The Blind Hammer Column
Blind Hammer argues that supercilious arrogance has nothing to do with the West Ham way.
When you write a weekly column read by thousands, even if, hopefully, they are like-minded supporters, you need a thick skin. If I was faint hearted, I would simply stick to writing my column about blindness and guide Dogs. Actually even this can be controversial. Yet Football is far more emotional. Passions can run high. Mostly I accept people’ will have different and fervently felt opposing views. This is all part of the great expressive debate that is football and West Ham. People care, which is why Rupert Murdoch pays so much money.
Just occasionally though an example of such supreme supercilious arrogance emerges which penetrates even my normal sanguinity. Recently a self-professed “Real West Ham” action supporter magnanimously accepted I had the right to opinions about the Watford game, however I had no right to make comments about the Brighton game as unlike the “Real Supporters” I was not there.
This article is not about the protest March. I support the right of protest even though I personally feel the March aims are confused contradictory and ultimately futile. Still I don’t think they are any less of a West Ham fans for marching. Why then do so many consider themselves TO BE BETTER “real” West Ham supporters as opposed to people like me who are apparently lesser or even “fake”?
I detest the notion that there has to be a “hierarchy” of supporters and that only a “real” aristocracy have views that should have any merit. Nevertheless for the record what are my credentials to a “real” West Ham identity? Well actually it is pretty steeped. My Father predated West Ham and was around at our formation. He was born in 1891. He lived in walking distance not of Upton Park but the Memorial Ground and the Thames Ironworks. I did not get the chance to ask him but I often wondered if he missed the Athletics Track at the Memorial ground after moving to Upton Park.
After serving in the royal navy in the First World War my father lived as a passionate Hammer in the East End during the 20s and 30s. He served in the Fire Brigade in Shoreditch during the Second World War. My brother attended his first game with our Father in 1949 and my Sister stood with them on the North Bank for the first time in 1952.
I, born in 1956 did not attend my first game until 1968. By 1970 I was a season ticket holder in the East Stand. I was at the FA Cup triumph at Wembley in 1975 and for our League Cup draw in 1981. My biggest regret is that I could not afford the ridiculous tout price for a ticket in 1980 so missed the Brooking final. During the 80’s I went to home and away games before blindness robbed me from attending. Nowadays West ham provides fantastic accessible support, including a free commentary service and space for both my Guide dog and a sighted carer. I don’t attend away games as access may not compare.
However I have news for those who claim to be “real” West Ham supporters simply because they attend away games. Attending away games does not make you any better or more “real” than the rest of us. My brother attended away games for decades but nowadays only goes to home matches. Yet despite being in his late 70s he travels over 200 miles from Manchester to take up his season ticket. Actually like many he supported the move to the London Stadium. Howe dare people claim that they are any more of a “real” supporter than he is?
I dispute that you even need to attend home games to be a “genuine” supporter. Supporting West Ham is about family and inclusion not sneering and posing as an “”exclusive” elite. ” my sister, now also blind, despite going to games in the 1950s, has not attended Upton Park for over 50 years. Yet she listens to the radio commentaries and feels the pain of defeat, the anger and frustration of disappointment and the joy of victory as much as anybody else. I was in exactly the same position when my blindness stopped me attending. I was never less of a real supporter then, and she is not less of a supporter now.
My Mother, who never attended games would have thought you were stark raving crazy to describe her or any of her family as anything less than ”real West Ham Supporters”. We were defined as a West Ham family. West Ham have always been larger than the numbers who at any one time attend games, and rightly so. West Ham supporters can live thousands of miles away but feel just as much, experience joy and despair in equal measure alongside the rest of us. West ham is so much more than just the congregation of supporters lucky enough to see them in the flesh. Those who claim otherwise have horizons which are too narrow, insular and exclusionary. Ultimately such inward looking elitist thinking is self-defeating. It hinders the vibrancy and health of our club. It stops us turning outwards to appeal to wider communities. In fact rather than drawing inwards into an elitist clique we should want to grow the support of West Ham not just in London and Essex but even wider, and yes even globally into World markets. The arrogant self-possessed sit on their high East end horse and sneer at world markets but I have no difficulty in finding common cause with Hammers across the world, be they Australian Hammers, Norwegian hammers, Hamburg Hammers, Florida Hammers or Austrian Hammers. I would never dream to think I am somehow better or more genuine a supporter because I live in London. They are all welcome as far as I am concerned.
To be a West Ham supporter it is not compulsory to munch Pie and Mash or even jellied eels before a game. I won’t even scorn or look down on you if you indulge in the apparently heinous crime of enjoying Popcorn.
I welcome everybody who wants to share my pain into the West Ham family. This welcome is pretty much unconditional; it does not matter to me if you attend all games, some or none. If you declare as a West Ham supporter that is good enough for me. I don’t expect you to have to prove it. I don’t expect you to have to pass a club knowledge test. I don’t look down on “new” supporters just because they did not attend Upton Park. If you are prepared to stand behind the team, in good times and most crucially remain true in bad times that is good enough for me. We are a family inclusive club still. Come in and join the roller coaster drama that is supporting West Ham.