Saturday, 16 January 2016

Life as a West Ham supporter - like my dreams they fade and die

The first game I saw at West Ham United was one of the legendary Bobby Moore’s last for the club.

The game was not that memorable beyond being my first. I do remember hearing the great man swear, which I thought must be ok if Bobby Moore did it.

My Dad was not a regular match goer but the guy who lived opposite, Don, was. He attended every home game, seemingly standing in same square yard of space in the old main stand every week. Though later, in the early 1980s, Don suddenly packed up going to West Ham. I think there had been a me or football ultimatum in his marriage, he opted to save his marriage. West Ham were then replaced by a dog that he took out on a daily basis.

I went to further occasional games, when I (or my Dad) could find someone to take me along. That was until I was considered old enough to go on my own to matches.

One of the most memorable early games was the FA Cup final of 1975, when West Ham won 2-1 against Fulham, who by then included Moore in their team.

It was an exciting day for a 13 year old. There were three kids and two adults in our party at Wembley stadium that day. We nearly got crushed after one of the West Ham goals but that didn’t matter West Ham had won the cup. Expectations were raised, with a new young team. In the true traditions of West Ham, the club went from the bottom, losing games and battling relegation, to the top, winning the Cup and promising to go on to bigger and better things.

The pattern had already been established 10 years earlier when West Ham won the FA Cup for the first time in 1964. The team were back at Wembley 12 months later to win the European Cup Winners Cup. Moore was the captain on both occasions in a team that included two other members of what was to become the only England team to win the World Cup in 1966. Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters were to become part of West Ham and England folklore. Supporters still boast to this day that West Ham won the World Cup in 1966. After all, the club did have three of the outstanding players, who scored all four of England’s goals on the day.

Things though declined after 1966, West Ham always played attractive football but didn’t always win. Fans were guaranteed entertainment but not always the result they most desired. As a result a team of World Cup winners spent much of the late 1960s and early 1970s at the bottom of the old First Division, fighting off relegation, rather than challenging for the title.

I became a regular at the Boleyn ground from around 1975, attending most home games. The club were relegated in 1978 but then rebuilt a team to win the FA Cup again - this time in the second division. Unable to get a ticket to see Trevor Brooking score the goal that humbled the mighty Arsenal, I was part of the jubilant celebrations outside East Ham town hall the next day when the FA Cup was brought back to East London. Thousands filled the streets for a unique East End celebration.

West Ham then got back into the First Division, building another strong side that in the momentous 1985/86 season nearly won the league. The team came close but in the end was edged out by the Merseyside duo of Liverpool and Everton. It was as close as West Ham have ever come to lifting the title.

In those days, my weekends were dominated by football, playing for a football team on Saturday and Sunday mornings, going to West Ham on Saturday afternoon and watching highlights on the Sunday afternoon.

The West Ham fortunes were though again set to fade, going from championship challengers to relegation contenders inside a couple of seasons. By 1989 they were back in the second division. There then came a yoyo period with the club going up and down between the top flight and the second tier of English football.

A new age dawned in the mid-1990s, when a crop of excellent young players came through the West Ham ranks. The new stars included Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Jermaine Defoe and Glenn Johnson, all of whom were to go on to become seasoned England internationals. The sad thing was that unlike Moore, Hurst and Peters most of this crop of players reached the height of their performing skills playing for clubs other than West Ham.

The days of mega money and adulation had arrived with the Premier League. Lampard and Ferdinand left first whilst the remainder of this group of players shipped out over the next few years, most going after another unfortunate relegation for the club in 2003.

But again they were back a couple of seasons later.

Another trip to Wembley beckoned in 2006, with the club just a few minutes away from FA cup victory, prior to Liverpool’s Stephen Gerrard stepping up with a wonder goal to rescue the game for his team. The game remained deadlocked, going to penalties which Liverpool won. No open top bus celebrations this time.

My own final metamorphosis at West Ham began in 2008, when I started covering home games for a national newspaper. This has offered a glimpse of football from another angle. I do ofcourse have to be scrupulously objective in reporting the games and may, being aware of a tendency to bias, be overly generous to the opposition teams at times.

Football reporting offers a different aspect, with the manager’s views and insights offering a different pitch side view. Weirdly, sitting adjacent to the press box is a lad I used to play football with back in the 1980s. Little seems to have changed with him, he now targets the abuse he threw at team mates toward those he has paid to watch on a Saturday.

Possibly the most memorable game covered as a journalist was another play off final in 2012. West Ham had gone down again but bounced back under the manager ship of Sam Allardyce, winning the play off final 2-1 against Blackpool. Another great day, even if viewed this time from the refined seats of the Wembley press facilities.

West Ham are about to make the monumental move from their home of more than a century at the Boleyn ground to the Olympic Stadium. It will be a wrench for most supporters but with the club’s fortunes once again in the ascent, big things are expected. The team is improving and the move will see the club become a much bigger player in the football lexicon. So West Ham supporters are once again blowing bubbles and hoping for the best. Whatever the new stadium brings, what is for sure is that life as a West Ham supporter or objective journalist will never be dull.

* published Morning Star - 6/2/2016 - "The Boleyn - Home and Away"

1 comment:

  1. remember the West Ham v Ireland testimonial game for Tony Gale. so many Hammers fans wearing Ireland shirts that day. no crowd segregation. nice sunny day. loved it!