In this third Part of Being a Blind Hammer David Griffith describes how West Ham enabled him to access being a supporter again.
After the emotion of the Play off Final celebrations in 2005 and especially after I retired in 2008 I had a hunger to return to the West Ham family. However the problems appeared daunting. I needed to somehow find my way to the ground, then find the correct entrance, then find the right access inside the stadium and last but not least somehow identify which row and seat was mine. This is not to include other essentials like finding the loo or getting a drink. Of course all this navigation had to be done in reverse after the game. I also needed to be reasonably secure that on any match I attended I would find a radio commentary somewhere so that I could have some idea of what was going on. The availability of a commentary proved difficult to establish in advance.
Eventually I took the belatedly obvious step of ringing West Ham to discuss these problems. I spoke to a lady called Julie who works on disability matters and all these apparently daunting problems melted away.
Now whatever the problems the Club experience on the pitch we can all be justifiably proud of the efforts the club makes off it. We are Champions League class in terms of disability access and put some other clubs to shame.
After speaking to Julie I simply had to email her proof of my blindness and the club promptly and without fuss provided the following.
- Access to a specialist disability ticket ordering service. This is staffed by what are obvious West Ham supporters who are friendly and flexible. They will go the extra mile to help. If I want a group of friends to attend the match with me they will endeavour to arrange seats near me, even though they technically do not have the responsibility for organising tickets for non-disabled supporters.
- For me personally as a blind supporter the club provided a ticket at a concessionary rate. This was especially welcome given my fall in income after I retired.
- Most importantly the club provided an extra free “Carers” ticket for the seat next to me. Suddenly all difficulties in accessing the ground disappeared as I could take somebody to guide me everywhere I needed to go.
- The club provide special disability stewards who provide friendly helpful support and who are incidentally also West Ham through and through.
- Last but not least for every single game the club provided me with a head set which gave me and in-stadium commentary on the game.
So these superb ticket arrangements provide me with equal physical access to the ground but for me the in stadium commentary is just as important. At West Ham the commentator is James Datson who provides sterling support through illness and health, whether it rains or shine,
The importance of having a West Ham supporter commentating cannot be under-estimated. I remember being outraged when Colin McNamara on Five Live scathingly refers to our forward line of Cole and the heavy Benni McCarthy as being like Laurel and Hardy. He may have been objectively correct but to my mind only somebody who at heart loves the club ever has the right to slag either the club or its players off.
So when James expresses disappointment or even despair you know it is because we are all feeling the same pain. This is surprisingly important. It is easy to listen to a neutral commentator when we are playing well. However a West Ham Commentator is essential if we are not playing well.
The experience of listening at the ground is light years away from listening at home. At home listening to the radio I would probably turn it off if it is too painful or the tension is too high. In contrast at the ground I can shout to relieve any tension and also, unlike when I am at home, I can possibly make a difference. I can remember in the 2012 Wembley Playoff we were, in the second half, definitely second best to Blackpool but I am convinced it was the unflagging support of the fans that day which forced the team home to triumph. Individually my efforts at encouragement may have a minuscule impact but along with thousands of others it can change games. Football at the highest level is about small margins. If Carlton Cole has not reached that extra inch to toe poke the ball across Blackpool’s penalty area, Vaz Te would not have been able to rocket the ball home for glory and enable our return to the Premiership. The fans were crucial that day and probably gave Carlton that extra inch of lunge he needed despite the tiredness of playing in the final minutes.
You can pick up a surprising amount from commentary. You can, drawing on past images of games, hear patterns of play. Admittedly you do not often hear off the ball runs or covering but hopefully pundits on either in stadium or Radio commentary will provide this insight. You can, however, hear on the ball involvement, and whether the involvement of a player results in a successful attack or in the loss of possession. Certainly if you do not hear Nolan’s name in the commentary for 20 minutes it is a big clue that he is not influencing the game. If you hear constantly that Tomkins or Reid are the ones trying to set up and attack it is an indication that our midfield has been nullified. When you repeatedly hear Collins’ name after an opposition cross or attempt a through ball has been attempted you know he is likely to be having a good game. If you hear a buzz of rising anticipation when Sackho is driving towards goal it is a good sign that he is looking dangerous. Sometimes however patterns are sadly predictable. During one game I thought we had a new forward called Cole mis-controls.
My reading of the game though must be worth something as Tommy, the friend and fellow supporter who guides me, started to call me Mystic Dave and even started asking me for lottery numbers because I was so accurately predicting substitutions or upcoming goals. Certainly nobody seems to take my opinions as being of lesser worth than the sighted supporters around me.
Of course there are disappointments but that is football. For me the periods of disappointment mean that we should all savour and celebrate the joy of success more when it comes around. Of course with West Ham that can be an unpredictable event. I guess the prospect of joy and hope that this unpredictability brings is at the heart of being a Blind Hammer going to the Boleyn. Whoever could ever believe that the previously impotent Jonathan Spector could score a hat trick against Manchester United on a cold November evening? When Spector burst into the penalty area to steer his third goal home I stood up in the Upper Alpari and yelled my joy to the skies. Two friends sitting behind me instantly threw themselves onto my admittedly broad back to cling on in celebration. A jumping fan in front of me heard the commotion behind him and decided also to hurl himself up to hug my front . Basically we all fell into a delirious scrum. You certainly do not get that experience sitting at home in the armchair.
This is why I am still a Blind Hammer.
Come on you Irons!
If you missed Part 1 click HERE and Part 2 HERE
Note from Iain: David has kindly agreed continuing to write articles for us under the pseudonym of Blind Hammer. We look forward to hearing a lot more from him.