‘That first walk to Upton Park for a Premier League game was magical’

My very first game against Spurs was a memorable day but not for what happened on the pitch

When I got the tickets for my first Premier League game, the excitement was real. It was going to be West Ham V Spurs. The memory that I will reveal that I was left with, however, tells you all you need to know about that game itself.

It was 2001 and I was 13-years-old. I’d been to a couple of games before; an FA Youth Cup semi-final in ‘96 and Steve Potts’ testimonial. But it wasn’t the same as this. The kids at school would react to this one, because this would be on Match Of The Day.

We (that’s me, my sister and my Dad) had tickets in the Dr Martens Upper, which again was new and exciting. We were over in the corner towards the Trevor Brooking stand, or the family stand – in case it all kicked off in this heated rivalry. Spoiler alert. It didn’t kick off.

We lived in Romford, so the drive in theory was straightforward. What I hadn’t accounted for was east London being a tad busier at 3 o’clock on a Saturday. When it was suggested at about midday that we leave soon, I was confused.

It didn’t take me long to understand why. To this day, I still insist on leaving too early for events, just in case it’s anything like driving a few miles to Upton Park. I also underestimated the trek from the car to the stadium. Parking near stadiums is just not a thing, is it? But it was exciting.

Anyone who ever walked from Romford Road to the top of Green Street on a match day knows just how vibrant it is. I didn’t know it at the time, but this walk would become an essential part of match days to come and it would be something that I would treasure forever.

Then seeing the Boleyn Ground unveil itself from behind the other buildings was magical. Yes sure, I’d seen it before. But this is the Premier League. This is a new stand. There are Spurs fans walking around.

As a child, everything made me nervous. This time, my anxiety would kick in at the turn-styles. What if the ticket is fake? What if I lose the other two whilst I go through the gate? What if they don’t follow me into the gate and I get lost inside this maze of stairs?

But no, none of that happened. Then there were stairs. So many stairs. As we found our entrance on the concourse and looked out, I saw the pitch. It was so green and I think I shed a little overwhelmed tear. This was Premier League grass.

The next thing I knew, the warm up was over, ‘Bubbles’ had been beautifully sung, and now we were watching the game. With telly cameras around. What was the standout moment of the game? Gus Poyet getting concussion and trying to order a takeaway on the pitch.

The game was woeful. The promised atmosphere of a derby never materialised. The Spurs fans sang away as they won 1-0. There were four yellow cards, three of which came in the 90th minute. I left thinking: ‘It’s not as good in real life as on the telly, is it?’. Despite that, we landed back at Upton Park two weeks later with half-season tickets. It might not always be exciting, but it sure is addictive.

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