Our recent victory at home against Manchester United was one to celebrate. Those of us of a certain age will know just what such a victory means to older Hammers supporters but what of the younger generation?
With the turmoil that has stained season after season for United since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, does a win against Manchester United still hold the significance it once did? After all it’s pretty clear that the chant to United fans of ‘your city is blue’ holds a certain truth with the rise of Manchester City.
Also with the reemergence of Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham, does a game against the red side of Manchester hold the same significance? Is it just another fixture? It was pretty clear that the Manchester United team that recently visited the London Stadium was one of the poorest I have seen.
I know with age my memory struggles these days but I remember the days when I could virtually name the United squad, this time I struggled with naming the starting eleven. But to me, a visit of United and a trip to Old Trafford still holds a major significance in my football diary.
We have had a few memorable matches against Manchester United so let’s not forget just what a game against them means. My own journey regarding Manchester United goes back over 50 years. Living in South Wales, I had my pick of teams to support to choose from.
Should I support Newport County, my nearest league team or go further afield and the ‘glamour’ of the First Division. In those days Leeds and Liverpool were seemingly winning everything but the glamour team was Manchester United.
George Best was the star but that team also included Bobby Charlton and Denis Law. They were a scoring machine. But the problem lie-in one of my classmates who was actually a season ticket holder, with his Dad, and showed off about his visits to Old Trafford.
In those days the opportunity to visit any game, let alone to the ex European Champions, was just a pipe dream to yours truly. And so I looked for another team and I chose West Ham, not even knowing where West Ham was.
But this team had the World Cup winning trio of Moore, Peters and Hurst. So I became the one and only Hammers supporter in my whole school. I declared my allegiance with pride. But with my team decided, there was a problem. Our first game against United, with me as a long-distance supporter, ended in a disastrous 4-2 away defeat with Best scoring a hatrick.
Not a great start. That game was in September 1971. I was just 10 years of age. Could I have changed my allegiance? Possibly. But I had made my decision and even at that early age I knew I would be a lifelong Hammers supporter.
My first actual West Ham vs Manchester United game finally came in my first year as a season ticket holder in August 2000 at a packed Boleyn Ground, that was in the days when we had a real football stadium. Walking to my seat I heard the United line up and it sent a shiver down my back. In the Red Devils line up that night were a few obscure players.
There was a midfield consisting of Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, and Keane, a defence including the Neville brothers with Sheringham and Andy Cole up front. Not too shabby. But we had a certain enigmatic player in our line up, a certain Paulo Di Canio and with United coasting to a comfortable win, the Hammers won a penalty which was converted by Di Canio and with time running out Devor Sukar popped up to get the equaliser.
What a result, particularly after we had lost 7-1 to that same team just months earlier. And there were even better days to come. There was our infamous cup win a few months later where we all did the Barthez and saw Di Canio score the winner in the 78th minute to secure our place in the next round of the cup and provide us with a new chant that can still be heard today.
Old Trafford seemed to hold no fear for us as on our next visit we came away with a league win too. I was therefore looking forward to United’s visit to the Boleyn in March 2002 and the excitement was there for all to see as both teams scored two goals a piece and after just 20 minutes we were holding our own.
But then United took control scoring two unanswered goals. We did have faint hope with Defoe pulling the score back to 3-4 but Beckham stepped up to score a penalty to make it a final score of 3-5. This game was an exciting one to watch but more importantly signified our downward spiral against United.
I did have hope when I travelled to Old Trafford for yet another cup game but walked away completely depressed after a 6-0 mauling. Manchester United were now in their ascendency, occasionally we held our own but they pretty much dominated.
Over the next five years we had a 30% win ratio and with snow expected for our November League Cup fixture in 2010, I decided to miss my first West Ham vs Manchester United game in over 10 years, that’s home and away. What I missed on that snowy night was the greatest performance of Johnathan Spector’s life.
The former United trainee scored two with Carlton Cole adding another brace for a famous 4-0 win. Oh how I wish I had been there. I made sure not to miss a game again but for the next few years, it was pretty much a United dominance but then came our next FA Cup tie and one again at Old Trafford.
How we all wished that VAR was in action that day. After Payet scored with one of the greatest free kicks I have ever seen, United’s Bastian Schweinsteiger blatantly fouled our keeper to allow Martial to score the winner. We were also denied a penalty in that game too. It was pretty obvious that United would win the replay.
For the next few years it was all pretty much doom and gloom for us Hammers but then came the greatest night in our domestic history. In May 2016 we said goodbye to the Boleyn. Just under 35,000 of us witnessed that historic night where we came from 2-1 down to win that final home game 3-2 and I was there.
So why is a win against Manchester United still one to crow over? Well look at these statistics. Manchester United is ranked second only to Real Madrid as a football global brand.
They have 41 million Instagram followers, four million YouTube subscribers and their annual sale of jerseys is around about 1.6 million. Ask a non football following member of the public to name an English side and invariably they will say Manchester United.
They are one of the biggest global brands in all sports. The club is greater than the sum of players and that’s why any win against the red side of Manchester is still one to be proud of.