Sticking with it

I don't remember who the reserves were playing the first time I saw them at Upton Park in 1969; possibly Gillingham. But I do remember there were lots of goals and the whole experience was new and exciting - particularly the trip from Barkingside to Green Street in dad's navy blue Mk1 Cortina.

It was his way of escaping the house on a Saturday after a working week at Westwoods on the Isle of Dogs, where he was an engineering manager.

In the weeks following, we went twice more to see the stiffs before I was introduced to the real stuff; a midweek friendly against Slovan Bratislava on 2 February 1970. We got back at nearly 10pm - on a school night. I remember catching a glimpse of the hitherto verboten Sportsnight with Coleman just before bed.

I have since picked up programmes from games I saw the following season; Burnley, Spurs, Man Utd, Man City, Ipswich Town, Derby County, Wolves, Leeds and Blackpool. To this day I remember the scores, and the emotions of those early Saturdays in the West Stand, as well as the players I was privileged to see as a seven year old.

Hurst-Moore-Peters, Best-Law-Charlton, Bremner-Giles-Jones, Armfield. I could go on. We weren't that great all, or even most of the time. Of the games listed, West Ham won only three.

But the idea of supporting anyone else never entered my head, even during the bad times. And there were plenty of those in the 1970s; a tough footballing decade in all senses, leavened only by Wembley '75.

A move to the Anglo-Scottish steel town of Corby in 1972 was a fish-out-of-water experience that tested my loyalty to the limit, as every defeat triggered playground abuse the following morning. The Anderlecht final in 1976 was a particular 'highlight' in this respect.

Visits to the Boleyn were rare, and given our form in the late seventies, rarely successful. Until, that is, the Swansea FA Cup tie on 16 February 1980. I got a lift down the M1 in my college mate's Ford Anglia. To this day, I shudder at the idea of two teenagers, sans seatbelts, doing 70-plus down the fast lane.

Swansea played us off the pitch, and lost 2-0. It was the pivotal result of our Cup run. Of course we all know how and where it finished.

The next 12 months were a dream. The Charity Shield (to date my sole West Ham game at Wembley), the fabulous run to the League Cup final in 1981 and a runaway Division Two championship the same season - long overdue payback for the lean years.

Soon afterwards, I returned to London via a course at City University, though studying was never the priority. I was finally back home.

In the 43 years since, we've certainly seen some good times. Third place in 1986 was an unexpected delight - with the Chelsea defeat that April probably costing us the title. Reaching Europe under Redknapp was a good feeling; one that was topped by sixth place in 2021, the wonderful win in Lyon eleven months later and of course, Prague last year.

These days had to be earned - by loyalty through the bad times. My first trip to Anfield in April 1984 (an ill-advised jaunt in every respect, as I was just six weeks from my Finals) resulted in a 6-0 pasting. And like the more recent Arsenal experience, it could have been worse.

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At 4-0 after 20 minutes we were looking at double figures. Three weeks earlier, Leicester had played us off the pitch to win 4-1 at Filbert Street, part of a late season collapse that brought us just one win in 12 games and one point short of European football.

Into the nineties, and the classic 0-2 at relegation-bound, League Two Northampton, is a painful memory. But the game that stays with me is Bolton away on 19 April 2003. With West Ham undefeated in six games and relegation likely for the losers, we hoped for a battling display. It didn't happen.

Time, and a lingering sense of resentment may cloud my judgement, but from the away end that day, a team full of England internationals barely seemed to break sweat, losing a pivotal game 1-0. We went down - two points behind Bolton.

I'm quite fortunate as I'm slow to anger. In my middle age I try to worry only about things I can control, and let bad results (ie, Arsenal) be a downpayment on good ones, like Brentford. It isn't easy, but I'm helped by being exiled in Bradford and not subject to the Stratford pressure cooker every fortnight.

Distance and sheer cost mean I've made it to just one away game this season - the streaky win at Burnley. I also avoid radio phone-ins, and Simon Jordan, if we lose.

The phone-ins boil my blood at times, with fans, so-called, abusing their own players seemingly unaware of how ugly they sound. The message boards can be little better, as anonymous posters generate ill-feeling that festers on matchdays.

Someone should tell them there are worse things happening. If they turned on the news they would know. If they looked at the table they might know, too.

As I write, we're sitting eighth in the Premier League. Eighth, not 18th. For the love of God, let's support the club. If this means staying offline, or resisting the temptation to fuel an anti-West Ham agenda at TalkSport, then do it.

And, if you hate it that much, don't go to the games. Lend your seat to a mate, cancel your season ticket. Get rid of your anger in some other way. But don't take it out on our own players and create an atmosphere more akin to an away game. I challenge anyone to work well in such an environment.

Yes, we've had an iffy spell since Christmas (plus ca change!), but we need to stick with it. In my book, Prague last year bought the club and David Moyes in particular, a huge amount of credit.

It also showed that if we're patient, success will come, and on 7 June last year, with a trophy finally won, the defeats to Liverpool, Northampton, Bolton et al seemed like a fair swap. My dad would have been very proud.

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