For Emily Pulham, Geoff Hillyer, David Bowden and Robert Banks, the parade reminded them of the journey West Ham have been on in recent years. Taking us back to where we started before inviting everyone to come along with the journey to where we are now was particularly poignant for Emily.
‘Snaking through the streets of Upton Park and Plaistow, the parade passed packed east London boozers and worked its way through 70,000 emotional fans who had been waiting for this for years. Some of us had waited a lifetime; others, for half of one,’ she says. This parade wasn’t just attended by the Stratford set; multi-generational East End families lined the streets to cheer on the lads that made them proud. A toothless Grandad in a flat cap celebrated with his daughter and granddaughter.
‘The players who made this happen were born a far cry from the bow bells, but they will be forever honorary East Enders.The joy was everywhere and it felt incredible to be part of it. It was a privilege to be able to take part in the parade. The sense of joy, pride, and jubilation was everywhere – and the giddiness and excitement for the players’ arrival was contagious.
‘We parked ourselves in Plaistow, and when our heroes arrived, it was a roar of celebration – and it was clear the players loved it as much as the fans did. They were happily engaging with fans, taking selfies, dancing, and, for the person who gave Thilo Kehrer a microphone to lead chants and songs with the crowd, I salute you for doing God’s work.
‘As the players went past, fans could join in the parade and be part of the thousands making their way to a Stratford that was somehow both absolutely rammed and yet simultaneously had room for all the happy Hammers who wanted to see the historic trophy lift – one that most, including myself, had waited a lifetime to see.’
For Geoff, the parade showed how truly massive West Ham’s fanbase is with it taking place just 24 hours after our Conference League victory with thousands of fans still travelling back from Prague.
‘There was something vaguely unbelievable and faintly ridiculous about the fact that we were standing, in a car park, outside a Plaistow pub on a Thursday night, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a weird gold limo and a couple of double-decker buses, celebrating the fact that we had won a European trophy. Even as I type those words after the event, it still seems surreal,’ he explains.
‘Waiting for the parade took an age, but Emily and I were able to fill the time by attempting to record some videos, discussing the merits of the season, forgetting the Premier League because Europe’s where it’s at, and utilising the wonders of modern technology, to watch a live stream of the parade as it approached. By doing this, we knew pretty roughly when the party was going to arrive, but even this information was unable to prepare us for the sheer roar, the excitement and the jubilation of seeing our heroes for the first time – and yes, they are heroes.
‘It was a moment of universal celebration, almost like shaking up a can of fizzy drink and then opening the lid; it was a sheer explosion of joy. Crowds of people, young and old, swarmed forward to be part of what might be a once-in-a-generation experience.
‘Flags were being waved, vuvuzelas were being blown, and being but one person amongst the sheer mass of people following the parade towards Stratford Town Hall was an experience to behold. I was born in 1980, so I do not remember any major trophy celebration. This will live with me forever. I felt as if I wasn’t just watching it, I was part of it.
‘I felt as if I was with the players on that bus. We followed the parade to Stratford, not wanting to let it pass us by, and as I watched the trophy proudly lifted by the players, I was struck by the moment – I put the phone down and just watched, trying to take it in, wondering how long it would be before we get to do this again. Europa League next season? Who knows. But one thing’s for sure: on that Thursday night, we were truly massive’
For David Bowden, he was delighted to have finally managed to tick ‘Right Royal East End Knees-up’ off my bucket list.
‘Following the highs of the night before, with sore heads we filled the streets to welcome our heroes home. It was something I was going to make sure I wasn’t going to miss. It felt special the moment I stepped off the tube at Plaistow as I looked down the street to see a sea of Claret and Blue line the pavements. Flags were flying, bubbles were blown, and songs were sung, it was a proper east-end party.
‘As I walked the streets to what was my father’s old stomping ground, The Black Lion, memories came flooding back of yester-year and it was enough to give you goosebumps. It really showed how ‘massive’ this club is. The old cockney humour was in abundance as men lined the roads in jubilant fashion frustrated when a bike, car, delivery lorry or cop car didn’t beep their horns, didn’t they know it was time to celebrate?
‘When the time came and the bus turned the corner, the excitement reached boiling point, as a roar of delight filled the Plaistow sky. A slightly worse for wear looking Jarrod Bowen launched a ball into the sky and David Moyes in his dark shades lifted the trophy aloft to cheers from the thousands who had lined the streets. Just magical.
‘What followed showed what a fabulous group of lads we have at this club. From an unlikely conductor Thilo Kehrer whipping the Stratford crowd into a frenzy of ‘Irons’ and ‘West Ham are Massive’, to Declan Rice rapping, and Lucas Paqueta doing his samba moves to his new chant, as he slowly begun to understand that it was car related. It is something that will likely live with me for the rest of my life, two special nights and frankly an event I was beginning to think would never come. Here’s to many more moments like that.’
Like the rest, Robert was unable to travel to Prague so wanted to make sure he was there for the victory parade. ‘Being the pessimistic soul that I am, I hadn’t even considered that the parade would happen until about midnight on the Wednesday when I frantically started scrabbling around for details.
‘I was pleased to see it was the next day – I wanted to be there while the sweet smell of success was still fresh. Friends of mine who were unable to get back in time were complaining, but I say stuff them – they got to watch the game. Let me have something I can brag about to them for the rest of eternity when they raise the fact that I wasn’t at the final.
‘I decided to watch the parade from outside the Black Lion Pub in Plaistow. That pub was our regular haunt when we were at the Boleyn Ground – so it seemed fitting. I had arranged to meet David, Emily and Geoff at the pub but when I arrived it was 20-deep at the bar and hot enough to melt tungsten, so I opted for the car park where I bumped into my nephews and took up a position by the zebra crossing.
‘The BBC had asked if I might be able to give an interview from the scene via Zoom. The Parade had been due to leave Upton Park at 7pm but by 8pm it still hadn’t arrived at The Black Lion.
‘BBC news waited patiently as my nephew Mark also waited patiently holding my phone up to keep me in shot. Around 8.15pm the buses emerged around the corner greeted like tanks liberating Paris in 1944. It felt like that was the last time we’d won anything.
‘The outpouring of joy was tangible – but I missed the buses passing because the BBC kept me talking. It didn’t matter, I was there, I felt the emotion, I didn’t have to see the players on the bus or the trophy to be able to feel that. I gave Plaistow station a swerve on the way back seeing queues reminiscent of 2.55pm on a matchday, and walked down to West Ham station, meeting so many smiling waving people on the way.
‘I hope the players realise just how much joy they have brought to their fans. Despite the sanitisation of the game, we have a connection with the players I have rarely seen at clubs at this level. I’ll be back next year for the FA Cup parade. Or Europa League. Not fussy.’