When football is taken away from you it makes you take stock and remember why you fell it in love with the beautiful game in the first place.
Having been born in Kent, my playground ‘pick’ at the age of seven as to which team I would support was Charlton Athletic because it was one of the closest to home. I followed them through the Sam Bartram, Stuart Leary and Derek Ufton years which was appropriate as I was also a big fan of Kent cricket and they, of course represented the county.
However, things took a huge turn in 1962 when after working in my hometown of Tunbridge Wells, I was offered the opportunity of my first interview with a group of trade magazines in London run by the Thomson group.
As it turned out, not only my career but entire life was going to change within the next six hours and far more importantly I was to become a Hammer, a situation which has sustained me through the highest of highs and lowest of lows over the next 50 odd years of my life.
My would-be employer looked at me and said: “Which football club do you support?”
Having answered “Charlton Athletic” the deepest of frowns appeared and my prospects of a life in Fleet Street were disappearing dramatically as he responded: “I can’t have that. I was going to employ you but if you want the job you will have to come with me to see my team tonight.”
A few hours later we arrived at Plaistow Tube Station and I fell more deeply in love than I ever had done with anybody or thing in my life as I wandered down Green Street for the first time and into Upton Park!
That was on the 14th September 1962 – a Friday evening for some reason – when we drew with Blackpool 2-2 with the team: Brian Rhodes, Bobby Moore, Joe Kirkup, Ken Brown, Ronnie Boyce, Malcolm Musgrove, Alan Sealey, Geoff Hurst, Tony Scott and John Dick.
On the way home my soon to be employer asked me how I’d enjoyed it and I told him that I was the newest fan, loved the club, the ground, the area and everything I’d seen of the East End. Yes, I was in love for the first time in my life.
The irony now! That man’s name turned out to be Tony Cottee, in no way related to the TC we all know and love but to me an unforgettable figure in my own life with West Ham United.