Hello, my name is Jack and I support West Ham United, I made this reckless decision when I was 6-years-old. It’s weird that many of the teams we chose to support come from decisions made in our childhoods. You wouldn’t let a child make similar life-long commitments for you, but choosing a sports team is acceptable.
In my 20 years of supporting the Irons I have witnessed two relegations, a heartbreaking FA Cup Final loss and had many people laugh at my team. I wouldn’t change anything because supporting West Ham is part of my identity because they’re a great team to support.
This journey began in 1996, come with me as we re-visit my childhood growing up in the London suburb of Woodford Green – about 10 miles from Upton Park.
I was obsessed with football when I was a young lad, around this time my team hadn’t been firmly decided. Although I do recall an unusual affinity with Newcastle United.
I vividly remember the moment I decided that West Ham would be the team I chose to embrace. My 6-year-old self walked into the kitchen and overhead a conversation between my dad and uncle about West Ham; probably something innocuous. It just stuck with me. West….Ham, I thought it was a cool name.
In that moment my life changed, I stuck my colours to the good ship West Ham and set sail for a life of football mediocrity.
It was that same uncle who took me to my first ever football game, West Ham v Leeds United, 30 March 1998. I remember it well, arriving at Upton Park and taking our seats in the Bobby Moore Stand. We were quite high up so I had to lean forward on my seat to see some of the goals.
It was an amazing experience, football was so different live compared to what I had previously experienced on TV. The noise was incredible and everyone was singing rude songs; I knew that this was the team for me. We won 3-0 with goals from John Hartson, Samassi Abou and Ian Pearce.
My favourite player from this era was Abou, the French striker who would be lovingly booed by the Hammers fans every time he scored. He featured heavily in my video tape of great games during the 1997/98 season that I endlessly watched. Harry’s Hit Squad it was called.
This was a very good time to be supporting West Ham. Led by the immortal Harry Redknapp, we finished 8th that season and 5th the next [our highest ever Premier League finish]. In my childhood naivety I was under the impression that I had stumbled into supporting a legitimate footballing powerhouse.
At the time it seemed very believable, I’m sure there were adults who strongly believed this too. The club had a great core of promosing young talnet, most of whom left in heartbreaking circumstances.
Frank Lampard was emerging, Rio Ferdinand was the defensive rock, with Jermain Defoe and Joe Cole on the brink of the first team. I loved Ferdinand so much that I once wrote him a letter and sent him £2 in coins that I had saved in my room, just to show my appreciation of his talents. Of course I didn’t know he probably earned £2 every time he exhaled.
We had a great team back then, John Hartson and Eyal Berkovic were the creative force. Hartson banged in the goals while the Israeli magician would set them up.
This beloved partnership came to a screeching halt in 1998 when a video emerged of Hartson kicking Berkovic in the face. I was devastated when I watched the video on the news, I thought they were friends!
The previous season Hartson scored 24 goals, but after the training ground bust-up his form never recovered. Hartson was sold a few months later, which broke my little heart and made me cry.
Things worked out though, later in the 1998/99 campaign West Ham signed the recently disgraced Paolo Di Canio, who upset everyone for pushing over a referee while playing for Sheffield Wednesday.
All these years later, it still makes me laugh. Good times:
As you know, he went on to become a legend for the club, scoring the greatest goal in Premier League history.
These early days of West Ham fandom were dramatic and exciting and filled my little heart with love for the boys in claret and blue. It has endured over the subsequent years of disappointment because they make the highs more enjoyable.
Winning promotion back into the Premier League in the Championship Playoff Final was classic West Ham. They had spent the majority of the season in the automatic promotion places only to slip down at the end.
We won promotion regardless, it was the hard way to do things but it sums up West Ham. We never do things the hard way and that’s why I love them.
This article originally appeared on Brace the Hammer