We all have our own examples of when West Ham broke our hearts. A moment where we had dared to believe, to hope, to dream only for those hopes to evaporate, for those dreams to fade and die.
My top three moments were the 1991 FA Cup semi final against Nottingham Forest, the 2015/16 season and Champions League football, and numero uno – the FA Cup final in 2006. If I were older, or if I hadn’t blocked others from my mind, there would undoubtedly be many more examples to draw from.
It is almost like the death of our dreams is part of DNA. It is the West Ham way. These sentiments are echoed by our song ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’. Kriss Akabusi, winner of medals at the Olympic Games and World Championships and West Ham fan, wondered aloud on Twitter whether there was a correlation between our most revered hymn and our habit of going from highs to lows at breakneck speed.
He tweeted: ‘Serious question West Ham family, have you ever considered that the bubble song has got to go? I think (sacrilege I know) that the song is a curse over the team and environs, “just like my dreams they fade and die, fortunes always hiding”. Would you speak this over your babies?’
As you would expect the question was met with much protest. Terrace legend David Cross replied: ‘Oh Kriss, I might have to have your MBE taken off you. I still sing myself to sleep with Bubbles.’ Meanwhile Steve Bacon, former club photographer, responded: ‘Haven’t we lost enough already Kriss? Leave the song alone mate.’
These views were echoed, with varying degrees of profanity, by many who believed that the move from Upton Park to Stratford has been more than enough of an attack on our heritage and identity. And that losing our most famous song would spell the end of the club we know and love.
Akabusi though, didn’t just toss the grenade and run. He fronted out his premise and justified his thinking in response to his replies. The crux of the point he was trying to make is that ‘words have power’.
That every other week we make our pilgrimage to the ground, hoping to see success, whilst singing about how we know those hopes will inevitably become disappointments. In effect the song is a self fulfilling prophecy.
There were those that agreed with Kriss, arguing that the lyrics are too negative. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that that the thought has crossed my mind before.
Whether or not by singing the words, we are putting negative energy out into the footballing universe and whether that negative energy is damning our clubs chances of actually seeing our dreams realised.
But this moment, for me, was fleeting. Because in truth, the lyrics don’t fully matter. Many consider football to be their religion, as such West Ham is our church. If we think about the experiential dimension of religion, it has an ability to help people to transcend their earthly toil and find a greater and deeper purpose.
It has the capability through ritual, prayer and worship to evoke feelings of security and comfort. It can also heighten the senses receptibility to feelings of awe and ecstasy.
It has even been known to heal the sick (temporarily) because of the heightened levels of adrenaline that participants in this worship feel. Bubbles is a beautifully emotive song, full of hope and melancholy in equal measure. As meaningful as any hymn.
When 50,000 West Ham fans sing it in unison, it’s a goosebump-inducing moment. It’s collective worship and elevates us to something bigger than ourselves. It unites us. It cleanses us of our scepticism and brings us to the precipice of hope again.
We all know, in that moment, that we are all the same, we are West Ham.
We will endure any suffering that comes our way, because the hope of a better day is all we need to overcome it.
We are a strong and resilient people. We are formidable together. It is what makes us who we are. Akabusi might have a point. Maybe the words do ‘curse’ us to forever fall short.
That another song, with more self belief embedded in its lyrics could have the same unifying effect whilst sending a more positive energy into the footballing universe. But we don’t support West Ham for the glory. We support them because it is like a faith passed down from ancestor to ancestor.
Or because, in some way, the clubs much maligned mythology of the West Ham way resonates with us. We see kindred spirits around us, all capable of smiling in the face of our shortcomings. For many of us, Bubbles is the first song we had sung to us as infants and is the first song we sing to our own children – despite the negative connotations.
It is our way of passing down one very real truth; the world may not be all sunshine and rainbows, you may face disappointment and heartache as Steven Gerrard leathers in a goal from 40 yards to pluck defeat from the jaws of victory but we will go through it together.
We shall endure, overcome and flourish. Because we are West Ham. And Bubbles is, and forever will be, our song and no one will take it away.