As a fan from the United States who did not grow up as a soccer fan this is a question I struggle with regularly, not because I do not know the answer but because it is hard to articulate to my fellow American fans. Even the vocabulary is tough for me, because I find myself referring to the game as football only to have confused looks cast my way. {In America, football is an altogether different game of course, where the purpose seems to be causing as much physical damage to yourself and others as possible.}
Almost all of the fans I know here who follow EPL teams follow either Arsenal, Chelsea, or of course Manchester United. It is infuriating to talk to these people who always respond with something between bewilderment and contempt when they find out I follow West Ham United. I try to explain to them that the history is meaningful and the tradition of the club matters to me and get looked at like my face has sprouted extra ears or eyes. They say things like “who will you root for once they get relegated?” They laugh and say “you must not like winning.” It is, quite simply, infuriating.
Now, I am a live and let live sort of person and I understand the sensibilities of these people. They want to follow a team they think is going somewhere and one that gets a lot of attention on television and in the news. They aren’t actually particularly tied to any team, they just picked one they had heard of and that is who they are following. I can’t live like that though. So, I thought I would try to sound out, as clearly as possible, what West Ham means to me.
Tradition: The tradition of the club is simply astounding. The fans know who they are and know what it means to be a hammer. Nothing pleased me so much about the Tottenham game as hearing “Forever Blowing Bubbles” come through my television sung by deliriously happy fans who love the same team I love even though we are separated by an ocean. Whether it is the declaration that West Ham is “Moore than just a football club,” or the homage paid to both past and present members of the team I have always felt like would be right at home if I were to ever make the journey to east London to spend a day rooting for the team in person.
History: I covered this in my very first article here, so I think it is enough to say that I simply love the history of the club. It is gritty and real. It has its ups and downs. In many ways the greatest moment for West Ham was not for club but for country. It just feels real and right to me. The club’s emblem (which is on a flag that covers my living room wall,) looks as old as it is and looks like it will stand the test of time and be here long after I am gone. I like that feeling. It isn’t something you can manufacture. It has to occur naturally, over time.
Future: I know, I know. One of these things is not like the other. I also know that optimism is not something that most of the fans wear right out on their sleeves. I can’t help it. I feel great about the future for West Ham United. I outlined part of why I feel that way- Ravel Morrison is amazing (we all know that,) but we also have a lot of other excellent talent on the team at a blend of ages. Additionally, it sounds like there are some great players coming up through the ranks that will give us a wonderful base to build on as we make the move to Olympic Stadium. The move to Olympic Stadium is another reason I am hopeful about the future. I know it will not be the same as our current ground, but I can’t help but feel it will coincide with more money and efforts to build an even better team.
So, there it is, perhaps overly simplified and certainly written with the naivete of an American fan. But that is how I feel. The happiest part of my week is when I get to root for West Ham. I spend time each day looking at news about the team and twice as much time scouring twitter. I love watching the team play, reading about the team, and now writing about it. West Ham may not be my first sports love (that is reserved for a baseball team,) but it is my greatest sports love…and for me it doesn’t get any better than that.