'We all follow the West Ham'

If you have followed West Ham United overseas, the likelihood is that you have bumped into the giant figure of Martin 'Chas' Chandler.

Also known by his avatar 'Romford' on the online supporters' forum Knees Up Mother Brown, Chandler has organised his own 'Chastours' trips to European ties and pre-season matches for more than 20 years.

During that time, Chandler has led groups of Hammers far and wide to venues as varied as France, Austria, Switzerland, Germany and China.

This summer will be no different, with Chandler organising for more than 200 members of the Claret and Blue Army to visit New Zealand and Germany for the Football United Tour and FC Schalke 04 Cup respectively.

"It's a way of life for us," said the 45-year-old. "I have followed West Ham on pre-season tours for about 30 years now and we've always had a good couple of hundred fans out to virtually all of them.

"It's all about meeting different people and having a giggle. It's a way of life for us. I could name virtually all of the people who will be following the Club to New Zealand because it is the same people all the time.

"I don't know how they do it because they're all married and all have full-time jobs, but they still do it."

Trollhattan 2005

Chastours travelled to Trollhattan in Sweden in 2005

For Chandler himself, West Ham is very much a way of life, with Chastours being born during West Ham's successful UEFA Intertoto Cup campaign in the summer of 1999.

"My Granddad went to the 1923 FA Cup final and all my family are West Ham. I just started following them around the country when I was 12 or 13 and have never stopped.

"I've always enjoyed meeting different people, watching us play in every city and, when it came to the Intertoto Cup final in Metz, nobody seemed to be doing a trip so I did one via Paris and it has snowballed from there, really."


Chastours followed the Hammers to China in 2008

Having been researching and arranging Chastours for 15 years now, Chandler has become something of an expert in arranging flights, hotels, transfers and social events for the hundreds of West Ham supporters who follow their team over land and sea.

"I have also travelled all over with England and the venue for this summer's trip to Germany has come out of my trip there for the 2006 World Cup," he explained.

"We will be travelling to Cologne because we never stay in the same town as where the match is taking place. Last year, the match was in Mainz and we stayed in Wiesbaden - it was only 20 minutes down the road, but we had a great laugh with the locals, whereas if we'd stayed in Mainz there might have been a bit of an atmosphere.

"We're doing the same this year, staying in Cologne, and there will be 170 of us travelling.

"We always stay in lovely hotels and we've had a good laugh over the years. It's all about meeting different people and following the team, meeting West Ham fans in the middle of nowhere. I come from Leytonstone but we meet people from all over and wonder why they support our Club.

"I could never afford to go on these trips unless I arranged them. They are done at 'mate's rates' so the only thing they have to cover is my costs."


Chas and company outside the Workers Stadium in Beijing, China

When asked to name his favourite trip, Chandler has plenty of memorable options from which to choose.

"Metz was the best trip, just because of the atmosphere, that was the number one," he revealed, "but the nicest place we ever went to was probably Colmar [in the far east of France] when we were playing in Grenchen in Switzerland. That was beautiful.

"Last year, we stayed in Bacharach and went along the Rhine on a cruise, which was nice. China was also a good one when we went there for the Asia Trophy in 2008. I took 47 people to China."

"It's all just an excuse to get away, really."

For Chandler, this summer's trip to New Zealand was set to be the longest journey yet, only for an unfortunate injury to rule the lifelong Hammer out of travelling to the other side of the world.

"This summer has been a bit of a nightmare for Chastours because I broke my sternum by walking into a post while I was coming to the Swansea game in February," he explained.

"The doctor has told me I shouldn't travel all the way to New Zealand, so I've had to blow that trip out, but we still have a number of people going. They are flying into China and spending some time there before flying on over to New Zealand - it's a real proper trip and a real proper adventure.

"I will be travelling to Germany, though, because the trip is much shorter and I have a group of 170 to look after!

"We have been in touch with the Cologne Hammers and they have organised places for us in their Fan Park, so that should be a bit of giggle. We're all really looking forward to it."