You and whose army?

When it comes to celebrating a goal, you will be hardpressed to beat the Baggies’ boing-boing routine.

When it comes to celebrating a goal, you will be hardpressed to beat the Baggies’ boing-boing routine.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to see a lot Zebedees bouncing up and down at the other end on Saturday – partly because nobody tells me it’s time for bed any more, but mainly because that will almost certainly mean they have scored against us. Still, as a party piece, it does have a charm all of its own. Of course, West Brom are not the only club who like to do something a little out of the ordinary when they score. Cardiff have that ridiculous ritual of banging themselves on the head – they call it the Ayatollah – while Manchester City still occasionally wheel out the Poznan, in which they all turn their backs on the pitch, link arms and jump up and down.

Heaven knows, there are have been plenty of times when I’ve wanted to look away and spare myself the torture of watching of what’s going on in front of me at Upton Park, but not when we’ve just scored. Besides, my Mum told me never to turn my back on someone. It’s rude. To be fair, the Poznan is impressive when enough people do it. But Citeh aren’t alone in celebrating that way. Celtic have a replica routine they call the Huddle (which they claim to have done before Man City took it up) and then, of course, there are the good people of the Polish town after whom the whole thing is named.

The boing-boing, however, belongs to West Bromwich Albion, and West Bromwich Albion alone. According to my mate Nick, who has spent more years than he cares to remember suffering in their name, Hawthorns’ folklore offers a number of opinions of how it started – but the one that is generally accepted involves a littleknown techno band from Holland. Nick told me: “The story goes that one or more of theBrummie Road regulars had heard a Dutch techno record called Poing by Rotterdam Termination Source – it made number one in Holland in 1992 – and dreamt up a jumping-upand-down dance to go with it.

The closest thing to that I ever saw was when Man Utd came to Upton Park on the last day of the 1994/95 season, hoping for the victory that would give them their third Premiership title in as many years. The equation was simple enough: if Blackburn Rovers lost at Liverpool, and United beat us, that rather tacky piece of silverware would be going back to Old Trafford. Our game is an uneventful 0-0 and the ball is rolling out for a run-of-the-mill throw in when the Mancs get news that Liverpool have scored – they are clearly on their way to Glory, Glory, Man Utd once more.

By the time the linesman raises his flag, the entire away contingent is going berserk with joy. Down our end we had no idea there had been a goal at Anfield, and wouldn’t have cared less if we did. To us, it just seemed that they were celebrating a throw-in as if were the most joyous moment in their club’s history. For those interested in such things, I should point out that Manchester United did not win the league that day. Thanks to a goal from Michael Hughes and a brilliant goalkeeping display by Ludek Miklosko, we held the all-conquering Manchester United to a 1-1 draw, thus ensuring Blackburn’s defeat was irrelevant. The eversporting Sir Alex has never forgiven us.

At West Ham, we like to do things rather differently to other clubs. Which explains why our most memorable “celebration” was not in victory, but in defeat. In some ways it is our equivalent of Dunkirk, which in truth was a desperate retreat from a rampant enemy, but came to be regarded as a triumph for the never-say-die spirit that is one of humanity’s greatest qualities.

It all happened just a few miles down the road from West Brom, at Villa Park, on a sunny Sunday in the spring of 1991. The FA Cup semi final is barely 20 minutes old when Tony Gale shoulders Nottingham Forest’s Gary Crosby off the ball directly in front of us. I can barely believe referee Keith Hackett has given a foul, and I’m astonished when he reaches for his pocket.

You can’t give him a yellow card for that! I’m right – it isn’t yellow. It’s red!! This is, quite simply, the worst refereeing decision I have ever seen – and I am not alone in my opinion. Even the Forest fans are baffled. In the West Ham stands, there is nothing but fury. Sitting to my left is my wife. Next to her is my father-in-law. He later admitted that he was completely unaware his beloved daughter actually knew the sort of language she came out with at that moment.

As a second division team – albeit one that was destined for promotion weeks later – we were very much the underdogs against a classy first division outfit managed by the mercurial Brian Clough. It was a tough ask with a full team; now down to 10 men, we had no chance.

Yet the lads on the pitch dug in, and their devoted followers got behind them. We had the main stand and the Holte End. There were choruses of Bubbles coming out of both. The singing was punctuated with frequent, desperate, calls of Come On You Irons. We weren’t asking – we were telling. And our boys responded – getting forward when they could, but then chasing back; all of them throwing themselves into tackles; harrying; fighting for every ball. It was a performance that truly honoured their manager – the awesome Billy Bonds.

Then the cry that was to take over the afternoon went up. “Billy Bonds’s Claret and Blue Army!” The response came back, with interest: “Billy Bonds’s Claret and Blue Army!!” There was still the occasional burst of Bubbles, but this wasn’t a day to fade and die. Increasingly, the claret and blue army chant took hold. At half-time, astonishingly, we were still 0-0. Out came the cigarettes and the Murray mints. Some tried to convince themselves we could yet get out of this with a draw, and then stuff Forest in the replay. I don’t think anyone really believed it, though. Clough certainly didn’t. He reorganised his team during the break, making sure their 11 would out-pass our 10, rather than engage in the sort of hand-to-hand combat that was clearly suiting us.

In out heart of hearts, we all knew what was coming in the second half and we steeled ourselves for it. We weren’t any old army – we were Billy Bonds’s ultra-loyal Claret and Blue Army, and we weren’t going to go quietly. When the whistle blew to start the second half, every West Ham supporter in the ground was standing. And then it started it earnest. Billy Bonds’s Claret and Blue Army! The martial rhythm that underpinned the words was provided by stamping feet and clapping hands.

Billy Bonds’s Claret and Blue Army! You put your shoulders back, stuck out your chest, declaimed your allegiance, and waited for the response. Which always came. Billy Bonds’s Claret and Blue Army! And so it went on, the volume increasing slightly with every repetition. When the same Gary Crosby who had been involved in the incident that sparked the outrage scored Forest’s first four minutes after the restart, we all knew our duty. As they rejoiced over their goal, we continued to celebrate the magnificence of supporting the most wonderful football club in the world. Billy Bonds’s Claret and Blue Army! No one faltered.

The goals kept coming, but we never missed a beat. Billy Bonds’s Claret and Blue Army! Louder. And louder. And louder still.

By now, we weren’t just standing – we were standing on our seats. When Stuart Pearce scored Forest’s third after 70 minutes we watched their supporters jump from theirs, arms aloft. But we couldn’t hear their cheers. The noise in the West Ham stands was so great we simply drowned them out. It was truly bizarre to watch a large group of grown men and women jumping for joy, while not having to listen a single decibel from them. It was as if their fourth and final goal never happened in our part of the ground.

In many ways, it is deeply disturbing how you can so easily surrender your individuality to a crowd in the way we all did in response to such incitement. Scary, but empowering. We may have been losing on the pitch, but we were victorious in the stands. It wasn’t until later that we realised we had been part of something special.

“If that’s West Ham when you’re losing, what’s it like when you win?” I was asked by a colleague some days later. He missed the point, of course. I’m certain there will never be a show of support like that again by the followers of any club, win or lose. What that crowd did at Villa Park was unique but, as I say, we never stopped to think our display of defiance was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. That’s the trouble with making history. At the time, you have no idea you are actually doing it.

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