My last home game was February 2nd 1986. The 1985-86 season was magical; competing for the 1st Division and the FA Cup. Along with my wife, I was leaving England on February 6th to start a new career and life in the US, specifically New York City.
That Saturday was cold and wet, and a mist seemed to be hanging over the pitch for the entire game. Inside the ground, I took up my usual position in the North Bank. I looked around, took it all in, occasionally nodding to other regulars. The opposition on that day was Manchester United. Always a difficult team to beat, and on that day I really wanted to win, and to leave happy and content. Bryan Robson did his best to ruin my day, when he latched onto a through ball and poked it past a diving Parkesy. United led 1-0 at half-time. The second half produced two moments that were mine to treasure, as the next time the Hammers played a league game at Upton Park, I would be 3,500 miles away.
Moment #1: In my mind it was Alvin Martin who made the tackle and got the ball to Devonshire. The pitch was muddy and heavy, yet Devonshire just glided through the midfield, played a one-two and laid the ball off to Ward, whose shot beat the keeper and nestled in the far corner of the net. The crowd erupted. Moment #2: That blond coiffed hair, yes the one and only Frank McAvennie, challenged for what seemed to be an innocuous ball, yet it took a weird bounce forward towards United’s box. I have to admit, Tony Cottee, was never one of my favorite players. Even though he was home grown, I always thought he was a bit “soft”. However, when he got to the ball first and squeezed his shot under the charging keeper, none of that mattered, the ball went in and again the crowd went bananas! For me it was an unforgettable match. It sounded like everyone sang until the final whistle, and being selfish, I had that victory over Man United!
That day I didn’t rush out, didn’t run to the tube station or the car. I lingered. I watched; I took with me all that is Upton Park that day, and along with the 14 years of memories, safely tucked them away in my heart. On Thursday February 6th 1986, my wife and I boarded a plant at Heathrow, bound for NYC. Now do you remember 1986? No Dual Core PC’s or Laptops, No Internet, No Wifi, No IPhone, Android or Blackberry, No Tablets, No HDTV, No LCD TV’s or Monitors, No Fanzines, No Sky Sports or Fox Sport and and I had no real idea what “Cable TV” was. Here’s what there was for me across the Pond: Rotary Phones, Calls Home, Newspapers and BBC World Service.
By the end of February, we found an apartment and started to settle into our new environment. Luckily for me, the weather in the UK had been bad enough that West Ham didn’t play another league game until mid-March, when they would travel to Highbury. I knew this because my Dad was a huge Arsenal fan, and every time I called home, he would mention the upcoming game! That particular Saturday came and went, we had just been “hooked-up” with cable and I tried every single channel, but found no football news or results.
On Sunday, I bought the New York Times. The Sunday edition is about four inches high, it’s “full” of different sections and magazines but sadly no English football results. My last resort was to call home and my Dad gleefully told me that Arsenal had won. I let him have his moment, but needed to read about the game. Old habits die hard.
I was working Downtown Manhattan, in the shadow of the World Trade Center complex, which housed a large shopping complex underneath the two towers. I had heard from a guy at the office that there were news stands that had “foreign newspapers”. Monday lunchtime, I went “Sunday Paper” hunting. I was rewarded by finding this particular news stand that seemed to have every newspaper from every country in the world! I grabbed the Sunday Express, Mirror and News of the World. Cost, close to $20. An expensive addiction, especially to read three different accounts of a West Ham loss. But I had discovered a way to get the footy results, in a somewhat of a timely manner.
I am going to generalize here and say that the US in 1986 was a football wasteland. In NYC there are areas of the city that were then, and are today, football enclaves. But in general it was not easy to find out anything about world football, never mind what was happening with the Hammers.
This changed forever once the US was awarded the 1994 World Cup. The US would be thrust into the world spotlight, trying to promote a sport which wasn’t even on the radar of any major television network, never mind trying to compete against American Football, Baseball, Basketball or Hockey. The entire World Cup experience was a huge success in the US, and it started the proverbial “snowball rolling down the hill”. Thus began a revolution that has changed the sports landscape in this country. Let me detail my weekend on Saturday and Sunday October 6th and 7th:
ESPN and Fox Sports:
Saturday: 7:45am Man City v Sunderland LIVE 10:00am Chelsea v Norwich LIVE 12:30pm West Ham v Arsenal LIVE 3:30pm Swansea v reading LIVE 5:30pm West Brom v QPR TAPED
Sunday: 8:30am Southampton v Fulham LIVE 10:00am Liverpool v Stoke LIVE 10:00am Tottenham v Aston Villa LIVE 11:00pm Newcastle v Man United
Plus LIVE games from La Liga, Serie A, Bunesliga, Champions League and Europa League. We now take for granted every game from the World Cup, including all England qualifying games, plus every game from the Euros. Add the obvious coverage for MLS. I haven’t even mentioned the college games that we get too! The transformation of the football/soccer information highway from 1986 – 2012 has been nothing short of “revolutionary”, except not a shot was fired and not a drop of tea was spilt! I have seen it and lived it, and over the coming issues of Blowing Bubbles, I hope I can share some of my experiences.