Talking West Ham With… The Cockney Rejects

Talking West Ham United With... The Cockney Rejects
The Cockney Rejects... Stars of Boleyn-wood

Few if any bands in history have been more intrinsically linked with a football club than punk heroes The Cockney Rejects are with their beloved West Ham United, and this association is just one aspect of the fascinating story portrayed in forthcoming biopic East End Babylon: The Story of The Cockney Rejects. Football Burp enjoyed a hearty natter about Hammers matters past and present with founding member and all-round East End legend, the one and only Jeff Turner. First though, here’s a trailer of the film, which premiers at London’s KOKO on Thursday April 26th…

How are you?

Good as gold. Weather’s rubbish but every day above ground’s a good ‘un, mate!

Have you seen the finished film yet?

I have, I was at a private showing of it in Covent Garden last week. I hadn’t seen it so I was a little bit nervous but after four years in the making I was really pleased with it. Over the moon, as the old football cliché goes. You can get quite embarrassed when you think, “How’s it going to turn out?” but it was one of those films that was on my mind a lot of the time the next day. It’s captured, and as long as the story was there I was happy with that. It’s quite hard-hitting and it’s truthful.

There’s about a hundred years of history in it – my granddad actually fought in the First World War, and my dad was 49 when I was born so obviously it goes back a long way. There’s the history of the dogs, the East End, boxing, there’s a lot about West Ham in it and obviously the band.

I couldn’t help but notice Garry Bushell popping up in the trailer. What was his role in all of it?

Gary was instrumental in us starting the band. He was a writer for a great music magazine called Sounds in the ’70s. He came to prominence writing about the punk bands, and he helped get us started and even managed us for a while until things broke big for us and he had to keep his job as a columnist. So we went on from there, but Garry has always remained a big mate. He was instrumental in giving publicity to not only us but loads of other bands, and helping getting them started.

It’s funny, I only knew him for his TV writing.

There you go, you learn something new every day! He’s written books on a lot of big bands, like Iron Maiden and Aerosmith, so he was well respected in those circles. When Sounds went kaput in the mid-’80s, that’s when he made the leap to television.

Onto West Ham – ‘interesting’ times at the moment, you might say…

Oh, god!

Did you see the 1-1 draw at Bristol City?

No, I didn’t. I’ve been to quite a few games this season – I was going to try and go but Bristol City only gave us 1,800 tickets. Funnily enough I’ve been to a lot of home games this season and I was offered a ticket for [the 6-0 win against] Brighton but I had commitments with my boys and their sport, so I said, “Nah, I’m gonna leave that. I’d been to every home game since we beat Millwall 2-1 in February and we’d been dreadful, hadn’t won a game. The Reading game [2-4] was a shocker. West Ham aren’t going anywhere. They’re not going up.

Until the Brighton game, the home form’s been holding you back. What do you think’s been going wrong there?

Yeah, the home form’s been shocking. We’ve won 12 games away from home this season so you can’t fault that, but a) I don’t think the players there are good enough and b) some of the decisions that have been made there…the fact that we’ve kept on playing with one striker when everyone’s saying, “Go for the throat!” You don’t know whether you’re going to get Carlton Cole one week, Nicky Maynard the next, then John Carew – you never know who’s going to play up front. To me Sam Allardyce is so stubborn that he won’t change  for anybody.

West Ham are a Premiership team, no doubt – support-wise, everything about it – but on the playing field, if we go up we’ll get smashed every week. There’s two players who cut cut it for me – Robert Green, who I know takes a lot of stick but he’s been a good ‘keeper for us, and Mark Noble. The rest of them wouldn’t survive.

How about James Tomkins?

I don’t rate him. I’ve watched him since he broke into the team under Gianfranco Zola, and he’ll do okay in the Championship but if he’s got people like Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba and Robin van Persie against him, he wouldn’t stand a chance. This is his level – if he moved to a Premiership team, it would probably be in the lower echelon.

Kevin Nolan for me couldn’t cut it – I know he’s scored a few goals but I’ve not been that impressed with him at all. A lot of the time he’s just been anonymous. He seems to play behind the striker and gets the odd goal here and there, but he’s on £55,000 a week and he’s Allardyce’s pal so he won’t drop him. Everybody can see that.

What’s the point in going up if we’re just going to get smashed? Teams like Arsenal and Manchester United would absolutely kill us. And being honest with you, I don’t think they will go up.

I think Allardyce would find a way to keep you up, but the methods would be very un-West Ham-like.

I didn’t even want him in the first place. We’ve had a succession of rubbish managers – Zola was a brave choice, but I’ve got to be honest, it was dreadful under him. He was a terrific player but terrific players don’t always make terrific managers – Bobby Charlton and Bryan Robson, for instance. Then obviously we got Avram Grant, the worst appointment of all.

