The Iron Liddy Column
The Women’s World Cup has been a popular subject for discussion on WHTID recently and this has also prompted some conversations about the history of women’s football. As some of you may know, in December 1921 the women’s game was banned by the Football Association from using all FA affiliated pitches and referees. The men who ran the FA at the time were so perturbed by the fact that women’s football was drawing larger crowds and making more money than the men’s game that they dealt with their feelings of emasculation by exerting their authority to prevent women from playing football in any official or professional capacity for the next 50 years.
Consequently, I doubt that you would believe me if I told you that in fact two women’s teams did play at Upton Park in front of a packed crowd in 1927. It’s said that fact is often stranger than fiction and this is the story of how I came to learn of perhaps the most bizarre day in the Boleyn ground’s history.
A couple of weeks ago I was on my way home when I bumped into one of Mr Lids’ aunties just as she was crossing Queens Road, the street that we’ve all queued in down the side of Upton Park tube station. Although she only lives a few streets away in Plaistow I was surprised to see her because not only was it pouring with rain, Mr L’s Auntie Iris will be the grand old age of 93 in a couple of weeks’ time. We stopped for a chin wag under the shelter of the shops by Queens Market and I took a quick selfie with her to send to my Mum-in-Law to show her who I’d found on my travels. We said cheerio and as I watched her carry on her way, pushing her shopping trolley down Green Street towards the Barking Road, it struck me how much Iris now looks like an outsider on the street that her mum would have pushed her along in her pram almost a century ago.
On the tube home I began to think about how different Upton Park must have looked when Iris came into the world and I started to Google ‘West Ham 1926 1927’ to see what was happening at our beloved club during the season that she first passed by the ground in her pram.
The first thing that I found was this British Pathe News compilation which begins with West Ham beating Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 in the third round of the 1927 FA Cup. Anything that involves us beating the Spuds is always a gratifying discovery!
The 1926/27 season was an auspicious one for West Ham as we finished in 6th place in Division One. This performance was not equalled by the Hammers until the 1958/59 season during Ted Fenton’s tenure. Part of the reason for our success in 1926/27 was due to Syd King signing players who went on to become West Ham legends and record holders, as well as England internationals, including Jimmy Ruffell, Ted Hufton & Vic Watson.
The next item I came across was the one that revealed that our hallowed turf was probably the only professional pitch touched by football boots containing female feet during the FA’s 50 year ban. Although the stands were filled with bubble blowing fans of a certain kind, the two games played at The Boleyn that day in 1927 were almost certainly not as you would imagine.
Watch this video and you’ll see what I mean ……
Amused and intrigued by the claret and blue spectacle that I had stumbled upon I decided to do some further research into this strange event.
I discovered that on a Thursday afternoon on the 27th April 1927 West Ham United played a charitable friendly against the Froth Blowers XI and as the video reveals, this was followed by a rather unconventional exhibition match between two teams of female footballers.
The Froth Blowers side was made up of members of a humorous British charity organisation known as the Ancient Order of Froth Blowers and also included celebrities of the day such as the music hall favourites Harry Tate and Billy Merson; and the 30 stone film comedian Tubby Phillips, who played in goal. The men’s game was refereed by Jack Hobbs, the most famous and most popular cricketer of the age. Twelve year old Master R.C. Fripp was the “prolific goal-getter” for the Froth Blowers that day and they raised £500 for charity, which equates to almost £40,000 today. The final result wasn’t documented but the crowd was recorded as 20,000; with many of those being the East End children or “wee waifs” that the charity was supporting.
I haven’t been able to find out any information about the female teams who graced the pitch that day but it appears to be a conventional women’s football team playing against what looks like a team of “Nippies.” A “Nippy” was a waitress who worked in the J. Lyons & Co tea shops and cafés in London. Beginning in the late 19th century, a J. Lyons waitress was called a “Gladys”; but from 1926, because of the quick way that the waitresses nipped around the tea shops, the term “Nippy” came into use. Nippies wore a distinctive maid-like uniform with a matching hat and their images were so widely used in advertising campaigns that they became a national icon.
As you can see, the women’s sides didn’t play a conventional football match that day, almost certainly because they were forbidden from playing the beautiful game on an FA affiliated pitch; but I rather like to think that the huge over-sized ball was their way of circumnavigating the FA’s spiteful ban, cocking a snook at them in the process. That’s just supposition on my part but I bet some of those girls on that pitch were thinking “we’ll show them who’s got the bigger balls.” Their game was ‘refereed’ by Hetty King, another music hall performer who had a solo act as a male impersonator.
