‘I knew this working class club of underdogs would be home’

It's not easy supporting West Ham from across the pond but my bond is strong

It’s 7:00am on a Sunday. You stumble around a dark bedroom in a frantic pace trying to remember where you set your kit last night.

You rush to your truck to drive across town as fast as you can, complaining about the starting lineup as your partner reads it aloud: ‘He chose who?! – what’s he thinking?’ 

You already saw the lineup as the notification on your phone served as your alarm at 6:30am but in your haze you couldn’t figure the formation.

‘Typical West Ham,’ she says. You don’t know where she heard that phrase, because you didn’t say it in front of her, but you like it anyhow.

She’s been gracious enough to listen to you all summer long telling her all the club’s transfer news. 

You get to the only bar in the city that plays football or ‘soccer’ as your friends call it as they mock you for following a sport where tackling doesn’t mean wrestling a body to the ground American football style – although they have never seen a studs up sliding Mark Noble tackle.

You walk into the bar five minutes before kickoff. There are already 20 Liverpool fans there with their new kits, being rowdy.

You find a small corner where you can sit near the only other person also wearing claret and blue, and get an Irish coffee to wake up.

Tottenham fans will soon swarm in as their match is next – even here they are the worst. The Arsenal fans will amass as well with all kinds of flags and paraphernalia that they put everywhere – the Gooners are much better organised as a fan base than they are currently on the pitch.

There are constant roars from the Liverpool supporters as red players bombard your net with goals.

There is no mercy or dignity in their celebrations – they cheer as if they are in the Champions League final.

‘It’s just West Ham – what the Hell are you going on about?’ you hear from the bar, and realise there is one more of you in claret and blue.

You dare to applaud Antonio’s bombing run as he makes it into the opposition’s half which actually makes the red swarm around you nervous.

You’ve since had four drinks and it’s only 9am but it’s that kind of match: four drinks for four goals.

You applaud your team as the final whistle blows and they walk off the field, and share condolences with your two fellow supporters.

You realise church starts in a half hour, and ask your girlfriend to drive you there, closing the door behind a chorus of ‘You’ll never walk alone’.

As you stand in the pew with your head down and rocking back and forth, your pastor comes over and holds your shoulders asking if you are okay.

He thinks you’re going through an intense battle between good and evil, or in deep guilt over a sin you’ve committed, but you’ve just started to feel the alcohol, and are muttering about how Anderson did not track back and Balbuena left the box exposed.

This is a day in the life of an American West Ham United supporter.

For most supporters of English football, you’re born in it: Your family, your neighborhood, your workplace – they give you your colors.

For overseas fans, it tends to be a choice but how does one come to that choice? I hadn’t been interested in football until I went to support my friend in a Sunday league tournament and something was unlocked – the organisation, coordination, passing and subsequent joy of a goal had me hooked –  I needed a professional team to support! 

I had heard of the Premier League and English football and only knew of the names ‘Manchester United’ and ‘Arsenal’ but I shirked the idea of supporting a top six club.

No for me it wasn’t a chase for instant gratification, a packaged and store-bought glory; I wanted hard won victories, a constant battle, the highs and lows.

I wanted to choose a team without any bandwagon plastic attachment; I wanted it to be real.  

Scrolling through the list of clubs and their descriptions, a crossed hammers crest flashed – seemed a significant omen as I’m a builder. Hmmm, West Ham United?

A working class club of underdogs, who have the history and character to give them a chance; not the promise of winning, but a shot. I was intrigued.

An article search returned the photo of a large, red-bearded man shouting in anger while holding back another man both dressed in claret and blue with a caption about ‘pitch invaders’ and a ‘riot’: introducing James Collins and Mark Noble.

The article read about an upheaval at the last match and how it wounded him and the other player Noble, who had both been playing more than 10 years for the club.

There it was – that is what sold me. I wanted players who didn’t cycle in and out but who loved the club they played for.

I wanted a fighter who would hold strong over the years giving everything to the club if I was going to do so as well and I found that in Mark Noble. After a watch in the local pub with a resounding defeat of Southampton I was in.

A seven hour flight overnight flight, a hurried map-turning scramble through underground train stations, and an hour-long tube ride with a train transfer and I find myself in an English town called Watford, entering a pub slightly hiding my colors, seeing a few hundred opposition supporters around me.

A few texts exchanged from someone I met once in Vegas and spoke with over Twitter and my hopeful eyes turned upon chanting supporters surrounding me in claret and blue offering me drinks.

‘He’s come all the way from America. LIft him a glass. Buy him a pint. He’s one of us!’ – Six or seven free drinks later and I’m worried I’m going to be an ugly American falling down the terraces and vomiting everywhere, but the crowd pulls me along as we walk into the stadium. 

Forget my ticket, they’ve put me up further in the front, third row in the away end behind the goal, shoulder to shoulder.

We’re chanting, we’re standing on our seats singing for Antonio. Haller gets a bicycle by our end, Mark Noble gets a penalty, and we score a third and win the match easily.

My friend turns to me, ‘Who’s your favorite player?’  Mark Noble I answer. ‘Okay mate – that’s a bit hard, so who’s your second?’ Declan Rice?  

‘Alright mate – I’m texting Declan now. We might try to go meet up’.

Running through crowds, weaving around a bus, and a lot of text messages later, Declan Rice is offering me his stadium jacket, and signing it.

No sooner had I handed him a marker that I dropped the stadium jacket that he’s in the process of signing because 10 yards to my right I see Mark Noble.

I run over and shake his hand and thank him. I talk with a few other players; the kit man hands me Yarmolenko’s jersey.  

I trade jokes with ExWHUemployee who’s come back with our group, and end up riding the night tube clutching my stadium jacket and kit all the way back to Greenwich village, to board a flight the next day.

This is the day in the life of an American West Ham united supporter

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