Talking Point

What if a Gay Footballer Came Out?

This is an article I wrote for Attitude Magazine a few years ago. Given the storyline about a gay footballer in Coronation Street I thought it was worth another outing. See what I did there?!

He hadn’t told anyone. Not even his agent. It was going to be done on his own terms. Adam Ranger hadn’t told his mother what he was about to do, and he especially hadn’t told his gossipy sister. They would all find out like the rest of the country. Had he told any one of them, he knew they would come out with all sorts of reasons why he shouldn’t go ahead with what he knew would affect him for the rest of his life. You see, Adam Ranger, star England central defender, was about to announce to the world he was gay.

He knew the risks. He was prepared for the media storm that would no doubt engulf him. People who do something ‘first’ always become renowned. Adam was prepared for that – what he didn’t want to become was ‘notorious. He calculated that if he did it, others would follow suit. And follow suit quickly. He knew that in every dressing room up and down the land there were men like him. Indeed, he knew of one Premier League team where four of the starting eleven were gay. It wasn’t as if anyone was particularly secret any longer. Looks were exchanged. People just knew, but rarely said anything.

Adam had thought long and hard about how to do it. Press conference? No. Too uncontrollable. Newspaper exclusive. No. The other newspapers which hadn’t had the story would be angry and seek to trash him. TV or radio? Maybe, but would he get the time to say what he wanted to say? Would he be able to control the editing? Probably not. No, Adam decided to do a Tom Daley and record his own Youtube video.

After training one day, he went down to PC World and bought a video camera and tripod. “Alright, Adam?” said the sales assistant. “Got the girls coming round, have we? He joshed, with a deliberate wink. “Yeah, something like that,” smiled Adam. “If only you knew, mate,” he thought to himself.

He went home, set up the camera, sat down and looked straight into the lens. “I’m Adam Ranger. I play for England. And I’ve got something I want to tell you…”

Four weeks later…

It had been a momentous month. The praise, the almost entirely positive reaction from his own teammates who had lined up after training and done a collective moonie while pissing themselves laughing. The phone calls from players from other clubs, his England teammates had been a mixture of hilarious, emotional and highly charged. Tears were shed.

Three other international players followed Adam’s lead in the week after he came out to the world. A dozen lower league players did too. And all to an ever increasing shrug of the shoulders.

In his first game after the video release on Youtube Adam ran out at Upton Park, a difficult place for an opposition player at the best of times, to a standing ovation from most of the crowd. He hadn’t bargained for that and for a moment lost his composure. As the applause died down a chant started from the Bobby Moore Stand of “Does your boyfriend know you’re here?” Adam laughed, grabbed the hand of one of his teammates and bowed. The applause restarted.

Yes, there were problems. He knew there would be. His agent was furious with him. “You’ve jeopardised all your commercial contracts by doing this,” he fumed. Adam suspected the very opposite would be true. And he was right. The offers flooded in. “We want you to be the face of our company,” said the chief exec of a major clothing brand. And there was more. Lots more.

Back in the room…

And that’s how I’d like to think things would be if a professional footballer took that great leap. OK, I might be writing with rose tinted spectacles, but I genuinely think it would be a lot more like this scenario than it was for Justin Fashanu all those years ago. I have no idea how many professional footballers read this site, let alone any who are gay. But if there’s only one, think about the trail you would blaze. Think about what kind of example you would set, not just to your fellow footballers but everyone else. Be proud of who and what you are. And tell the world.


Remembering Andy Carroll’s hat-trick against Arsenal

A common trope in British sitcoms is the evocation of unfulfilled potential. Whether its Kurtan Mucklowe longing to leave his village but not possessing the wherewithal in This Country, Dawn Tinsey’s desire to become an illustrator but settling into becoming David Brent’s receptionist in The Office or the underlying sadness in the lives of Mark and Jez in Peep Show, comedy writers make their characters relatable by hinting at their inner frustrations. After all, the workplaces of this country are littered with people who felt they could have been more. Nobody dreams of working in a call centre.

