‘The ugly atmosphere made me feel vulnerable and intimidated’

Our defeat at home against Burnley in 2018 ranks as one of the worst days in our history

When it comes to the worst West Ham game I’ve ever witnessed, I scarcely know where to begin. The choice is wide and varied as the refrain of ‘Bubbles’ annoyingly hangs in the air. Yes my dreams fade, die and miraculously re-born only to be dashed yet again.

There are many games jockeying for the title of worst game. A 4-0 defeat against Liverpool in January 1976 was memorable for its pure brutality. Not only ripped to shreds by Keegan and Toshack but dogged by sub-zero temperatures and polar bears rubbing their paws together on the terraces.

Or the week before Christmas 1979 watching West Ham apparently beating Cambridge 3-1.   I say apparently as the game was played during a snow blizzard. Players were barely visible as an orange ball occasionally pierced a white screen.  

A dishonourable mention also goes to the shambles that was Astra Giurgiu in August 2016; Our first competitive defeat at the London Stadium and a dismal failure to qualify for the Europa League.  Fights broke out all around me as fans argued over the right to stand. Call me pedantic but I’ve had better nights out.

One game defeats all pretenders to the title with a knockout blow. It was a claret and blue nightmare; a tale of pitch invasions, missing corner flags and a second half capitulation. The portents weren’t good as I headed for the station at 1pm. A 20-minute journey on the Central Line would make me hideously early, but usually gave me time to have a mooch round before the game started.

Fidgeting on the westbound platform the minutes began to tick by. Then the fateful announcement, there has been a signal failure on the Hainault branch; Customers are advised to use alternative routes. My pre-match ritual was in jeopardy, I had to bolt across to Seven Kings (my closest national rail station).

A 15-minute walk and then take my chances on the Shenfield line to Stratford. Could I really be bothered tearing around to watch West Ham play Burnley.  It had been a long week, I could just put my feet up and let Jeff Stelling talk me through it on Gillette Soccer Saturday? But no, I am a fan as in a fanatic so off I went.

I made surprisingly good time and got to Stratford just after 2pm. Meandering through Westfield, the stadium looms into view and looks like a newly assembled flat pack.  Forever faithful to its origins, the stadium had some post assembly screws left over. In a rare spark of creativity, these extras were seemingly used to build the Orbit, an absurd twisted lump of metal masquerading as modern art.  

I passed a throng of fans protesting with megaphones and placards; the tension was palpable and reminiscent of the Astra Giurgiu game.  It might sound like hindsight but I felt no good would come of it. Such demonstrations rarely produce a positive outcome.  

Fans have a right to protest but the default position is to blame the board when things go wrong. Admittedly, West Ham had lost three of the last four games but were generally doing OK.  

David Moyes, in his first stint with the club had guided them to 14th in the Premier League. I couldn’t see why the protests were quite so vociferous? Once through security there was time for a quick cantor around the club shop. I marvelled at the smell of cheap synthetics and how well it sold.

Stamp the club’s badge on anything from a water bottle to keyring or baby grow and someone will buy it.  Clicking through the anonymous turnstiles I headed for my seat. A blonde lady is taking a picture of her children on the entrance steps.

She pauses to remonstrate with her son: Jamie, can’t you just pretend you’re pleased to be here? He frowns with a slow shake of the head. Jamie if you’re reading this it’s OK — we share your pain.

Burnley’s colour scheme had created a mass wave of claret and blue around the stadium. Before kick-off, a minute’s applause was held to mark the anniversary of Bobby Moore’s passing.  

It proved to be the only bright spot. For an hour West Ham were the better team, creating more chances and looking more likely to break the deadlock. However, the old frailties kicked in as Ashley Barnes fired Burnley ahead in the 66th minute.  

It triggered the first of four shameful pitch invasions. I was alarmed how easily fans got onto the pitch as security went missing.  It must have affected the players as Burnley rattled in two more goals to make it 3-0.  

A crowd gathered under the directors’ box baying for blood. The atmosphere was toxic as young West Ham fans took shelter in the Burnley dugout.  The directors left for their own safety, leaving club legend Sir Trevor Brooking to survey the chaos.  

It was soon forgotten how well West Ham played, especially in the first half. An ugly atmosphere made me feel vulnerable and intimidated. As Burnley’s third goal hit the net, I couldn’t get away quick enough. At that moment I felt ashamed to be a football supporter.

Worse still I had to put up with the same smart ass question for weeks afterwards, so what did you do with the corner flag then? Crowd trouble was a 1970s phenomenon and I thought it had been consigned to history with all-seater stadium.  

These days we sit and watch in comfort free from terrace culture anxiety.  Some might say it was a lot of fuss over nothing, but no one should ever fear for their safety watching a game of football.    

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