The day that I really fell in love with West Ham wasn’t even a day we won.
In fact, in typical West Ham fashion, it was a glorious defeat at the hands of one of the bigger clubs in the league – our 4-3 defeat against Spurs back in 2007.
I was 10, and Carlos Tevez’s magnificent free kick had me on my feet in front of the TV, arms in the air, convinced that this team was capable of anything.
By the time the final whistle sounded I knew that I wanted to start supporting the boys more fiercely than ever before – but I had two big problems.
One, West Ham’s games were (and still are) rarely televised. And two, my Chelsea-supporting dad wasn’t keen on making the trek from our home in south London to Upton Park.
How was I supposed to follow my team if I could only catch the odd game on TV? I quickly realised that my only option was to read about them.
So, as the season played out, I religiously monitored sports websites, devoured the sports sections of newspapers and studied any football magazine I could get my hands on.
As we all know, I was reading about (and occasionally watching) one of the most dramatic ends to a ‘Great Escape’ season ever – and it wasn’t long before I was inspired to play out my own versions of upcoming matches and write my own fictional match reports.
A level-headed 10-year-old, I would often give Carlos Tevez and Mark Noble 10/10 ratings, while various opposition players received a harsh 0/10.
But that’s not to say every Hammer escaped my criticism.
After a bad 4-0 defeat to Tottenham – in which Luís Boa Morte was sent off – I wrote a particularly scathing report on the winger. (‘Luís Boa Morte has changed from being an alright player to completely atrocious.’)
I’m also sure I was one of the first to predict Alan Curbishley’s departure. (‘If Anton Ferdinand goes then I think Curbishley will go with him and I have mixed feelings about this’ was published in ‘The Daily Harry’ on August 25th 2008.)
Needless to say, these articles were highly amusing to my dad, who’d often encourage me.
‘What about Carlton Cole or John Paintsil? What do you think of them?’ Hint: it was not good.
As seasons went by, I continued to document the many things supporting a club like West Ham gives you to write about.
Relegation. Promotion. Home-grown Nobes’ rise through the ranks. I even imagined – and then reported on – us sneaking into the odd Cup Final.
Fast forward to last year, when I caught wind of an independent publisher who was looking to do some fictionalised biographies of footballers for young fans – particularly those young fans who wouldn’t normally pick up a book. It felt like the job was made for me.
All this time reading about the Hammers, our highs and our lows, had taught me so much about capturing the drama of football in words – and now I could use it all to tell the stories of certain players.
I quickly sent in a sample of my writing, staying true to exactly what I’d have liked to have read about when I was younger.
For example, I can vividly remember reading about Carlton Cole revealing it was Scott Parker who gave the half-time speech that inspired our comeback from being 3-0 down against West Brom in 2011: ‘If you were in there you’d have a tear in your eye’.
The younger me had been desperate to know what had been said in that dressing room, what really goes on off the pitch, so I made sure to get my teeth into one of those behind-the-scenes moments.
If you’re interested, the sample was actually on Mourinho’s arrival at Manchester United. I had the manager giving a very ‘special’ speech and 18-year-old Marcus Rashford texting his brother, panicking about his new manager’s reputation for not blooding young players.
And of course, I kept everything tight and fast-moving, treating the moment like I was writing another of my countless West Ham match reports, the language simple and full of football.
It just so happened that the publisher – Ransom Publishing – loved that. Apparently it made the books sound like they’d been written by a pundit, rather than an author.
‘I can’t say I know what ‘caught napping on the pitch’ means,’ my soon-to-be editor, Steve, confided, ‘but I do know young fans will be thrilled by the fact you’re clearly one of them and speaking their language.’
We’ve now published seven Tales from the Pitch books, and it means the world to know I’ve been a part of harnessing the power of the game we all love to do some good and get kids reading.
The only thing missing from the series? A book on a player from our club – the club that provided the material (and the love for the game) that made me into the writer I am today.
But don’t worry, I’m working on it.
Tales From The Pitch is a series of easy-to-read fictionalised biographies of major football stars.
Each of the fast-paced books – that have been specially designed for seven to 14 year-olds who are out of practice with their reading – reveals the inspiring journey of a player who is currently steering himself on a path to greatness.
Along the way, young fans will meet some of the biggest personalities in the game, relive the drama of exciting matches and also discover the very human stories behind the footballers they watch on their screens week after week.
The series so far includes seven dyslexia friendly books – Rashford, Sterling, Van Dijk, Gnabry, Lewandowski, Kanté and Mbappé – with more players set to join the “squad” in 2021.They are available to purchase from ransom.co.uk, amazon.co.uk, and all good bookshops