‘In my darkest hour I turned to writing about the best of nights’

My first-ever book tells the story of West Ham's final game at Upton Park in 2016

Last year was a tough one for everybody. I was no different as I was furloughed and eventually made redundant.

But I was determined to do something positive and during my initial furlough period, I decided to see it as a chance to further branch out from the short-form articles I’d been writing at work.

While I managed to get a bit of freelance work, I wanted to do something far bigger; that’s where the idea for ‘The Boleyn’s Farewell: West Ham United’s Upton Park Swansong’ came to the fore.

I was in the Bobby Moore Upper for the Boleyn’s final game and it was the best night of my life.

Due to how emotionally attached I’ve felt to the 3-2 win over Manchester United, and everything that came with it, I’ve maintained the hope that I’d be able to do something special around the game one day.

The idea for a book came into my mind a few years ago, but there was always a feeling that I wasn’t ready to take on such a challenge, or had a lack of time to do so.

However, having grown as a writer over the years and been given time on mass, I decided it was now or never.

So, I put in a proposal to Pitch Publishing that was accepted, and in July I was able to confirm that I’d be writing the book to be published in May this year — marking the match’s five-year anniversary.

In the months after the book was confirmed, most of my time was dedicated to ensuring it would be everything that incredible night deserves.

There were plenty of hours spent emailing and calling people to try to secure interviewees — some of my targets were very speculative if I’m honest, but if you don’t ask you don’t get.

This was always going to be a key area though, as I’m fully aware this wasn’t just a special night for me.

There are countless narratives from that night, and the aim was to capture as many of them as possible to form the evening’s narrative and show the true extent of its emotional impact.

When you think of the night, Winston Reid’s winner, Mark Noble’s performance and Slaven Bilic’s tears at the final whistle are probably what come to mind.

Obviously, all of that will be in there. However, the stories of stewards, regular fans, the stadium DJ, the announcer, ex-players, shop owners and many others will also be featured.

I know I can’t cover every single aspect of the night, but I had a good go at ensuring as many people as possible are represented within these pages.

So far, the interviews — 31 people were spoken to in total – and the search for them has brought some incredible personal memories.

I managed to get myself into a virtual Sporting Kansas City press conference to ask Reid about his memories. 

To be fair to him, he looked shocked to be asked about a game from over four years old but was very sincere in his answers.

Other highlights include hearing Roberta Moore share childhood memories at Upton Park, hearing why the Cockney Rejects’ Jeff Geggus jumped off his stage, Tony Cottee saying about being in one of the cabs and learning more about James Datson’s commentary for the blind and visually impaired.

Thanks to Rob Pritchard, I’ve even managed to get quotes from Darren Randolph and Aaron Cresswell.

I feel so privileged to have had the conversations shared so far with friends, colleagues, heroes of the club and people I have grown to admire purely from listening to them speak.

An awful lot of work has been put into this book, but it isn’t lost on me how lucky I am to have done this.

I’m also incredibly thankful to anybody who has trusted me with their memories of that night.

It was always obvious that this would be an emotional project to undertake, but I didn’t expect it to be so to quite this extent.

I’ve found myself cracking up laughing with interviewees, while there have been other times where I’ve been close to tears.

One of my biggest memories of writing this will be focusing on the time between Michail Antonio’s equaliser and Reid’s winner.

I ended up pretty much smashing the keyboard as I rapidly got everything down while watching the action unfold in front of me (don’t worry, it’s been proofread).

As I was writing that section, it felt like I was there – 2020 and the world around me didn’t exist for a short time, as Dimitri Payet’s free-kick was flying into the box for Reid to get his head on the end of.

My hope is that I will be able to transport anyone who reads this book to the exact same place, with that same sense of realism I had writing it.

One beautiful thing that will be clear in the book is that this night was about far more than the 24 hours.

This was the culmination of 112 years of history, as well as the start of a new era for our beloved club.

In my mind, it was imperative that this is conveyed, so I’ve covered everything from the history of the Boleyn Ground, past meetings with Man United, the Swansea game, everything about the night and its aftermath.

The day and night itself will remain as the main focus though, with the book including a detailed run-through of what happened on the pitch, the feelings of those I’ve interviewed while the events unfolded and my own observations — both from the time and watching everything back.

Everybody I’ve spoken to has been so encouraging and supportive, which I’m incredibly thankful for.

This is by far the biggest challenge of my career to date, but I’m incredibly pleased with the end product and feel this is my greatest achievement so far.

The cover has been designed and the book is now available to pre-order, almost everything is in place, ready for the time we all get to see the physical manifestation of all that work.

If you want to keep updated with everything to do with ‘The Boleyn’s Farewell: West Ham United’s Upton Park Swansong’, you can follow @TBF_book.

*Pre-order your copy at pitchpublishing.co.uk/shop/boleyns-farewell or by emailing Newham Bookshop via info@newhambooks.co.uk

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