It doesn’t have to be over

Well, that was rather emotional.

In many ways too, not just the storybook narrative that seemed to play out in picture perfect fashion.

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At the beginning of Sunday, the final home game of the season against Leeds Utd seemed just a dead rubber league game for our now safe squad of certainly Premier League players next season, but as it went on threads started to appear.

Our European finalists had done their job in the days prior and we were all venturing to the London Stadium to give them that rapturous heroes welcome. Overcoming the adversity of semi-final defeat last season felt like a huge mental obstacle to hurdle. They did just that with some aplomb.

A final for most of us of a certain era feels like an alien concept. A European one at that feels unprecedented for us all.

Most of us will have accepted by now that our captain is certain to depart in the summer. Declan Rice has only been club captain for a year, but it’s easy to forget, he has worn that armband as the on-pitch deputy for much longer.

As it happens, Rice; at 23, made his debut for the club six years ago. SIX. It feels like far less. And you’d be right because in a way it has. Lockdown football took away at least a year-and-a-half of us fans being able to watch Dec develop into the world class talent he is. In all that time we kept insisting, he’s the real deal, he’s a superstar, he’s worth £100million or more. Every time we were downplayed. But we were right all along of course.

So how fitting it is that with his future in doubt, Dec could only leave us wanting more. He had to score. That much felt certain.

Then there was the feeling that Dec’s seemingly inevitable departure might overshadow some of the club's other servants whose futures are uncertain.

Angelo Ogbonna, Lukasz Fabianski and even Vladimir Coufal all have contracts coming to a close in the near future. The feeling around the ground however suggested to me that goodbyes were not in order for those players. I expect that trio to remain on the books next season.

The same cannot be said however for Manuel Lanzini, who coincidentally scored the goal that sealed the game (with a little help from Lucas Paqueta’s dancing feet). That felt poignant too. Lanzini has given us some some spectacular spells of form over the years and scored many an important and wonderful goal. He’ll be remembered incredibly fondly.

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More to the point of this piece, came the final whistle. And the overwhelming emotions that followed. Having capped the final home game of the season off with three points, what was left was the annual end of season lap of honour. A few thousand members of our home support remained to applaud the squad for their efforts and say their goodbyes until next time. A chorus of 'Bubbles' rang round the stadium and, as it happened, it dawned on me that beside me my dad was beginning to get very emotional.

My dad you’ll all know as Rio on the KUMB Forum and he has been vocal in the last few weeks about the struggles that this season has brought us. Battling with Multiple Sclerosis has been challenging. Getting to games is hard work for him, standing throughout is harder. But hardest of all has been the constant thought that this season might be the last.

When I glanced over at him, eyes welling up, I knew instantly what was going through his head. Could this be the end?

I want this to be a "thank you" for all the kind messages and gestures sent to my dad over the last few weeks and months. A thank you too, to all the friends and family at West Ham that have always gone out of their way to come over to our section in the BML and say "hello".

But more to the point (and I know he’ll be reading this) I want it to be a reminder that this doesn’t have to be the end. While I’m still standing, I’ll get him to the stadium.

While our West Ham family still stop by for a catch up before and after the game, I’ll get him to the concourse.

And while those closest to us in the BML offer their kindness and support, I’ll get him in his seat.

Dad’s first game was in 1983, a Boxing Day fixture against Southampton. Over 1,000 games later, fast forward to 2023, 40 years on, there are still plenty more to come.

We look forward together to 7 June, though we’ll be hiding behind our sofa until the final whistle. Let’s hope our Irons can bring some silverware back from the Czech Republic, and above all, keep our European journey alive for at least one more year.

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