Writing The Boleyn’s Farewell: West Ham United’s Upton Park Swansong was an incredible experience.
As well as all of the emotions that inevitably arose from meticulously going over that night, on my own and with others, there was also a lot that I learned.
That includes things to do with the day and evening itself, as well as the club in general. Here are 10 of the teachings that stick out most in my mind:
The commentary service for blind and visually impaired fans: One of my favourite things to write about and research is fan culture, and how the game can be made as accessible as possible for people. So, I absolutely loved speaking with James Datson about commentating for those in the stadium who can’t see the action, as well as his brother, Matt, who uses the service. I learned about how James makes this work, as well as how this adds colour for Matt – something I found incredibly heart-warming.
Billy Bonds’ absence: I had always known that Bonds was meant to be at the Boleyn Ground’s swansong but had been unable to make it. When speaking to Rob Pritchard, I found out why it is the Hammers great couldn’t be there and what would have happened had he been in attendance.
Behind the Bobby Moore video: The video of Moore turning off the Upton Park lights was a truly emotional moment for fans and the perfect when to end that night. Roberta Moore had a say in changes that were made to the initial footage, while I also learned how people felt seeing it during rehearsals. Considering this was such an iconic moment, it was fascinating to discover what went into it.
The Rib Man’s move to London Stadium: Perhaps naïvely, I had initially expected the stall sellers and those selling food to come along to London Stadium. The Rib Man is one of the only ones who managed to make the move and, for the Aftermath chapter, it was eye-opening to see what he had to do to get to Stratford.
Upton Park’s press box: Growing up, I remember looking at the press box in the Boleyn Ground, hoping that one day I would be able to sit there for a game. I never did get to, but when I spoke to James Datson, I got a sense of what it would have been like if I had ever been given that opportunity.
Post-game drink: It makes sense that this was the case, but before writing this book I hadn’t thought of the fact that ex-players were invited to have a drink together before and after the game. In the book, there are a few stories of what it was like to be in the room and it was interesting to hear how seeing all of these legends together made Rob Pritchard feel.
Stewards: They can play an integral role in ensuring fans are able to fully enjoy a matchday without any worries but can often be forgotten. I really enjoyed speaking to Brian Holmes and Jacqueline Lange to find out their perspectives. It was also intriguing to discover what they had to do when all of the fans left the stadium – and how people taking their seats impacted the stewards’ role.
Programmes: One of my biggest memories of the final game at Upton Park was seeing a programme seller supporting a box on his knee with one hand, while rapidly handing out programmes and taking money with the other. Thinking of that, I found it really interesting to find out what went into that moment. Rob Pritchard discussed the editorial decisions that were made, while Geoff Martin gave an insight into the logistical side of things for this game, as well as giving an indication into how the experience was for sellers.
The DJ booth: Like many of the others for this book, my conversation with stadium DJ, Russ Budden, was a really interesting one. I learned a lot about what happened in the DJ booth on normal matchdays and what went into his music choices. It was also intriguing to hear why the decision was made to knock out the windows of the booth on this occasion and how that completely transformed his experience.
A player’s point of view: I had always presumed that being on the pitch for the final game at Upton Park was a brilliant experience for the players involved. While the comments from Winston Reid, Darren Randolph and Aaron Cresswell confirmed that, they also went into greater detail about the emotions that night inspired within them. Among their statements, Reid discussed how much it meant to him, Randolph shared what he did after the 90 minutes and Cresswell stated a way in which he wishes he’d taken it in more. It was brilliant to hear these things from some of the men who gave us that special result and performance.
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