My West Ham Story
“You dirty northern b*******!” The terrace chant from our game against Burnley surely was one of the more unusual lullabies I had to sing to myself on Saturday Night (or Sunday morning, whatever way you wanna look at it) in order to get at least a few hours of sleep after an eventful day. Sleeping in the matchday lounge usually occupied by an electrical company and their prawn-sandwich munching guests was utterly bizarre.
I was keen to take in the mesmerising view around the four stands of the Boleyn dimly lit by some moonshine, so I stepped out on the balcony. Only the next morning I learned that the door actually was supposed to be locked as the other sleepover guests apparently couldn’t open their doors.
The West Ham hotel staff might want to check out the balcony doors in room 309. :-)
As my head was hitting the pillow in full glorious view of the Bobby Moore Stand I could try to recollect some of the many things I had experienced on matchday and the Friday before.
The Friday was mainly filled with having a stroll around my former place of work and residence. I couldn’t believe how much Barking had changed – and not necessarily for the better. Numerous pubs were boarded up, some apparently for several years already. The eyesore called Linton estate had been torn down and not only did Barking now feature a brandnew library with highspeed Internet connection but also, wait for it, some highrise buildings had been erected to offer luxury flats to the rich and famous elite roaming the streets of Barking. Luxury flats in Barking, if ever there was a bigger contradiction in the space of four words I have yet to hear it.
I had also paid a visit to some of my former colleagues at Hapag. How surprised I was when I learned from my former boss that I would be meeting the lovely trainee sitting just two metres away from us again the very next day as she was working as a West Ham matchday receptionist, a fact that should become vital the following day.
Then it was all about getting my ticket sorted out, our most favourite cabbie BSB told me on the phone he’d stop by in his cab, I was supposed to get in, we would drive for a bit and then we would sort out the exchange of ticket and cash. I was skeptical when I heard the idea, but as most of you will know BSB is good as gold and he was the first of the WHTID regulars I met and like the others about to follow each and everyone was fantastic company, witty, kind, welcoming, entertaining.
Next day started out noonish at the first watering hole, the Barking Dog. What used to be a depressing craphole in my memory had turned out to be a very decent pub with good service and a great choice of beer. And yet another smashing fellow in Barney Magrew. We had met only 60 seconds ago and yet we were already discussing various West Ham related issues. Which continued when Iron Liddy appeared. To be followed by Longtime Lurker and his son.
Suddenly we got bad news: Apparently West Ham were making trouble with regard to accepting our suitcases as check in for the sleepover was scheduled to take place no earlier than 8pm. I wasn’t looking forward to carrying my suitcase around all day, so I told Liddy we should make a little detour to the West Ham main reception area.
I was ready to throw a hissy fit, play the irate German who is throwing his toys out of the pram. All as a means to an aim.
What happened then can only be described as piece of p***. As who should we bump into there ? Sophie, the lovely Hapag trainee working her West Ham matchday shift.
It took us about 30 seconds to leave our stuff, give our thanks to Sophie and head on to pre-match pints in the Central where we met up with more WHTID regulars like russ, Heedsy, Toddyhammer. Again at the hazard of boring you to death I have to repeat the fact that every fan I met was a character, genuinely nice, funny and yes, even charming.
On to the game which has been discussed on here at length. It was my first time in the Chicken Run and I was impressed by the level of support there. The chanting never stopped. Nobody sat down there during the game, not for a minute. There were some decent verbal exchanges with the Burnley fans. And constant singing, including all the classics and yes, also the Miklosko song. Straight after the final whistle I made my way towards the Miller’s Well, the catchphrase of the day being “What happens in the Miller’s stays in the Miller’s!”. Not only did I meet a former mate there, to whose first wedding I had been invited 15 years ago, I saw even more illustrious WHTID guest: Safehands as official instigator of the sleepover, Billy, The Voice of Reason, Toddyhammer, Mr.Lids, Sean Whetstone, Nigel Kahn, Brian Williams plus wife, BSB plus wife and as special guest of honour Tony Hanna plus wife, coming all the way to Newham from Down Under.
What a treat! We drank, we chatted about the game, West Ham, life and death, football in England and football in Germany until it was time to head for the sleepover.
There was a nice evening dinner, more drinks and chat of course and MOTD. One has to say though that for a Premier League club there was precious little going in that West Ham bar that evening. One might even say it was a little bit dead in there.
Which brings me to the final thought about our stadium move.
Previously I had staunchly been pro move. Taking in the atmosphere now on matchday in the Boleyn, in Green Street and the pubs around the Barking Road, seeing and hearing our fans, smelling the stadium food and seeing the fanzine sellers and merchandising stalls, I got goosebumps. After all these years I had been away I had conveniently forgotten how much the Boleyn belongs to the East End. How important the matchday routines are for each and every individual fan.
How Upton Park is going to change once West Ham have moved away. As I was standing barefeet on the balcony of my West Ham hotel room at 2.48 at night I felt my eyes welling up. And I swore to myself to do two things. One: Come again in our final season for a proper farewell to this utterly beautiful and atmospheric football stadium.
And to check out the OS which I did the following Sunday. I paid a visit to the reservation centre. They obviously didn’t show me the virtual views from the seats as I was only a cheeky German tourist and not a bondholder. But of course they gave me all the marketing lingo about how fantastic everything would turn out for the fans and West Ham.
Yeah, right! I still think overall the OS on our doorstep was too good an opportunity to turn down. The move makes sense from a financial standpoint.
And of course us fans will gradually forge new matchday routines. But the cold, sterile atmosphere from the Westfield shopping complex didn’t fill me with confidence.
I’m sure the OS will be a great place where we can play our games and more fans can get tickets. But will it ever be a home like the Boleyn is ?
Thanks again for making this a weekend to remember for a long time. West Ham fans are special. Especially those who post on here regularly. I am proud to have a second family in East London. And I cannot wait to be back. One final time. In the Boleyn. Next season. COYI!