My West Ham Story

West Ham United’s 2019/20 new Home and Away kits were unveiled last week and, as the official website have let us know, the all-white 1980 FA Cup-inspired away shirts are “proving particularly popular with supporters“. For me though West Ham’s new home kit is something very special, because the original shirt which has inspired Umbro, was used back in the time when I first came across West Ham United.

In these times, when I was attending grammar school in my home town in Lower Austria, my classmates and I were very much interested in English football. In 1975-76 Liverpool had won the UEFA Cup and then, for six seasons in a row, the “Champions League” of this age was won by English clubs: from 1977 to 1982 Liverpool were winners of the European Cup three times, Nottingham Forest won it twice and Aston Villa once! English clubs hence were the best in Europe and that drew my and my classmates’ attention to the First Division of the English Football League. Back in these days every Sunday the evening sports show in Austrian TV had some of the goals that had been scored over the weekend on the often deep and muddy pitches of the English grounds. And the FA Cup Final could even be watched “live” every year on Austrian TV!

Goalkeeper shirts had to be green

The English goalkeepers in these days always wore green shirts, and so I also got me a green goalkeeper shirt for the matches we played in school (a colour which I had always liked because it is the colour of my favourite Austrian club, Rapid Vienna). Playing in goal myself, I was particularly interested in English goalkeepers, and it was Phil Parkes of Queens Park Rangers to whom I paid special attention, because one of my close friends, with whom I shared the passion for Rapid Vienna, had already become a loyal supporter of the Hoops.

The fascination of claret & blue

But not only blue and white hoops had caught my attention, also these claret shirts with the blue sleeves were something very special for us, because West Ham’s and Aston Villa’s “claret and blue” were completely unusual colours for football shirts in Austria.

Therefore I also kept an eye on West Ham’s results and when the club won the FA Cup in 1975 and reached the 1976 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final, also the Hammers became one of the teams to watch! And that brings us back to the new home shirt, because the strip which served as a model for the 2019 claret home shirt (shoulders, upper part of the chest and sleeves in blue) was used from 1976 to 1980 and was first sported in the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final in Bruxelles against Anderlecht in May 1976. I watched this game on TV and I have kept a newspaper cutting of the match report showing then West Ham keeper Mervin Day and a West Ham defender in the new shirt.

These days also were the time when I first travelled to England in 1976, repeating that journey in 1977. And then I visited Scotland some years later in 1980 when I already studied at university. But as all of these trips only could take place in July, my hosts would just treat me to a match of cricket and no live football could be watched! But on our trip through Europe with an “interrail ticket” in 1977 we were able to manage getting to Kaiserslautern in Germany to watch our first live game of an English team: QPR played a friendly there on the Betzenberg against 1. FCK. Phil Parkes still played for QPR then.

Phil Parkes, Trevor Brooking and FA Cup glory

When Phil Parkes moved from Loftus Road to Upton Park in 1979 for a transfer fee of £ 565,000, being the most expensive goalkeeper at the time, attention switched from QPR to West Ham more and more, and I can confirm that QPR was not on my radar anymore. And I remember very well to have watched the FA Cup final 1980 when the Hammers won the Cup thanks to Trevor Brooking’s famous header which beat Arsenal: “1-0 to the Cockney boys!”

The 1976 home shirt was used by the Hammers for today unbelievable four seasons, but in 1980, as we all know, this shirt was not the one which Trevor Brooking sported on the Wembley pitch against Arsenal in May 1980, when the Hammers won silverware for the last time in their history so far. In that final both of the teams played in their away kit: the Gunners in yellow shirts and blue shorts (well, and the shorts could really be called “short” these days!), and West Ham in all-white. Therefore it’s no surprise that the new white Umbro away kit inspired by the cup win of 1980 has proved so popular among West Ham’s fans that its pre-orders have hit record numbers since its launch last week. I’m sure I will be tempted to order one as well soon, especially as since last season non-sponsored shirts are available in all sizes, not only for children. But somewhere in my wardrobe I should already have an old white cup final replica shirt, just couldn’t find it the other day.

Quite some years already

I also have some old shirts of my Austrian favourite team Rapid Vienna of course, which I started to support in primary school. When I became a “Rapidfan” by the end of the sixties, it took them 14 years to repeat their winning of the Austrian championship, albeit they had won it in 1967 and 1968 for the 24th and 25th time in their history. And with West Ham it’s even worse: Now it’s almost forty years since winning the FA Cup in 1980, and even the latest cup final in which West Ham have played dates back to 2006, quite some years already!

Fourteen years seemed to be a very long time for a young guy, whereas I now feel that the 14 years since West Ham’s promotion back to the Premier League in 2005 (which was followed by a fantastic season under the tenure of Alan Pardew with the highlight of the cup final against Liverpool) have passed very quickly. But forty years are quite a long period also for an older man, aren’t they? And haven’t older people got the habit to become impatient from time to time? Will there ever be a season when the Irons win some silverware again? Maybe next season, forty years after 1980?

If the shirt can help that task and inspire the Hammers to return to Wembley glory, as FA Cup-winning defender Alvin Martin is quoted on the official website , so be it. But more important is who’s at the helm as manager and which kind of business he can do in the summer. Therefore I’m happy with the shirt, but I also say: “In Pellegrini we trust!” Manager Manuel Pellegrini has started to build something special at West Ham and we have already seen a change of mentality of the team in several games throughout the last season.

Let’s hope that the new kits do not only serve as mere reminiscence of former success, but will bring back some silverware to the club in the near future! West Ham have made some big steps forward in the transition season that was 2018/19. Now they should be ready for the next level if MP is allowed to continue what he has begun.

Let the “Pellegrini Regulation” continue! Come on you Irons!