So much of my childhood was lost to dreams of other places and untouchable gains. The 1970s was a strange time to grow up…the 60’s had witnessed a cultural revolution and freedom of expression was the order of the day which butted up against convention and conservatism. There was supposed to be bright coloured days and flowers that powered the narrowing of social divide…but all I got was flared trousers, brown corduroys, power cuts and a TV that would allow my mind to escape the thick fog of winter and the haze of summer days.
Many find sanity in outdoor pursuits or art, song…even baking is the new avant-garde! Mine was split between two main attractions…football and Evel Knieval! At any early aged I was schooled by my father, with limited vocabulary, to look for good quality football. The result is less important than the manner in which the game is played…and that has stayed with me until this day.
I’ve always had a huge connection with motorcycling and that passion runs deep, just as that for West Ham United does. But I was less attracted to Knievel for his stunts…moreover for his life and story. The notion that any man would ride his bike up a ramp to jump over buses just made me beam…but what intrigued me more was that although he crashed more times than even he would have liked to remember, the fact that he got up…recovered and wanted to do it all again…now that was a great story!
Growing up I had the freedom to venture outside, disappear for the day or be forced to toil in my parent’s firm. It was a different age with alien values and practices that modern children might demand as their right. I could read a book and fall head first through the wardrobe and be right there dodging the witch or eating my dinner with the lion. I could watch TV and find solace in obscure foreign language programs or oriental masters at work in tales of Chinese Dynasties and rogue warriors…even Japanese heroes floating around on pink clouds would hold my attention for much longer than was possibly healthy.
It was never about what I was watching, hearing or reading…it was the story behind the story, the tell within the tale that grabbed my attention and got me hooked on stories and storytelling. Still to this day I can remember obscure stories, passages of play and visions or flickering images…and I use them to help me cope with the absurdity of modern life…being reflective has a way making the jagged edges less sharp and the flow of daily slumber a little less viscous.
The face of football has changed from what it once was…the players are finely tuned athletes as opposed to rugged ball kickers, the game has become sanitised and the terraces became seated with standing permitted only for momentary celebrations. However, the biggest change has undoubtedly been the impact of money…not only for the elite players but also for those starting out in the club academies. There is such a mammoth divide between the stalwarts of Premiership standings to those clubs of lower leagues that there is almost a completely different game in play.
Even West Ham have succumbed to over inflated player salaries to entice new warriors to our cause, but still reserved in purchase prices whilst other clubs leave us behind. The millions upon millions generated by Premiership clubs is also matched by the millions in costs…agents have become power players and player power has belittled the worth of manager’s opinions and edicts.
Being a fan of West Ham is not based upon our successes or failures but rather a life filled with highs and lows…’If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same’ – Rudyard Kipling. It is a relationship with a club that has changed as you have, has matured as you have done and has mirrored life’s challenges that have been thrown your way.
I have reached a point in my life that many fathers have ventured to tread…to impart wisdom upon the children and pass on footballing passions. Only a couple of years ago did my son show any inclination towards footballing pastimes and whilst I wanted him to make up his own mind about a choice of team to support, I found myself becoming the storyteller once more…imparting my passion and my relationship with a club that has been with me since the age of 4yrs old. Many would think this a romantic tale, but I’ll admit that some strategy was in play and that a 47yr old man had loaded the deck somewhat in his favour.
I always look back into the West Ham past and attempt to trigger the memories of my association. This helps me relate to our modern game and forward thinking club that would venture to leave us and the traditions behind. “Dwell on the past and you’ll lose an eye; forget the past and you’ll lose both eyes” – Old Russian Proverb. However I do this now more than I have ever done before, as an education for a new Hammer that will only know the current abode and the modern game. Even in these early supporting days, the game and club is changing with alarming pace, so the stories of the past seem even more pertinent.
I do not reside in history, nor do I lord in past victories or wallow in failures that shed tears and fuelled anger…but I fear that any new fan may become as empty as a future club that has become disconnected with the traditions of the core support and as distanced from the haves and have nots in an ever widening chasm. I feel a responsibility to tell these stories, to impart past wisdoms to fuel a burgeoning relationship with a club that may well be filled with pain and frustration.
We can look at any situation that life throws at us and we might find something of a West Ham identity within it. A child may scoff at the ‘Old Ways’ but may find delight that some of our old ways are now modern practices. Like core strengthening and balance associated with dance and current training trends was actually being practiced by West Ham players of the past whilst having ballet lessons…yes Ballet!
We may be living in a dream like existence where heroes and warriors fight for glory, honour, power and reward…but in the end it’s still The Monkey and The Water Margin!