I have to admit, it’s snuck up on me. Being busy and all that, I knew it was happening. Expected it. But not really prepared for it. Hadn’t given it the space to unfold in my mind.
Next Tuesday, 10th May at around 9.30 in the evening, she will die. There will be singing, outpourings of emotion, crying. Oh, plenty, of crying. Then shortly afterwards, all will fall silent. We will have only memories to replay, to tell, to smile about.
Our Queen, the Boleyn Ground will shut its turnstiles for the last time. This means an awful lot to a lot of people. Me, I only have a small bit part. But a part that I now find is really important to me.
I have family history with Upton Park. My entire family is from there. My mum and dad, met and married. Lived in Colne street. My mums dad was a local butcher and my dads family were greengrocers in Queens market for generations. I say, were, still are. My wife’s family on her Dads side are all East Ham and are supporters. West Ham, are just, well, there.
I remember as a young boy being taken to see my nan, Elsie. There was an ugly tower block behind the market. She lived in that. I didn’t see her much, East End families can be odd like that.
My aunt Rita and uncle Big Len, lived round the corner. Big Len because of course their th son was Little Len. They had a stall on the market. Do to this day. Back in the day, it was frequented by players who were part of the community.
Our claim to fame is ‘Dapper’ Dan Woodard. A pre-war West Ham player and Captain I’m led to believe. On retiring he became the groundsman. He was there the night a V2 fell near the ground. I’m told he is in the West Ham museum.
My dad was not a bad player. Playing for West Ham ‘A’ team before an ankle injury put paid to that. When I was young i used to ask why his veins on his ankles were so pronounced. It was, he explained, a left over after his injury.
I was taken a quite a few times to Upton Park as a kid, but we lived in Essex, dad often worked 6 days a week. We were not regulars. But the inner kernal of it just sat quietly in you. It never died.
In 1980, Dad took me to Wembley for the Charity Shield against League winners Liverpool. We were FA Cup holders after Sir Trevor’s ‘diving’ header beat Arsenal. This was when, as a an 11 year old, the FA cup was simply the biggest football match that existed. As we walked up Wembley way, the old Twin towers giving me goose bumps, we were stopped by two Liverpool fans. This was when Liverpool were dominant. Winning everything.
‘Can’t go in there mate. That’s the Kop end’. They said to my dad. Up to that point, I’d never heard my dad swear. ‘You can fuck off, this is Wembley, not Anfield!’ he retorted. It was special day on ruined by Phil Parkes spilling a shot from Alan Kennedy for Terry McDermott to score the winner. Fortunes Always Hiding…
In 86, I was sitting down near the tunnel during the FA Cup Quarter Final against Man Utd. We had got a draw at Old Trafford and took them back to Upton Park. I remember the place being just full of noise. Not long into the game, Bryan Robson dislocated his troublesome shoulder again. It’s fair to say, that as he trudged off down the tunnel he did not get a lot of sympathy from the home support. We won 2-0. As Darren Hayman sings, ‘And sometimes for our sins, West Ham sometimes win’.
Time went on. And didn’t really head back to the ground too much. In 2000, living in Chicago, I stuck my new friend Chris with a liking for the Hammers that he lives with to this day. Sorry Chris.
In 2005 we once again made it to the FA Cup final. Against Liverpool. from 1980 I had unfinished business. My old friend Matt came to the house to watch. My son still talks of the noise we made, jumping up and down. My Brother-in-Law was in Cardiff that day. Every Hammers fan that day, lived the very being of Bubbles. We knew it couldn’t last, it doesn’t happen to us. Steven Gerrard, limping with cramp, from 30 yards, in the last minute.
‘And like my dreams they fade and die’.
In recent years, now that my son is old enough, I’ve been back a few times. Felt I had to take him. Don’t know why. Like a salmon returning to its river. In true West Ham style, his first match was a truly dire 1-1 with Doncaster. That’s real support. I’m pleased it wasn’t a 5-0 Barcelona style win, he would never have known the reality of being a West Ham. A crap 1-1 is where the truth is. Or was before this season.
Then my dad died a few years back. He would always watch a game on TV an lament the state of his beloved Hammers. Love, rage and resignation all in one emotion called ‘life long Irons supporter’.
I was fortunate that my brother in law scored some tickets for the Manchester City game at Upton Park in January. I knew it would be my last visit. Three of us went Paul, his dad and me. We got off the tube, walked down past the Market. I glanced in, looking for a stall. We drank it in. We bellowed Bubbles. By the time we had finished, we were 1-0 up in the first minute or so. The place was delirious. It was certainly the best West Ham team I had ever seen play. Aguero scored two to get City away with a point. They were lucky.
And now, it’s only now I realise, how much the place and the idea of the place is woven into who I have been, who I am. I’ve imparted a bit of that onto my eldest. At least he got a couple of visits to the old place. West Ham will go on to be a ‘big club’ with the Olympic Stadium money, but I now believe it will be a much poorer club forever.
Watch a great film here on The Guardian.