Many happy memories for Mabel Arnold as Hammers quit the Boleyn Ground
Published 06/05/2016 | 22:51
Dancing with Bobby Moore is all well and good but for 100-year-old West Ham fan Mabel Arnold, it is the little things she will remember.
As the Hammers get set to bring 112 years at Upton Park to a close, ushering in a new era at Stratford's Olympic Stadium, some supporters are wondering what their club's identity will still remain.
Arnold, who first walked through the gates of the Boleyn Ground in 1934, and has since watched just shy of 2000 West Ham matches, is sure she knows the answer.
"Chelsea and Arsenal, they're in the upper parts of London, and I like those clubs, but there's a sense of community at Upton Park," Arnold said.
"We all talk with one another. If I'm unwell, my son Graham says all he gets from the other fans is 'where's Mabel? What's up with Mabel?'
"They all knew my 100-year-old birthday was coming up and they kept coming up to me, 'you're alright aren't you Mabel? Nothing wrong with you is there?'
"It's lovely. And when we move to the Olympic Stadium we're not all going to stop talking to one another are we? It's up to us to make it the same."
Her love affair with the Hammers blossomed after Richard, who would later become her husband, asked her to attend a match on their first date. It was 1934 and she was 19 years old.
"I had just met my husband-to-be the week before and he said, 'would you like to go the football?'" Arnold said.
"I think it was the worst yes I've ever said because I've been going ever since.
"We stood on an old chicken run watching the game. I fell in love with Richard so I had to take West Ham with it. I didn't have a choice."
Brought up in Camberwell and the ninth child in a family of 10, Arnold's husband took an administrative role with the West Ham youth team while she occasionally filled in as a tea lady at the training ground in Chadwell Heath.
She remembers first meeting Moore when the future England captain was 15, and she was struck by the teenager's politeness in asking for a glass of water.
A few years later, however, she enjoyed a more significant encounter after the 1964 FA Cup final, when West Ham had beaten Preston North End 3-2 at Wembley.
"All the staff and their wives, right down to the toilet ladies, went to this hotel and stayed the night after the game," Arnold said.
"After the dinner, Bobby asked me to dance because he knew Richard was a dancer and I was quite nifty on my feet too.
"I said 'you better ask Richard because he has the first dance wherever we go'. Richard said yes alright, so I danced with Bobby Moore.
"All the girls wanted to dance with him. But we only got down the length of the room. He didn't dance very well our Bobby. He had football feet."
Upton Park has been like a second home to Arnold, particularly since her husband passed away almost 30 years ago.
She recalled a match held at the ground during the Second World War, in which the game's best-known stars turned out to raise money for troops away on duty.
"I don't know why they chose Upton Park but they did," Arnold said.
"It made a little break from the war. They said 'what are you going to do if the air-raid sirens go off during the game?'
"I said, 'I'll be staying exactly where I am. Same as I always do. If one has your name on it there's not many places I'd rather be.'"
Arnold has been a season ticket holder this season - her favourite player is Diafra Sakho - and she has been impressed with the team's form, growing impatient with fans that complain.
"This one chap behind me calls out and complains even when they are about to score," she said.
"My son Graham has to give me a dig and say, 'stop swearing mum'. He really gets on my nerves."
When she turned 100 on April 2 this year, the club paraded Arnold on the Upton Park pitch at half-time of their 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace.
The Hammers have certainly gone out with a bang, enjoying an excellent final campaign on Green Street, and many fans will feel hesitant about what their future home may bring.
Arnold show no signs of nerves.
"Upton Park, it's been our life, it gives you something to grab hold of and look forward to," Arnold said.
"But moving is progress. I've worked in business and everything changes. Some of the old West Ham boys, they make me cross.
"They say they're taking our club away from us. But if we don't go and support them what are they going to do then?
"The boys are going somewhere else, so of course we'll still support them, because at the end of it all, they still need us. And of course, we need them."