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Was West Ham kit won in a bet with Aston Villa?

In 1899, there was a fayre was being held near to Villa Park in an area known at the time as the ‘Black Patch’, where a travelling community welcomed attractions One visitor apparently challenging all comers, was William Dove, a London-born professional sprinter of national fame.

Along came four Aston Villa players to the fayre one day strutting their Victorian stuff through the side shows and attractions.The Villa players were challenged to race by Dove which they agreed and a money wager was set.

The race against William Dove was run and the Aston Villa players lost. The Villa players didn’t have any money, so, a compromise was reached. One of the Villa players had been given the job of getting the first team’s kit washed. To placate Dove, they gave him the complete claret-and-blue kit and then reported it stolen to the Aston Villa directors.

The London sprinter returned to the capital with the claret and blue kit of the then league champions.

William’s son, Charlie Dove, was an apprentice riveter who played right-half for his works team, Thames Ironworks. The then amateur team had played in a number of different colours, including dark blue, inspired by the firm’s chairman, who had been at Oxford. When William Dove, who also helped coach the team showed up one day with a complete set of claret-and-blue Aston Villa kits, they adopted it. When Thames Ironworks were disbanded and relaunched almost immediately as West Ham they kept the Claret and Blue strip.

Urban myth or true? Another version of the story says West Ham coped Aston Villa as they were the best team in the country at the time but we prefer the wager story ourselves.

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About Sean Whetstone

I am Season Ticket Holder in West stand lower at the London Stadium and before that, I used to stand in the Sir Trevor Brooking Lower Row R seat 159 in the Boleyn Ground and in the Eighties I stood on the terraces of the old South Bank. I am a presenter on the West Ham Podcast called MooreThanJustaPodcast.co.uk. A Blogger on WestHamTillIdie.com a member of the West Ham Supporters Advisory Board (SAB), Founder of a Youtube channel called Mr West Ham Football at http://www.youtube.com/MrWestHamFootball, I am also the associate editor here at Claret and Hugh. Life Long singer of bubbles! Come on you Irons! Follow me at @Westhamfootball on twitter

One comment on “Was West Ham kit won in a bet with Aston Villa?

  1. I looked into this for Wikipedia a while back. There’s a comment on the talk page of Dove’s article, which is the basis for the rest of this comment…

    The story originates from Brian Belton’s Miscellany (2006) book (the section, on pages 2–4 is “adapted from Founded on Iron, 2003”. I couldn’t find this part in that book, although I haven’t read it thoroughly):

    “My grandfather, Jim Belton, told me that Charlie Dove, a local man who played for Old Castle Swifts, Thames Ironworks and West Ham, got the kits from his father William. Bill had been involved in the coaching of the Thames players, but he was also a professional sprinter and competed all over the country. In the summer of 1899, he had defeated four Aston Villa footballers in an impromptu race held at a fair in Birmingham. The Villa men had been so confident of victory over the scrawny cockney that they had wagered money they did not have and were obliged to hand over a set of ‘uniforms’ to cover the debt – apparently, one of the ‘Villains’ [sic] was responsible for the side’s laundry and reported it ‘missing’ on his return to the club. I took this to be just ‘local colour’ for many years until, when I was interviewing a former West Ham player from the 1930s, he told me the same story, that the ‘uniforms’ had been won in a race held near to Villa Park and flogged to a West Ham player for £3.10s. ”

    The problem is the highly ambiguous sentence “My grandfather, Jim Belton, told me that Charlie Dove, a local man who played for Old Castle Swifts, Thames Ironworks and West Ham, got the kits ‘cheap’ from his father William”, which has been misinterpreted as meaning Dove’s father, rather than Jim Belton’s. The error was long-standing in various Wikipedia articles, and can be seen in various articles on the web (either because they have used information from Wikipedia or because they’ve made the same mistake).

    We know that William is Jim’s father and not Charlie Dove’s because Brian provides some family history in his War Hammers book (page 11):
    “On match days the club directly and indirectly employed hundreds, maybe thousands of people, most on a casual, part-time basis. One of these was my paternal grandfather, Jim Belton, who worked on the turnstiles but was also involved in the maintenance of the Boleyn Ground from time to time. Like his full-time job, as a stoker in Beckton Gas Works, he had inherited these roles from his father (William).”

    We also know that Charlie Dove’s father was named George (not William), as this is stated, along with a picture of him, in John Powles’ Iron in the Blood (page 98).

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