Further research into the “The World’s Cheeriest Charity” proved to be very entertaining and interesting. I know it’s not strictly West Ham related but as we share the leitmotif of blowing bubbles of one kind or another and they chose to play us for their charity match in 1927 I thought I’d elucidate a little more on the subject of this rather marvellous fundraising organisation.
The Ancient Order of Froth Blowers (A.O.F.B.) was founded in 1924 by a gentleman called Bert Temple, a silk merchant, soldier and sportsman who was born in South London in 1879; and it was Mr Temple who played as Centre Forward in the charity match against the Hammers. In the Autumn of 1924 he needed a lifesaving stomach operation and this was performed by an eminent surgeon of the day called Sir Alfred Downing Fripp. Sir Fripp was was Surgeon in Ordinary to King Edward VII from 1897 to 1910 and also to King George V from 1910, and to H.R.H. Duke of Connaught from 1909.
Whilst Bert was recovering from the operation he apparently requested an ale, a slightly unusual request but one which was granted and Alfred Fripp watched as Bert drank with “apparent gusto.” According to the story, Sir Alfred was not averse to the apocryphal (or not) medicinal properties of beer and the affect that it may have upon a patient.
This extract from an article in The Sporting Times dated 7th August 1926 explains what happened when Bert Temple went to see Sir Alfred for his post-operative check-up in his consulting room at his home in Portland Place in November 1924:
“In clubs, messes, hostelries of all descriptions, barrack rooms and many other places where two or three Bohemian and charitably inclined do congregate, the stunt of the moment is Ye Ancient Order of Froth Blowers.
“The story is the inception of the A.O.F.B. as it is known to its ever increasing band of adherents, is interesting in the extreme.
“About eighteen months ago an eminent and world honoured surgeon placed his hand affectionately on the shoulder of a middle aged man. This man, with face lined by the ravages of the big war, with the worship of Bacchus and the neglect of Morpheus, gazed intently at the surgeon’s boots.
“Bert my boy, " said the surgeon, " you have been a bad lad; you have always taken the best out of life and put nothing back. In future try and bring some sunshine into the lives of others. Your own life has been saved by the skill which has been granted to me, and I want you to help me saves the lives of others. My ‘wee waifs’ in the East End of London can be helped by you and your cheery but thoughtless companions."
The conversation then turned to one of Sir Alfred’s worthy causes, the Invalid Children’s Aid Association; and Bert, eager to show gratitude for having his life saved and possibly by being shamed by Sir Alfred’s comments, offered to raise the sum of £100 for Sir Alfred’s charities. This would be no mean feat as the average weekly wage at that time was £3.00. The following day the A.O.F.B. was born, with Sir Alfred Fripp becoming Froth Blower No.1 and Bert, as Honorary Secretary, Froth Blower No. 0.
The Ancient Order of Froth Blowers was a lampoon of secret societies such as the Freemasons and meeting places for A.O.F.B. members, usually pubs and clubs, became known as ‘Vats.’ The orders and rules for this beer drinking and fundraising society make very amusing reading and you can find them in full here:
Bert initially produced around 100 Blower membership cards (later to become a booklet) together with silver A.O.F.B. cufflinks which were snapped up by the ex-members of Bert’s regiment, The 1st Sportsman’s Battalion. Membership was charged at a one off, life membership of 5 shillings. The first batch was quickly followed by another 500, some of which found their way to Southsea and the A.O.F.B. began to bloom. A very successful dinner was held in Southsea with attendees from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Volunteers and soon word was spreading right around the globe through HM Forces. How many membership cards were produced before the booklet appeared is unknown. One of the earliest books in existence has a membership number of 29,198 and was issued around the 20th May 1926.
Not to be outdone, and keen to be included, women of the day also joined up and became ‘Fairy Belles’ under the Angelic Order of Fairy Belles. Life membership for women was also 5 shillings but instead of being issued with silver cufflinks an A.O.F.B. wristlet was designed, consisting of a silver badge on a black silk ribbon.
