These Are the Best Days

As an - albeit exiled - West Ham fan, I swallowed hard at the Brighton result, gave thanks for another European berth next season and got on with my life. That is, until I read the post-mortems.

Scrolling through the post-season content on KUMB, I startled to feel like Michael Palin's Ben, the terminally grumpy, heavily-bearded prisoner in Life of Brian. The scene in question has me hanging by my wrists in a footballing jail, growling the words 'Lucky Bastard!' at my cell mate.

Before me, possibly played by the Plaistow equivalent of Graham Chapman, is a West Ham fan of more recent vintage, complaining about the club's 'collapse' to seventh place this season - and a mere European play-off spot. And this after a season when a squad of barely 16 players slogged their way through 56 games, giving us some tremendous memories along the way.

At the risk of sounding like a mindless optimist, I think we are living through a golden age at West Ham in terms of results. Sixth place last season was fabulous, as was the Europa League run this term, with the astonishing display in Lyon a personal highlight.

But this hasn't always been reflected in West Ham-related content online. Some recent articles - more indicative of a failed relegation battle than an heroic European campaign - took me back 19 years, and not in a good way.

On 19th April 2003, I was at Bolton's then-Reebok Stadium to see a West Ham team including Joe Cole, Trevor Sinclair and Jermaine Defoe fall to supine defeat in a relegation six pointer at Bolton. The fact that only two points separated the clubs at season's end shows how pivotal the game was. Not that you'd have known it from the performance.

With many of the team, Defoe in particular, 'heavily linked' with other clubs after the previous year's World Cup, the lack of urgency from the West Ham XI was palpable, with the only fight from the visitors coming in injury time when Ian Pearce was sent off.

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So with this and similar games etched on my West Ham battle standard, (0-6 at Anfield, 1984 anyone?) you will understand why I've enjoyed the past two seasons so much, despite the underwhelming end to 2021/22. Phone-ins and message boards make it very easy to complain these days, and some people really need to get over themselves.

We are not entitled to be in the top six. We have to earn it, and this season the Brighton game was one too far for a small squad that ran out of gas.

So instead of the Europa League group stage, we have (gasp!) a knock-out tie in the Europa Conference which, with a decent draw and a following wind, we could win. It's very similar to previous sudden-death European campaigns that resulted in quarter finals or better.

Had you even suggested this on that depressing afternoon at Bolton you'd have been laughed out of the away end. These are great days at West Ham, and we are fortunate indeed. Let's not forget that.

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