On May 9, 1987 West Ham beat Manchester City 2-0 at the Boleyn to condemn City to yet another relegation, and many Blues trace the special relationship between our clubs back to that day. City were doomed to Division Two whilst West Ham were comfortably mid-table. At the end of the game West Ham fans invaded the pitch, given the era, the bitterness of relegation and the notorious reputation of certain elements of both fanbases it was a moment that could have turned sour, instead there was a quite incredible spontaneous outbreak of appreciation, compassion and understanding shown towards City fans from the West Ham faithful.
A moment of sadness had become a realisation that we both similar but distinct all at the same time. For those there from Manchester it was the realisation that our clubs have more in common than we ever thought, we maybe some 200 miles apart in geographical terms but our mindsets are similar, our ideals are shared and our passion for our clubs illuminates our histories.
We are both predominantly working class clubs from poor areas of large cities, we have more illustrious neighbours, we share chequered histories of the occasional highs punctuated by years of relegation dogfights, desperate promotion bids and humdrum mediocrity. We both know failure and heartbreak but our respective fanbases have remained incredibly loyal and rightly proud of our respective histories and our distinct identities.
It is a measure of our collective yo-yo like existence that we have only played each other 107 times. City have won the second tier seven times, West Ham twice and been runners up five times. We have often passed like ships in the night. Incredibly given our chequered histories we both won European trophies before self-proclaimed European giants Liverpool and we both won the FA Cup before them too.
A lack of history is often used by fans of other clubs to try and belittle mine, I have never heard it from a Hammer, you know better than that because our histories are special and they define us, we have both always been proud and loyal and we have good reason to be. Of course other factors help form a special relationship, it’s built on mutual respect and a healthy dislike for Spurs and Manchester United, both of our clubs have history with Millwall and neither of us have any love for Chelsea.
As a Manchester lad, I have always enjoyed my trips to the Boleyn they were certainly better than mind-numbing days out at Arsenal or trips to the deep south of rebel London or Mouth London as I once heard a Hammers friend of mine describe it. Then there is our very own Cockney boy, now sadly passed away. Brought up and raised in the West Ham coaching school that gave us Ron Greenwood, John Lyall, John Bond and unfortunately Harry Redknapp.
Our Big Malcolm Allison, the innovative coach of the late 60s and early 70s, full of Cockney flamboyance and exuberance coached us to never before dreamed of heights. A giant of the game and a hero of mine. I spoke to him once and I will never forget meeting him. We owe you a great debt for him, he was a genius brought up in your traditions, thank you for that.
Recent years have seen highly respected players such as Ian Bishop, Steve Lomas, Trevor Sinclair, Trevor Morley, Joe Hart, and, of course, Zabba play for both clubs. Ian Bishop in particular is adored by both sets of fans, his twitter handle of Bishbluehammer speaks volumes for where his loyalty lies. He loves us both and is never afraid to say so. Mancunian Blue Trevor Sinclair proudly wore your shirt with distinction and is another Blue Hammer.
At last season’s game at the London Stadium I met Steve Lomas, hugely underrated, a real gentleman and a player we had to sell because we were skint. He is a Hammer now but he will always hold a soft spot for City I am sure. Then there are our colours, Sky Blue, claret/maroon and white, our scarfs are similar, a half and half scarf would never sell, we have already have the original.
My first ever primary school football team kit was the West Ham home kit of the early 70s, my mum still has a picture of it somewhere in her vast collection of photo albums. I loved that kit, it was the first kit I ever played competitive football in, our change strip was Norwich, thank heavens we hardly played in that and the girls rounders teams ended up using it. Recently we won the league under your new manager the charming man Manuel Pellegrini.
The opponents the day we clinched the title were West Ham United and as we invaded the pitch to celebrate our triumph, the West Ham fans stayed and applauded and in a moment reminiscent of that fateful day in 1987 we reciprocated and applauded back.
It takes real football fans to embrace somebody else’s triumphs but I like to think the day in 1987 when we relegated was remembered and we were being acknowledged for staying true to our club through the hard times. We get each other, we know what it’s like to be pitiful and poor and to be seen as the rubbing rag lesser lights of a big City. Last season I made my first visit to the London stadium, again both sets of fans know the heartbreak of leaving a much loved home for pastures new.
Old habits die hard, traditional match day rituals change, new meeting places have to be found, new bars explored and their is a sense of loss as to what is gone. Eventually it becomes home and as I watched you beat Manchester United earlier this season I sensed it is slowly becoming home. The atmosphere came across the TV as superb and there is no finer thing in football to hear than “Bubbles” sang with passion by a ground full of fans.
On my first visit I sang along to your song, I had fluked executive tickets which is a first for me and it was wonderful to hear your song echo around your new home. I love I can visit your ground without the trepidation of a visit to some of the more salubrious grounds of London, it’s great we can mix freely yet be passionate about our clubs and yes I want us to beat you. But it’s not the end of the world losing to you as I know how much your club means to you.
We are similar in mindset but not the same club wise. Though I often hear from fellow Blues who say if they lived in London, West Ham would be their team, you would probably be mine to, although I think I would watch Leyton Orient as well if they didn’t play in red. My personal history with West Ham goes back to sometime around 1970 and my memory of why is quite shady and mired in the fog of hundreds of games I have seen over the years following City.
I was taken as a young boy of around five years old to Maine Road to watch City play West Ham by my Grandad. He had been following City since before World War One and passed on his passion for City to me. The reason he took me that day was to see Bobby Moore, I still remember my Grandad saying “that’s Bobby Moore, he lifted the World Cup for us, always remember you saw him play”.
I’m sure but not certain that City won 4-3 and Moore had a shocker, but that might be my mind playing tricks or the bias of a star struck young boy watching his team beat a team with a World Cup winning Captain playing for them. From that day West Ham were etched in my mind, I looked for your results, I cheered loudly when Alan Taylor scored twice to win you the FA Cup in ‘75.
I was at the Boleyn the year you almost won the league, envious you had a side with Brooking, Devonshire, and McAvennie in it. The atmosphere that night was incredible, the Boleyn was bouncing and I’m sure we celebrated with you when you scored.
West Ham are my favourite club after City, we are alike but distinct, and as long as we won the league I would be delighted if you finished second and won the Cup, you deserve success. You are a proper club with the best fans in London. Best of luck for the rest of the season, it’s great to see Pellers settling in and giving you football worthy of the traditional West Ham way.