Award-winning dramatist and playwright David Eldridge has endured and enjoyed life as a West Ham United for nearly four decades.
Born in Romford into a large and loyal ‘West Ham family’ and educated at the same Brentwood School as former Frank Lampard and Stewart Robson.
After ‘jumping up and down on the sofa when Trevor Brooking scored’ in the 1980 FA Cup final, he harboured hopes of wearing his beloved Claret and Blue as a child.
However, it soon became clear that Eldridge’s skill lie with a pen and paper rather than boots and a ball, as he developed into one England’s brightest young dramatists.
“We all support the team, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles is sung at family occasions, all the kids in the family have club kits as my brother and I did as children; and supporting West Ham feels like it’s in the DNA of the area we are from,” he explained. “We’ve never questioned why we’re West Ham supporters, we just are.”
It was an incredible game of football with the surreal element of various actors in drifting in and out of their matinee dressed as Spanish Conquistadors to catch the score!
In 2000, at the age of just 26, Eldridge’s play Under the Blue Sky was performed at London’s historic Royal Court Theatre to critical acclaim.
As a young footballer is after scoring his first senior goal, Eldridge became hot property, and he has written and adapted prolifically for the stage, screen and radio ever since.
“To continue the analogy, I served my apprenticeship over four plays between 1996-2000, at relatively small, if high profile, London theatres, but in 2000 with a play of mine, Under the Blue Sky I just seemed to be labelled ‘playwright’ rather than ‘promising playwright’,” he recalled.
“I got opportunities to work in bigger theatres both with my own plays and adaptations of other writers’ work after that.
“And from around 2000 I started to get opportunities to make work for radio and TV a bit too which I really enjoy. It was good to have those opportunities as a young writer, as I learned a huge amount about my craft just from having plays on, and finding out about actors and audiences.”
While the theatrical world has traditionally been inhabited by those from more privileged backgrounds, Eldridge takes pride in bringing his works to a wider audience, including his fellow Hammers.
In 2012, In Basildon, focuses on the lives of an East End family who have migrated to Essex, complete with a chorus of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles sung at a crucial point.
Despite his claim that his works are not strictly autobiographical (another of his plays, Market Boy, is set at Romford Market, where his father had a shoe stall he worked on as a boy), Eldridge’s West Ham experiences form just part of his wildly creative mind and the emotion of seeing his team win and lose so theatrically down the years has rubbed off in his work.
“The 2006 FA Cup final against Liverpool was unforgettable,” recalled Eldridge, who lists Pedro Obiang, Manuel Lanzini and Andy Carroll as his favourite current players. “I ducked out of rehearsals for Market Boy to watch the match on the green room TV at The National Theatre. It was an incredible game of football with the surreal element of various actors in drifting in and out of their matinee dressed as Spanish Conquistadors to catch the score!
“Obviously the last season at Upton Park was fantastic but, for sheer joy, the season before when we beat Everton 9-8 in a penalty shootout with Adrian scoring the winner was awesome.”
Playing the National Theatre feels like being capped for England
Like a football club returning to Wembley after a long absence, as the Hammers did to win the Championship Play-Off final – with a dramatic late winning goal – in 2012, Eldridge will return to The National Theatre after an eleven-year absence in October.
Just as In Basildon, Eldridge’s new work, Beginning, features a West Ham-supporting character, and the 43-year-old has an idea for a Hammers drama that would be a sure-fire hit with his fellow fans.
“Playing the National Theatre feels like being capped for England so it’s great to be back there this autumn after eleven years,” he confirmed.
“I’ve never come up with a story that’s directly about West Ham but in a lot of my plays there’s a little bit of Claret and Blue somewhere or other. In In Basildon the family were all ardent Hammers and Len had requested Bubbles be sung over him after he died.
“In Beginning the character of Danny supports West Ham and is a bit grumpy to have missed a match as he had to go to recruitment consultancy expo in Milton Keynes on a Saturday.
“Surely someone has to write Di Canio: The Movie. He is a one-man drama all by himself!”
*Tickets for Beginning are available to buy online here from 8.30am on Friday 14 July.
Keep your eyes peeled to whufc.com for more stories about some of the people who make West Ham United much more than just a football club.