“Don’t you take any notice of those bears, Willie, they’re just being naughty…”
So said former continuity announcer, Jean Morton (or ‘Auntie Jean’ as 750,000 children like me preferred to call her) as the match kicked off.
Lost? Feeling a bit like an Arsenal defender or a member of the ticket sales team at Sunderland?
Well, let me explain.
If anyone out there is as old as I am they might still remember ‘Tingha and Tucker’ who were characters in a children’s weekday television show which was broadcast by the old ATV network from 1962 PD (Pre-Dyke) to 1970. There was also a special programme – ‘The Tree House Family’ – which was broadcast on Sundays when more people listened to God than Graeme Souness.
Tingha and Tucker were stuffed koala bears who became working puppets, with Auntie Jean pulling their strings and retaining control via a very clipped, very English accent. Another character – Willie Wombat – was a kind of goody, goody fool who was often the victim of the bears’ pranks but it didn’t really matter as we all knew that Jean had a soft spot for him and so everything would work out OK in the end.
The show was hugely popular and its fan club had to close because it couldn’t handle the volume of mail it received; obviously, ATV eventually cancelled it because, as any Director of Football knows, if the players get too popular with the fans they might cut out the financial middlemen (not to be confused with Ken Dodd’s ‘Diddy Men’ who were tax collectors on back-handers).
The theme music for the show was written by Tony Hatch who went on to compose the theme tunes for ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Neighbours’ (which were all about the relationships between ordinary folk and dodgy scenery, much like at Burnley).
One of my favourite songs in the show was ‘The Wibbly Wobbly Way’ and I still hum it to myself sometimes when the medication wears off.
This was also a period in football history when West Ham United were quite good. They won the FA Cup in 1964, the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1965 and runners-up in the League Cup in 1966. Bobby, Martin and Geoff also became household names outside of East London, of course, through their pre-Brexit ambassadorial roles with West Germany.
Out of this period came a notion that the team played ‘The West Ham Way’ which, since those great days of Bobby Moore, is supposed to be all about attacking football, built from the back and created through neat, passing movement on the ground. Throw in a few flares (sorry, flair) and add words like ‘style’ and you have created a myth (or ‘miss’ if you are looking in the mirror while reading this out loud in a Chris Eubank kind of voice).
Watching the Hammers against Chelsea on Monday I was compelled to ask myself what The West Ham Way really means today. Now that they get to play in the National Taxpayers Stadium perhaps this could form the basis of the national identity that Glenn Hoddle once craved:
‘Is it lumping the ball up towards Andy Carroll’s nose as quickly and as often as possible?’
‘Is it ensuring that lots of shiny, white seats are on view for all the TV viewers about 20 minutes before the end of the game so that they can see what a nice place it is?’
‘Is it derived from one of those historical tracks such as the Roman (or Lazioan) ‘Ermine Street’ or the ‘Great North Road’ or is it much more modern, like London’s ‘Westway’ which is also synonymous with parking the bus?’
Perhaps it is none of these. I personally suspect that the clue still lies back in the 1960s. I think that Karren Brady – with her polished new image and her even-posher-with-every-interview accent – has taken on Auntie Jean’s role (though with fewer fans, obviously).
She manipulates her two stuffed and rather silly Davids – Gold and Sullivan – with the skill and dexterity of a puppet mistress, ensuring that Willie Wombat (Slaven to his real friends) never gets really, really disappointed or hurt by them.
When you hear The Wibbly Wobbly Way being sung to the rafters at the next home match you’ll know that the bubbles have finally burst and witness that West Ham really have lost their way. Still love the song, though.