Supporting West Ham United is filled with constant highs and lows and during my own lifetime of following the club, I have loved every second of it.
It was the 21st of November 1999 that five-year-old me first had a matchday experience at our beloved and sorely missed Upton Park. My late dad, Graham Palmer, who was as passionate a supporter as any, and my oldest brother James travelled up by train through the jubilee to West Ham then onto the district line to Upton Park.
Watching on as hundreds, thousands of fans, almost like a sea of claret and blue were shuffling forwards to exit the station and head for the ground.
I remember walking past the various local pubs, hearing the songs being chanted from inside The Boleyn pub, my dad would always stop at the matchday programme stand, but this particular one also were selling programmes for games years gone by and my dad would tell me about each game when I had questions to ask.
To then entering this beautiful stadium which felt so rustic from the inside yet modern as we entered into the terraces and we were seated up in what we knew as the Dr. Martins stand at that time, my first time watching the players walk out on the pitch…
West Ham fortunes always hiding
The roar from the fans as the music would cut out in the clubs anthem ‘Bubbles’, I instantly fell in love with football and in particular with West Ham.
Little did I know, my first game went on to be a high goal-scoring thriller finishing 4-3 to the hammers with goals from Wanchope, Di Canio, Marc-Vivien Foe and Lampard just edging the tie after West Ham had fallen behind twice earlier in the game.
After each game, my dad would stay behind hours to collect signatures. We still to this day have the books of signatures from players dating back to early 1900s whom my dad had written to in earlier years. He had every player who had played for the West Ham be it a one-minute appearance or had played for the club for several years.
One of the stewards at Upton Park noticed my dad would spend hours each game holding his collection album and kindly offered access to wait by the doors as the players would leave as opposed to behind the car park gates so he could ensure best chance to get the players he needed to sign.
George McCartney, a player he had needed for a long time finally signed on this occasion and I will always remember my dad asking him why he would never sign for anyone and George replied ‘I just try to keep my head down you know’ with his thick Irish accent and my dad just laughed it off.
We would also after games be hunting for newspaper clippings for previous matches as my dad had put together so many books with articles for each game and the match reports, it truly was a work of art and is no wonder why the passion he had lives on within me. Graham Palmer, our dad, ashes now lay at the memorial grounds outside The Boleyn Ground.
Fast forward to now and sadly I cannot go to the games with my him anymore, I have seen West Ham relegated twice, promoted twice, lose a playoff final and an FA Cup final, watched us change stadium and manager countless times, the unforgettable final season at The Boleyn but I have loved every second of it.
That final game at Upton Park, in a 3-2 win over Manchester United, meant more to me than just the football and saying farewell to the stadium. My dad passed in 2010 so wasn’t around to witness the end of an era and all of my memories with him that we shared at the ground came rushing back to me that night. What a way to bow out it was!
Anyone who knows me will tell you I am one of the most pessimistic West Ham fans you will ever meet, after years of fortunes hiding I sit and bite my nails with every minute that passes during the games, praying that the team won’t ruin my weekend!
We all have our own stories but no matter how frustrating the team can be to watch at times, not this season at least, I will always don the claret and blue shirt proudly upon my chest and shout ‘COME ON YOU IRONS’, my oldest brother and I passionately follow this team like so many thousands of others and will do so always and pass on to the next generation like our dad did before us.
Onto Leeds United on Monday night as we watch the hammers continue the push for a place amongst the elite clubs next season as game by game we wait for when we can return to the stadium to get behind the team once more.