We reserve a special term of reference for West Ham in our household. We call them The Spoilers. The genesis of this particular nomenclature can be found in the events of the final day of the 1994/95 season when Ludek Mikloško performed improbable heroics in the Hammers’ goal to thwart a desperate Manchester United, consequently gifting Blackburn Rovers the title. A United fan she is, so Nina just won’t let it go. Similarly, West Ham’s role in the infamous ‘Lasagnegate’ match of 2006, which denied Spurs a first ever season in the Champions League continues to rankle the other half of this marriage.
As a couple, we simply detest West Ham. If it’s not their seeming delight in ruining others’ celebrations and seasons, it’s their cloying sentimentality towards upholding some mythical Cockney flame whilst boring the rest of us with how they ‘won’ the World Cup at every opportunity. Add Ray Winstone, as one of their celebrity number, to an already retch-inducing mix and you can probably comprehend why a United and Spurs supporter might not feel too bad for them whenever they suffer one of their habitual relegations.
As I write, we’re currently in the process of leaving the house we’ve lived in for five and a half years. Cardboard boxes filled with trinkets and mementos and dust-covered novels surround us whilst looking behind the fridge reveals hitherto ignored horrors that one delays tackling. With the home we have so loved living in gradually becoming a blank canvas for somebody else’s vision, it’s hard not to cast your mind back to all those life-defining times we have shared here. And it’s equally difficult not to submit oneself to an obscuring sense of melancholia.
This is the house after all, where I gave Nina a piggy-back as we crossed the threshold for the first time as husband and wife. It was the house that we brought Bonnie back to, flushed with the dizzying euphoria of becoming parents. There have been tears and much laughter heard within these walls. And of course, there was the football. Hundreds of matches: solitary, communal, heartbreaking, banal and intermittently joyous affairs. We watched them all with an ever-revolving cast of participants both on our television screen and in our home. I watched Spurs win a trophy in this house. Nina witnessed United win many. Bonnie was awoken from her infant dreams on many occasions by the uncontainable outbursts that followed a Gareth Bale goal – I’m putting money aside for her therapy, don’t worry. And let’s not forget that it was in this house where Nina dared me on the eve of the World Cup in 2010 to write a thousand words for each day of the tournament. Nearly three years on from that, posting Sunday’s Dispatch is as much a part of the weekend routine as a full English or a trip to Homebase.
So as we’ve prepared to turn the front door key of this house for the final time, I’ve found myself increasingly feeling a sense of empathy for West Ham fans who now find themselves in the opening stages of their long farewell to Upton Park. Admittedly, the opening two paragraphs of this piece may have been (slightly) tongue in cheek but for once, I can understand the conflicting emotions that they must be going through as they look towards taking up residence at the Olympic Stadium in 2016. Many Hammers I’ve spoken to understand the reasons for relocating. It’s designed to safeguard the long-term future of the club and by moving into a modern stadium with all its attendant amenities, Davids Sullivan and Gold and Karren Brady hope to attract the investment that would secure the club financially and hopefully bring success on the field. How can you argue against that when you consider the crippling financial state West Ham found themselves in a few seasons ago?
With such a move however, comes inevitable sacrifice. One of my former students responding to a question I asked about West Ham’s impending move, while accepting the necessity for moving nevertheless said that, “we’ll lose the history, heritage and memories of Upton Park”. I found that particularly poignant in that, here is a young man who never saw Bobby Moore play, who wasn’t born for the last time his team won a major domestic honour, who probably associates Frank Lampard more with Chelsea than West Ham but who regardless is fully attuned to the very lifeblood and identity of the club he loves.
The conflict of these emotions however, does lead you to consider what it actually is that makes a home a home. Do the bricks and glass that form the structural framework of your residence really merit the sadness Nina and I have felt this week as we’ve boxed up our material possessions? Or does a home comprise of the people and the shared moments you experience within those walls, wherever that may be?
When we give the keys over to this house’s new owner, a chapter of our lives will draw to a close. She’ll probably paint over the rainbow on Bonnie’s bedroom ceiling and our tribute to the Stone Roses in the shed. Just as Upton Park will more than likely be knocked down and turned into flats for the aspirational classes. We’ll know those things were once there though despite their and our absence. And we’ll know it was probably for the best. Nina and I have taken this decision to ensure our daughter has the best possible start in life that we can give her. Wherever we end up ultimately, the most important people in my life are close to me. They are my home.
It’s almost fitting that the final Spurs match I saw in our little semi-detached was the heart-breaking defeat on penalties to FC Basel. Meanwhile, Nina had to endure West Ham once again spoiling (but probably only briefly) United’s party on Wednesday night for her ‘final’ match. It just goes to show that wherever you are, Spurs will always aspire to self-destruction whilst Manchester United will more times than not, end up with a trophy at the end of a season, despite the occasional wobble. We could be moving to deepest, darkest Peru and it would be thus.
As for West Ham, there’s something reassuring about the fact that wherever they play football, they’ll always be known as The Spoilers by the members of the Theoharis household. Some things will always remain the same and that is strangely comforting.
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