Nigel Kahn’s Column

This week sees the anniversaries of two of the most important games in my West Ham attending history – Liverpool at Upton Park in 1978 and Ipswich Town’s visit in that never to be forgotten night, back in 1986. The two games had the most extreme outcomes when compared. One game relegated the club after the longest period of top-flight service West Ham had ever had, the other left us on the brink of the elusive title win in a never to be repeated season of overachievement. I hope you enjoy reading my memories of both games.

29/04/1978 WHU V LIVERPOOL

That season was the first season of my regular attendance of WHU home games, one that still persists 42 years later. It started with 4 defeats – where have we heard that stat before? Though the first game I remember was losing to Man City at home. I think perhaps looking back that being 7 years old I was too young to really appreciate how lucky I was to be not only living in the long shadow of the ground, but also going to games. I was taken by my uncle. My own dad wasn’t a) a football fan or b) in my life at that time. I didn’t get to every home game but with every game the enjoyment of going grew. Looking back now, it wasn’t the greatest of seasons. The FA cup win of 1975 was now a distant memory and the club was in free fall. Only one win in the opening 12 games had us hanging around the relegation area most of the season, but in typical West Ham style they rallied late in the season – six wins from our last nine games left us needing to win our last game of the season, at home to the reigning European Champions who would retain the trophy again that year, Liverpool.

It was a hot day, the sun was out and I was collected by my uncle. He drove the short distance from Canning Town to park his VW Beetle in the car park above Queens Road market. The queue stretched down the ramp and in those days you paid the man in the hut at the top of the ramp. My uncle was not a patient man, so he drove up the down ramp. The man jumped out of the hut to stop him, but upon seeing it was my uncle, he obviously knew him, he waved him up and actually showed him where to park his car.
We walked down Green Street from the market up to and through the gates onto the forecourt. Now this was the forecourt long before the portacabins were shops and so many people were standing around queueing to get into the biggest game of our season, my uncle took me to the ticket collection office, manned by a man called Dick, whose job was to distribute the players tickets to their families and issue the press tickets. I was collected sometime later and we were in to take our seats West stand upper, Block A tight in the corner looking down onto the Southbank. Madly we had had Liverpool fans sitting around us but there was no hint of trouble that might occur these days in the ground when opposition fans sit in the home end. In fact, the Liverpool fans added to the day for me, displaying good humour and laughing at my attempts to cheer on the Hammers.

Alas though, it was to be one game too far for my heroes. Brooking & Bonds failed to drive us on as Robson failed to pop one in. I suppose it was always a tall order but 8-year-old Nigel never thought of that, in fact, I had no idea of what relegation actually meant, all I was concerned about was watching the game.

As the final whistle condemned the Hammers, the fans instead of jeering or booing, applauded the teams, but as was the tradition back then, the team, instead of walking down the tunnel they turned & walked out to the middle to wave to all four stands to thank the fans for our efforts for the season. The fans responded in cheering them off the pitch. I don’t remember hearing any criticism insults or booing just the cheers.

The history books show we lost 2-0 and were to be relegated into Division 2, but what the history books don’t reveal is that one game was the real start of the obsessive love affair with this 8-year-old boy. Of course, in 1978 we didn’t know the great days that lay ahead, but I for one couldn’t wait till August to get back to my own theatre of dreams.

30/04/1986 WHU V IPSWICH TOWN

I don’t think I can do it justice in trying to set the scene for this night of nights, but i’ll try.

I had an after-school job at Duthie Hart & Duthie solicitors based across the road from the Green Gate pub on the Barking road. I don’t think I franked the post that day quicker than I had ever done. I deposited it over to the Post office across the road. I then ran (yes people, I could run back then) the short journey up the Barking Road to the ground. I got to the forecourt to see the queue for my stand of choice back then, the North Bank, snaking its way nearly back to the gates. This was a full hour before the turnstiles opened around half six. Now I must admit, I had a dilemma anyway and upon seeing the queue my mind was made up. I wasn’t going to risk queuing to be disappointed. I found my Uncle out-side the ground and he gave me a seat for the West Lower, Row T, which was back row on the lower West I think, and great view as I was sitting just above the tunnel, right on the halfway line.

