On Friday 6 January 2017 I was at my father’s bedside as he passed away. On the TV, although he was apparently unaware, we ‘watched’ West Ham get dismantled 5-0 by Manchester City in the third round of the FA Cup.
Tears rolled down my face not because of my team getting rolled over on national television, but because I knew I was losing my best friend. In that moment, football had zero importance. People have asked me why I have written this now, fifteen years after my last book ‘The Legacy of Barry Green’ and 23 years after my first ‘An Irrational Hatred of Luton’.
Anyone who has ever written a book for a niche audience will tell you that it is not to get rich.
I had always said I would not write another book. But I was on holiday in October 2017, and holidays, whilst a good time for reflection are not what they used to be, with social media keeping you abreast of every miniscule rumour and news item around the club as long as you take the trouble to buy into it. I was becoming tired of the daily diatribes about the team, about the board, about the new stadium. It was getting under my skin.
I hated seeing the club I love portrayed in such a negative manner, it seemed, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I firmly believed I could write a book that would be wearing its hat at a jaunty angle; poke fun at the way things are and point to a brighter future. Then I actually started to write it and realised trying to put a positive spin on current events is virtually impossible.
But I felt it was high time we had a chronicle of events of the last 15 years and when you lay them end-to-end and consider the series of disasters we have suffered over the years under various ownerships, it is truer than ever that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Some perspective. I wanted the book to point to our recent history. The history everybody loves and the traditions we remember so fondly.
But was it really as good as we remember, or were we just as discontent during the bond scheme protests? After relegation in 1978 or 1989? After the baffling appointment of Glenn Roeder as manager? When the North Bank was demolished? What would social media as we know it today have made of those events?
All of these occurred before 2003 where the book starts, but even after all that I still have the meaty subjects of one relegation, two promotions, eight managers, one Icelandic banking collapse, one third party ownership scandal, one stadium move and one cancelled march to deal with – among many others. Then there is the social media aspect of being a modern football fan: the modern global audience combined with astronomical numbers of idiots on social media, makes for a potent mixture.
The game has never been more under the microscope and you have a group of people who crave attention – regardless of whether they have a valid opinion or not. Life is all about perspective. It’s about seeing things from other people’s point of view, comparing it to your own and taking something from it. It’s about ranking things in order of importance and allocating your time accordingly.
Recent events have shown West Ham has a fan base of broad background and diverse social and political views. We have to learn to respect each other. I’m not carrying any banners in the book, calling for anyone to resign, or moaning about the board – although they get their fair share: enough to prevent the book being stocked in the club shop or have it endorsed by anyone still in receipt of the club’s shilling.
Photo Agency Getty Images, for example, who have an excellent relationship with the club denied permission for the original choice of image for the cover. As it turned out, Jason Mitchell, former photographer for the fanzine “Over Land and Sea” provided a better alternative. There is no love lost between Phil Parkes and the club and his excellent, biting, foreword sets the tone.
I still don’t understand why some people have to hate so much. I want to put some perspective on things. Perspective that, like many, I didn’t know existed until I watched that final game with my father. If you frequent social media as I do it does seem at times that everyone hates everything.
The book is a plea for unity and to keep things in context. So why did I write it? The short answer is simply that it felt like the right time. You can buy ta signed copy of the book directly from me through Facebook or Twitter – or, alternatively, through Amazon with a kindle version also available, or direct from Biteback, the publishers.