I was born and brought up in southeast London. When I made the transition from primary to secondary school, I still had no team of my own. One day, a new boy from a place called Plaistow appeared in my class. At first we viewed him like the Victorians might have viewed a traveler from the Far East, never mind the Near East, but soon he and I hit it off. His father still took him back for West Ham home games, and one time I was invited along. And that was that. I now had my team. If his dad hadn’t invited me, it is very likely I would have been a Millwall or Charlton fan.
It wasn’t long before Ray and I made our own way to games, getting the bus to Woolwich, then walking under the tunnel, or sailing across on the ferry, before catching the 101 on the other side. Initially, I felt like a bit of a traitor, probably like Burgess, Philby and Maclean did, but just like them, I soon accepted West Ham in my heart like a metaphorical communist.
My earliest memories are of the European nights, Eintracht Frankfurt, and the little white programmes. It didn’t really get any better than that, so like many West Ham fans, many of my other fond memories are generally perverse but fun, singing our hearts out while being thrashed by six goals at Arsenal, QPR, and Oldham. But the thing was: we may have moaned, but I don’t remember calling for anyone’s head. We were all in it together, come what may. The fickle fan had yet to emerge.
Shortly after the “we almost won the league season”, I left Britain to live much of my subsequent life abroad. I’ve listened to games on cheap transistor radios in Los Angeles, stared at the Spanish version of teletext in Bilbao, hoping for it to change in West Ham’s favour and give me a boost before going out. I even wrote a match report for “Forever West Ham” once from a remote farmhouse halfway up a Spanish mountain, where I had moved to find myself.
I am now back in England and living in Hampshire. The last home game I saw was against Palermo, but the last time I saw West Ham live was at Southampton last season. And if it wasn’t for my friend, a Saint’s fan, buying me a ticket, I doubt if I would have gone.
The reason for this has been a fundamental change in the way I see elite football in general. The best posts on this site, for me, are when people reminisce: The almost mythical Eintracht Frankfurt game, the peanut thrower, the North Bank bar, etc.
Since the inception of the Premier League, the game has become sanitized – in fact it is almost a different game. The half and half scarves, kissing the badge – if you have to kiss the badge to show your loyalty, you are not loyal. I don’t remember Billy Bonds feeling that he had to kiss the badge every five minutes; he just showed his commitment on the field. Advice for budding writers comes to mind; show, don’t tell. Probably the worst sin of all in modern football has to be the sock over the knee; it takes but little imagination to see that a suspender belt is merely a couple of seasons away.
So, to support, or not to support, that was my original question. I see the word support as meaning upholding and making a financial contribution to something you believe in. I no longer believe in a game that pays very average Premier League players more in a week than a nurse earns in four years.
And so I come to the sorry conclusion, I can no longer say I support West Ham, but I do follow the Hammers all the time. Can’t help myself.