Footballers are not immune from this description. Upon his release by West Ham in 2019, scores of articles appeared lamenting the unfulfilled potential of Andy Carroll. Portrayed as an analog player in a digital age, Carroll was the ultimate example of a striker who was unplayable on his day. Possessing unrivalled heading ability and the energy of a one-man mosh pit, defending against Carroll must have felt as futile as attempting to stop lava pouring out of a volcano.

Happily for defenders these occasions were as infrequent as they were brilliant. For most of his time at the club, Big Andy could be found on the treatment table and was unable to string together a full season of appearances. If he were a racehorse Brian Clough would have had him shot.

During an era where elite football became obsessed with possession stats and every club began to demand beautifully constructed football, there was something intangibly raw and elemental about watching Carroll play. When on form, this was a player you simply could not take your eyes off – in the words on The Guardian’s Barney Ronay watching him attack a cross into the penalty area was like witnessing an ‘angry buffalo being hurled off a hotel balcony’. Although unfashionable to admit, this was an arresting sight and one that proved thrilling football was not the sole preserve of Pep Guardiola.

This was no more evident than during one afternoon in April 2016. On his first league start since January, Carroll scored a nine-minute hat-trick against Arsenal and his overall performance was reported as ‘demented’ by the BBC.

In the midst of an occasion described by Danny Baker as a ‘super inept farce of a football match’, Carroll’s exhilarating exploits were enough to kickstart rallying cries for his inclusion in England’s Euro 2016 squad. It was one of the last great Upton Park moments and effectively ended Arsenal’s title challenge.

However, the afternoon did not start promisingly. In need of points to boost their unexpected push for the Champions League, West Ham were unlucky to find themselves behind to strikes from Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez as half-time approached. Despite this, there were signs something was stirring within Carroll. Fired up from his pre-match meal of raw steak, the Geordie received a booking within four minutes for a wild hack on Laurent Koscielny.

Soon after, he was at the centre of the game’s first controversial moment. A nonchalant flicked cross from Mark Noble was met with a spectacular overhead kick, comparable with a table footballer being spun violently on its axis. The ball was mishit into the ground and upon bouncing up was headed in by Manuel Lanzini. Although the Argentine was being played on by Hector Bellerin, the goal was disallowed for offside. Early indications were that Carroll would inflict chaos upon the Arsenal backline.

These suspicions proved correct minutes before half-time with a goal that was beautiful in its simplicity. A magnificent swirling cross from Aaron Cresswell was watched by a static defence in the manner of a group collectively observing a firework display, allowing Carroll to thunder home a header. The Arsenal goalkeeper, David Ospina, looked genuinely alarmed as he fell powerlessly to the floor. Game on.

Relief would turn to euphoria seconds later. After Arsenal had only partially cleared one delivery, the ball found its way back to Carroll in the penalty area. After controlling with his chest and mishitting a right footed shot, the striker contorted his whole body to bludgeon home a left-footed volley. The introduction of unorthodox acrobatics into Carroll’s repertoire produced a double take usually reserved for discovering a Page 3 clipping in the Bible. Fittingly, the replay showed the strike was largely off his shin but that did not detract from the elation of the moment. As a breathless first half ended level, it was possible to see why late-Wenger Arsenal were destined not to win the league.

It would have been no surprise if the start of the second half represented a lull after the intoxicating first forty-five minutes. However, the message had clearly not got through to both sets of players, the commotion of Carroll’s presence acting as a catalyst for the game’s tempo.

Already on a yellow card, a stray arm in the face of Gabriel could have seen the West Ham striker sent off. Minutes later, an impromptu wrestling match with Koscielny sent both players tumbling to the floor, along with Ospina. Dimitri Payet’s resulting tap in was correctly disallowed. It seemed as if Carroll was channelling the energy of a police horse who has had a cigarette stubbed out on its behind.

The atmosphere of bedlam reached its crescendo in the fifty-second minute. Winger Michail Antonio sped past one defender and stood up a wonderful cross from the byline towards the back post. Leaping imperiously above Bellerin as if engulfing him, Carroll powered a header past the helpless Ospina to complete his hat-trick.

