Wednesday, 6 March 2013

West Ham United F.C. - "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles"

Besides Liverpool, there is perhaps only one other club that can even claim to have the greatest traditional club song. That is, of course, West Ham United with "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles", quite simply a national anthem for East London.

(Photo from Wallcoo)

Created in 1918, the song has a fascinating musical history, irrespective of the football connection. Written by John Kellette and 'Jaan Kenbrovin' (a collective pseudonym for a trio of writers), the track made it's first public appearance in the Broadway musical The Passing Show Of 1918. Copyright for the song was finally registered in 1919 and, since then, it has been performed and recorded by a huge number of artists, including many influential musicians. The first to have success with it was Ben Selvin's Novelty Orchestra late in the year, followed closely by The Original Dixieland Jass Band, the latter performing it in a style that can only be described as an early form of jazz. It soon became extremely popular in Britain's music halls and theatres in the early 1920's, Dorothy Ward arguably the most influential in this movement.

It's transition into sport, however, is still a bit of a mystery. There are 3 main theories that club historians argue over, all of which I will explain below.

The first involves a famous painting, an advert for soap and a young West Ham player called Will Murray. In 1886, artist Sir John Everett Millais painted a portrait of his five year old grandson watching a soap bubble he had just blown. The painting was hugely successful and it soon found it's way into the hands of Thomas J. Barratt, managing director of A&F Pears. He later used it to advertise a product called Pears Soap, the advert became known simply as 'Bubbles'. 

 'Bubbles': The advert in question
(photo from City Room)

The next step of the story is where the controversy lies. Many believe the West Ham squad saw the poster and nicknamed youth player Will Murray 'Bubbles', mainly because he resembled the child featured on it. The fans got wind of this and, every time Murray played, they sang "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles", in the charts at the time. Another version of the story claims Murray got the nickname 'Bubbles' from his headmaster Cornelius Beal, who knew the West Ham manager Charlie Paynter.
Unfortunately, this story was later proved to be false. Photos of Murray taken at the time show he looks absolutely nothing like the child in the advert. Secondly, club records show he never actually played in the senior squad, only the youth squad. While these facts don't make the myth impossible, it does raise the question, "would fans sing a song about a youth player they've probably never seen?" The answer is probably not.

The second theory stems from an FA Cup tie against Swansea City in 1922. Unlike West Ham, Swansea City have records to show that they definitely did sing "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" around this time during the majority of their home games. It has been speculated that West Ham effectively "borrowed" this tradition after the game against them and later made it their own.

 Vetch Field: Swansea City's home ground at the time
(photo from World Stadia)

The third and final theory is arguably the most plausible, although it does claim that the singing of the song did not start until 20 years later, during the time of the Second World War. At the time, it has been well documented that the song was sung in East End air raid shelters to raise spirits. This led to a rise in public communal singing, including at football matches. The tradition has carried on since then and has become one of the most loved songs in modern football.

It's now time to listen to the song to see what makes it a classic football anthem.

As with every song I cover, I headed on over to a fans' forum to get their opinion. This time, I went to the WestHamFans forum, where I got an overwhelming response.

Claire (44), from the Republic Of Ireland, said, "It never fails to bring a tear to my eye or a lump to my throat. On the rare occasion I'm in the ground and I hear it, it feels like I'm back home."

Darren (20), from London, said, "The best memories are of away matches. Once we start singing the first chorus, it's like "That's right. West Ham have arrived!""

John (34), from Lincoln, explains what it reminds him of. "My grandparents' house used to be a stone's throw away from the ground and whenever I hear the song, it takes me back to happier times when me and my brother used to play footie in their garden."

Ray (49), from East London, recalls one of his memories of the song, slightly reminiscent of the film Green Street, it must be said. "It reminds me of my first away trip to Old Trafford. In the back streets of Manchester, we were confronted by a gang of Mancs ready to kick the s**t out of us and then we hear the song. Our boys had arrived and the Mancs scarpered. It's a battle cry to me for that reason."

Thanks to all the participants for their opinions and interesting stories! I'll be back soon with another classic football song!

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