It’s a pleasure to feature an interview with Robin Burt, a passionate soccer fan and a fascinating individual. With more than 25+ years of experience in the entertainment business, Robin has many life experiences and interesting stories to share, as you’ll see in the interview below.
Born and bred in London, this Hammers fan has lived in Los Angeles since 1991. Here’s his story:
Christopher Harris (Chris): What was it like growing up in London and attending West Ham matches in the 1970s?
Robin Burt (Robin): The 70’s were an interesting time, a mixed bag – that brought out the best and worst of English football. Hooliganism unfortunately was prevalent in and outside football grounds up and down the country during that time, with a small subset of West Ham and Millwall fans most definitely in the forefront of the violent chaos that would be known across Europe as the “English Disease.” Aside from those social problems, going to games in the 70s were incredibly exciting, spine tingling even – the fans created the atmosphere, the intense rivalry between certain sets of fans was at times frightening and other times good harmless banter, swapping chants and handing out a smattering of abuse from the terraces.
I feel the game has been sterilized over the past 20 years with the introduction of all seater stadiums and corporate hospitality. And the spiraling cost of game day tickets has squeezed out the average punter.
The one thing that London has that no other city can match is the total number of derby games in any given season. Here’s a good fact, London has more professional teams that any other city in the world, 13 in total – Arsenal, Brentwood, Chelsea, Charlton, Crystal Palace, Dagenham & Redbridge, Fulham, Leyton Orient, Millwall, Queens Park Rangers, Tottenham Hotspurs, West Ham and AFC Wimbledon. When you put that into perspective, that is a cumulative fan base of more than 250,000 fans that follow London clubs in person. That’s massive!!
Chris: Tell us about your first West Ham game.
Robin: It was December 1976. I was 11 years old and West Ham were playing the mighty Liverpool who were the dominant force Europe at that time.
My brother, who is a Spurs season ticket holder, invited me to go to a game with him. He told me that Spurs were playing away (thank God). He refused to take me to see Arsenal, so we were left with West Ham or Queens Park Rangers. No contest. So it was off down the District Line for the two of us to the Boleyn Ground. I remember getting off the train and literally being swept along Green Street in a sea of West Ham fans. This was something I had never seen before. Tribal and intense is the only way to describe the feeling.
Making it to the ground, we were standing in the Chicken Run (one of the side stands). I’ll never forget the banter and the smell of alcohol as we stood shoulder to shoulder with the other West Ham fans. In those days, children were offered milk carts to stand on so they could get a view alongside the adults.
The game started well for West Ham when they took the lead in the first half through a Trevor Brooking strike – in all my young childhood, I’d never seen so many grown men hugging uncontrollably, jumping up and down. I thought the stand would collapse. The elation of a goal today is still replicated, but I feel in a more subdued way, what with seats getting in the way of a full on pogo celebration.
In the dying minutes of the game, my brother prodded me to leave so we would miss the crush at the final whistle. Walking outside the ground, we heard an almighty roar coming from what I thought was the Liverpool fans. We weren’t sure who had scored. Remember this was before cell phones, so it wasn’t until we got back to my brother’s flat in west London that we saw the score on the BBC. It read “West Ham 2 Liverpool 0.” It was an incredible result.
From that day, there was only one team for me.
Chris: After you moved to LA in the early 90s, how easy or hard was it to get your fix for English football?
Robin: It’s funny to look back on it because in those days, I didn’t have access to the Internet in my first home in Los Angeles, and there certainly wasn’t much football to speak of on US TV, not until well after the success of the 1994 World Cup.
To get my football news and scores, I subscribed to a weekly newsletter (that was originally faxed to me and then it came in the mail). It was nothing more than extracts that were lifted from the sports pages in the English newspaper from the prior week. This was brilliant plagiarizing from someone that saw an opportunity to make some money from suckers like myself. I wish I still had a copy of one because it was so basic, but it did give me my weekly fix. I will give kudos to the LA Times back in the early 90s as they always posted the Saturday scores from the top four English divisions. Aside from that, I would always go to the local newsstand and buy one or two of the English Sunday newspapers to get a more involved match report on the games.
Chris: What was it like working on the Organizing Committee for the 1994 World Cup? What’s one of your memorable stories from that time?
Robin: When I first came to Los Angeles, I volunteered at the World Cup Organizing Committee to get valuable work experience to put on my resume. I put in more than 1,000 hours before I eventually made the payroll. It was also where I met Nick Webster for the first time.
The World Cup was an amazing experience for me, learning the ins and outs of hosting a live event. If there is one thing that Americans do well, it’s putting on a show. Everything down to marketing, tickets sales, working with the press and the teams, fan parks etc, it was all in place. The 1994 World Cup was financially the most successful World Cup ever at that time and definitely one of the most attended World Cups ever.
There are many great highlights that I take from that World Cup; seeing the mighty Brazilians training, going to a Semi Final and the Final at the Rose Bowl. I also had the honor of meeting Gordon Banks, the great England goalkeeper who was a part of the 1996 England World Cup winning team.
But the biggest highlight for me would be meeting Pele — not once during that time but twice. The first time was when he came to our offices in Century City to meet the staff, but the second time was at the Opening Draw, which took place in Las Vegas.
That day, I had the honor of walking Pele out of the room where the Draw was taking place. After he had done a speech to the packed audience, someone whispered in my ear to walk him to the back entrance of the room where he would be met by an assigned security guard in an alleyway. After exchanging handshakes and grabbing an autograph for my sins, he was off into the Vegas night. I would not be the last time that I would meet him.
Fifteen years later at the American Film Market (where I am currently Vice President of Marketing), I ran into him again where he was promoting his documentary Pele. He didn’t remember me of course, but who cares, I got my requisite autograph and photo taken with him. It hangs proudly on my wall at home.
