We All Follow the West Ham!

A Hammers fan turns back the clocks and looks back on a career of a footballing hero of his
Lifelong Hammer Alf Bell began watching the Irons from the terraces prior to World War II. He recollects a fantastic story of meeting, and eventually becoming friends, with his boyhood footballing idol…
I was born in March 1928, living in Canning Town and when I was about seven, my father first started to take me to West Ham’s home matches at the Boleyn Ground on Saturday afternoons. I fell in love with the place.
Gradually, due to his work, it was not always possible for him to always be at home at the weekends, and therefore I started to venture to the ground on my own, walking along Barking Road to Upton Park.
At that time, one could walk all round to the various stands once you entered the ground and my favourite end was definitely the South Bank.
Time passed and after the matches, myself, friends and others used to wait outside where the players would emerge after the game, although they definitely did not have all the fancy cars back then that they turn up in these days!
We would ask for their autographs, and I collected many, but sadly those things and other memorabilia was destroyed when our house was blitzed during the war.
When visiting the ground with my father in 1940, teams, due to players having been called up for service, could invite players from nearby services to guest in their teams.
We would always buy a programme – which was just one sheet back then – and I particularly remember the centre-forward J. Dodds on one afternoon in 1940. I, nor my father, knew who he was, but I was very impressed by him after a superb performance.
He played again some weeks later and soon became my footballing hero.
Years later, I was in business and one of my contacts – a Scotsman – told me he was selling his business to a Mr Dodds. This was around 1990 and I subsequently went up to Blackpool and, incredibly, met my boyhood hero Ephraim ‘Jock’ Dodds.
Dodds played for Stoke and for Blackpool, and was also a Scottish international who had scored what was, for a long period of time, the fastest-ever Football League hat-trick, when he bagged three against Tranmere Rovers in 1942. He was also captain of the RAF’s football team during the war.
My footballing hero and I later became good friends, and the story had all began on the terraces at the Boleyn Ground.