The stadium erupted with joy and disbelief. With a nine-minute salvo, Carroll had transformed the game and set West Ham on their way to their first home win against Arsenal since Arsene Wenger’s unforgettable spat with Alan Pardew. Ever the killjoy, Howard Webb declared on BT Sport that Carroll should never have been on the field after his earlier fouls.

Alas, his defining performance did not result in victory. Pushing desperately forward, Arsenal equalised twenty minutes from time through Koscielny and a riotous game ended 3-3. For those numbed by the incessant over-promotion of the Premier League it must also be acknowledged that occasionally the hype is justified by a match as good as this one. A draw was of no real use to either team – Arsenal failed to win the title and West Ham missed out on Champions League qualification.

The calls for Carroll to be taken to Euro 2016 also fell on deaf ears, although some wags suggested he would be better suited for Aintree. The way Carroll’s potential inclusion was discussed bought similarities to shipping out and deploying a huge First World War artillery gun, albeit a rusting one with large spells out of action.

Unfortunately, Roy Hodgson resisted the temptation to include the target man in his squad. While supressing sniggers as England slipped to defeat against Iceland, it was impossible to shake the feeling that bringing Andy off the bench may have given the Scandinavians something tangible to worry about.

His West Ham career never matched the peak of that spring afternoon in East London. Despite a goal-of-the-season contender the following year against Crystal Palace, Carroll soon resumed his habitation in the physio’s room. Concerned he may become isolated and lonely, the club bought Jack Wilshere to keep him company.

During a rare appearance in an away match at Burnley in 2017, Carroll managed to be sent off for two identical challenges within a minute. Incredibly Antonio Conte wanted to sign him for reigning champions Chelsea, prompting frantic checks the Italian had not been replaced by a mysterious figure called Sam Allardici. Disappointingly for satirists everywhere, the move failed to materialise.

For all the jokes at Carroll’s expense, his performance against Arsenal represented all that was being airbrushed out of top-flight football. Mirroring big corporations in other industries, elite football clubs wished to exercise unprecedented levels of control over events, to minimise risk and impose a gentrified method of doing things that favoured those with the most money.

Andy Carroll presented a throwback to the very essence of sport that entices people from around the globe; its unpredictable mayhem. For all the advances made in football tactics and player conditioning, Carroll epitomised a unique challenge to the modern defender and was occasionally impossible to play against. Ronay labelled him ‘the man with a head like a foot’.

Despite his frustrating injury record and obvious limitations, we should celebrate Andy Carroll as part of football’s rich diversity. The sense of unfilled potential is only exacerbated by glimpses of what might have been. No glimpses were as tantalising as one afternoon against Arsenal in 2016.


My West Ham Team of the 2000s


When I first decided to start this series of West Ham teams of the last five decades, I rather thought the team of the Noughties would be the most difficult to pick. And so it has proved. As you will see below, it is virtually impossible to choose between some players. It was a decade when more players played for the club than in any other decade. In some seasons in the 1970s or 1980s only 18-20 players appeared for the club. During this decade, it was sometimes well over 30. And of course in this decade, some of the best players only played for the club for a season or two. Or in Carlos Tevez’s case, only 26 games. But what a 26 games!


Robert Green

This is possibly the only position I found easy to pick a winner in. And that is Robert Green.David James might have had a claim, and indeed, he impressed us all during his three years wearing the green shirt in 91 games, and Shaka Hislop also has a claim with his two spells, totaling 121 appearances. But Rob Green triumphs partly for his longevity – six season, 219 games – but also for his consistency. I think he played 170 consecutive games at one stage, but not only was he reliable, he was a great saver of penalties and was a great shot stopper. So Robert Green wins, even despite the manner of his departure, something I suspect he too regrets now.

