And now, the end is near. The final season of football at the Boleyn is no longer a distant prospect on the horizon, but a visible landmark casting a shadow over the hearts and minds of all West Ham fans. The topic of the move to the Olympic Stadium has divided opinion amongst supporters, but like it or not, E13’s very own field of dreams’ days are numbered, and after the final final whistle is blown, even the most evangelical of Stratford evangelists will have a tear in their eye and a lump in their throat as a lifetime of matches are consigned to the time capsule of memory.
With this in mind, Guardian journalist, Blowing Bubbles columnist and West Ham fan of 50 years’ torment Brian Williams has got in ahead of the crowd, compressing his own lifetime’s worth of claret and blue cheers and tears into ‘Nearly Reach the Sky’, lovingly poring over every detail of his life as a fan, and the Upton Park matchday experience. -Anyone familiar with his regular ‘Dear Sam’ letters in Blowing Bubbles should know what to expect — a fullon, passionate broadside, full of dreaming and despairing in equal parts — the voice of all West Ham fans, in fact, just with the added benefit of a lifetime as a professional writer helping him put those feelings onto the page. Heroes and horror shows — he’s seen it all, and it’s in his book.
Almost inevitably, any fan memoir draws comparisons with Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch. But whereas that has only retrospectively gained its real foothold by being a snapshot of the increasingly distant pre-Premier League world, Williams’s book is much more direct. His story of his relationship with his club is written in the full knowledge that seismic change is about to come. Memories of repainting Subbuteo players’ kits, favourite player nicknames, most loved and loathed players, and the uniquely football experience that is enjoying hating your rivals as much as you love your own team — Williams covers it all.
Every West Ham fan is living with the sad knowledge that — whether or not they know it at the time — one day soon, they will all make their final visit to the Boleyn. Williams is just one supporter in that crowd, with his own lifetime of memories wrapped up in the place. But the good news for us is that, whilst he has already lived through those memories, we have them all to enjoy in his book.
Nearly Reach the Sky: A Farewell to Upton Park by Brian Williams is published by Biteback Publishing – bitebackpublishing.com/promotions. Enter BUBBLESBW for a discount.