May 07

'I'm forever blowing bubbles'

Posted by SoccerHistory
I'm forever blowing bubbles

An article on the Wales Online website for Thursday 5 May suggests that West Ham’s anthem ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ “might have been stolen” from Swansea Town fans. Swansea fans had been singing ‘Bubbles’ at matches in the early 1920s, and, apparently, West Ham fans were impressed when they heard this at a series of FA Cup ties between the clubs in January 1922, subsequently adopting it themselves.

I have researched singing by Swansea fans in some detail and produced two articles on the subject: ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’: singing by Swansea Town fans in the 1920s (Soccer History issue 23); ‘Bubbles’, ‘Abe my boy’ and ‘the Fowler war cry’: singing at the Vetch Field in the 1920s’ (Sport in Society, vol 17, 3, April 2014) but have found no evidence that this was the case.

This is what I wrote in the Soccer History article:

Finally, what evidence exists for the suggestion that West Ham fans adopted the song ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ after hearing it sung in an FA Cup tie at the Vetch Field in January 1922? The answer is there appears to be no connection. While it is the case that Swansea fans had been singing ‘Bubbles’ the previous season, the band engaged for the match at the Vetch Field was the Artillery Band, which is reported to have performed “pleasing and military music” (Football Post, 7 January 1922), the same source notes that “there was no singing” before the game. ‘Bubbles’ was certainly a popular song that appeared on the programme played on many occasions at bands both at the Vetch Field and elsewhere at the time. As previously noted, it was played by the band at Millwall later that season, and almost certainly elsewhere. It would seem that this was an era of ‘Bubbles mania,’ the popular song becoming associated with a well-known advertisement for Pears Soap and the image of a young boy with curly hair, but there is no specific evidence to indicate that West Ham supporters drew their inspiration to adopt the song from these cup-ties (the match went to a second replay at Ashton Gate before being resolved).

It was in the 1920s that singing began to take off at football grounds. The stadiums were better developed, crowds were bigger (especially for FA Cup ties) and the presence of covered terracing helped amplify the sound. When big crowds were expected clubs often open the gates at least two hours before kick-off and employed bands to entertain the spectators. While some bands (especially military bands) stuck to formal tunes, others played the popular music hall hits of the day, and of course ‘Bubbles’ was the biggest hit of the early 1920s. It is therefore not surprising that ‘Bubbles’ was sung at Swansea, West Ham,  Millwall, and probably at other grounds at this time. Fans at the Vetch Field would wave white handkerchiefs in the air when singing the song.

Swansea fans had a wide repertoire of music hall songs in the 1920s including ‘Abe my boy’ and, later, a version of ‘Chick, Chick, Chick Chicken’ in homage to star forward Jack Fowler:

                         Fow-fow-fow Fowler,
                         Shoot a little goal for me,
                         We haven’t had a goal since last time
                         And now its half-past three

Singing at grounds was, of course boosted by the introduction of community singing during the 1926-27 season. This was heavily promoted by newspapers such as the Daily Express and the Manchester-based Daily Dispatch as part of their marketing policies.

In conclusion, I believe the Hammers ‘Bubbles’ anthem is almost certainly a song developed by the fans independently and not copied from other clubs.