A few weeks ago I was in London for Mark Noble’s testimonial game. I was asked probably a dozen times why I–an American–am a West Ham fan. I thought I’d share my personal West Ham origin story…
Like many Hammers, my father is the reason I support WHU, but there’s a twist. In fact, I’m fairly certain he wasn’t even aware of the existence of the team.
My dad passed away in 2013 from Multiple Myeloma (f*ck cancer). He was very passionate about traveling, and his last trip, to Europe, was cut short due to illness. I thought it fitting to use the bit of inheritance I got on my own European trip.
The trip was all over the place, hitting 7 countries in 15 days. I don’t usually gravitate towards typical tourist attractions, preferring the unique and often geeky things. I visited the village of Wells to see where Hot Fuzz–one of my all-time favorite movies–was filmed. I attended a triennial cat festival in a random village in Belgium, which involved a 4 hour parade followed by an hour-long tossing of plushie cats from the village’s massive cloth hall. You know, the usual.
While at The Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff, I met a Whovian traveling alone, so we ended up spending most of the day together. She told me about The Who Shop in London, which was immediately added to my London agenda.
Of the 4 days spent in London, only 1 was raining steadily all day (I know, I was amazed). This was the day I went to the cat cafe and then to The Who Shop. I spent most of the walk from the Upton Park station to Barking Road just trudging forward with my shoulders hunched and my hood up, despite the hoodie being soaked through. At one point, I notice a large structure to my left. Boleyn Ground, home of West Ham United.
This is a weird revelation for me. Some time ago I’d enjoyed a program called The IT Crowd. Long story short, nerdy guy trying to fit in with “proper men” names West Ham as his team, thinking he’s made the team up from seeing a ham in the pub, but then the whole table turns out to be Hammers.
So, finding myself realizing West Ham is a REAL real team I decide they will be MY team. That might sound odd, I know. I have thought about it, and with the other sports teams I support there was never really a moment where a conscious decision was made to be a fan. It’s either local area teams my family supported when I was growing up or the few teams I’ve eventually adopted after moving to a new area. This seems to be the normal way of it, I think, without a single moment of decision, but rather an inherited or slowly-grown loyalty you don’t ever find yourself questioning. But I’ve never considered myself to be exceedingly normal, so West Ham it shall be.
My vacation ended a few days later and, after a brief travel recovery period, I dove into the world of West Ham United. After reading up on their history, I get to more current news (this was the time after Big Sam but before Bilic was hired). I also spent countless hours on YouTube, watching old and new highlights, stories, and subscribing to relevant channels. On the one hand, it was probably good I started my self-education between seasons so I had time to learn as much as I could, but on the other hand, I was just impatient for games to start.
I had a lot to learn. I’m not overly into sports in general, and only casually support my local soccer team, so the official rules of the game were obviously important to get sorted out. I’ve also had to familiarize myself with football terms and UK slang. Cockney Rhyming Slang was an interesting discovery, but I’ve got enough of the common ones down that I don’t find myself getting confused as often. For everything else that doesn’t make sense, I am not shy about Googling. The announcers reference some person or event I’m not familiar with, I’ll look it up. The first time I heard the Payet song, I had to look up who Zidane was (that guy was intense). I’m still far from an expert, but these days I can answer more of my husband’s questions on my own than I need to research.
The first matches I watched were the Europa League qualifiers, poor quality online streaming on my phone propped next to my computer monitor while I worked. Eventually the regular season began and I was ecstatic to learn that the matches were aired by my cable provider.
I’ll admit at first I would record the early morning games and watch them when I woke up, but as it’s gotten more important to me, I now wake up early to watch them live. A few weeks ago I was in St Louis to attend a comic convention, and so I was back to watching a streaming video on my phone that morning, even for the first 20 mins walking around the convention until the game ended.
I decided it was important enough to me to attend at least one match at the Boleyn Ground, even if it was Noble’s testimonial and not a regular Premier League match, since that was the only thing I could get tickets to far enough in advance to make international travel plans for and that I could be reasonably sure the date of which wouldn’t be moved. It didn’t have the intensity I perceive from a competitive match, but I had such a great time and am absolutely glad I went.
I realize there are those that will never consider me a “true fan”, since I don’t have the lifelong history with the club, let alone attend every game, but the team has my love, support and loyalty regardless. My passion and enthusiasm has only continued to grow. I yell obscenities at the TV when one of the boys are fouled, I wear West Ham gear when watching every game, and I sing “Bubbles” with a bit of a Cockney accent because, really, it doesn’t sound right without it. One of my lifelong-supported teams hasn’t had the best performance record over the past 2-3 decades, so if West Ham’s success this season is short lived, I can handle it. However, I have a feeling they’ll shine bright for a while yet. COYI!!