How does an American who grew up playing baseball and watching American football become a West Ham United fan or even a fan of the English Premier League and other European football leagues in general?
How does someone grow up in a culture that is permeated with the idea that it isn’t “real football,” or even a “real sport,” come to a place in their life where it is their favorite sport?
How does a person whose society insists on calling the game soccer work so hard to avoid using that word?
These are just some of the questions I will try to answer in this new space that has been graciously offered to me. I will also share my perspective on all things related to West Ham, and occasionally other topics related to the sport. First though I want to talk about my evolution as a sports fan and how I came to be here, writing at Moorethanjustaclub.com
I did not discover an interest in the sport Americans call soccer until the end of high school years. Sure, I had watched the ’94 World Cup because it was played in the United States but I really had no idea what I was watching or how the sport was actually played. My entire understanding of the game basically came down to the fact that you couldn’t use your hands. We never played the game in my gym classes and I grew up playing baseball and basketball, which are all about the use of one’s hands.
However, by 1998 I was entering my senior year of high school and my best friend in life had just finished winning a state championship as the goalie for his school’s soccer team. He and I talked about the game a lot, or at least he talked and I listened. I began to learn the nuances of the game by watching with him during that year’s World Cup and I was starting to get hooked. The intricacies of the game and the beauty of it being played at its highest level were both stunning and addicting to me. Alas, when the World Cup was over there were no more games to watch; our cable company did not carry any channels which showed the top English or European leagues at the time.
A year later and by the spring of 2000 I was seeing commercials for the UEFA European Championships. I was once again able to see this game that I was slowly coming to love. I had learned a little bit about the Premier League and other leagues around the world but it was still very rare for a game of any true prominence to be viewable for me. I took the time to enjoy watching the European Championship games that were aired and was convinced that this would have to sate me until the next World Cup. The following year was my introduction to West Ham United.
The following year I was not attending school, I was taking (or being forced to take) a year off because of academic indiscretion (I had found shooting pool and playing chess preferable to attending classes and was shocked to find the school found this to be unacceptable behavior.) However, I was still living in the college town and hanging out with all of my friends. During that time a new friend entered our circle. Dave was an American who had spent time living in London and was completely enthralled with European football and the EPL in particular. He and I became fast friends and through him I learned in surprising detail about, what was for me, a new world of sports. I heard all about his father being a Leeds United Fan and that clubs horrific fall from grace. I heard about living in London and attending games throughout the city. One of the most surprising things to learn was about relegation battles and the sheer number of teams and leagues that were fighting one another for promotion, relegation, and the FA Cup.
I also learned about West Ham United, because Dave was a West Ham fan. If the amount of knowledge he held about English football in general was overwhelming than it was doubly so when it came to West Ham United. He knew all about Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds despite never seeing them play. He knew about their songs and their history, the great triumphs and failures of the team. For a person whose entire knowledge of English clubs was basically held to Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool, this was astounding to me.
So I started to read. I read about all of the clubs. I read about their rivalries and their great players. I read about their managers and their fans. I read about hooliganism and Margaret Thatcher’s war on English football. Through it all Dave encouraged me to find a team that I wanted to support. But by then I was already sure it would be West Ham. East London did not sound so different to me from the neighborhoods of Philadelphia I was familiar with and I could imagine, had I grown up there, that I would have loved the Hammers; so I did.
Most of my exposure to the sport at the level of the Premier League was still through reading about games rather than watching them, but I read about all of them. I rooted for West Ham through relegation and their return in 2004. I was able to watch the FA Cup final against Liverpool and was crushed at the end. I rooted for them again through relegation in 2011. Only this time it was so much worse for me; you see, now I could watch Premier League games and it was heartbreaking to not be able to watch the team that I had come to love so much.
I was able to watch the play-off final against Blackpool in 2012 and was thrilled to be able to see them secure a return to the EPL. Last year was the first year I was able to see most of West Ham’s games. The two that stick out in my mind the most are the upset of Chelsea and the win against Manchester United. What’s that you say? We didn’t beat Manchester United? I say we did. Robin Van Persie was offside by a car length.
So, that is my evolution as a West Ham United fan. I am sure I will go into greater detail as time rolls on, but that is the bare bones of the story at any rate. I am excited for this season. I think we have a good team that is going to get better. I am excited for the move to Olympic Stadium and hope that the club is right in that it will help push us forward to become one of the top clubs. But most of all I am just excited to be a West Ham fan in what I am hoping will become a golden age for the club.