This has nothing and everything to do with being a Sunderland supporter. My old colleague Charlie Whebell is a West Ham fan, though he’d never pronounce the H, as you’ll see below. Tonight he’ll be at what we call Upton Park and ‘ammers call the Boleyn – but only in spirit – as his team bids farewell to the old place with one last game, against Man Utd. He’s actually thousands of miles away in Abu Dhabi, where every Premier League game is screened, so will miss nothing except the incomparable feeling of being in the ground itself. He wishes he could be in the East End and probably considered using up his annual free flight home to make it happen.
These thoughts, posted by Charlie on Facebook, will resonate with anyone who remembers leaving Roker Park, anyone whose memories go back to an era before purpose-built stadiums, good as our version undoubtedly is, and also anyone who just values the idea of being utterly passionate about your club and whatever corner of the world it was where you were born or grew up or have an unbreakable bond with …
I know there will be many who think I’m pathetic but tonight will be an extremely emotional time for me.
My team will be playing at the Boleyn Ground for the very last time. How I wish I was there. But I will be watching on TV.
Remembering the times when my nan lived in a prefab just yards from the Chicken Run. Where me and the other local children used to collect the balls that were kicked over the tin roof into the road and rush to give them back at the turnstiles. And 20 minutes from the final whistle when the gates were opened to let people out we used to creep in.
I’ll remember when my dad thought I was old enough to see 90 minutes and made a little box for me to stand on so I could see over the Chicken Run wall. I had a wooden rattle which I lovingly painted claret and blue and painted the names of my heroes on it. Every fortnight it was my church. My love. Me and my dad together holding hands as we walked home discussing how on earth we lost yet another match.
I’ll remember when my dad was 90 and I took him to his last match. VIP treatment all the way. Private box, lunch, beer, and photographs taken with some of the players. “Blimey, that was alright wasn’t it,” he said as we went to my car parked in the private car park.
I’ll remember taking my son Daniel. Watching his face as we lost yet another game. But like my grandad – who went to Wembley in 1923 for the FA Cup final (another defeat) in his wheelchair, he lost his legs in WW1 – that passion that love has never wavered.
I’ll remember the smell of hamburgers the look of joy on my dad’s face when we did actually win a match. The hugs he gave me.
I’ll remember hugging Daniel when we scored a goal.
I’ll remember the tears I shed when I laid flowers outside the ground when Bobby Moore died.
You might call it pathetic but I’m sure my Daniel, and my other “pathetic” West Ham friends, Andreas Auer, Marie Parkes, Gillian Humphrey, Neil Dick, Steve Bull, and thousands of other West ‘am fans – never trust anyone who pronounces the h on Ham – will be just like me tonight.
It’s a family, a congregation. The last time I went to the Boleyn was with my son for a victory last Christmas. When I asked my son if he was going to try to get a ticket for tonight he replied: “My first game there was with you and I want my last game to be there to be with you too.”
Pathetic? Yes I’ll be emotional tonight watching the game in an Abu Dhabi pub but …
I’ll be happy with my memories.