It was a lazy afternoon, the kind cliches are made of: a rolling, bright, early summer day in Manhattan. I was hanging out with a friend, drinking a beer at a bar in the Upper East Side, when the topic of football (proper football, mind you) came up. He was shocked that I followed the sport.
"You studied in England too, then?"
"No, I just grew up playing it and have always loved it."
"Well, I'm headed down to Nevada Smith's to watch Arsenal play one of the final games of the season. Want to go?"
I said "Yes," of course, and that was my introduction to the world of football.
Anyone who has been to Nevada's can tell you of the atmosphere, how it is one of the few places in the States that truly recreates a proper pub feel, how it lives and breathes football. The wall vents hum with chants instead of cool air and the walls drip flags and shirts instead of useless decorative corporate flair. There, watching that match and roaring with Arsenal supporters, a football fan was born.
"But, wait," you're saying, "isn't this about why you love West Ham?"
It is, and here is why: I cannot, for any reason, support a giant, super club. I am the opposite of a Fair Weather Johnson. If a team wins all the time, I find that boring, too safe, a death-blow to some sense of decency that I possess. Choosing to support a team that always wins seems to me like cheating, and unless you were born in the area that the club is from or have other authentic ties to it, then I feel that following such a club is fake, hollow, what my cockney mates call, "plastic."
So, that being the case, I set out to find a club I could not only follow, but love, a club that had history, passion, authenticity, and above all, some kind of mad flair, a beautiful, creative, defiant personality that projected it far beyond its meager spot on the table.
Obviously, that team was West Ham United. I remember the first responses I got when I told people whom I had decided to support.
I loved underdogs. I loved great stories. I loved drama. I started supporting West Ham three weeks before Alan Pardew was sacked.
The rest, they say, is history.
A straight drop down the table, Alan Curbishley to the rescue, a continued drop, a rare run of form, and then, out of nowhere, our knight in shining armor, the Three Point Man, Carlos Tevez, single-handedly (according to Sheffield United) kept us up on the last day of the season at a subdued and respectful Old Trafford.
You couldn't make it up.
As a writer, I am always trying to come up with cliffhangers, with moments that keep readers flipping those pages, day after day, waiting to see, no, dying to see what will happen next. West Ham is a constant cliffhanger. Even now, after seeing them in London twice (alas, only twice! Damn this ocean!), after a few more seasons, after Curbishley, the advent and rise of Zola and Clarke, and now after BG, now, even now, there is change in the air, fresh and exciting change, and yet always the threat of some horrible catastrophe (the inevitable next catastrophe to old Hammers). It is always new, always fresh, and yet always, forever, the same old West Ham, the glue that holds together the community, the pride of East London, the Academy.
Keep flipping the pages. You won't be disappointed.