Left Back

Had Stuart Peace joined West Ham a little earlier in his career, he would have gone on to be an Upton Park legend. He only played 42 games before leaving to finish his career at Maine Road. But he certainly made his mark. His rivals for this position include Paul Konchesky, a West Ham fan himself, who scored that memorable goal in the 2006 FA Cup final. He had one fantastic season for us, but then was never able to recover that rich vein of form. Herita Ilunga was the same. In his first season he was simply outstanding, but something happened and he was never the same player again. The other contestant for this position is George McCartney. He arrived from Sunderland and to be frank we didn’t expect a lot, but his understanding with Matty Etherington down the left was a joy to watch. They were dynamite. In the end, though, I have to ask myself, if I had to watch this side play together, which of those players would I most like to see. And the answer has to be Stuart Pearce.

Right Back

Tomas Repka

Right back has a wealth of riches to choose from. One of my favourite players of all time – and this will astonish you – is Sebastian Schemmel. He was another of these players who have one outstanding season and then something happens and they never regain their form. Indeed, after he left Upton Park he only ever played 20 more top flight games for Portsmouth and Le Havre. Glen Johnson is another contender. As soon as he broke into the team in 2002-3 we just knew he was a star in the making. And had we not been relegated he would no doubt have played many more than the 15 games he did for us. What might have been, eh? Can he really be picked in our team of the Noughties on the basis of 15 games? Tomas Repka, when he first signed, was the personification of the word erratic. He had a great talent for getting sent off, but he also had a great right foot. He also played in central defence and was a phenomenal header of the ball and a cracking tackler. Repka came to love the club and I well remember the tears he shed as we clapped him off the pitch in his last game before returning to the Czech Republic. Julien Faubert might be a surprise contender and some will say we never really saw the best of him. I have some sympathy with that, but at times he showed what an outstanding player he could be – especially in his final season. Our final contender is Lucas Neill. Neill picked us over Liverpool purely because of the idiotic amount of money he was offered by Eggert Magnusson. He was a mercenary, but not a bad player. He was reliable rather than flamboyant. Had Glen Johnson played more games I would have certainly picked him, but in the end I’m going to plump for Tomas Repka.

Central Defenders

James Collins

We didn’t have a bumper crop of central defenders in this decade. That’s probably an understatement. The contenders are Christian Dailly, Manuel Da Costa, James Collins, Danny Gabbidon, Matthew Upson and Ian Pearce. I loved Da Costa as a player and was gutted when he left. He’s another one who hasn’t exactly become a household name since leaving us. I’m going to go for James Collins and Ian Pearce. Neither are what you might call exciting players, but they always gave their all and never let you down. Collins is a far better player now that when he left us for Villa in 2009. Ian Pearce was a mountain of a man. He certainly wasn’t the fastest, but he was deceptively skilful, and also scored nine goals in his 142 games.


mark Noble

Now comes the tricky part. I’ve narrowed the choice for two central midfielders down to six possibles. Michael Carrick, Scott Parker, Frank Lampard, Nigel Reo-Coker, Mark Noble and Valon Behrami. I loved watching Behrami. He was all arms and legs and on his day was unplayable. No one quite knew what he would do next. He only scored 4 goals in 58 games at Upton Park, but I was disappointed to see him leave and go back to Italy. We all like to dislike Nigel Reo-Coker because of the manner of his leaving, but for a couple of seasons he was one of our best players. He’s another who, had he stayed put, could have become a West Ham all time great. But he thought he had outgrown us. How wrong he was. I am also excluding Frank Lampard on the basis that he left in the summer of 2001. So it’s come down to three from Carrick, Cole, Parker and Noble. Scott Parker was a revelation for us and I only wish he had never left when we were relegated. For me he is one of our all time greats. Michael Carrick could also have achieved that accolade, but he too joined the exodus in the summer of 2003. What a disgrace it was that we only got £2 million for him. So my final midfield place goes to Mark Noble. Even now, there are those who don’t ‘get’ Noble. They clearly can’t see the immense contribution he has made to our team over the last decade. I can. His passing is superb and he leads from the front. He doesn’t get forward as much as he used to but plays the role of holding midfielder superbly. And his penalties are sublime.