When we got Allardyce, I just knew what it was going to be. Everywhere he’s gone, have you known any attractive football? At Newcastle United it was dour, at Blackburn Rovers it was dour, at Bolton Wanderers it was dour. I know people say you’ve got to try and kick your way out of this league, but why can’t you play good football and get out of there?

It says it all that, despite doing quite well at Blackburn on paper, a lot of the supporters weren’t half glad to see the back of him.

I read in the paper a few weeks ago – and this is what hurt – he said that at times this season we’ve played like Swansea City. No disrespect to Swansea, I know they’ve done well, but shouldn’t you be saying we’ve played like Man United, or we’ve tried to play like Barcelona? Is that what West Ham’s come to, that we’ve got to look to Swansea as inspiration? He says the fans are deluded, but I don’t think we are deluded ’cause I’ve been over there nearly every week, and know people who go every home and away game, and if anyone’s deluded then it’s him. He should manage a pub team, and that should be it.

You must be looking at the job Paulo Di Canio’s doing at Swindon Town…

Yeah, obviously everybody’s looked at that. People were talking about him coming in when Avram Grant went but I’m glad he’s cut his teeth at Swindon. Win, lose  or draw, whatever happens, hopefully it’ll be time for him to come in. I’m not saying he’s going to set the world on fire, but it’ll be entertaining, he has passion, he’s got a vision for the game and how it should be played, and he loves West Ham.

The succession of managers we’ve had, even going back to Alan Curbishley, haven’t done any good – the last good manager we had was Alan Pardew, and I just think that maybe the time is right for Paulo to come in at the end of the season, because I don’t think we’ll go up and hopefully he’ll turn things around. At least he’ll bring a bit of passion and commitment, and a bit of fun in there as well. He’s a maverick, but maybe that’s what the club means.

I liked that, even though they’re top of the league, he still came out after their defeat at Aldershot Town the other night and said he’d have no problem with playing the youth team at Gillingham if their players – who’d apparently been out and about on the town – don’t sort their attitude out.

That’s right, they’re top of the league and he would do that. I’ve heard from people that when he was at West Ham he was a bit of a loner, but he’d be the first one onto the training pitch and that, when they’d all gone off to play golf or whatever, he’d be there practising free-kicks. He’s a worker, and for me you can’t beat that. He might crash and burn, who knows, but he’s got to be brought in or else he’ll go somewhere else – he’ll end up at another big club, so we can’t miss the opportunity, and even if West Ham go up I’d say to the other fella, “Thanks, but…” We deserve to be playing the top teams every week, but if we’re just going to get hammered then there’s no point in it.

Whenever I’ve spoken to someone who’s been a team mate of Di Canio’s I’ve always asked about him because he’s such an interesting character, and to a man they always said what a nice guy he was.

He is, and he has that passion to succeed and do well. It’s got to be on the cards that he ends up at West Ham. I think he’s only signed a one-year contract at Swindon, probably ’cause they thought, “We can’t give him more than a one-year contract – he might only last one month!” But he seems the kind of fella to me that, if he wasn’t getting the backing from the board or whatever, he’d go, “See ya, I’m out of you.”

In a way, maybe it would be good if we stayed down, because myself and 95% of the West Ham supporters that I’ve spoken to do not want to go to that Olympic Stadium. I’m really, really against it because I think it would kill us.

From a cultural point of view, do you mean?

Well, there’s a lot of things that go with that. It’s a 60,000-seater stadium, but I think 40,000 is the maximum we could do, and it’s more on the cusp of Hackney than in east London. I’ve been around where they’re building the stadium and there’s no pubs, and I think that Gold and Sullivan are thinking, “Move into the Olympic Stadium, then sell out to some rich Arab.” They’re looking to wine and dine people at £500 quid a pop, and that’s the way it’s going – go to the Westfield Centre for a lovely lunch – and if we’re in the Championship getting 20,000 a week, that means they’ll be giving 10-15,000 to away supporters because there’ll be a need to sell tickets, and they’ll be thinking, “This is our big away day, going to the Olympic Stadium!” So all the atmosphere will be with the away supporters, having their day out, while we’d be doomed to being dotted around watching over a running track. It will kill the club, it really will.

If we’ve got to move then move, but move somewhere that suits the heart of the club,  the culture of the club. For me this is just a money move for Gold and Sullivan to sell it on to some rich Arab consortium, ’cause “ooh, the Olympic Stadium looks lovely”. I wouldn’t want to be a Manchester City team, to be honest, paying £250,000 a week wages to mediocre players – I don’t want to buy the title, I just want to be West Ham, competing at the top level and keeping to the club’s roots.

In my opinion, West Ham is one of the few top clubs left that still has a strong identity.