The fundraising was slow to gain momentum initially, with only £5 raised for Sir Alfred’s charity during 1924, rising to £150 during 1925. However, as more prominent individuals came on board, lending credence as well as much needed publicity to the charity, events, meetings and funds escalated. The Sporting Times_, colloquially known as the_’ Pink ‘Un’, which was run by David Henry Cain, became an official A.O.F.B. organ and mouthpiece, printing news from the A.O.F.B. at home and abroad.
Applications began to arrive from around the world for Froth Blowing permits to participate in the Arts and Crafts of Froth Blowing; and when Jack Haes sang the Froth Blowers Anthem ‘The More We Are Together’ in the London Stock Exchange membership of the A.O.F.B. exploded.
David Caine founded the ‘Pink ’Un’ Vat in Bury Street, London and for his role in leading the recruitment drive for membership, he was awarded the A.O.F.B. special rank of ‘Grand Hurricane.’ Similarly, because Jack Haes so successfully promoted the A.O.F.B. through the Stock Exchange he was awarded the special rank of ‘Cloudburst.’ The wind related epithets are obviously a reference to the ‘blowing’ aspect of the organisation and every synonym for wind that you can think of was similarly applied to other members of the A.O.F.B.
As Bert Temple wrote in the Sporting Times in his Christmas message to Froth Blowers on 18th December 1926:
“In June of this year we totalled 6,000 A.O.F.B.’s; September 25th, 25,000; November 10th, 70,000; December 10th, 112,000 and before the year ends over 150,000 Blowers will have received their little booklet and silver cufflinks or wristlets. Every moment of the day and night new recruits are falling over each other, hastening to the cause of Companionship, Charity and Cheerfulness, in their rush, scattering their gifts to the wee waifs.”
Bert went on to say
“Sir Alfred Fripp has acknowledged £7,500 already, and before Christmas Day ten thousand pounds will have definitely been paid to the Sir Alfred Fripp’s Wee Waifs’ funds by Ye Ancient Order of Froth Blowers. And not a single penny will be wasted. All this money from the little booklet in addition to many donations which are to a great extent anonymous and are not included in this amount!
“My first Christmas wish to you all is astounding good health and astonishing good times! To all at home, to all overseas, and especially to all those boys in the outdated British Sentry Boxes dotted all over the world who were the first to acclaim with boyish glee the advent of Ye Ancient Order of Froth Blowers and all it stands for: CHARITY, COMPANIONSHIP and CHEERFULNESS. Our Blower’s Booklet will be read round hundreds of camp fires this Christmas by wandering sons of old Mother England; wandering, and perhaps wondering why things are not as they might be. Possibly there are of my opinion, and that is, if everybody in this great big nation sang our Froth Blower’s Anthem once a day, a spirit of cheerfulness and give-and-take duty might prevail. Anyway, tens of thousands will insist on singing the inspiring refrain during this festive season. We have no class or creed distinctions, and in castle and cottage, battleship and barracks our own little song will make for jollity and good-fellowship, and wherever it is sung the British boys and girls will let themselves go. Sing it on Christmas day and give a little thought for the Wee Waifs. Sing it on New Year’s Eve just before 12 o’clock as a good finish to a mouldy year. But, above all sing it one minute after the New Year steps in as a good augury for a really happy year, with no labour or class dissentions, international strife, or interference from anybody. Would that the League of Nations adopt a spirit of the F.B.‘s Anthem, and then the world would be worth living in. A.O.F.B. wireless waves are linking TIENTSIN with PATAGONIA, COCOS ISLES with TEXAS, DEMERARA with ADEN, VANCOUVER with IRAQ, and the boundless ether will be for the next few days VIBRATING with the strain of ’The more we are together, the merrier we’ll be.’ There is one bad lad in Britain whose heart is busting with pride at the spontaneous answer to his appeal. His name is No. 0. and it is not only the boisterous and brawny Briton who answers, but the dainty, angelic, Fairy Belle who is helping Sir Alfred and Lady Fripp’s wonderful work in the East End amongst the Wee Waifs.”
Bert finished his Christmas message with a direct reference to the American prohibitionists and the Temperance Movement:
“A MERRY CHRISTMAS AGAIN, and may next year be a merrier one for all of us – a merrier one for the Wee Waifs and a merrier one for No. 1 and his good Lady, a merrier one for all A.O.F.B.‘s , and don’t forget our slogan "LUBRICATION IN MODERATION, " and thus give old Pussyfoot Johnson, and all his freakish tribe, no opening for foisting his unnatural tastes on to our British beer-loving, baccy-loving and beef-loving palates.”
