There are goals from my lifetime that will be fondly remembered by everyone associated with the club who was around to see them. Those from the Boleyn Ground’s final game, the play-off finals and Carlos Tevez’s goal against Manchester United to keep us up among others.
I’ve ignored those games when choosing my favourite goal, but I have gone for a goal from what was a massive game for the club. Marlon Harewood’s FA Cup semi-final strike against Middlesbrough at Villa Park in 2006 is up there with the first that comes to my mind.
That was such an enjoyable day from start to finish. My dad, his mates and I drove to Birmingham, singing West Ham songs as well as flying flags and scarves out of the windows. The key, though, was getting to the final. There are some who question the competition’s modern-day relevance, but I have always been a great lover of the FA Cup, so I was desperate to see us in a final.
If I remember correctly, the game hadn’t actually been that amazing in its entirety and Harewood missed easier chances than the one he eventually took. Who really cares about that now, though? Certainly not me.
Football matches are often games of moments and that is exactly the case here. Thankfully for us, it was a moment of devastating efficiency from the men in white that turned this occasion. At first glance, it looks as though the goal started with an aimless hoof up the pitch, but take a closer look and you can see that Dean Ashton is expertly picked out with the ball forward.
Of course, he was able to overcome his marker in the air, getting up to knock the ball down for his strike partner. There was still a lot for Harewood to do, though, as he received the ball under plenty of pressure from his marker.
That was no bother, as he received the ball on the half-turn, held off the defender and absolutely walloped his strike past the goalkeeper. I, along with every other West Ham fan in that stadium, went absolutely wild. So did Harewood.
Even more so than the goal itself, I’ve always remembered our number 10 throwing his shirt onto the floor, before swinging his arms around as if unsure what to do with all of the joy he felt. It had been 26 years since we’d been at an FA Cup final and this goal set up one of the competition’s all-time classics — even if we came off on the wrong side of it.
That whole cup run had so many amazing moments, but Harewood’s goal and his ensuing celebration truly encapsulated just how much it all meant. This moment came four years after my first West Ham game, and I’d be very surprised if there are many people out there who remember West Ham’s 1-0 loss against Everton during the 2002/03 season.
Lee Carsley scored the only goal of what was probably a bit of a drab affair on the pitch. However, being at that game, just like that semi-final, is something I’ll keep with me for a lifetime — because it was my first ever West Ham game.
Perhaps for the best, I can’t remember too much about the match itself. All of my memories revolve around Upton Park and the sense of awe it inspired within me.
Even being on the train with all of the noise and excitement was thrilling. Walking down Green Street, going through the turnstiles and taking in the concourse were all truly exciting moments for me.
Nothing compared to seeing that pitch and those stands for the first time, though. When I emerged into the aisle, I took a second to myself and looked around with one drawn out word coming out of my mouth: ‘Wow’.
One thing that I absolutely loved years later is seeing my nephew have this exact same reaction when I took him to his first game – he was actually lucky and witnessed a Dimitri Payet masterclass as we beat Newcastle United 2-0. To me, that pitch looked like the carpet of dreams and while I’d been in a few other football stadiums, there was something so magical about all of those claret seats.
The Boleyn Ground felt like the most spectacular place I’d ever seen. I often say it, but I don’t think the actual football is the reason I fell in love with West Ham, it was Upton Park.
Quite frankly, there’s no way it could be the football, as we got relegated that season — there had to be something that kept bringing me back. I also remember feeling a true love of being among West Ham fans in the stadium, with the songs and chants immediately capturing my imagination. Of course, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles was my initial favourite.
There were times when it was impossible to fully concentrate on what was happening on the pitch, as I found myself looking around the stadium’s sheer size and taking in the atmosphere the best I could. Some youngsters hate the noise when they start going to football matches, and it’s understandable when considering how different it is to anything they’re likely to have witnessed.
However, it had the complete opposite impact on me, giving a feeling of being so alive and part of something truly incredible. So, while most people probably left the Boleyn that day wishing they hadn’t bothered, I was constantly asking my dad when we were going back. I was hooked.