Filed: Tuesday, 18th October 2016
By: Paul Walker
First things first. Sometime recently I got my football team back. Theyíd got lost along the way from the Boleyn to Stratford, and IĎd missed them.
Maybe they were huddled in a lock-up on West Ham Lane, who knows, but the team that had captivated Irons fans last season with their vitality, strength, team spirit, pulsating football and pride in our last season at the Boleyn, were becoming something of a myth.
The boss, Slaven Bilic, who managed the side on instinct and love was a pale shadow of the motivator who strode the touchlines at Upton Park, an animated driving force who took us to seventh spot and almost the Champions League.
So much must have changed in the summer as we looked homeless, listless and lost come the supposed brave new world in Stratford. The dozen or so new players looked just as lost--where was this iconic, famous East London club with a brilliant crowd they had been told they were joining?.
The atmosphere stank, the team ethos had evaporated, and the fans were seemingly at war with themselves and the board.
But then came Saturdayís trip to Selhurst Park. I watched it a couple of hundred miles away in a darkened room on an Ipad. I wonít pay a penny more for my TV football these days so my lad has somehow fixed it that I can watch his BT on my pad. Donít ask me how.
But I saw something that I thought had been lost. Verve, passion, desire, team work and belief. A team that ran itself into the ground for the common good. Yes they were playing for the manager, no he hadnít lost the dressing room and at last there was a shaft of light in a grey, dark season.
Even Simone Zaza did OK, and we could see just how much Slav has banked his West Ham career on the Italian. A firm hug and handshake, both men at the end looked clearly to really care.
I saw players throwing their shirts into our delirious fans at the endÖZaza, Jonathan Calleri, Nobes(of course), new players and old at one with their fans. Infact, I doubt I have witnessed the fans, board and players being united at any point so far this season.
Of course there has got to be more. So bad has the start t the season been. So itís back to the dreaded London Stadium for Saturdayís visit of bottom club Sunderland. Everyone knows we dare not lose that one.
Will the atmosphere be any better, will the Irons fans be able to put aside the many issues that still bother them and give the team 100 per cent? Who knows?
But thatís up to us, surely, no point in blaming the board, the ground owners, the people who run the trains(or not as has been the case)or the stadium itself. And if you read some of the forum feedback these days, there is a body of fans who actually like the stadium, want to make it work and their opinion is as valid as the folk with issues.
I also sense there is a view that enough is enough with the moaning, even if I fully understand the views of fans who have not enjoyed the experience in Stratford. They too have a right to a voice.
That was going to be about it from me on the subject until I was flicking through Sky(as you do when you are old and at home)and I came across a feature on Liverpoolís miracle in Istanbul, now some 11 years ago.
Back in the day when I worked for a living, I was fortunate enough to travel the world watching football, and having spent nearly 20 years in and around Liverpool, was in Turkey that week working.
But the TV feature, with Jamie Carragher actually speaking slowly in English, reminded me of something I had forgotten in all the complaining about athletics tracks and distance from the pitch. Even green plastic sheeting.
That Ataturk stadium was a horrible concrete bowl build on wasteland across the Bosphorus on the terribly poor Asian side of the city. The posh bit is on the western side where Galatasaray and Besiktas play and all the hotels and tourist stuff is.
Transport out to the stadium was a joke, thousands walked ten miles to get to the game, and the stadium was uncovered at both ends and many felt not fit for purpose(Now stop it you lot, I am not trying to compare with anything)
But the atmosphere was amazing, the noise deafening, and Milan fans played their part. You could not hear yourself think such was the passion and fury from the seats, all behind a track covered in green plastic. And no retractable seats.
That night will live with me. I am no Liverpool fan, but came to respect a proper, working class club and their fans(not all moaning Scousers) I have always felt that Liverpool and the East End are similar, although we do speak a different language. They have seen their docks and heavy industry destroyed, and they have been a welcoming new home for many different nationalities.
Liverpool and Milan fans that night showed that a track is no barrier to passion and fierce support. Donít get me wrong, I will always prefer a traditional British stadium, and I have wondered why me--amongst my group of(much younger)Irons fans--finds the track the least offensive.
And I have begun to realise that having visited so many grounds in Europe--particularly the east and what was the Iron Curtain-as well as World Cups, I am more used to it.
Yes, I know in the UK athletics tracks are hated at football grounds. And I go along with that. But, like Istanbul, there are so many stadiums around that have tracks and people handle it.
A quick look through my travelling log of years gone by shows Munich, Hysel, Athens, Monaco, San Sebastian (Sociadad) Las Palmas, Majorca, Kiev, Vienna (where England played last week), Hampden, Berlin, Stockholm, Moscow and Rome, to name just a few, where tracks are common place.
And I cannot recall a stadium in eastern Europe that was not community (Government) built with multi-use the key. So I have come to think that atmosphere can be created in a stadium like ours, if we try hard enough. Maybe we have been feeling too sorry for ourselves about what we have lost, to do our best to make what we have work.
I know itís not perfect. Itís not the Boleyn. But I have learned over my many years that there is no point raging against something you cannot change. Pick your battles.
And thatís where we are now. I fully understand the idea for a Trust to engage with the club(if they can be persuaded, and thatís a mute point)to put fans problems to the board.
But the one thing we are not going to change, because that time has gone, is our new home. Rich people, I have always felt, get what they want in the end. And they have got the stadium they wanted and the club has been reborn in Stratford.
They only way out, I fear, is not to come, if you dislike it that much. In effect to let the bosses win and rid themselves of the great unwashed. Well, I may not have too many years left to support my team, no Iím not about to peg it but as you get into your 60s and 70s, banging up and down to London from the north like I do may not be as appealing as it was in years to come.
So I donít plan to walk out on them now, they are my team wherever they play.
So it would be nice to go to the stadium on Saturday, to see the sort of performance they produced at Selhurst Park, and to create the sort of atmosphere 57,000 people should be able to produce, track or no track!
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
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