Long read: West Ham, mum and me

Steve Maynard with his mum

Steve Maynard was one of the first to take part in Any Old Irons, part of our Football Friends programme. Here he talks from the heart about his lifelong love of West Ham, the impact of caring for his late mum after her dementia diagnosis, and what the programme has brought to his life.

“Mum didn’t understand all the rules of football but my Dad, being an East Ham boy, was a huge and lifelong West Ham Fan, and because of him I was too – I was football mad from the age of five years old.

So Mum got into it and became a fan, especially of Bobby Moore. She would always ask, when we came home from a Hammers match, how we’d got on and how Bobby had played.

Fond memories of West Ham

I remember going to matches with Dad and sitting on his shoulders in the old West Stand. I would keep saying to him “When are we going to score Dad?” He always said, “We will in a minute”, and I always believed him. If we didn’t score a goal, he would tell me “We will make up for it in the next game”.

One of my best memories is from the 1957 /58 season, when the Hammers won promotion to the First Division. There were no live TV games or scores updates in those days, so all we had to rely on was Sports Report every Saturday at 5pm on the radio, to hear our team’s result if they were playing away from home.

I remember we drew 1-1 at Liverpool near the end of the season, which virtually clinched our promotion. When we heard the score, Dad and I danced round the living room with Mum sharing in the excitement and joining in with us. As Mum got older; after we lost Dad and I got married, she watched lots of football on TV. I think, as she lived on her own, that football was a comfort to her, and that it made her feel close to Dad and me.

When mum met dad

Mum’s real name was Florence. Her family called her Flossie – when she met Dad he wasn’t too keen on it, so I think it was through love that Mum allowed him to call her Pat, which stuck. As the years went by, even some of her own family started to call her Pat.

She was born in Hoxton, but she and Dad met in Luton after Mum had been evacuated there during World War Two, going on to work for the Postal Service delivering letters. Mum told me that one day she was walking home with my aunt when my Dad – who was in the Air Force – came walking up behind her and started singing to her. They were married three years later, and set up home in the Hammers’ heartland, East Ham.

Family life

I was an only child, but I had a very happy childhood. Dad (Ted) worked in the print industry; he would work all through Saturday nights up until late Sunday mornings getting the News of The World printed. This resulted in Mum and I spending Saturday evenings with her family in Shoreditch: I have many great memories of playing outside the family’s local pub with my cousin Raymond, whilst our nan and grandad, aunts and uncles would come out to give us pocket money, drinks and crisps. I used to love having my family around me; it always gave me a secure feeling.

Mum was a hard worker all of her life. From when I was aged five and going to school, she worked at the Royal Albert Dock for the Port of London Authority, going out on the mobile units and providing tea and food to all the dock workers. She did this for over 30 years, and met a few film stars while they were making films in the Dock, including John Wayne, Stewart Grainger and Richard Attenborough. On some Sundays when she worked, when I was a little boy, she would take me along with her. Mum was very proud of me and loved showing me off to people.

Losing Dad and a move for the family

We lost Dad to a heart attack when he was 50 years old, soon after I had got married to Jean. Mum and I could not have had a closer mother and son relationship, and Jean became her lovely daughter in law.

We moved into a house in a street opposite the flats where my parents lived. Jean and I would visit all the time and I would still be having a kick-about after work with all the kids I grew up with, on the green at the flats. After we lost Dad, Mum used to stay with us weekends too, and when our three children were born, they became her life.

After retiring from the Dock, Mum went on to work in catering for Newham Council up until she retired around 75 years old. As our own children grew up and moved out of the family home, Jean and I moved to Romford, Essex. Although Mum would come and stay with us almost every weekend, I always felt conscious of moving away from her. The day I moved, we both said we would not talk to each other on that day, because we would have become too emotional.

Then, when Mum got into her middle seventies she suffered a stroke which left her not the same, strong minded and sharp person she always had been. It used to break my heart when, at the end of a weekend with us, I would take her home to East Ham and I had to leave her. It was the same whenever I visited her on my way home from work; her eyes would light up, but when I left her to go home she always looked so sad.

