Hammers fan Peter Wagg becomes the latest supporter to blog for whufc.com on our Fanzone feature...
It all began in 1958. I was just a nine-year old sprog living in the Midlands. At the time, there was only one football magazine: Charlie Buchan's Football Monthly. After a successful career as an elegant and prolific centre forward, predominantly for Arsenal and Sunderland, Charlie embarked on a journalistic career and founded his own publication in 1951, which continued until his passing in 1974. My elder brother and me couldn't wait for the monthly delivery, and especially the Christmas annual when we would sit around the fire in the afternoon after opening our presents, eaten the turkey, and quiz each other on team line-ups through the year.
We really didn't have a favourite club at the time and would go see West Brom, Wolves, Birmingham, Aston Villa - whoever was playing at home on a Saturday, traveling on his trendy Vespa scooter. The first team we went to see on a regular basis was Stoke during their glory years of Gordon Banks, Stanley Mathews, Dennis Viollet, Maurice Setters, and Jimmy McIlroy.
That was until the day Charlie's magazine dropped through our letter box. It always had a colour centre spread of a team. Defenders standing at the back, forwards sitting on a bench, all with folded arms. They looked like Gods to a wee lad. Well, 1958 was the year John Dick fired the Irons from the old Second to First Division during the transformative Ted Fenton era, and they looked simply awesome. The claret and blue kit had a different style, cut-away boots unlike anything I had ever seen, and a swagger inspired by Ferenc Puskas and the Hungarian continental flair. That was the moment I unwittingly became a Hammer.
For some strange reason I became more of a player fan than a team fan. As a would be midfielder, I locked on to Phil Woosnam. I think he was the first professional to have an unheard of University degree, in Physics from Bangor University. Not the most romantic I admit, but it made him even more charismatic in my mind when added to his natural, intelligent gifts. He only stayed for four seasons before moving to Villa, but by then I was hooked. Phil went on to be the Commissioner of the North American Soccer League of course and is in the NASL Soccer Hall of Fame.
But I digress.
So from that point on I became an avid supporter, watching them whenever I could on away games in the Midlands. But there was a twist in the tale. We went to see a Villa v West Brom game (principally so I could watch Phil), but he was injured and to my disappointment was not in the programme team notes. But all was not lost, in taking our seats I found myself sitting next to him! Can you imagine poor old Phil, stuck with a kid who said, "Phil you are my hero!" and pointing to his "Star badge" on my lapel? (Remember those star badges, and rosettes, and rattles?). He must have dreaded the next 90 minutes, but both he and I were exemplary and I left the ground glowing!
I also remember being at boarding school when we played Preston in the 1964 Cup Final. It was Sports Day. I had my little transistor radio and heard every minute, cheering when Johnny Sissons, Geoff Hurst and then Ronnie Boyce scored the winner in a 3-2 result. Fortunately I was at Wembley when we beat Fulham in '75 and Arsenal in 1980 - I couldn't watch the whole of the second half as we held onto Trevor's historic header that took us over the finish line.
I moved to London in 1974, the year Bobby left for Fulham. The first game at the stadium of my dreams for the last 16 years was against Birmingham City, and we won 3-0 with goals from Billy Jennings, Keith Robson and Graham Paddon. I was finally home, and have been ever since.
I was still standing in those days, when there was the old Chicken Run, and made my way one Monday night by tube for the Manchester United game on 16 May 1977. It was a crucial match. We needed to at least draw to stay in Division One and United were playing in the Cup Final against Liverpool a week later. We assumed they would put out a 'second eleven' but that is not the way of the Red Devils - it was the first team. The atmosphere was electric, the crush against the turnstiles close to chaos. I finally fought my way into the South Bank two minutes after the kick-off - just as Gordon Hill weaved in from the right wing and drilled the ball past a helpless 'Merv the swerve' into the top corner. From that moment on it was the Boleyn at its best, a cauldron of sound, bubbles in the air, so much at stake, and two teams going hell for leather. No quarter given. Frank Lampard equalized with a characteristic thunderbolt from 25-yards and danced all the way to the corner flag. It proved to be a brief respite as Stuart Pearson restored United's lead, before Bryan 'Pop' Robson equalized, then he added a third, before Geoff Pike put it beyond doubt for a breathtaking 4-2 victory. We were safe, and ecstatically piled out to Mooro's pub in Stratford for celebratory beers and a knees up. Oh, and Man U went on to beat Liverpool 2-1 at Wembley.
Now addicted, I bought my first season ticket and over the years moved seats until situated on the half-way line in the East Stand. Many memorable moments followed including the Cup semi finals against Everton at Villa Park when we went on to beat Arsenal, the 1981 League Cup final against Liverpool and of course the agonizing 2006 FA Cup final, not to mention the Cup Winners Cup against Anderlecht in Brussels, then the glory of the Championship play-off against Blackpool two years ago.
In the end though, we stick with our team through thick and thin, through good times and the bad. It's simply a marriage. When my wife says, "why do you put yourself through this every week", I just say "It's what you do." I kept my season ticket for years after leaving England as it was such an emotional touchstone to home. The obsession continues of course, and the good news is that NBC just acquired the rights to the Premier League and stream every match live, so I can watch the lads at 7am here in Las Vegas. Will we stay up this season? Damn right we will, especially if we invoke the spirit of May 16 against Man U.
I will forever be blowing bubbles.