“The Robber Barons of old at least left something tangible in their wake; a coal mine, a railroad, banks. This man leaves nothing. He creates nothing. He builds nothing. He runs nothing. And in his wake lies nothing but a blizzard of paper to cover the pain” Jorgensen Address – Other People’s Money.
Many within the West Ham family feel as if the soul has been ripped out of the club and fed to the hungry wolves with little left to admire nor align to. With any degree of change and motion of progress, there will always be those who are cut off from the advancing ranks and left behind like dishonoured soldiers on the field of battle.
When the first words were uttered some years ago about upping sticks and moving to the London Stadium, I felt incredibly uneasy about the whole situation and to this day at least I know in my heart that I never wanted to leave and knew it was a bad idea.
On reflection, those days seemed to wash over me like a distant conflict…somehow disassociated, beyond my comprehension and lacking rhyme nor reason. I felt at the time that I could not do anything about it. I did not have the vehicle to vent my frustrations and objections, nor did I have the purpose to challenge the owners before they made their final play.
Who was I then and who am I now? I am a mere supporter of over 40yrs who has seen a few games at home and away, have been forced to admire from the other side of the world at times, have failed to gain and hold onto season tickets for other of life’s lessons but now find myself trying to impart my passion for my club onto my son…the next generation Hammers fan.
I felt uncomfortable with the move without clarity of thought. I appreciated that the football club was in the heart of the community and was the lifeblood for many of people’s hopes, dreams and sanity. Just like many football stadia around the world, they were originally created within the community and grew up together like best friends, brothers and sisters, old acquaintances that never would part.
Lives and livelihoods would be generated in the shadows of the rising stands and within the echoes of roaring fans. The club pumped blood along the arteries that flowed from it, shopkeeps, cafes, pubs would tick over only to rev up on any given match day…or night. This wasn’t just my support, this wasn’t just our club…this was a whole community that has been left stranded on a raft…oarless and floating away downstream.
In my formative years, travelling to Upton Park was not only a pilgrimage…it was also a rite of passage for a wayward thinker and individualist. I grew up in rural England where friends and relatives would only support Manchester United, Liverpool or some of the Midlands teams. I knew what I liked from a very young age…I knew that a team so far my eyes was the only team for me. I was nursed on quality football and reinforced by Match of the Day revealings and England team connections,
At the age of 12, I would hop onto another team supporters bus, disguised in anonymity and travel the length of the country to get into grounds like Old Trafford, Anfield, Highfield Road and Molineux. If I couldn’t get a ticket to get in with the West Ham fans, then I’d confidently go in with the home fans. Anonymous, subversive and quietly urging my team on to victory. This was the early eighties, when football was less sanitised, less family-friendly but more accessible and within reach of ordinary folk like myself.
These were the days of Goddard, Cross, Van der Elst, Cottee and McAvennie to supplement the stoic heroes from our FA Cup glories. The club was buzzing, the community was thriving and Upton Park was an intimidating place for any opposition to come and play. My match day games would be preceded by three hours of travel to arrive a couple of hours in advance to soak up the atmosphere in and out of the ground…This was my club, these were some of my early experiences and the reason for going to games was always more than just the match…it was everything inside and out.
For a few years whilst in foreign lands, I was a stranger to the area and to the games but scoured incessantly for news stories about the club, insanely rearranging my days in order to listen to the world service on the BBC…all prior to the internet, YouTube and social media of course. In many ways this geographic disconnect made me feel more connected to the club than I ever thought possible. I yearned to be back there in the flesh…Absence really does make the heart grow fonder!
On my return, I managed to get a ticket for a midweek game, which were increasingly difficult to come by in my circumstances, but also ended up in a protest against the incumbent owner Brown. Always far away but no less impassioned for my club and its predicaments. However, I knew that I had managed to get back to the club and the community that made my match day experience all the more richer and rosier, and that was all that mattered.
Since then I try to get to as many games as possible but my new experiences, whilst may appear to be pleasant…are not a shade on what was once before. Newer isn’t always better, change isn’t always for good and new isn’t the master of old.
The new experience has left behind much of what made West Ham United a club that reflected the community and the fanbase. The move was supposed to enrich our lives, it was supposed to protect livelihoods and include opportunities for local businesses to have a presence at the new stadium…but that has failed in delivery.
The old flavours and odours have gone leaving behind the stench of betrayal and the new aroma of bleach, uncompromising insanity and Americana. Why are we paying such ludicrous prices for watered down ales, burgers and hot dogs, doughnuts and cappuccinos…not to mention the popcorn flinging harpies? Why has the footballing experience, that fans were promised would be better, has for many got a lot worse? There are so many questions with very few answers and even fewer rectifications and consolations.
Like many of the faithful, I feel there are traditions that should never be diluted and a heritage that should forever be included. Change is a fact of life but current football club ownership demographics would fail to acknowledge such importance, unlike supporters who would act as reminders of histories and conduits for future legacies.
Upton Park had the familiarity of Cox’s Apples and Conference Pears layered with lashings of, “Hello Treacle” but we’ve ditched the pie and mash dish in favour of Stratford isolation, disassociated watering holes, carrot baton eating interlopers, popcorn feeding nincompoops with a bag full of radiation apples and imported dragon fruits.