Exactly one week before West Ham took on Sevilla. I did not have a ticket for the game. Fast forward to that evening, and a shiny ticket for the away leg of the Europa League round of 16 had been waved under my nose.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not spontaneous. I need time to think and make solid plans. So this was a high pressure moment for me, with two routes: one – spend loads of money on flights and don’t overthink it, or two – play it safe, don’t go, and live with the regret.
I checked with my boss to make sure I could take the time off work at short notice. His words were: ‘I’m not going to be the one to stand in your way of this opportunity and why are you even thinking twice?’. This was the advice I needed!
So, *insert sum of money here in case my husband is reading* later, flights were booked. As someone who isn’t a keen flyer, I only now had six days to fret over taking three flights on my own, to a country I’d never been to.
On the morning of the game, the anticipation was turned up to 11. I hopped in the car at 3.30am and boarded the flight from Dublin to Barcelona, pinching myself as I climbed the steps. Little did I know that there was a fellow Hammer on board, who I would become acquainted with on our first stop in Spain. My new friend and I bumbled our way to an alternative terminal for flight number two of the day, and exchanged ‘supporting West Ham’ stories, as you do.
Seville greeted me with golden sunshine and hoards of fellow Hammers. Glorious! There wasn’t much time for recreation (or a nap, unfortunately!), but that didn’t matter. Once the ticket was in my hand, it felt like the most valuable diamond. Wandering the streets was enough of a memory in itself, with seas of claret and blue in the streets.
After a quick stop for tapas (when in Rome…) and a pint, it was onward to Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium for photo ops and to soak up some pre-match atmosphere. Standing outside the ground was comparable to my first Premier League game; it was the same excitement, the same novelty, but sunnier. It was this moment that made me realise that my decision to put my fears behind me was the right one.
Once inside the stadium, we agreed to head towards the back because the chances of being trampled on if anything exciting happened was way higher at the front. This turned out to be a good call – being only a few rows from the back, I had people fall on several times and have got bruises to prove it! Sevilla’s stadium is basically a giant bowl full of steps. I was also lucky enough to get onto the end of the row, with a metal pole to cling onto if necessary.
The game itself was better than anticipated. I went in thinking that a 2-0 defeat would be okay and we might make it up at London Stadium. We didn’t expect much to cheer, but in fact there was plenty. Good job I had that metal pole to rely on every time there was a corner to our advantage.
The one thing I hoped wouldn’t disappoint was the atmosphere. Watching European matches on television is inspiring; so often the fans in Spain, Italy and Germany put on a show, and I’m left thinking ‘I hope I get to experience that once.’ The Sevilla fans were immense. I was living in the moment, but about five minutes before the goal went in, I took my phone out to video the crowd because I’m convinced I’ll never hear the likes of it again. The wall of noise and flag waving was unrivaled. It probably did draw the ball into the net!
The Hammers faithful were awesome too and I massively enjoyed being part of a West Ham crowd again, especially an away crowd. The renditions of Bubbles gave me goosebumps and the sheer volume of people made me so proud.
It was an opportunity not to be passed, but in hindsight, we now know how important the work in that game in Seville was. A 1-0 loss allowed us to play the way we did in the second leg – with no fear and some confidence, and it put the Spanish side on the back foot.
The first leg played a huge part in our quarter final qualification, and I’m massively grateful to be a part of it. It’s etched into my brain as a monumental 27 hours, polished off with a can of Estrella.