The (ex) Rev's Christmas message

  • by Elwin Cockett
  • Monday, 24th December 2012

Elwin Cockett is the former Chaplain of West Ham United FC and the current Archdeacon of West Ham. Every year he pens a Christmas message for the readers of KUMB, which this year looks back at a wonderful year for east London - and the prospect of an equally exciting future...

Just like my dreams..?

Whoever decided to include "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics was a genius. I'd guess that for West Ham fans around the world that was one of the great 'tingle factor' moments in a year full of such moments. It was if the organisers were acknowledging that just as the Olympics were London's games, the UK's games and, in another sense, the world's games, they were also our games - West Ham's games.

That's not only because the Olympic stadium stands in the old borough of West Ham, although we can be proud of that, or because the games were based in East London, in contrast to the 1908 and 1948 Olympics. It was also because as the world-wide TV audience of billions heard "Bubbles" ring out from that stadium for the first time we realised that, politics and jealous rivals notwithstanding, that remarkable place was always destined to be our home.

It's not a done deal yet, of course. Like anyone who has ever moved house, we won't quite believe it until we're there. But we're starting to believe in the vision of those who first imagined that our club could thrive there.

Of course, if we do move we're going to miss Upton Park. A midweek game under the lights at the Boleyn Ground is still a special experience. But we have to acknowledge that it is actually in East Ham, and that, in truth, it lacks the atmosphere it had in the past, when fans stood in packed terraces within feet of the touchline and banter with the players was part of the experience. The game has changed and, while we will miss the best of the past, we can make sure that the future is as good as it can be if we return to our roots in West Ham.

I say 'we' because we are all part of our club, and therefore all part of the future of our club.

If you were lucky enough, as I was, to spend time in the Olympic Park, you will have been impressed by the buildings, the organisation and the events, and probably thrilled by the athletes' performances. But what impressed me most was the attitude of the crowds.

It was as if everyone was determined to have the best possible experience together, but without the need to denigrate anyone else. There were no negative chants, no racism, no abuse of the opposition, and no boos, apart from well-deserved ones for politicians (Why anyone responsible for cutting benefits for disabled people would expect a welcome at the Paralympics I don't know). The atmosphere was still electric, and the celebration every time our athletes won was as loud as anything I've ever heard, so we didn't lose anything. And, for a little while, many of us wondered whether football could be like that one day.

I'd like to think that the volunteers and the armed forces helped in that. We were all grateful to the young squaddies who took on the unfamiliar task of dealing cheerfully with thousands of visitors while carrying out the serious task keeping us safe. They, along with the 70,000 Gamesmakers were the ones who made London 2012 go with a smile.

I met a lot of them in my role as a Chaplain to the games. Quite a few of them were West Ham fans. Remarkably, however tired they got and however menial their tasks, they all seem to have had an amazing time. They felt that they were part of a community doing something that mattered. They were positive in their attitudes and optimistic about the future, and that positivity and optimism spilled over into the people they met and the crowds in their venues. They made me proud of East London.

"Come on you Irons..."

So what has all that got to do with Christmas? Well, Christmas is a time when we appreciate things like community, friendship and family. That applies to believers and non-believers alike. We have a chance to stop and appreciate others, to show our gratitude, and to show goodwill to all, including those less fortunate than ourselves. To seek, in the words of the angels, 'peace on Earth and good will to men'.

As we look to 2013 and whatever lies beyond, is it possible that those thoughts - along with the best of all that we have experienced in 2013 - could inspire us to a better future?

I'm really proud of much of what goes on behind the scenes among West Ham fans. I know of so many who give time and money to worthwhile causes, so many who are contributing in different ways to their communities, or who are simply good neighbours. Our club's fans can be the salt of the earth.

Maybe preparing to move to a new home gives us a chance to think about how we can do things even better? Maybe seeing how the 2012 games succeeded gives us an opportunity to see how the West Ham experience can be improved for everyone? Maybe understanding that we're all part of a greater community, whether we're part of the West Ham family or not, could inspire us all to greater things on behalf of our fellow men and women? The only limit to that is our imagination, it seems to me.

And maybe, just maybe, if we get it right, if together we can live up to our dreams, we can start to look forward to many more tingle-factor moments in years to come, with "Bubbles" sung with pride from every corner of our new home, back in West Ham once more.

Meanwhile, Happy Christmas, everyone!
Elwin - Archdeacon of West Ham and one-time chaplain to West Ham United FC

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