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War drums

Filed: Sunday, 17th June 2012
By: Haim Baram

Less than a month ago I returned to my hotel in Marble Arch to watch the Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich. A mere 10 minutes remained until the ultimate ugliness would emerge on the TV screen.

I expected a bad game and was certain that Chelsea would steal it somehow. We had already endured the horrendous agony during the semi-finals against the superior Barcelona, but in spite of my lofty ideals about pure football I was not over-duly anxious. The really important game had ended exactly two hours before and my heart was not free for negligible matters such as the European championship.

The beautiful rendering of our hymn 'Bubbles' was still ringing in my ears. 40,000 West Ham supporters had sung it hundreds of times at Wembley during the crucial tie versus Blackpool. I could hardly remember such happiness at the end of a football match. Within 90 minutes everything had been determined: we were promoted; Blackpool were doomed for yet another season in the Championship.

Exactly 48 years after I had seen Bobby Moore lifting our first FA Cup on the very same pitch I was geared to go berserk once again, celebrating with much younger fans; most of then had not even been born in 1964. Ricardo Vaz Te scored our winning goal three minutes before the final whistle, and the arguably superior Blackpool ran out of time. The die was cast, and millions of pounds will enrich our coffers by August.

When (the excellent) referee Howard Webb blew the final whistle we were all flooded with waves of wild victory celebrations, devoid of even a shred of hatred towards Blackpool. Our rivals played well enough, their supporters cheered them to the end and they were very fair after the game.

They dispersed quickly, embarked on their sad trip to their coastal town in Lancashire, expecting a mediocre tourist season, overshadowed by the Olympic Games in London and heavily affected by the dour economic situation all over Europe. Maybe they will get some crumbs from the Olympic tourists and some English visitors will stay there to escape the hectic season in the South-East.

Actually, they had anticipated the defeat, after losing the two league matches against the Hammers and trailing behind us in the Championship table by 11 points. But at Wembley they were excellent, hence their noble heartbreak at the end. I could sympathize with them up to a certain point: in such fateful games even declared bleeding-hearts like me are primarily influenced by primordial instincts, devoid of any rational explanations.

It took a great deal of contemplation on the over-populated Bakerloo Line train back to my hotel to reach the sober and modest self-assessment of my behaviour during the celebrations at Wembley: despite all the seemingly sophisticated rhetoric I am actually a tribal, primitive person and therefore find it hard to reconcile reasoning and fine values with the boiling blood, the tears and the remnants of my basic ambivalence.

To be quite truthful, Big Samís football is not my ideal, and this is an extreme understatement. Perhaps Allardyce is not an ideologically defence-oriented manager, but the style of his teams is reminiscent of the 1950s in England. The ball floats in the air most of the time and we had all been educated by Ron Greenwood to cherish highly skilful and beautiful football, personified by Bobby Moore, Trevor Brooking and Alan Devonshire.

The fans complained during the season about Big Samís style: his WHU was very strong and physical but lacked finesse and we lost several vital points in our home games at Upton Park. The manager was frequently taunted, grumbled a lot about the scant credit he had received from the fans, despite their (justified) reputation as the most devoted and loyal in English football.

To be quite truthful I composed several anti-Allardyce comments myself, and they were published on KUMB. I even 'sent' the manager to work for the RAF as the ball is in the air most of the time. The professional verdict on Allardyce is not exactly flattering: we (just) missed automatic promotion with a bunch of players that are good enough to secure mid-table spot in the Premier League.

But the dramatic finale at Wembley has erased everything. In our collective memory, it will be forever etched as one of the greatest moments in the history of the club.

And how do I determine my own judgment? Personally I also love Barcelona with all my heart, not only politically and ideologically but also aesthetically. What have I got to do with Allardyceís football, except a tradition lasting more than four decades and profound feelings for West Ham?

If I had to wipe out real tears when our captain Kevin Nolan (not necessarily my favourite footballer) led his mates to a spontaneous and endearingly unruly victory run around the stadium, amid touching scenes of authentic merriment in the stands, the sentiment inside me is very deep. Football has caused me much happiness over the years, even if I mostly preferred the under-achievers (with the possible exception of Barcelona). If I examine our obvious shortcomings too closely, it will be tantamount to a man in love who scrutinizes his lover not with a naked eye, but through x-rays. It can be dangerous, even malignant and certainly is bound to destroy any real joy.