I’m now 16, and with older age comes the nervousness of understanding what football means and what rests on the outcome of this game. Victory would leave us on the cusp of perhaps the greatest prize in English football: Champions of England – a trophy harder to win than any other trophy in football for me.

As the late spring sun gave way, so the floodlights illuminated for me the greatest of nights on that ground up until possibly the last night. Ipswich needed points to avoid, funnily enough, being relegated, and the game would be a battle of nerves for different reasons for both teams and fans.

Perhaps the fact we went behind made is so special, perhaps it was the late soft penalty decision that gave us the victory that made is even sweeter, but for me, what makes it one of, if not THE, greatest night at The Boleyn Ground, was the fact after the whistle confirmed our win, the massed army of West Ham fans piled onto the pitch to celebrate, not only the win but without doubt, the greatest season, in my opinion, the club has ever had.

To stand on the pitch and sing, “we’re going to win the league, we’re going to win the league, & now your going to believe us, & now your going to believe us, & now your going to believe usssssssssssss, we’re going to win the league ” and actually believe it that we’re finally, after 86 years of being in existence, we were going to do it. It seems like we were on the pitch for hours, and I couldn’t actually say how long we were there but my memory of that night does not fade.

If I was ever given the option of jumping in the Tardis and returning back to just one game to relive again, not change anything, but just live that day/night again the choice would be tough between the above two games, but at a push, it would be the Ipswich game. While the Liverpool game was the start of the love affair as such, nothing will ever beat that night after that season, after that game and the shared celebrations with thousands on the pitch that I didn’t know but loved as well.

Extra game added
02/05/1981 WHU V WREXHAM
Purely by coincidence in researching pictures for this article I came across pictures from the day I was the mascot. I’m adding this game in, onto the end of the Article purely as it’s 38 years ago this very day.

I don’t think I slept very much the night before, I was too excited. I had known since January that this game was to be the day I got to walk out with my heroes. To get dressed I wore my West Ham tracksuit over my West Ham kit. I remember my mum saying to me that they were giving me a kit as part of the package but I was insistent on wearing it.

My mum was taking me to the game, and luckily she got to park in the player’s car park or the St Edwards playground as we knew it. Walking in through the players door just to the right of Dick’s ticket box my usual hangout, there was a small reception area with a door that led into a tight tunnel, I was shown into John Lyall’s office to get changed, not that I needed to as I had my kit on already.

Lyall came in and sat at his desk and chatted to me as if he had known me for years, asked me if I had enjoyed the season and was I excited to be leading the team out. My mum gave me one of her looks when I had said the wrong thing. All I said was I thought Clive Thomas was a cheat & he was out of order for sending Lyall Off. Lyall laughed it off as nothing and said Thomas had every right to do that as Lyall had let his emotions get the best of him. Best left alone.

Lyall took me then to meet the players in the dressing room. The main memory was Ray Stewart walking in late and giving an excuse that I understood not one word of as his accent was as thick Scottish as you can get.

Wrexham formed a guard of honour as we walked on the pitch & Dai Davis their keeper stuck his hand out and shook mine. “Well done son,” he said, though to be honest I was more in awe of the fact my other hand was being held by Billy Bonds as we marched to the middle of the pitch to wave to all four corners of the ground, as was the tradition for the last home game of the season.

They used a 10p coin for the toss-up to kick off, and off I ran across the pitch and back down the tunnel, quickly change into my tracksuit then back up to my usual seat, Block A still in the West upper but now we had managed to get to Row L. My uncle was waiting for me. He hadn’t been allowed pitch side and all the regulars we sat with made a fuss of me.

38 years and yet it is like the two games above, burned into the memory banks of my mind. I might not be able to remember the vegetables I am supposed to pick up from the supermarket but i’ll never forget even the smallest of details from those happy days of supporting West Ham as a child.

Perhaps in the comments below, if you could jump into the Tardis and revisit your one game, let us know what game it would be. Not to change the outcome but just to watch and revisit the great memories we all hold.