Living with dementia

After the stroke, when Mum’s dementia first started, thinking back it was slow at first. Neither of us took it seriously, but gradually she was forgetting to do normal, everyday things.

I will always believe that a major factor in the deterioration from dementia for any person can be loneliness. While this terrible illness was taking hold of her, I was working full time up in admin for a solicitors’ firm in the City – Jean and I were trying to care for Mum as well as trying to support our children.

After speaking to her doctor, Mum attended a memory clinic. She hadn’t initially wanted to go. However, she loved it – it was a chance to meet new people and share memories. Mum would stand up in front of everybody and talk about her experiences in the Second World War. Sadly, after a couple of months the clinic had to close, I believe to funding problems.

Struggling to cope

As her illness started to deteriorate rapidly I persuaded her to go into sheltered accommodation in East Ham, but I’m afraid things got worse. Personally, through constant worry and stress I was finding it very hard to cope myself and I know it did not help Mum, that she in turn was concerned about me.

Thinking back, I have to say I was very disappointed with the help and advice I received. I felt as if we were just left to get on with it. I am so pleased that now dementia has come to the forefront of medical attention.

Moving mum closer

After a lot of hard work, I managed to get Mum into a lovely care home just three bus stops away from our house. My family and I were elated. We knew she was safe and being looked after. As time went by, she grew to love her carers and they loved her. They even nicknamed her Queenie. Jean and all our increased family, whom she doted on, were always visiting her, and we would still have her stay with us at weekends.

I would visit her every evening after work, and her face would break out into a fantastic lovely smile when she saw me. She would always say to me “No mother could love a son more than I love you”, and she would blow me a kiss when I left her to go home.

Losing mum and dealing with depression

Mum died on 20 April 2016. She had four great grandchildren. The day she passed away, along with Jean and I, and her beloved grandchildren Julie, Jenny and Joe, we were all with her, telling her our much we loved her. I do know she was very brave right up to the end, and she certainly didn’t want to leave me or her family. Our love will always follow her.

People tell me that no one could have done more than me. It still does not make you feel better. I was left with grief related depression, and I still suffer some black periods, thinking of Mum suffering more then she should have done with that terrible illness, when I was not with her.

I think I can speak for everyone who has lost a precious loved one with dementia; it scars you for life. I miss her and her beautiful smile so much. As I always said to her, “Love you Mum for Always and Forever.”

Reconnecting through Any Old Irons

I first got involved with Any Old Irons after I saw an advert for it on the noticeboard at my Mum’s sheltered housing.

I found myself talking, at Any Old Irons sessions, about football and about West Ham. We were always like a family at West Ham – it’s embedded in you – you are born into it. You are blessed to be a West Ham supporter, you are so close, even the bad results and bad experiences bring you closer together – I will always love West Ham.

The Any Old Irons sessions offer companionship and friendship – we West Ham fans love nostalgia about our favourite players and our best moments. You start talking about football and that opens it up – as a volunteer I get friendly with lots of people. I have made friends with people like Don and Eileen and Alf, who lost his wife – I talk a bit about my mum, and he talks a bit about his wife and that helps me and it helps him – to be able to talk to someone who understands a bit.

Loneliness and older men

Any Old Irons is something that men can feel that they can come to – men like my Dad, of the old school, who didn’t show their feelings but who loved West Ham, and would show their emotion when they scored.

My message to other men who might be lonely men, even if they are not a West Ham supporter, it to come along. It’s always a friendly group of warm people and there’s a great atmosphere.

It has helped me to deal with losing Mum; it has given me a little buzz. It helps me to remember good memories and good times, linked to West Ham and Upton Park, of my Mum and Dad, and I feel like I am putting something back.

Giving back through volunteering

I always get involved now, as a volunteer, with the first session of each five-week programme – if I see an older person who is on their own, and who isn’t chatting to someone, I always make a beeline for them, I don’t want them to be on their own. This is what’s so good about Any Old Irons – it helps to combat loneliness.

I really enjoy volunteering; it’s lovely to see everyone smiling and chatting at our meetings. It’s good for me too, socially, and it’s also helped me since I lost my Mum last year. She was very sociable, and she would’ve loved coming to something like this, so it feels like I’m doing something in her memory.”