Chris: For those outside the UK who don’t know, what makes East Londoners (and West Ham United supporters) special?
Robin: West Ham is one of those clubs that has that not necessarily enjoyed a lot of success over the years (winning 3 FA Cup trophies), but their fans are incredibly passionate, loyal and proud of the origins of the club and as well as their East End roots. Your grandfather’s East End is not the same place that it is today. The East End is one of the most multi-cultural diverse parts of London, an area that has overcome the stigma of being a poor and overcrowded part of London. During the Second World War, the East End took much of the brunt of the German bombers as they took out the docks, railways and industry, leaving the area decimated. The East End has developed itself over the years, with the gentrification of Canary Wharf into office blocks and the building of the Olympic Park for the recent London Olympics.
The catchment area for West Ham fans does not just stop at the Borough of Newham, but it also reaches into the county of Essex, east of the East End.
I think what makes West Ham fans special is their East End wit and loyalty. This is expressed profoundly at home games by creating a cauldron of fear and intimidation towards opposing teams.
West Ham is also one of the best supported teams at away games. It’s not unusual for 5,000 souls to travel up from London to watch their beloved Hammers, rain or shine.
Chris: What’s your opinion about West Ham’s move to the Olympic Stadium in 2016? Will you miss the Boleyn Ground? And do you have any concerns about the Hammers trying to fill the 50,000 seats in the new stadium?
Robin: I’ve felt from day one that this was a great move for the club, a chance to elevate the club among the big boys of English Football. I know there are many fans that oppose the move as a shameless commercial move by the owners. For others, they feel the move to a huge stadium will lose the “close to the pitch” atmosphere and intimidation that the Boleyn Ground has as a 12th man.
Some of these opinions are well founded, but look at the facts. English football is a billion dollar business. The TV money alone affords Premier League clubs the chance to compete year in and year out and buy some of the best players in the world. The fear of failure is massive, with the possibility of relegation for 25% of the teams that play in the EPL each year. That fear is always in the background for West Ham, a club that has yo-yoed between the Premier League and the Championship over the past 20 years. West Ham has always been a farm team for the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United, never able to keep its best players because West Ham can’t offer Champions League football or at least a top 8 finish each year.
In my opinion, the move to the Olympic Stadium was a brilliant masterstroke by the two owners to inflate the value of the club, so as to sell it off to a Chinese billionaire (and yes there are a few of them). Think about it, when it’ll be up for sale, the club is based in London, playing in the Premier League, and moving to a state of the art new stadium.
The move to the Olympic Stadium for the 2016/17 season allows West Ham the opportunity to rebrand itself in a positive way – “all ships will rise with the tide”. Commercial sponsorships will increase, game day revenues will grow through increased attendance (and yes that will happen). By elevating its commercial brand within the league, it will have the same knock-on effect that happened to Manchester City when they moved from Maine Road to the Etihad Stadium, Arsenal’s move from Highbury to Emirates and all of the millions that Roman Abramovich has pumped into Chelsea over the past 10 years.
Do I think West Ham will fill the stadium? Yes, I do. With the prospect of a war chest for the lucky manager that takes West Ham into the new era, this will bring in better quality players and the prospect of greater success in the future. With a better product on the pitch, the crowds will flock. Everyone wants to see good football, right? West Ham have already developed plans to offer discounted tickets to children and to under-privileged fans in the local area.
Chris: What’s your verdict about Sam Allardyce?
Robin: I’ve gone round and round on this topic for a while now. I was definitely in the “Fat Sam Out” camp for a long time.
I strongly believe that the position that West Ham find themselves in now is a direct result of the backlash that Allardyce has felt from the fans for the past 12+ months. The brand of football that Allardyce has played for the past 3 years has been overly defensive and bland. For him, Premier League football is a results business, NOT entertainment. He’s your man if you need to grind out points over the course of a season.
People talk about the West Ham Way, but that is a misnomer. It has not been that way for a long time. The West Ham way goes back to the 60/70s when the West Ham teams were regularly playing in Europe and produced the likes of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, who all played a big part in the England team that won the World Cup in 1966.
I really thought that it would be hard for Sam to change his playing philosophy to change to a more offensive style, but he has proven me wrong with the players that have come in to do a job this season – Song, Sakho, Valencia, Cresswell, Jenkinson, Zarate. This is a team that is starting to gel and push on. These are definitely exciting time for Hammers fans!
My hope is that he can continue this throughout the season and not revert back to the long ball once Carroll is back in 2-3 weeks time. If he goes, I won’t lose sleep! The average manager doesn’t stay in the job more than a year nowadays, it’s just the way the EPL goes.
Chris: Lastly, any messages for the listeners of the World Soccer Talk Podcast?
Robin: Please keep listening to the pod! We on the pod are privileged to deliver our opinions about the EPL, but we definitely want to hear from you the listeners. So do us favor and keep writing in with your own EPL experiences, opinions and what is going right or wrong at your club. What makes the beautiful game so great is the conversation, the debate and our differences of opinion, otherwise what’s the point.
Cheers and C’mon You Irons!
Follow Robin Burt on Twitter @Burtiboy11 and listen to him on the World Soccer Talk Podcast every Sunday night on Stitcher, Tune-In, iTunes and the World Soccer Talk app.
200+ Channels With Sports & News
- Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
- Watch Premier League, Women’s World Cup, Euro 2024 & Gold Cup
The New Home of MLS
- Price: $14.99/mo. for MLS Season Pass
- Watch every MLS game including playoffs & Leagues Cup
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
- Price: $10.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $14.99/mo.)
- Features Bundesliga, LaLiga, Championship, & FA Cup
2,000+ soccer games per year
- Price: $5.99/mo
- Features Champions League, Serie A, Europa League & Brasileirāo