‘Playing Wimbledon in Milton Keynes is a night I’ll never forget’

In his debut piece, Jake Gill takes a trip down memory lane to his first West Ham game almost 20 years ago

For so many of us, West Ham is more than just a football team, it’s a way of life, a culture ingrained into us during childhood that stays with us for the rest of our lives. 

I’ve worn claret and blue for as long as I can remember, certainly for longer than I’ve been able to walk or talk. 

I had little choice in the matter, of course — my dad is a lifelong Hammer who grew up on Sutton Court Road, just half a mile from the Boleyn.

Throughout my childhood, I heard stories about the highs and lows of life as a West Ham fan. My dad told me tales of The Boys of ’86, while my grandad celebrated the 1964 FA Cup victory with club legends Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst at The Queens. 

He even managed to drink out of the trophy as it was passed between the team and punters.

West Ham was my club before I even knew it, and at seven-years-old, I had my first opportunity to watch the team in action. 

It was a Tuesday evening at the National Hockey Stadium in Milton Keynes, just a couple of months after Wimbledon had left London.

It was a tough time for both clubs — we’d just been relegated after a disastrous campaign, worsened by a number of big-name departures including Freddie Kanouté, Paolo Di Canio and Trevor Sinclair. The loss of Joe Cole, my favourite player at the time, had been particularly painful to digest. 

I found my seat, just three rows from the front, and to my delight, I was greeted with a wave from David James as he took his place between the sticks. 

It also happened to be a particularly memorable night for Marlon Harewood, who made his debut for the club having signed earlier that very same day. 

We’d been on a poor run of form, failing to win any of the previous eight games, so when Brian Deane slotted home in the 51st minute, the away end erupted. Our elation quickly turned to anguish just 12 minutes later as Jobi McAnuff sealed a point for the Dons. 

Despite the disappointing result, I was absolutely thrilled that I’d seen a number of my heroes in action for the very first time. 

For most, the memories of a stalemate away in Milton Keynes 19 years ago will have faded away, but it will always remain a night that I’ll never forget.

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