An Unusual Feeling Of Empathy For West Ham Fans

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.

Further reading:

Home Is Where The Hart Is: Why I Love White Hart Lane

Follow Dispatches Twitter: @Sofalife


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13 Responses to An Unusual Feeling Of Empathy For West Ham Fans

  1. Richard brett April 21, 2013 at 11:00 am #

    What was west ham’s role in lasagnegate exactly? They won the game fair and square, had the result gone the other way I don’t think you would have seen West Ham running to the media with their excuses.

  2. Steve April 21, 2013 at 11:39 am #

    One thing about “Lasagnagate” you should know, that 4 days before the game, there was a stomach bug going around the Tottenham training ground that crippled 1/2 the Spurs team for 24 hours. It returned on the Saturday night. The Tottenham heirachy knew it was a bug, but released a false statement blaming a “dodgy lasagna”, in an effort to have the game called off; this was a sheer piece of Goebells like propaganda. What amazes me, is that 90% of Spurs fans still believe the lie. Don’t believe me? Check it out by a simple google search….O, and also, yes we do prattle on far too much about “we won the world cup in 66” it’s true; but we don’t forever go on saying “we’re a big club”,,,who cares, you still win as much as we do!

  3. PT April 21, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

    The ‘cloying sentimentality’ you mention is non existent. Every article written by rival supporters insists on talking about jellied eels, knees ups etc , etc , etc. It’s not us that perpetuates the stereotype.

  4. Hams April 21, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    I have never heard one fan day West Ham won the World Cup without being slightly tongue in cheek. Anyone sane person would know that it takes a whole team to win a World Cup, although without Bale Spurs are top half team not champions league.

    Spurs fans are always making excuses for failure. Ballsh*t food poisoning, last year Arsenal paid off West Brom’s GK and there will be one this year when they fail to qualify for the Champs league because they choke when in control.

  5. Philtheiron April 21, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    What the!?!! I have never heard such a load of self serving, pretentious boll#}%ks in my life! I am West Ham end of! I couldn’t give a monkey’s about the spuds,manc’s or anyone else for that matter! I am only interested in my club! I mind my own business suggest you do the same! also you could do everyone a favour the next time you are practicing for a booker prize and pick another subject! (Preferably one you know something about).That way you wouldn’t waste so many people’s time! COYI!

  6. Brendan April 21, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    West Ham had nothing to do with the hotel catering. They did however introduce Spurs fans to a new theme song that day, ‘Ring of Fire’.

  7. JayDee April 21, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    The reason West Ham put more effort into their games against Man United than any other team (whilst generally rolling over for rival London teams) is because of the beating they took in 1967 at Upton Park when United won 6-1 to win the title. Happy days indeed.

    They didn’t like that and resolved to ensure it didn’t happen again, which it hasn’t. They get all their beatings against United at Old Trafford now.

    Chin, chin.

  8. Brendan April 21, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    Does that include the win we had with Tevez. It was almost worth paying the 10m fine to see Fergies face after that game. Or does it include the thrashing we gave united in the League Cup a couple of years ago. .

  9. Casper April 21, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

    The United comment above is typical of the absolute rubbish they come out with. It is easy for them to have a dig at West Ham but they need to be comparing themselves to the best sides in the Champions League and once again when it really mattered this season they blew out and that is what is going to continue to happen

  10. MrTinkles April 21, 2013 at 8:28 pm #

    Lol…I think perhaps you need a new nickname for West Ham; or at least for some of their fans, if the above comments are anything to go by.
    The “wetakeourselvestooseriously”, perhaps?
    Or the “wecantrecogniseabitofgentleribbing”?

    Or are you just trying to a bit more twitter culling? :)

  11. jammer April 21, 2013 at 10:06 pm #

    Love the fact that we (west ham) are being talked about … Yes the article is pathetic, written by a moron … but I would always rather be talked about than not …. Any spurs fan would give their right arm to have the kind of support that only a west ham crowd can offer …

  12. Greg April 21, 2013 at 10:14 pm #

    Wow! So much bile for a couple of paragraphs of gentle teasing. You all take it so personally. Clearly the sentiment was lost on you, so all those lovely Hammers who felt so affronted by a piece which actually discussed moving from your home and how painful that could be, this one’s for you > – Sadly, the vitriol negates all the good will but thankfully there are quite a few decent West Ham fans out there.

  13. Paul April 22, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    Spiritual Heimat is what you are referring to.

    BTW we did win the World Cup

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