During the game itself and over the half-time break I sort of befriended a nice family from Essex, a bastion of ex-EastEnders and staunch West Ham supporters. The head of the family, a relatively elderly man was flanked by two of his daughters and his son-in-law. They seemed to be familiar with our history and I thought that this man, my immediate neighbour at Wembley, is perhaps one of the tiny minority among the fans in the stand who had been, like me, at the Preston FA Cup Final almost 50 years before.

I said nothing until the man said: "In the Final against Preston I was a bit angry with Ron Greenwood for replacing Martin Peters with that number four; sorry, I canít remember his name". His daughter was astonished to hear such heresy against Greenwood, obviously an icon in their household. So I interceded and said: "You must be thinking of Eddie Bovington". He was astounded and the entire family smiled at me as if I was their long lost brother.

We went to the station together after the commotion had subsided and his daughter told me that it wasnít my fault that the bosses had "inflicted Avram upon our heads". My retort to this ironic remark, embellished by utter friendliness, was short: "I hope Avram will end up in Millwall". The general laughter made it clear, that no further words about this thorny issue would be hurled in my direction.

I got off the train in Bond Street station and dined at a small Italian restaurant. Two English students were very curious about my match programme so we talked about West Ham. They thankfully took it for granted that a foreigner like me would travel from Jerusalem especially for the promotion match. For them, it was a natural manifestation of loyalty, nothing more.

I thought a lot about loyalty versus my principles and accepted that, in the crucial moments, the tribe comes first. When Blackpool drew level in the second half I sensed a real calamity, as if it was my last ever visit to Wembley with the Hammers. Our visits to Wembley are not all that frequent; prior to the Blackpool tie we had last been here 31 years ago, in the League Cup Final against Liverpool. I traveled to this game, too, and we were lucky to get a draw.

In this crucial promotion game we sensed that Blackpool had the upper hand, and even in my stand people were harbouring severe fears. But towards the end, our crowd began to gather momentum. West Ham seemed to be motivated by the surge of our supporters' enthusiasm, and the decisive goal was scored almost by the vocal crescendo created by the crowd. It was as if the 'Bubbles' song pushed the ball into the net, disregarding the events on the pitch.

Not only Big Sam and the players won the day; the entire community had risen to the occasion. I had discovered the enormity of the gap between my enthusiasm for Pep Guardiola's football and my emotional reconciliation with Allardyce. All this did not prevent me from cursing Chelsea and their dreadful football later that evening. People are very complex, and sometimes one must ignore the components of our complexity.

No glamorous game, not even the World Cup final could remove Wembley 2012 from my consciousness. Which is a better option (I was often asked this upon my return to Jerusalem): to sing Bubbles at Wembley with my fellow Hammers - or to sit in the press box in the Euro 2012 final? This is perhaps the easiest question I have had to answer in my life.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

Your Comments

by Hammer Down Under
12:00AM 20th Jun 2012
''Great article...

Living in Sydney, I couldn't get to Wembley myself (after a trip back in January when got to see the Forest game at home). At least taking my Aussie wife and teenage daughters to that Forest game they got to experience Upton Park, and after three weeks in Paris/London, what was the highlight of their trip ... you guessed it - West Ham!

How we play - the good old West Ham way (team of '81, boys of '86) ... well we ain't played that way for many a year. I am not a Sam fan, but hey, at the end of the day we went up. I hope we can consolidate this season with a mid table finish (and then maybe get in a manager who likes to play football). What is Sam's contract duration?

19th May... in Sydney we had the Sydney Hammers meet in a pub, decked out with claret and blue... probably a few hundred of us in there... what a night! Finishing a game at 2am in the morning (Sydney time) though has it's moments - COYI!


by sharon bonney
10:08PM 18th Jun 2012
''Lovely article about a very special day that I too was lucky to experience.

