One of the surprising things about blogging on the internet is the constant stream of emails from Hammers fans overseas, many of whom have adopted the club via TV and have never even seen their favourites play ‘live’.
A couple of months back, I got an email from a fan in South Africa who had been looking at the Boleyn ground using Google maps and was intrigued as to why all the streets around the ground where named after Henry VIII’s wives. Aware of my responsibilities, I though it only right to enlighten the distant supporter.
Of course, as every good east Londoner knows, the Hammers links to the Royal Family goes back several centuries to the time of Henry VIII.
Henry was a huge Hammers fan and a regular visitor to Upton Park back when the Hammers were known as Ye Olde Ironworkes. Anne Boleyn was, of course, an equally fervent supporter and this was one of the things that drew the couple together back in 1527.
It isn’t something that is much mentioned in the history books but Katherine of Aaragon’s preference for Real Madrid was a big stumbling block in their marriage and made the lure of Anne almost irresistible to the famously footloose Henry.
The King eventually dumped his first wife although, as a mark of respect, not before he bestowed the honour of naming the road that ran from East Hame to Green Street after her. Katherine Road still survives today although, sadly, there are few farms and pigs down it now - although anyone stumbling down it on a Saturday night may disagree!
Despite the new Queen’s fascination with the Claret and Blue, Anne was notoriously afraid of big crowds, and the jostling and good natured banter back on the Cockerel run – as it was then known – wasn’t really to her taste.
Subsequently, Henry used to leave the poor girl in the snug of the ‘Postilian and Wild Boar’ while he went to watch the matches. It was many years after that the pub was renamed the ‘Boleyn’ in honour of Anne’s patronage and her predilection for Watney’s Horse-Rub Bitter.
Sadly, as every Schoolboy knows, Henry’s passion for Anne didn’t survive his love for football although surely the young Queen bought some of the misfortune on her own head (no pun intended) when – in a particularly vicious argument – Anne rather stupidly claimed she had a preference for local North London Towne soccer rivals, Tottingham Horsespurs.
This was too much for Henry and he had her beheaded for her bad taste. If only such things were allowed today all our lives would be much the richer.
Although Henry wasn’t able to visit as much as he’d liked later in life, he never let his love for the Hammers wane and, as a wedding gift to each of his subsequent wives, he named a street after each of them.
Those streets today survive and it’s a fitting tribute to the dynasty that I’m able to furnish such cast-iron historical facts to my fellow fan back there is Johannesburg. I’m just gambling he doesn’t save up enough money to visit one day and demand to meet me!