Trevor Sinclair was in my 1990s team as was Joe Cole. Both have just a strong a claim to be in the Noughties team. Alessandro Diamanti only played 28 games, but provided some memorable moments. Yossi Benayoun scored some spectacular goals in his 2 years at the club, but is another one who was attracted by brighter lights. The other contender is Matty Etherington whose 165 games looted 16 goals. In the end I’m going for Joe Cole and Matty Etherington. The latter might provoke a few raised eyebrows, but there were a couple of seasons when he and George McCartney played almost telepathically. If Matty hadn’t developed a gambling problem he could have developed into an England international.


Dean Ashton

And now for the most difficult one of all. How on earth is it possible to pick two strikers to fit into this team from this list? Jermain Defoe, Paolo Di Canio, Frederic Kanoute, Marlon Harewood, Bobby Zamora, Teddy Sheringham, Dean Ashton, Craig Bellamy, Carlton Cole … and Carlos Tevez? I’ll cut straight to the point. Paolo Di Canio is the greatest player to pull on a West Ham shirt since Trevor Brooking hung up his boots. So he gets the first slot. The second is a toss up between Carlos Tevez and Dean Ashton. Ashton was the real deal and it was a tragedy his career was cut so short. He was bought to play alongside Craig Bellamy (or maybe it was the other way around) but in the event I am pretty sure they only ever appeared on the pitch together once. Ashton played 46 games, twenty more than Tevez, scoring 15 goals, to Tevez’s 7. But without those goals West Ham would have been relegated. So what I am now going to do is pick both of them to play in a front three alongside Paolo Di Canio. Dean Ashton would play through the middle with Paolo Di Canio playing down the left and Carlos Tevez down the right. So sorry Matthew Etherington, I have just relegated you to the substitutes bench.

So the Team of the Noughties is: Robert Green, James Collins, Ian Pearce, Stuart Pearce, Tomos Repka, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Joe Cole, Carlos Tevez, Dean Ashton, Paolo Di Canio.

And the subs: David James, Christian Dailly, Glen Johnson, Frank Lampard, Craig Bellamy


My West Ham Team of the 1990s

Ludek Miklosko: Hammers hero

It’s just a bit of fun, but I thought I would spend an hour dreaming up my West Ham team of the 1990s. I first had a season ticket in 1992, so I saw most of the players we had in the 1990s. It’s funny how we all remember certain players who we thought could have really become big stars if only they had been given the chance or seized the opportunity when it came along. There were quite a few in the 1990s. Matthew Rush is one that immediately springs to mind. He had everything – an athletic build, loads of skill, the ability to score spectacular goals and speed. But he lacked application and mental will to drive himself on. He ended up spending a few seasons in the lower leagues before becoming a PE teacher. He won’t make my team of the 1990s, but he could have. So, here we go. To qualify for the team, a player must have played at least one game during the 1990s, starting the the 1990-91 season and finishing with the 1998-99 season.


Can we really look beyond Ludek Miklosko? No, of course not. In my view neither Craig Forrest nor Shaka Hislop were in the same league as Ludo.

Left Back

Similarly, Julian Dicks had a bit of competition from David Burrows, David Unsworth and Stuart Pearce, bur clearly Dicksy gets the nod.

Steve Potts: Loyal Servant

Right Back

Right back was a tricky position once Tim Breacker left and Steve Potts retired. Breacker was a fantastic player for West Ham, but my nod goes to Steve Potts who wasn’t just an excellent right back, but was brilliant in central defence.

Central Defenders

Here’s where it gets difficult. How on earth do you pick two from Alvin Martin, Tony Gale, Marc Rieper, Slaven Bilic and Rio Ferdinand. I can’t believe I am leaving out Alvin Martin, but I am going to plump for Slaven Bilic, who may have been a mercenary, but he was a brilliant, brilliant defender. And Rio Ferdinand looked the real deal from the moment he made his first team debut.

