As any West Ham fan knows, supporting this club can be a real emotional rollercoaster.
We celebrate the good times – the wins, promotions, star players at the club – and we share the pain of the bad times – the defeats, relegations, and star players leaving.
We experience giddiness, excitement, anxiety, frustration, sorrow and anger – sometimes all within the same match.
Sometimes, though, even the players can bring on those emotions. Ahead of our next encounter with Manchester United, we couldn’t think of any one individual who encapsulates them more than a certain ex-Hammer who, back in the 80s, was a star player in our (admittedly struggling) team, before then becoming incredibly unpopular following his controversial transfer to Manchester United – a series of events that would give him the label ‘Judas’ from West Ham supporters.
Many older readers will know exactly who I’m talking about, but for those not in the know or perhaps are new supporters, Paul Ince (now a pundit) was a highly-skilled defensive midfielder who would run himself into the ground over the course of 90 minutes.
He started his career at West Ham and did go on to achieve great things in the game – England international, who also went on to play for Inter Milan, as well as a management career – so it goes without saying that he knows a little bit about the game.
During the 1988/89 season, whilst Ince put in some excellent performances, the team looked increasingly likely to be relegated. Indeed, we did eventually go down, an event which cost John Lyall his job after 15 years in charge.
This led to speculation that Ince would be on the move to a First Division club (sound familiar?), although Ince did play in one match in the 1989/90 season, before transferring to Manchester United.
So far, so very West Ham-like. That’s what will happen when teams get relegated – your best players don’t tend to stick around.
However, what sticks in the craw of West Ham fans, even after more than 30 years, is the fact that a picture of him in a Manchester United kit was published in the Daily Express long before the transfer was complete.
To his credit, Ince later explained his actions to FourFourTwo magazine: ‘I spoke to Alex Ferguson and the deal was close to being done. I then went on holiday, and my agent at the time, Ambrose Mendy, said it wasn’t worth me coming back to do a picture in a United shirt when the deal was completed, so I should do one before I left, and it would be released when the deal was announced.
‘Lawrence Luster of the Daily Star took the picture and put in the library. Soon after, their sister paper, the Daily Express, were looking for a picture of me playing for West Ham, and found the one of me in the United shirt in the pile. They published it and all hell broke loose.
‘I came back from holiday to discover West Ham fans were going mad. It wasn’t really my fault. I was only a kid, I did what my agent told me to do, then took all the crap for it.’
Whether it was Ince’s fault or not, he hasn’t ever really been forgiven by parts of the West Ham faithful, but to be fair, he’s been saying some very nice things about the Hammers, and David Moyes too, who recently celebrated two years at the club.
‘He’s always said that he didn’t have enough time at Old Trafford, which I don’t think he did, he didn’t have the time to implement what he wanted, we’re now seeing that at West Ham.’ Ince said in an interview for Blowing Bubbles.
‘We’re now seeing them competing with the best, even against City. They’re competing against the best teams and they’re playing well. He’s got a great spirit there, there’s no big egos, no big stars, just a team who know how to defend and how to attack.”
It’s interesting to contemplate what Ince would have done if he had been at West Ham now and Manchester United had come calling.
Would he have stayed put, or moved to Manchester, a team who have been in a state of flux for a while?
Likewise, if he had been at another club, and seen our rise up the league with what now appears to be more permanent residency towards the top of the table, would he have wanted to come to us? Would he have relished playing at the London Stadium?
‘It’s great to see the atmosphere at the new stadium – we had so much negativity around it two years ago, with all the fans on the pitch – it’s changed now.
‘Moyes’ has got the atmosphere back and the fans are happy. It’s great to see, and Moyes – not just Moyes, his staff, Piercy, Nolan, all the ones he’s brought back in – they’ve done a fabulous job for the club and fingers crossed it will continue.’
West Ham, of course, have been very easy on the eye both this term and last, which has led to the record-topping points haul of last season and the strong start to this – it’s easily the best West Ham team of recent years.
When asked what he thought a successful season looked like, he mentioned Europe and didn’t rule out the club finishing in the top four.
‘If they could get into the quarter finals of the Europa League, I think that would be a massive achievement for the team. It’s great that they’re in Europe, West Ham always should be in Europe.’
Personally, I believe that West Ham would be doing extremely well to finish fourth this season and are far more likely to finish in the top eight than the top four. However, Ince feels differently, labelling Arsenal, Tottenham and Man U inconsistent.
‘Moyes believes that he can challenge the top four, I wouldn’t disagree at all. Obviously the top three are out of his reach, but then you have Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham, Man United, there’s four teams there who could easily finish in the top four.
‘He will believe that he can get that fourth spot, and I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t.’
Ince may be the bad boy of some West Ham supporters, but the vastly experienced ex-England international knows what he’s talking about, and clearly sees (as we do) a finely-run, high-quality team in West Ham United.
It’s great that pundits such as Ince are recognising the great work that Moyes has put in. I just don’t expect to see him at the club in a coaching role any time soon.