The Iron Liddy Column

Welcome back!

If you’ve just logged in for the first time today this is the concluding part to my article, the first part was published at 8:00am today.

Following in the Moore family’s auspicious footsteps Mr L and I also paid a visit to the museum sometime during the 2002/2003 season. If my memory serves me correctly, the entrance to the museum was via the club shop through a door located to the left at the back of the store. You simply paid for your tickets in the shop and you were then admitted by a member of staff. I can remember being very impressed with the quality of the curating and presentation of the artefacts and it was a fascinating insight into West Ham’s history. Younger readers have to remember that in 2002/2003 Google was still in its infancy and online resources that allowed you to find historical images and information on West Ham United were still extremely thin on the ground (or rather, in the ether), so a resource like this museum was very exciting for anybody interested in the history of our club.

As well as being open to West Ham fans and the general public the museum was also used by the Club for PR and educational enterprises. In August 2005 fans were invited to the museum prior to a couple of home games for their chance to put themselves in Nigel Reo-Coker’s boots and lift the Coca-Cola Championship Play-Off Final trophy.

In December of the same year the Club gave access to the museum and other areas of the stadium to year 13 students from the Sydney Russell School to enable them to research the club, the stadium and in particular Bobby Moore as part of their ‘A’ Level Performing Arts coursework. The students went on to write and perform a tribute piece based on their research in the museum.

In 2006 Terence Brown sold West Ham United to Eggert Magnusson & Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson. There is evidence that the museum continued to thrive during this period as it was being used by the West Ham United in the Community initiative as an educational resource for their Football Education Days for local schoolchildren; and in 2007 an article with a glowing review of the museum appeared on the Football Shirt Culture website.

The last mention I could find of the West Ham United Museum on the Club’s website was on 16th October 2008 in an article on the new BM6 range, which was created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bobby Moore’s debut for West Ham. The article stated:

“The jewel in the crown of the BM6 limited edition range is a box set which includes and exact replica of the first shirt Bobby Moore ever wore for West Ham United in 1958. The original shirt was taken out of the museum where technicians measured it to ensure the replica was identical …..”

The trail on our missing museum then goes cold and the only evidence of its closure that I managed to track down on the internet was in a brief amendment to the museum’s entry on the Timeout website. According to this notification the West Ham United Museum had closed permanently by 20th June 2012, by which time the club had been under the ownership of David Sullivan and David Gold for two and a half years.

However, as the old adage goes, it’s not what you know but who you know and a quick text to a friend who has worked at the club for over two decades confirmed that the museum was closed during Eggert Magnusson & Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson’s tenure because it was deemed to be a waste of space and money as the number of visitors had fallen.

Presumably at that point all the valuable and historic artefacts which had been acquired with the assistance of West Ham fans’ donations were put into storage somewhere in the stadium for safekeeping. Quite how safe they were in the clutches of Gold, Sullivan and Brady is questionable though, as Sean Whetstone’s article which appeared on West Ham Till I Die in September 2014 revealed that when the new board took over in 2010 they considered selling the collection to raise funds to tackle the debt problem. Sean’s article states that Bobby Moore’s widow Stephanie said at the time:

“I was really alarmed when Karren Brady told me that they were going to sell it all, I think their research told them that they would get a lot of bad publicity if they were to do that. The fans would be up in arms!”

I have to say that I did find it rather odd that although the articles from 2001-2003 on the planning and opening of the museum can still be found on the West Ham website, any references to the fans’ financial donations seem to have been removed. I wasn’t a season ticket holder in 1995, so I didn’t receive communications from the Club, and I didn’t buy programmes, so I was completely oblivious to the fact that Terry Brown had asked fans for a financial contribution to help purchase the artefacts. It was only because of a couple of references on out-of-date external websites such as this one that I learned that the fans had a financial stake in the museum.

Sports Museums

The next mention on the WHU website of a museum of any kind was on 17th May 2010 when it was announced that West Ham United and Newham Council’s Olympic Stadium proposal had just been submitted to the Olympic Park Legacy Company. The proposal was for “a vibrant centre of sport, culture and education” which would “inspire learning.” It was to include a specialist studio school for 300 pupils aged 14 to 19 and a further education and skills and enterprise campus in and around the stadium providing for up to 4,000 learners every year. The proposal also stated that one of the ideas being examined was the inclusion of an Olympic visitor centre and a football museum at the stadium.

In an ‘Olympic Stadium Update’ posted on the official West Ham website on 28th January 2011 it was revealed that the first image of how the Olympic Stadium could look as part of the proposed bid had been unveiled by West Ham United vice-chairman Karren Brady and Mayor of Newham Sir Robin Wales at a House of Commons reception.

The report also stated:

“The stadium – at the heart of the Olympic Park – would include a football museum, interactive learning facilities and be a home sport for elite, club, community and school athletes of all discipline. Under the plans, it would be open for use as soon as summer 2014.”

However, two years later the plan for a museum had clearly been scrapped, as evidenced on 13th April 2013 when Karren Brady published answers to the Olympic Stadium Q&A Part Two on the Club’s website. One of the questions was:

“Would the club consider opening a West Ham museum at the Olympic Stadium?”

Brady’s answer was:

“Although there are no plans as yet to open a West Ham United museum within the stadium, all of the club’s memorabilia and trophies will be coming with us and will be displayed for all to enjoy with the pride and reverence they deserve.”