John Moncur Central Midfield

If anything, this was our weakest position in the 1990s. If you think about it, few of the likes of Don Hutchinson, John Moncur, Martin Allen, Ian Bishop, Danny Williamson, Steve Lomas or Frank Lampard in his early days, were likely to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition. Eyal Berkovic, on the other hand, was a different kettle of fish. Playing behind the front two, he was a brilliant playmaker, and formed a superb understanding with John Hartson (apart from when Hartson was kicking him in the head). So it’s Eyal Berkovic and John Moncur for me. Moncur was a tenacious midfielder with a good tackle and a powerful shot. I’d like to have gone for Ian Bishop, but if it’s 4-4-2 with two wingers you need a tackling midfielder in there, putting it about a bit.

Tricky Trevor Sinclair


We also had a nice line in tricky wingers. Stuart Slater, Mark Robson, Kevin Keen, Matty Holmes, Michael Hughes, Stan Laziridis, Hugo Porfirio, Trevor Sinclair and Joe Cole are the leading candidates. Laziridis was always a favourite of mine, possibly because he was the first footballer I ever interviewed. In the end I’ll go for Trevor Sinclair on the right and Joe Cole on the left. Hugo Porfirio was another one of those players who came, made an impact, thought he was better than us and left for oblivion. If he had stayed I believe he could have become a great player for us.

John Hartson


Despite a rich vein of goalscorers including Tony Cottee, Trevor Morley, Jimmy Quinn, Clive Allen and Paul Kitson, the two obvious picks for me are Paolo di Canio and John Hartson. Hartson, together with Kitson, saved us from relegation and Di Canio remains the greatest player I have ever seen in a West Ham shirt.

So here’s my team: Miklosko, Potts, Dicks, Ferdinand, Bilic, Cole, Sinclair, Moncur, Berkovic, Hartson, Di Canio. And on the subs bench: Hislop, Rieper, Morley, Cottee, Bishop.

Feel free to disagree!

Book Review

Nearly Reach the Sky by Brian Williams: A Valediction to The Boleyn

FROM THE ARCHIVES: 12 February 2015

When Iain emailed me a few weeks ago to ask if I would like to review Brian Williams’ new book Nearly Reach the Sky: A Farewell to Upton Park I was both flattered and nervous. I haven’t been asked to write a book review since I was in my Headmistress’s Good Readers Club when I was 8. I said yes straight away as I’m already a fan of Brian’s writing and I anticipated a funny, clever and interesting read. I wasn’t disappointed, it was such a good read that I finished it in a day; my only hope now is that I can do it justice.

I suppose the first thing that a prospective reader might want to know is which literary genre this book falls under. To be honest it could easily be categorised as a tragicomedy, a memoir or even a history of sport. The one category I wasn’t expecting was romance.

Nearly Reach the Sky is more than just a collection of one West Ham fan’s musings on his life as a football supporter; it is a billet doux, a letter to his love of more than 50 years. It’s an explanation of his feelings for his club, which moves through the widest range of emotions – devotion, disappointment, hope and ambition, joy and elation, grief and anger, humour, impatience, self-reproach and resignation. They’re all there.

It is also a valediction. A claret and blue thread has been a part of the fabric of Brian’s life since 1964 and as he weaves and embroiders his personal love story of West Ham United it becomes apparent that a snag has appeared in the cloth. Throughout the book there is the stark realisation that the club is on the verge of leaving the ground that has been its physical and spiritual home for more than 100 years. Very soon that small tear will become a gaping hole and it’s clear that a part of the author’s heart will be ripped away forever.

Ultimately this is a paean to West Ham United but the other love of Brian’s life, his wife Di, also appears regularly in the book, together with her East End family. He has obviously enjoyed a harmonious, if polygamous, relationship with his two amours. Even so, I can’t pretend that I wasn’t shocked and a little horrified to read of Brian’s first ménage à trois. In fact it wasn’t a ménage à trois at all but a foursome! West Ham may have easily seen off other women in Brian’s life, including the girl who distracted him from Tonka’s performance on the penalty spot in the 80s and the lissome 17 year old Sharon and her hotpants; but the admission that I read in chapter 9 is nothing short of scandalous. Brian is now full of contrition and guilt for playing away and fortunately for him Di is obviously a very forgiving woman. I’m not sure that fellow West Ham fans will let him off quite so lightly and if I were Di I’d keep him on a very short leash. Despite his repentance he’s still singing love songs to other ‘birds’ to this day, and right under the nose of his true love too!

