A fresh take on all things West Ham; From popcorn to pitch invasions

From Stratford to Seville, Paul Brand’s new book chronicles our recent rollercoaster ride

Bubbles at the West Ham United v Chelsea EPL match, at the London Stadium, London, UK on February 11, 2023.

As if having a taxpayer-subsidised tenancy at the London Stadium weren’t enough, West Ham also live rent free in my head so, back in 2015, I thought it was time to evict them. I had time on my hands, more time than is healthy following a life-changing motorcycle accident, so I began to pour my West Ham-related thoughts onto paper (or WordPress, as the case may be).

My mum and a few close friends politely read my initial online scribbles, then stopped bothering, what with being Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool fans or, in mum’s case, disinterested in football altogether. I kept writing though. As stated in the foreword of Fortune’s Always Hiding, it was my much needed ‘release valve’. Especially as being a Hammers supporter these past seven years has been an emotion-fuelled rollercoaster, what with leaving the Boleyn and, latterly, embarking on European adventures, hence the subtitle From Stratford to Seville.

Now, I know there are sections of the book that will probably have fellow fans cursing out loud. Most contentiously, I confess to being in favour of the London Stadium move and not being #GSBOut. My reasons are given but I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind. Football is a game of opinions and, let’s face it, we love the drama of the debate, even if it’s endlessly vexing.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion and West Ham fans still have far more in common than that which divides us. In chronicling my personal thoughts over this momentous period, I hope that they evoke strong emotions in others and allow them to relive both the highs and the lows.

My personal high point is Lyon away. It felt like a dream; oh, to have been among those brilliant away supporters in the Rhône Valley, while the low point is Burnley at home, which is self-explanatory, yet excruciatingly explained over 18-odd pages. For seven seasons I merrily typed away without finding an audience. The ongoing narrative compelled me to do so, although you’ll notice a drift in places, chapters on the Pellegrini era, for example, are considerably shorter than those dedicated to the surrounding seasons. 

My only real hope at this stage was that my kids might one day discover the blog and view it as a time capsule, particularly since it all kicked off with whether or not to coerce my Chester-born son into following West Ham. Over time it had crystallised into a neat socio-historical document encompassing wider issues such as corporate greed, VAR and the evolution of the women’s game.

But it was only as 2021 ticked over into 2022 and a European trophy became a distinct possibility that I thought there might be a wider audience for my musings. The narrative was shaping towards glory at last or another glorious failure. Obviously, the former would have been preferable, though the latter probably makes for a more authentic West Ham experience.

The morning after Eintracht Frankfurt had dashed our dreams, I pulled myself together and wrote the concluding entry. Then I sent the second of the two pitches I’d prepared to the leading independent sports publisher, Pitch Publishing. Luckily they saw something in it – apparently West Ham fans have high engagement, which I take as being a sign of how much we care.

Although I’d always wanted to be a writer, life had taken me in different directions. Receiving advance copies in December was the best Christmas present imaginable and it feels as if life has come full-circle. My love of writing started with being a player-reporter on the primary school football team, like a mini Declan Rice crossed with Henry Winter.

Dreams of being a footballer were abandoned quite early, memories of double-digit thrashings at the hands of John Terry’s Senrab are documented in the book, but writing ambitions have always bubbled away in the background.  I continue to blog at chesterhammers.wordpress.com, which was so-named because its other original objective was to connect with neighbouring Hammers after relocating from Newham to the north, and I’m also currently writing about football songs, from ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ to ‘Three Lions’ via obscurities such as ‘Far Away in America’ by Die Deutsche Fußball Nationalmannschaft and the Village People.

I hope that anyone picking up a copy of Fortune’s Always Hiding experiences a nostalgic thrill at seeing Dimitri Payet and the rest on the cover, and that they’re able to relate to the ups and downs of being a West Ham fan contained within. If you like what you read then please follow the blog and, fingers crossed, one of these days the Finding Fortune sequel will emerge.

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