Whether this was a commercial decision taken by the Board or a restriction imposed on them by the Olympic Park Legacy Company, as the LLDC was known then, I don’t know. What I do know is that despite Brady’s assertions, the West Ham United Museum artefacts held in storage now had an uncertain future.

On 7th April 2016 their fate was revealed when the West Ham United Board announced that there would be an ‘extensive auction’ of the majority of the club’s historic artefacts and memorabilia as part of the Farewell Boleyn campaign. The announcement stated that the “most cherished” items would be retained, including the World Cup Winners’ medals, England caps and match-worn shirts belonging to the Club’s famous three sons, Moore, Hurst and Peters. It also stated that the proceeds from the auction would be invested in the West Ham Academy.

You can find a link to the full announcement and an embedded link to the auction site here:

Farewell Boleyn Auction Plans Announced

The rest, as they say, is history.

Having completed my research thus far I still remained angry that the current Board took the decision to auction off so much of our heritage; particularly as some of it was acquired with fans’ money donated expressly to create a West Ham United Museum. On top of that, leaving the Boleyn Ground at Upton Park was a hugely emotional wrench for some West Ham fans and I believe that some fixtures and fittings should have been retained with a view to creating a specific installation to commemorate our spiritual and physical home of over 100 years. As it is, the only artefacts from the Boleyn that are available to the general fan base are three of the John Lyall gates, which have been installed in the club shop in the Olympic Park. The remaining three gates are apparently now in the possession for former Club Chairman Terry Brown, who bought them from the auction for an undisclosed sum.

While some would argue that as the owners of West Ham United David Gold and David Sullivan were free to dispose of the assets, fixtures and fittings of the Boleyn Ground as they saw fit, I would argue that as custodians of a historical football club they had heritage and cultural obligations which don’t come with a ‘normal’ business or company. If they were prevented from creating their promised museum by the LLDC then the original WHU Museum’s artefacts plus the most significant fixtures from the Boleyn Ground should have been retained and held in trust for future owners and fans until such time that a new museum could become a reality.

Another worry is what will happen to Moore, Hurst and Peter’s very valuable caps, shirts and medals when Gold and Sullivan eventually sell West Ham United?

I already felt frustrated and upset at the loss of our home and heritage and this research just served to compound those feelings, so I decided to take some action.

At the end of 2017 I emailed Dr Charlotte Woodhead who is a member of the Museums Association’s Ethics Committee. Dr Woodhead is an academic in the School of Law at the University of Warwick and is a non-practising barrister. Her research focuses on the legal recognition and protection of cultural heritage and how this is supplemented by codes of ethics.

I outlined the situation regarding the West Ham United Museum to Dr Woodhead and asked her whether a football club museum partially funded by fans’ money is subject to the Museums Association’s Code of Ethics and if so, would there be any legal implications for the memorabilia that has been sold by the current owners or that may have ended up in their private collections. I also asked if these artefacts should have been held in trust for future owners and fans.

Dr Woodhead replied as follows:

“I’m afraid that, as an individual member of the committee, I don’t feel able to comment directly on the matter. However, I would suggest that you contact the MA policy officer, Alistair Brown with your enquiry and he can then correspond with you about it; if necessary he can then direct the matter to the entire Ethics Committee who could comment on it.”

I then wrote to Alistair Brown as suggested and posed the same questions. Mr Brown replied as follows:

“Thanks for getting in touch. It sounds like a real shame that this collection has been sold and is no longer accessible to fans.

“In terms of your question about the Code of Ethics – all museums that are institutional members of the Association are bound by the Code of Ethics. (The vast majority of public museums in the UK are members of the MA, but it is less likely that a privately-run museum such as the West Ham museum would be a member.) However, we believe that any institution that calls itself a ‘museum’ should abide by the general principles of the code, which include the principle that collections should not be treated as financial assets and should be held for public benefit.

“As to your question about legal implications – I’m afraid there are none via the MA, as our code is voluntary and has no legal force. However, it would be interesting to explore under what legal status the collection was held from 2002 onwards, as most museums hold their collections in trust in order to protect them from sale or mismanagement.”

And that, dear readers, is as far as I got. While I remain angry, concerned and frustrated at what has become of West Ham United’s heritage, as an individual I feel impotent in the face of it all. We can’t turn back the clock and it feels all too late to try to influence any kind of change as far as the current board are concerned.

Which leaves me with just a wish and a hope.

My wish is that more of us had listened to passionate and dedicated West Ham fans and historians such as Nigel Kahn and helped him to oppose what the incumbent board were doing to our club and heritage.

My hope is that in the future a new owner will see the cultural and educational value in restoring the West Ham United Museum to properly preserve our heritage in a meaningful way. I also hope that it can become a community hub for education, as well as for reminiscence therapy for West Ham fans suffering with dementia. Hopefully some fans who bought culturally significant items in the auction will see the value in loaning them to the museum for all fans to enjoy, rather than keeping them hidden away in private collections. Most importantly it will provide a permanent home for the medals, caps and shirts that the Moore, Hurst and Peters families wished to be made available to all West Ham fans. That is if they don’t mysteriously disappear when the club is sold …..

NB credit for the lovely photograph of Bobby Moore with his three medals belongs to Rod Ebdon