Not being born within the sound of Bow Bells has obviously caused our hero some consternation in life and he makes no secret of his delight that Cupid’s arrow landed smack bang in the middle of Beverley Road in East Ham. Here we meet Brian’s future in-laws, including the inimitable Sid, who is possibly the man originally responsible for the term ‘the elephant in the room.’ Fortunately for Brian he’d already lost his heart many years before to the aptly nicknamed ‘Ticker’ when he scored twice in the 1964 FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United, so his claret and blue credentials stood up to Sid’s suspicious scrutiny. Having passed the test with flying West Ham colours he was welcomed into the bosom of Di’s family as an honorary East Ender. He had found his dream woman who not only shared his love for West Ham but also lived just streets away from his beloved Boleyn. Love blossomed and it was clear that it was going to be a match made in heaven when their marriage was given the personal blessing of John Lyall.

If you are beginning to worry that Brian has written some kind of Mills & Boon novel or worse, Fifty Shades of Claret and Blue, fear not! As a member of the fairer sex I’m perhaps more inclined to focus on the more human elements of this story but there are more than enough match reports and reminiscences of seminal goals, games, fouls and finals to dissuade the average woman from reading it. Equally, if you are one of our more youthful West Ham fans and you think that this is a tome that would appeal only to the more decrepit members of our fan base who like to bang on about how much better it all was in their day, you would be wrong. Whilst this is a very nostalgic collection of anecdotes the author has seamlessly woven stories of past glories and defeats with accounts of recent players and games to create a narrative that every West Ham fan will be able to place themselves in at some point and say “I was there.”

Brian is obviously not a fan of the linear approach, this is not one long hoof from 1964 to the present day. Instead he weaves nimbly in and out of the decades, moving from one story to another and back again with a clever little one-two and some nifty back passes to yesteryear without ever losing his reader along the way. His story is inevitably populated with all the West Ham icons, heroes and villains that we all know and love … or hate; but we are also introduced to some of the people who make up the true heart of West Ham United ….. the fans. It’s these people that elevate this tale from being ‘just another West Ham book.’ Of course you’ll be expecting to read of Brian’s adulation of Billy Bonds and even the emotional moment when a Wolves fan broke ranks during the wreath laying ceremony for the late, great Bobby Moore. But the real pleasure of this book is being able to identify with the joy and pain of Brian’s West Ham supporting family, friends, colleagues and passing acquaintances. Their stories are as much a part of our club’s history as yours are and they all deserve to be recorded alongside the oft told tales of the people on the pitch.

This is essentially a very funny book but, like all West Ham fans, Brian also has a talent for pathos and there is an ever present poignancy between the lines of humour. His anecdotes evoke the whole gamut of emotions and I laughed out loud and shed some tears several times before I turned the final page. As I wiped away the last tear and the final smile faded from my lips I was left feeling proud and grateful. Proud because I was born a Hammer and grateful that all the wonderful characters in Brian’s book are my kith and kin. I realised that I am also a part of the same story, we all are. That sense of belonging is priceless and I can’t help but feel that something will be lost when the doors of The Boleyn are finally closed for the last time. No matter how positive any West Ham fan feels about our impending move, I challenge them to read this witty but poignant book without feeling wistful and nostalgic for a time that will never come again.

For the benefit of any newcomers to the site Brian Williams has supported West Ham United for the past 50 years and for the last 25 of those years he has been a journalist for The Guardian newspaper. He also writes a regular Tuesday column for West Ham Till I Die. This is his first book.

You can order a copy of Brian’s book NEARLY REACH THE SKY from…

Biteback Publishing for £8.99 in paperback (Use promotional code WESTHAMBW)

Biteback Publishing for £9.99 as an eBook

Amazon for £12.99 in paperback

Amazon Kindle for £10 as an eBook

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