Dicks came back as coach he also said ‘Hello, nice to see you again’, so it’s the small things like that.

“I have to say Julian was my favourite player to watch. That passion is something everyone can connect to. After the game in the bar, whatever had happened, he was still feeling it, he couldn’t just switch off – physically deflated if they’d lost and obviously the opposite, elated and euphoric if they’d won.”

And what of current manager and former player Slaven Bilic?

“I remember Slaven being here as a player. He’s very much as you see him now, cool, collected, thoughtful and he’s very respectful of everyone.”

Thirty-five years in any industry would breed a lifetime of stories, so you can imagine the breadth and range of memories from a life devoted to Claret and Blue.

“I remember working Trevor Brooking’s Testimonial, everyone had underestimated the amount of beer we needed to so we had to run all over Green Street picking up as many crates as possible, it was crazy but quite funny looking back!”

With just five months of the final season remaining, Sparkes is looking ahead to Club’s move to the fantastic new stadium in Stratford: “I think it’s time to move on now, I was over there for the Rugby World Cup so got to have a good look at the stadium, it’s very different to what we have here certainly!

“It’ll obviously be sad to leave this place, because it just becomes part of your life, you don’t really think about it, but the Club is undoubtedly on an upward trajectory.”