WEST WHO ? That is what I have been asked dozens of times around the world. They say why not Manchester United or Liverpool ? Well to put it politely how many of those fans have you met who have never even been close to their teams stadium or even city ? It has always been a bug bear of mine meeting people, especially fellow Englishmen who follow ‘glory teams’. What possible fun can be derived from ‘following’ a team you never get to see unless from your armchair that wins all the time ?
I chose for no other reason than to be different to support my localish team, the poor relations of the London clubs. Young friends looked out for Arsenal and Tottenham I only had eyes for the Claret & Blue from Upton Park. I finally talked my dad into first taking me to a game when I was nearly 8. The final game of the 1974/5 season versus Aston Villa. I remember nothing of the game, just how big everything appeared, how colourful the stadium was and how I was an inch too short to see over the wall of the West Side Lower stand !! The following season I was taken for treats and in holiday seasons but by this time I think my father had got quite taken with it too having never really been a regular fan, more a player in his younger days it was a great way for us to be together on Saturday afternoon (when they still played games at 3pm !) Over the next few years we built up to every other home game. By this time I could not get enough of it and my dad was having to work more and more weekends so a deal was struck. My parents would provide the cash for me to jump on the train and to go through the turnstiles and my paper-round would subsidize my now monthly trips around the country to away games. I started my regular travels rapidly working my down the list of stadia in the then First Division. This all occurred in the early to mid 80’s, not exactly the best time for English footie. Trouble was in the air, there is no point in denying it, especially with West Ham’s previous reputation but it all added up to the whole experience. A few bumps, bruises, chases and scares only added to the experience ! Now as allegedly a mature 30 something I wonder how I managed not to get a serious kicking on occasions but both me and my crowd all lived to tell the tale.
As teenage years gave way to my twenties my football was everything. Mates I grew up with fell by the wayside, unable to understand why a trip in January to Sunderland was more enticing than another night out at some crappy niteclub. After 85/86 which to date was our best season for eons a couple of us managed to get left behind in Liverpool after the season finale versus Everton which was an experience to say the least ! A new group of pals came together around that time. All refugees from little crowds of their own.. Our crew grew and grew. It made sense to keep together as we were having such a crack so I started hiring coaches for all these games in the second division where we were by then. To this day many of them are still the best friends a man could have and together we experienced the joys of such venues of legends as Hull, Grimsby, Bradford et all. The coach trips were a riot ! Beer and bacon sarnies at 7am as we headed, usually North, out of Stratford. "Boys videos" all journey long supplemented by beer, beer and more beer and football come mid afternoon followed by more of the former usually complete with a drunked singalong karioke on the way home. We were not exactly the sort to sport our colours so we nearly always managed to do our own thing without to much bother from the boys in blue though one day we decided we would stand out from the crowd. A good few of us had completed a 100% season, every home and away league and cup game which is a feat not be sniffed at in my opinion so on the way home from some godforsaken part of the country one night we drunkenly agreed to have a fancy dress day to the last away game at Blackburn. It was agreed a fine would be levied against non compliers and the proceeds would be invested in alcohol which seemed to prompt all these hooligans to toe the line. A motley crew met one Saturday at 7am at Stratford, what a sight we must have been ! It was led by me, Jimmy, Reedy and Jason as the Sgt. Pepper era Beatles together with Freddie Kruger, The Flintstone, Bart Simpson, Rambo, fat policeman, Americans and cub scouts and even a St. Trinians girl resplendent in ‘her’ stockings, suspenders and trainers !! It capped of a drunken but great year. Needless to say WHU lost as usual but as usual we had a great day out.
AC Milan ? Inter Milan ? Nab Ceremonies......NEAR Milan !! That was the extent of my European travels with The Hammers, well that and a friendly game in Munich, no NOT Bayern TSV !! A crowd of us spent four action filled days in the Italian fashion capital. It was certainly an eye opener to say the least what with the local whores using a hotel as knocking shop, the transvestite population parading their wares at the end of the street and junkies littering the park with needles. Add to that a little run in with the calabineri when they set us up in the train station we certainly came back to attend the next game the ‘friendly’ den versus Milwall with a tale or two. Munich was not much different actually though that ended up even more unsavory after a good pal spent six weeks inside for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Life is never dull watching WHU.
Still going strong I managed to clock up two and a half years, 160 games on the trot until I was forced to miss one. It had to come as it was getting a bit out of hand. Those were great days though and I would do it again, even the zenith data debacle in the sub zero temperatures at Luton or the silly midweek trips to places like Wrexham and Stoke however as you get older other things come into play. Right now, May 98 I am exiled working in Singapore which has meant me loaning my now 17 year old season ticket to my old pal Jason. I must confess though in recent years I have not been as steadfast as in the past. That said I still got to more games than many but just not up to my previous standards. In the interim I met and married a beautiful girl from New York who has slowly began to understand my passion for the game and in particular West Ham, she rolls her eyes when I impart the news I fully hope our young son Ryan will also get the bug.