It’s been the best of times, it’s been the worst of times, but what a time it’s been to be a Hammer.
This season has brought us to such great heights, both in the league and on the continent. It’s a far cry from our seasons of whispered prayers to avoid relegation.
It’s been an emotional roller coaster of an adventure, but it’s left this writer feeling down when thinking about what could have been after our whimpered exit from the Europa League and the very real prospect of finishing one of our best ever seasons very empty handed.
It was all going so well. The build up to the first leg of the semi-final felt electric; we had beaten some of the better competition, and with Barcelona knocked out, we had a real chance to win the thing. Losing the first leg had us down but not out – we got through the previous rounds owing to a strong performance in the second leg.
Unfortunately, the legs we needed to worry about were the ones belonging to serial red-cardist Aaron Cresswell. After he got sent off early in the first half, the bubble finally burst for West Ham, and watching the remainder of a match we knew we couldn’t win felt like attending a funeral service out of a dogged sense of duty.
The best season
This is the single best season West Ham have had in my entire lifetime. We’ve never been so consistently placed in the top half of the table. We’ve never gotten so far in a European competition. We’ve never enjoyed a season so much – and yet, my heart feels much like Tomas Soucek’s face looks after one of the many matches he’s had a boot too many to the nose.
It feels awful. Absolutely, gut-wrenchingly, awful.
We’re going to finish the best season in living memory with nothing but the memories to show for it. It doesn’t seem like enough of a souvenir for how hard this team worked, particularly given the odds were always stacked against them.
It’s not that I’m not proud of what we achieved – in fact, I couldn’t be prouder. But David Moyes’ rag tag army of misfits have no right to have been as good as they have been this season. There’s been next-to-no squad depth from the start of the season, something compounded by injuries and a ghost of a January transfer window.
They were always punching slightly above their weight in the league and in Europe, but their hard work, team spirit, and determination put them on a path of overachievement for the threadbare squad we brought to the table. A squad with one senior striker shouldn’t be vying for a Champions League position with just four league games left of the season while being just 90 minutes from a European cup final.
Will we see it again?
But yet we were, and it was such an enjoyable time watching it happen. We celebrated incredible wins – especially those under the lights in Europe – and as the season draws to a close, it’s been a joy to support West Ham this year. But that’s what feels so sad about it all – it’s over. Nothing remains but the memories – and we don’t even know if we’ll make it to Europe next season.
We can’t tell yet if this was it, our big flash in the pan, and it’s going to be another 40 years until the next European semi-final, or if this is merely the start of something brilliant. Are we going to see this again in our lifetime, or are our future adult children going to be the match-goers next time an opportunity like this arises? We don’t know – but we have to hope it’s the start of something big, and that lessons have been learned about how to improve on this season.
It’ll be hard to keep a star like Rice on our books for much longer, but getting so close to greatness in both competitions has surely driven home the need to invest in a few players and the positions we need to be able to bring home the silverware next time.
We got close this year – and in theory, we should be only a few improvements away from a trophy. It’s all to play for when it comes to what’s next for West Ham, and it’s in the hands of the club to decide if this was our once-in-a-lifetime or the start of a life lived at the top of the table.
In the meantime, memories may be all we take away with us, but my god, what wonderful memories we have to keep.