When I was a kid, I fell in love with West Ham.
Before I even started to think about kissing girls, they were already and forever relegated to second in my infatuation, behind my beloved club. It wasn’t the performances on the pitch (not in the era of Morley and then Chapman as our strikers), it wasn’t our wonderful history and heritage, and it wasn’t Upton Park. It was the sense of togetherness. The West Ham family who all shared an unconditional love for an often underwhelming side. The little nod you’d get whenever you saw a fellow Hammers around town that said without words ‘one of us’.
It was the sense of togetherness. The West Ham family who all shared an unconditional love for an often underwhelming side. The little nod you’d get whenever you saw a fellow Hammer around town that said, without words, ‘one of us’.
On Saturday, against Watford, I started to wonder where that sense of family had gone.
The performance on the pitch, although disappointing, was in keeping with my past 26-odd years of following the club. Joyous high – 2-0 up within 30 minutes (it could have been more too) and witnessing an exquisite Payet assist – followed by an embarrassing and upsetting low as we threw it all away. Never has a marriage between song and side been more perfect than that of West Ham and ‘Bubbles’.
Off the pitch and so often recently on social media, the sense of togetherness is anything but the West Ham I fell in love with. From the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand I watched as pockets of trouble appeared in various parts of the East Stand, the wonderful looking ‘Kop’ styled stand that cascades upwards, awash with claret and blue, punctured by high visibility jackets and hats because West Ham fans were fighting West Ham fans.
And whilst up to my left some trouble between home and away fans is worrying, it is also easier to rectify than the rift between our own fan base.
The cause of this rift? The thing tearing our family apart? Standing.
Now, much like any family feud, the issue that causes the biggest reaction is not always the whole story but merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. Many fans didn’t want to leave Upton Park, especially to rent a stadium not built for football. Many believe we are becoming first and foremost a business who are ignoring the fans.
And so when the board informed us we needed to refrain from ‘persistent standing’, the fears of many were confirmed. The reaction has been a metaphorical (and in many cases very literal) two fingers up to the board. “West Ham United, we stand when we want”.
It is an understandable reaction from those who have followed our side standing up for as long as they can remember at Upton Park.
But the cost of that reaction is at the expense of others fans’ views and enjoyment. Fans who, like them, have gone to Upton Park for years and sat in their respective seats, cheering on the side. Fans who, unlike them, couldn’t afford to watch the club week in week out or who simply couldn’t get tickets to the best-attended ground in the top flight.
Part of their reason for doing so is that they believe that only by standing can they preserve the atmosphere that West Ham are famed for. It is a view that is somewhat misplaced. Upon watching highlights of games on Match of the Day, it’s clear that from Stoke to Liverpool to United and even up to Celtic, it is possible to create a great atmosphere without standing for the whole game.
Likewise, the atmosphere towards the end of Saturday’s game can only be described as poisonous. Those who have paid good money for their seat and wish to sit in it to watch are requesting to be able to do so, are met with hostility, accusations of being tourists or not true fans, and basically bearing the brunt of frustration that is really felt towards the board and our move in general. And in many
And in many cases, this frustration has boiled over into violence. A bit like being angry with your parents and thumping your brother in the arm.
The club has to take some responsibility for this. More could have been done to create a family section so younger and more elderly fans who simply can’t stand were grouped together. Stewards from Upton Park could have been brought over to the London Stadium who understand a football crowd and how to connect better with our fans, rather than the ‘heavy handed’ ones who only seem to escalate the situation ever further at the moment.
There could and should have been an explanation of what ‘persistent standing’ means and that standing whilst singing or when the action is exciting is acceptable, according to league regulations. We don’t need to be fearful of standing up if we love West Ham when invited to do so in song. We just need to be respectful enough to sit down for others who love West Ham too.
The club are at least trying, though. A statement issued yesterday suggests they are seeking to address the issue of under-trained stewards. They are also working on moving season ticket holders to create a family section and an area with more “vociferous” supporters. This will take time and may not be fully implemented until next season.
They are also, according to David Gold, exploring the option of a safe standing area. This, if at all attainable, will take even longer.
Until then, our family needs to stick together. We need to share a room with our brother whose taste in music differs drastically from ours and who snores until their room has finished being painted.
I wrote after the Bournemouth game that the real beauty of the London Stadium is that so many more fans can enjoy watching the team, especially the younger generation.
Many of that generation were led out of the stadium, some in tears, as the fighting kicked off on Saturday. It’s important that they are not scared off for good. That they too feel that sense of togetherness that caused me, and I’m sure many others, to fall in love with West Ham United in the first place.