The following week the monies received allowed Fairy Belle No. 1, also known as the Mother Superior, Mrs. Mary Temple (Bert’s mother) to call upon Sir Alfred and present a cheque for £2,500, the largest single amount to date, bringing the total for the ‘Wee Waifs’ to £10,000.
The following years saw a total of £76,000 handed to Sir Alfred in 1927, a proportion of which was obviously raised by the charity game with West Ham; with donations rising to £100,000 by 1928. £100,000 in today’s terms would equate to over £6 million, which is a remarkable amount when you consider that Britain was still recovering from the effects of the First World War and there was a looming economic depression on the horizon. Bert’s rallying call had struck a chord, originally within the British Armed Forces, then capturing the imagination of so many members of the public. The fact that it was fun added to its appeal and its aim to transcend class, creed and gender boundaries, thus ridiculing the secretive elitism of the Masons probably increased its popularity.
As usual my article is in danger of turning into a rival for ‘War and Peace’ in its length, so if you’d like to know more about the Ancient Order of Froth Blowers and their sad demise in 1931 please follow this link to the home page of the excellent website from which I gleaned most of this information.
Getting back to the A.O.F.B.’s relationship with our club, I couldn’t help wondering who at West Ham might have been a member of this beer loving organisation and responsible for organising the charity match.
Syd King seems a likely candidate, he was Thames Ironworks’ and West Ham’s star full back from 1899 – 1903 and went on to become West Ham’s manager, a position he held for 30 years from 1902 until 1932. It was well known that Syd ‘liked a drink’ and I can imagine him sitting in his office in Upton Park with a pair of silver A.O.F.B. cufflinks glinting in his shirtsleeves.
In his book ‘At Home with the Hammers’ (1960) Ted Fenton, West Ham United player (1932-46) and manager (1950-61) wrote:
“The boss at West Ham was Syd King, an outsize, larger-than-life character with close-cropped grey hair and a flowing moustache. He was a personality plus man, a man with flair. Awe struck, I would tip-toe past his office but invariably he would spot me. “Boy,” he would shout. “Get me two bottles of Bass.” Down to the Boleyn pub on the corner I would go on my errand and when I got back to the office Syd King would flip me a two-shilling piece for my trouble."
Whether or not it was Syd King who organised the charity game, there clearly was some kind of relationship between West Ham and the A.O.F.B. because the club apparently sent a representative to Sir Alfred Fripp’s memorial service at St Martins in the Fields following his death in 1930.
I wondered whether The Boleyn pub or the bar in the ground itself had been designated as an A.O.F.B. Vat but I couldn’t find either of them listed. There were a few East London boozers among them though, including my old West Ham watering hole The Black Lion in Plaistow. Apparently it was nominated as a Vat by a bloke called Blaster Joe Clark, I wonder if he was a Hammer? If you’re interested in looking at the whole list of Vats you can find them here:
The Black Lion appears near the bottom of the list as ‘Ye Olde Black Lion’
I can’t imagine that Arnold Hills, the founder of West Ham, would have been very impressed if he’d learned that the club was hosting the A.O.F.B. game. Hills was the first President of the London Vegetarian Society (1888) serving alongside the young Mahatma Gandhi on the Executive Committee and he also had close ties with the Temperance League. At one point he even planned to stand as a Unionist and Temperance candidate in the 1897 Walthamstow by-election. On 22nd January he said that would definitely stand unless the Liberals fielded a candidate, in which case he would withdraw to avoid splitting the Conservative vote and risk handing the seat to the opposition. So it was probably just as well that Hills passed away on 7th March 1927, just a few weeks before the charity match at Upton Park that saw the kick off being facilitated with a large tankard of beer. In fact the A.O.F.B. had a lot of criticism from the Temperance League so Arnold Hills was probably aware of them before he died.
One very vociferous opponent was the American prohibitionist and temperance advocate William Eugene “Pussyfoot” Johnson. Another ‘home grown’ objector was a Methodist minister, the Reverend Sam Rowley from Bradford. He did not object to the cause or motive but rather the methods used. He published leaflets in late 1927 stating that the A.O.F.B. was nothing more than a subtle method of beer propaganda. He was disappointed that the phraseology used in the membership booklet was:
“ …. beery, though alleged to be cheery and humorous, though its humour needs the incoherent mentality created by association with a Vat to appreciate it. Our impression of a Vat is it is a place where beer drinking predominates.”