They have, and that’s a terrific ground where they are. People love it, so knock the chicken run down and build a new stand. The history, the atmosphere…I know people want to change and move on, but you’ve got to stick to your roots. just that little bit. Everyone comes to this little corner of the East End that we’ve got left, you’ve got your pie and mash shops and the Boleyn pub and all that – it may be nostalgia, but it can survive there, it can. There’s no doubt about it, if we move to the Olympic Stadium then we’re kaput – to me we’d be just like MK Dons or something, moving somewhere else and having the heart and soul ripped out of it.

Wednesday was the sixth anniversary of the passing of John Lyall. What does he mean to you?

John Lyall was a terrific man and a good manager. I remember that it’s the anniversary because we did a gig in Stratford Town Hall the week before the 2006 FA Cup final – John Lyall had just passed so we did a thing onstage about him and all that. He was old-school – he wasn’t the greatest of players, only made about twenty-odd appearance for West Ham I think before he got a bad injury, but he went straight into the coaching and he was a good manager. The team we had from ’78 to ’81 was an absolutely fantastic team, players like Trevor Brooking, Billy Bonds, Alan Devonshire, Alvin Martin, Phil Parkes – absolutely terrific players.

John Lyall was old school, very West Ham. I was watching one of my many West Ham DVDs the other week, the 1980 FA Cup semi-final against Everton at Villa Park – 1-1, it was – and John Lyall was in the dugout smoking a fag, with another one behind his ear as well! You’d never see that nowadays. He was a proper West Ham man and from what I hear from people a very nice bloke. He was a terrific manager for West Ham.

Do you remember the first game you ever went to?

Yeah, 1972, West Ham-Chelsea. It was 2-2, and we were 2-0 up. I think Clyde Best got one in that game, and Chelsea had just signed Keith Weller from Millwall – he scored two goals and then we had to hang on for a draw. That was West Ham then. I was 7 and my dad took me over there because my granddad actually played in goal for West Ham between 1912 and 1914. So we’re going back a hundred years. I think he played about 27 to 30 games, and by all accounts he was dreadful! I’ve seen the old regalia, him in his kit and all that – really, really funny – but I read in a West Ham book, and my dad always told me, that he was no good. It was a natural transition to support West Ham having been born a mile away from the ground. Where you lived, you supported the team.

What was his name?

John Geggus [click here for a list of games he played for West Ham], although everybody called him Jack.

Could you name the best and worst games you’ve ever been to?

For me, for everything it entailed, the best was the 1980 semi-final replay against Everton at Elland Road [click here to watch highlights of that game]. I was just coming up to my 16th birthday and we went up in a mini-bus – it was on a Wednesday night – and I think Alan Devonshire scored, then Bob Latchford scored for Everton, then it went into extra time and Frank Lampard senior – who played 600-odd games for West Ham and whose goals were as frequent as an ice age – fell over in the area and the ball hit his head and went in. For me to go to Wembley then, and when we had a punk version of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” lined up to come out, that was magic.

Was that when Trevor Brooking scored the winner in the final against Arsenal?

Yeah, but for me the semi-final was even better – it was a night game,and the atmosphere in there was fantastic. The worst game for me was probably going to Cardiff in 2004 for the Championship play-off final against Crystal Palace when we got beat 1-0 and it was absolutely dreadful. We were shocking, and that really left you deflated. There have been some bad ones but for me that was the worst. I thought we’d go on a slide after that, but luckily the next year we inched into the play-offs and went up.

Finally, if you had to select a five-a-side team out of all the West Ham players you’ve ever seen, who would you select?

Obviously Parkes in goal, and the defender would have to be Bobby Moore. Up front…this is really hard because Di Canio is a superb player, but for me Geoff Hurst was an absolutely phenomenal player – I think the closest I’ve seen to him since is Alan Shearer. Alan Devonshire for a bit of pace, and it would have to be Trevor Brooking in the middle. So it would be Brooking and Devonshire to knock it about, Hurst to pop it in and Moore would be at the back.

What I liked about players like Bonds, Brooking and Devonshire was that even when West Ham got relegated, they could have gone anywhere but they said, “We went down, we’ll stay and get you back up.” That’s what I admired it about it most. Now players just put in transfer requests. Your money’s not going to go down, so stay where you are, show some passion for the club and get them back up! Unfortunately, we know it’s not like that any more.

My boys are 14 and 15 and I’ve shown them the old Big Match videos, and they couldn’t stop laughing – “look at those shorts up their arse!” They’ve been brought up on a diet of Bergkamps and Ronaldos, and fair play, but I still prefer it as it was.

Jeff Turner, thank you.

East End Babylon, the story of The Cockney Rejects, premiers on Thursday April 26th at London’s KOKO. Visit www.thecockneyrejects.com for more details.