‘A true West Ham legend’: Tributes paid to lifelong Hammers fan and ex-academy driver

PUBLISHED: 17:00 15 June 2020

Dennis Lepine with West Ham and England midfielder Declan Rice. Picture: Lepine family

Dennis Lepine with West Ham and England midfielder Declan Rice. Picture: Lepine family

Lepine family

Tributes have poured in to West Ham fan and former club driver Dennis Lepine, who has passed away after a short cancer battle.

Dennis Lepine and son Billy. Picture: Lepine familyDennis Lepine and son Billy. Picture: Lepine family

Dennis, 57, from Hornchurch, followed the Hammers all his life and also ran a supporters’ coach for fans to travel to away games.

His son Billy confirmed that he passed away earlier this month after suffering from liver cancer and had spent some time at Saint Francis Hospice in Havering-atte-Bower.

Dennis worked for the club for more than a decade as a scout and then academy driver, where he got to know a number of players including England international Declan Rice.

Billy said that his dad was someone who always had a glass half full attitude to life.

Dennis Lepine with West Ham's Josh Cullen, who is on loan at Charlton Athletic. Picture: Lepine familyDennis Lepine with West Ham's Josh Cullen, who is on loan at Charlton Athletic. Picture: Lepine family

“Something I picked up from my dad was that he always built people up”, he said.

“In the world of academy football, it’s a little bit cutthroat. If the boys were down and had a bad session, he would always make them refocus on the things they did well, what they are good at and why they are at the club.”

Declan paid his respects to Dennis on Twitter, describing him as a man who “bled claret and blue”.

The midfielder said: “A man that treated me like one of his sons. A man that no one had a bad word to say about. A sad day not only for his family, but for me and West Ham. You’ll be missed Den, RIP. Love you mate.”

Fellow academy graduate Josh Cullen added: “Devastated to hear of the passing of Den.

“A true West Ham legend who it was a privilege to spend so many years with at the club. An all round great guy who had time for everyone. My thoughts are with all of his family and friends.”

Billy, also from Hornchurch, followed in his dad’s footsteps and has worked for the club for more than a decade where he is lead goalkeeping coach for nine to 18-year-olds.

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He said Declan’s support meant a lot to him.

“Declan turned up at the house a few times when he found out what was going on.

“The day my dad went into the hospice, Declan had his arm around me as my dad drove away. That was brilliant because obviously how much Declan meant to my dad and Declan has come out and said how much my dad meant to him and that’s part of the West Ham family. The last time I ever saw my dad, I’ve got Declan’s arm around me. It was a nice moment and it gave me strength.”

Billy revealed he received more than 300 texts from people paying their respects on the day his dad passed.

“For me, West Ham is a family club. I feel part of that family and this for me has strengthened those ties for me personally.

“Players who have moved on now, who are playing all around the world, are still messaging me and telling me stories about how my dad helped them and how he was a positive influence towards them. It has been one of the biggest factors in keeping me strong.”

Dennis told the club’s website in 2016, in a farewell piece to Upton Park, that his first West Ham game was a 1-1 draw with Southampton in the 1971/72 season.

He said: “I like to think I’m well respected and trusted within the West Ham community. Having followed the team for so long, you get to know everyone.”

Billy said Dennis enjoyed running the Hornchurch away coach and travelling with his friends to the games.

“Over the years, when you go to every game, all the fans know each other and I think you get a bit of clout because of it.

“He was proper West Ham people say and everyone is telling me he was such a fanatic, he put on the transport, he was a really likeable character and I think that’s why so many people have reached out.”

As well as Billy, Dennis leaves behind wife Jacqueline and daughter Penny.

A West Ham spokesperson confirmed the club is planning a tribute to go in the programme for the Hammers’ home game against Wolves on June 20, the first since the enforced break due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They added the club has also contacted Dennis’ family before and after his death to offer support.

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