Boleyn People

Lucky Hammer Gary Francis received Paolo Di Canio’s very last West Ham United shirt worn at the Boleyn Ground
As modern West Ham United memorabilia goes, it would surely be one of the most sought-after pieces around – the shirt worn by Paolo Di Canio on his final Hammers appearance at the Boleyn Ground.

It was 3 May 2003 and the Italian forward had just scored his 51st and last goal for the Club in a 1-0 Premier League victory over Chelsea in West Ham’s penultimate match of the season.

Substitute Di Canio had celebrated his goal by ripping off his shirt, revealing a fashionable white vest before sliding to the turf while the vast majority of the 35,042 fans inside the Boleyn Ground celebrated wildly.

A little more than 20 minutes later and the final whistle was blown, sparking loud celebrations on and off the pitch. With one match remaining, the Hammers still had a chance of pulling off a miraculous escape from relegation.

After collapsing to the turf again, Di Canio took off his shirt again and walked to the front of the Bobby Moore Stand, where he threw it into the crowd. The Claret and Blue jersey was caught a fan by the name of Gary Francis.

Archive television footage from ITV’s ‘The Premiership’ shows Francis catch the shirt and clench his fist in delight at collecting memento that he will cherish for the rest of his life.

More than a decade later and West Ham are preparing to bid farewell to the Boleyn Ground, where Francis still holds a Season Ticket in the Bobby Moore Stand.

“In 2003, I was the lucky supporter that caught the legend that is Paolo Di Canio’s last-ever home shirt, which he threw into the Bobby Moore Stand Lower on Saturday 3 May 2003 after the win over Chelsea,” he confirmed.

“He kissed the shirt and I was lucky enough to reach high enough to catch it. There aren’t many players in today’s age who show that sort of passion for the Club and all the fans warmed to him, definitely.

“This was later shown on TV that night on ‘The Premiership’ – ITV’s version of Match of the Day. I had the shirt professionally framed and I am still the proud owner of this piece of West Ham and Upton Park’s history.

“This memory of that day at the Boleyn will stay with me forever, even though we ended up getting relegated that year.

“I framed the shirt that week, without washing it, and I must admit there aren’t many people who come round to my house who don’t know about it!”

“Di Canio is still one of my favourite players to ever play for West Ham and I am sure he will be involved in the celebrations of the last season at Upton Park. If he is, I’d love to meet him!”
Like virtually every Hammer, Francis’ favourite Di Canio moment was his scissor kick against Wimbledon in 2000, and he is feeling the emotions rising as West Ham’s departure from the Boleyn Ground grows ever closer.

“I think everyone at the Club has a connection to the ground or the area in some way. My family used to live in Seymour House in Seymour Road, overlooking the old Chicken Run, so I grew up supporting West Ham. I used to visit my Nan, then my older cousin started to bring me over as I got older.

“I’ve seen many memorable games over the years – when we beat Man United 4-0 in the League Cup in the snow. I couldn’t decide whether to go to the game or not, but it was worth the effort, definitely.

“Looking to the future, I understand why we have got to move and the Olympic Stadium is fantastic, definitely.”