I went with my Dad who also went to the Preston Final. I have photos of me, aged four standing on the steps of the coach with my tin of bubbles, seeing my dad and his friend of to Wembley. What a privilege it was to share the 19th May with all those fantastic fans. I will never, ever forget it.''

by Tuckshop
09:09AM 18th Jun 2012
''I have to agree with you St EdHammer. I sit here in splendid isolation in Ireland and only get to see my Hammers on telly. I have watched very carefully, but have seen no evidence of long ball football apart from the second half against Birmingham and that seems to have been justified. I think people see what they expect to see sometimes.''

by jak1935
07:18AM 18th Jun 2012
''A very honest and thoughtful article. Just let the emotions ride over us, Wembley seems ages ago now, but would not have misssed it for a gold hat.

I too was at Wembley for both the Preston final followed by the European Cup Winners' Cup Final. Both great games, really nail biting stuff, but that's what we get supporting WHU, never a dull moment.

I remember my first game was just after the war, think it was against Brentford around 1947. I was passed down over the tops of the supporters to the front of the "Chicken Run". Cannot do that now, Health and Safety would have closed the ground. The old turnstiles where my father used to squeeze me in the turnstile gate with him think it was about 1/6d to get in or even two shillings ( 7.5p and 10p in today's money). Ernie Gregory was the 'keeper and we had an inside forward called Sam Small, all very nostalgic.

Ted Fenton was the manager then, I wonder what he would make of today's team and the way they play? I just hope that the fans give Sam support and not turn on him after a few defeats. I don't think it's going to be easy, as we have to stop frittering away silly goals with lapses of concentration, we certainly won't get away with it in the Premier League as we did in the Championship.

Never easy being a West Ham supporter.''

by Los Matillos
10:13PM 17th Jun 2012
''I agree with St EdHammer. I've been a supporter since 1958 and whilst I've seen us play a lot better many years ago ( e.g.1980 to 1986) the football this year has not been all in the air.

Whenever Collison is in the team they are able to play more on the floor, but Sam has had to nurse him back after his long injury. It's a long time since I've seen the team play with as much determination to win and to fight for the cause. Too often in the past we've had talented wimps wearing the shirt instead of the likes of Bonds and Di Canio giving their all for the team.

Sam seems to be instilling that steel in the team and with a few shrewd buys this summer should be able to serve up a team able to compete well in the Premier League on a consistent basis. Sorry to say despite how well Cole played at Wembley he is far too inconsistent (and is definitely not a natural goalscorer) and we need a top class striker to lead the line if we are to prosper next season.''

by redkipper
08:29PM 17th Jun 2012
''Haim you've expressed much of my thoughts when I walked away from Wembley amongst the happy Hammers, we had all gone through so much emotion during the game and could hardly believe the result.

I was at the home game when we won 4-0, even then I rated Blackpool as playing the better football to watch. So would we have been pleased if the roles were reversed; no way!

We have to accept that Big Sam has done a great job given the players he started with and the finacial situation of the club. I have confidense in him to move us to play the way that we all want; as when I first started being a Hammer watching the likes of Brooking and the great Billy Bonds.''

by patrickboyle
06:37PM 17th Jun 2012
''A great read, thanks. I live in Holland and every Saturday I try and watch the game on the computer wearing my West Ham shirt. My kids think I'm crazy...''

by steven lewin
12:53PM 17th Jun 2012
''Fantastic summing up. Like yourself I would not have been anywhere else in the world on 19th May. Bubbles, tears and pride filled the stadium; COYI.''

by k hall
11:32AM 17th Jun 2012
'':-) ''

by St EdHammer
10:17AM 17th Jun 2012
''You are clearly a longstanding fan like me and I enjoyed reading your thoughts very much indeed. However I disagree with the comment about the long ball.

I've been a season ticket holder for 20 years and supported the club for 25 years before that and I didnt feel I saw more long ball than in previous seasons. A lack of finesse maybe, but it's been a long time since that was a word you could associate with our football.

Sam's reputation predjudices him in my opinion; I think he's been a breath of fresh air and hope over the coming seasons he finally puts to bed all the rubbish that gets associated with him. Watching England this week hasn't been to dissimilar to watching West Ham last season: strong in defence and solid in midfield but a clear lack of creativity and outstanding goal scorer (Vaz Te all season would have sorted that).

Hopefully like England we will put that to rights sooner rather than later.''

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