From the Terraces

Writer and broadcaster Mark Webster gives his take on the early positive atmosphere engulfing West Ham United
A glorious July evening in E13, and I was already at my first competitive game of the season at The Boleyn. And with still a week until my birthday. This has never been known before. Has the world gone mad? I mean to say, what next? Wireless telephones you can just stick in your pocket?! Oh, that’s happened already, has it? I’ll have to get myself one of those, then.

What’s more, it was the best kind of full house you could wish to imagine. It’s always special pleasure when you take those few steps up into the ground to take your seat. Even if you’ve been going for literally decades as I have, there is still just a little bit of it that is like doing it for the first time. 

This time, uniquely, I found myself taking in a fully packed stadium that was corner to corner, side to side claret and blue. What a sight. Yes, you might see something like it at a Testimonial. But this was serious stuff for us. And it felt like it. From the get go, Upton Park was off the beach and in top voice, belting out plenty of songs for Europa.

Certainly the chance to welcome Slaven Bilic back got things on the right foot straight away. He appeared, albeit briefly, and brandished the scarf that doesn’t seem to have left his shoulders since he came home. I wonder if he can out-Mancini the former Manchester City manager, who wore his one like a cravat, and do the whole season with it held above his head? Probably not. He’s going to need those arms for his trademark ‘remonstrating’.

My view on the night was particularly unique for me, because for the first time, I watched from a box, up in the West Side. Luckily for me, an old friend of mine, Alan Alger, is now working for our club sponsors Betway. Al is a proper football fella and we met when he was working to help raise the profile, and much needed funds for Conference football, of which he remains a passionate advocate. Luckily, Alan and his Betway colleagues had a spare seat, so it was my big chance to turn left on the plane. So that’s one off of the bucket list before we move up the road.

The Betway team are clearly an enthusiastic, hands-on bunch who love being part of the club. And they are also very handy for tidbits of info. For example, they are heavily involved in supporting snooker and darts, and I am reliably informed that if you are prepared to put in the hard yards at the oche, and move to Tokyo, you can become a superstar. Apparently, arrows are (if you’ll pardon the pun) absolutely flying in Japan.

To underline Betway’s commitment to the cause, they also supply the kit for our West Ham fans’ team. And also enjoying a refreshing cold beverage - not to mention a veritable mountain range of half time cheeses. Normally, cheese would come as a flavouring, alongside onion, and stuck to a crisp - were two of the boys who play for them, Will Bush and the main organiser, Matt Dillworth.

I knew we had a team, but I wasn’t aware of quite how much time and commitment they put into flying the Hammers flag. They were telling me how there is effectively a mini league that takes place during a season, with a commitment to play as many return fixtures as possible. Not all Premier League clubs are represented, but there are teams around the divisions who may have a match they’re coming to watch in London, and seek us out for a game on the day. And then Matt will try and arrange to reciprocate when we’re on the road.

What’s more, they’re proper games, too, they say. The boys play to a decent standard, but perhaps more importantly, they always play in the right spirit. Nearly! Without naming names, there were tales of ex-pro ringers (‘you couldn’t get the ball off of him’) and one particular club that, shall we say, took it a bit too seriously. But all in all, it sounds like the fellas have their match days sorted out perfectly.

In the end, it was the perfect way to start what is going to be a special season. Great result, good goals, and a chance to see some of our fine young talent in a game that had something on it. The way Reece Oxford used the ball and the spaces on the pitch was particularly eye-catching for me, although in the second half, it was a youngster out wide in front of the old Chicken Run who might have got one of the biggest cheers of the night. The ball boy who killed a long clearance stone dead and casually knocked it back for the throw-in looks yet another top Academy find.

Friday night I was back just yards from the ground for an evening at East Ham Working Men’s Club. Many of you will know Gina Allen as one of the genuinely friendly faces from the West Ham family, from her long-standing role in the ticket office and as liaison officer. Gina’s very ill at the moment, so one of our own, Chas Chandler (who I first met when we both took pre-match liquid on board at Bubbles wine bar in Green Street market. What a spot!), took it pretty much on himself to put on a benefit night for her, to help get Gina much deserved holiday break. Or as it is also known, provide yet another excuse for me to break out a bit of the old soul, funk and disco..

It was great to see such a decent turn out for a Friday so early in the season, and that our little legend Steve Potts also came along to help hand out the raffle prizes. The fact that he barely appears to have aged was, however, not quite so pleasing from where I was standing.

It was particularly touching when Chas read out a letter from Gina. Sadly she was too ill to attend, but it was clear from her words that she was genuinely moved by what Chas had arranged on her behalf. Slightly less moving was Chas's description of me as a ‘media multi-tasker’ (he didn’t say ‘multi-tasker’) of whom ‘when you see him on the telly next, you can say, he’s that DJ who was rubbish’ (he didn’t say ‘rubbish’).

Mind you, I have been called worse. COYI.

Mark Webster

*You can follow Mark Webster on Twitter @itsmarkwebster.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of West Ham United