The Reverend’s attacks on the A.O.F.B. centred on the morality issues of the ‘promotion’ of beer drinking and the fact that children were enlisted to the A.O.F.B. by parents. He suggested that “Britons raised on beer will always produce Wee Waifs.” The surgeon Sir Alfred Fripp countered this view by saying that, in moderation or otherwise, it was better to have beer drinking for charity than beer drinking alone, especially in a country where total abstinence was not going to happen. Rowley had to concede that there were more causes of poverty than beer consumption and drunkenness alone. In fact there were many teetotal members of the A.O.F.B. as well as those who loved to “gollop their beer with zest.”
As my mind continued to wander on the subject of West Ham’s association with the Ancient Order of Froth Blowers I couldn’t help but ponder the bubble blowing connection.
There are assorted theories on why West Ham United fans sing ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ as our anthem; but that’s all they are, theory and speculation. There’s no definitive proof of why this mournful lament became so strongly associated with our club. I’m sure that almost all of you will be fully aware of the reasons postulated but just in case you aren’t this very comprehensive article discusses their validity or not:
I began to wonder if I’d chanced upon the missing link in our bubble blowing history! Could it be that the band at the game between West Ham United and the Froth Blowers XI had played the popular music hall song ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ in the ground for the first time as a tribute to their froth blowing guests and the music hall stars gracing our pitch? Unfortunately I couldn’t find any references to our anthem being particularly associated with the A.O.F.B. but I thought I’d float my theory even if it does turn out to be just another lot of hot air among the existing theories. ;)
I did discover that the Ancient Order of Froth Blowers have their own anthem based on a traditional Austrian folk tune from around 1768. The original song ‘Ach du Lieber Augustin’ tells the story of ‘Augustin’ who consumes too much wine and passes out at the side of the road during the great plague. He’s mistaken for a dead man and loaded onto a cart with plague dead, only to wake up in the mortuary later, startling the attendants. The A.O.F.B. song ‘The More we are Together was written by Irving King using the melody of the old air. The A.O.F.B. also inspired a music hall song called ’I’m one of the Old Froth Blowers’ by Nat Travers.
It’s often been said that defeatist nature of ‘Bubbles’ doesn’t exactly augur well as a football refrain, perhaps we should adopt one of the Froth Blowers’ songs instead? Their official anthem is certainly inclusive and reflects the notion of the ‘West Ham Family.’ I’m not so sure about the music hall song but it’s got a definite cockney flavour. I’ll leave you with a link to both sets of lyrics and a couple of recordings and let you decide for yourself.
While I was scraping the bottom of the beer barrel for more tenuous links between West Ham and the A.O.F.B. I discovered that one of its more famous members was the British commercial artist George Studdy, who is best known for his comic strip dog called none other than Bonzo! First created in 1922 the pup quickly rose to popularity and starred in one of the world’s first cartoons, becoming an inspiration for mass-marketed merchandise. Bonzo the dog appeared in many adverts for the A.O.F.B. and reminded me of West Ham’s very own fund raising bulldog, also called Bonzo, who is sometimes spotted blowing the froth off one in the King Eddy on Stratford Broadway. If Karren Brady tries to get her mitts on you for mass-marketed merchandising purposes Bonzo I hope you’ll cock your leg at her.
If anyone is still awake and reading, you might be interested to know that in mid 2018 a reformation group began to put in place a modernised version of the A.O.F.B. The group, with foundation member groups in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and the United States, has begun building the structure for the organisation based on its original charter with provisions for a more inclusive membership. Not wanting to take anything away from the original organisation, the new group will go under the name of the Grand Ancient Order of Froth Blowers. The group maintains that its primary aim is "to raise money for charity and have fun doing so whilst blowing the head off one or five.” The expected official launch of the new organisation is September 2019, but it is already actively recruiting foundation members and Vats.
Perhaps we should pick up where Blaster Joe Clark left off in the 1920s and nominate the Black Lion in Plaistow as an Ancient Order of Froth Blowers Vat once more. I shall leave you with that thought my bubble blowing friends and sign off with the ‘fierce yell’ of the A.O.F.B.
N.B. Following publication of the article I’ve subsequently remembered that the West Ham fundraising dog isn’t called Bonzo, he’s called Bubbles Apologies for the mistake and hopefully you’ll grant me a little poetic licence for my mental aberration.