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The chaos at West Ham wasn’t the hooligan apocalypse the media are telling you

"From where I stood, the atmosphere was chaotic but jubilant"

The chaos at West Ham wasn’t the hooligan apocalypse the media are telling you

By Sam Diss

The whole of Green Street was gridlocked. Navy police vans blocked the road and fluoro-hatted coppers flooded into the street. At the top of the road, as the bronze statue of Bobby Moore and co looked down, the Man United bus was surrounded.

“In my day, we’d have bricked that fucking bus,” said a bloke in front of me. He was fifty and wore a claret and blue hoody. Thick droplets of sweat covered his bald head like bubble wrap.

And then they did. Bottles, pint glasses, anything they could get their hands on. No bricks that we saw, but they did their best. The projectiles bounced off reinforced glass, splintering the plastic casing of the windows. Antonio Valencia looked out at the sea of screaming Cockneys from the front seat of the bus - undoubtedly the Teacher’s Pet seat - like he was going to need new trousers.

“IRONS! IRONS!” shouted the fans, most of whom were still there just because they were penned in by the Old Bill on either side.

“Get out and walk, you mugs!” shouted a man next to me who wore a Dimitri Payet shirt and his son on his shoulders.

Young lads in knock-off Stone Island jumpers and pristine white Nike Huarache trainers, shrink-wrapped denim around their skinny little legs, stood on fences and those big green transformer boxes and watched on as yellow smoke billowed up into the sky outside The Boleyn pub.

It was less a return to old world hooliganism - as has been cried by tabloid scaremongers this morning, all of whom are calling for lifetime bans, massive fines, and probably chemical castration, and none of whom were actually there - and more an attempt at a little hoolie karaoke.

From where I stood, the atmosphere was chaotic but jubilant, and the ire exacted at the away team’s transport was not much more than some performative nostalgia. In retrospect, the affair actually carried more than a passing resemblance to LARPing nerds in painfully-accurate civil war attire. Only they swapped garrison doublets for adidas and Argyle.

I felt bad for the police that had to deal with the crowd - on horseback, in riot gear, with megaphones - but they did it pretty well. They contained everyone, getting the joke, and - as long as nothing got too out of hand - they were willing to let the dads have their fun.

When the bus finally swerved into the safety of the stadium’s carpark, the crowd went about their regular business and everyone just forgot about it. There was none of the bitter aftertaste that comes with public violence, just a little “Oh, wasn’t it funny when someone threw a bottle of Becks at Jesse Lindgard’s window?”

I was there with my dad and we were both very excited. It was the first time we’d been to a game together in just over a decade, and made a special effort to drink every last drop of the night in. There were Percy Ingle pies and a few pints of beer and commemorative programmes and fanzines. There was Russell Brand dancing around two fighting scarf sellers arguing over turf like a puppet Victorian and lukewarm hot-dogs and lively queues of singing men and women and kids and granddads. There were scores of plastic bottles of Carlsberg drunk while we slapped the backs of people we hadn’t seen in years and nodded to overworked staff who smiled like proud new fathers at the crowd for the old stadium’s last day. At some point, a match happened - it was great - and we won 3-2.

And then came the Cockneygeddon. In a desperate attempt to stop fans storming onto the pitch and looting the place, West Ham were throwing a “end of match ceremony” which promised to be the knees-up to end all knees-ups. It was, in reality, a gorgeous mess.

It was stupid and ugly, and none of the speakers worked. Fireworks exploded like a shook-up champers bottle filled with fire and thick smoke filled the ground. Overwrought melodramas narrated by Danny Dyer played on an infinite loop. Ben Shepherd read a clipboard of banal platitudes from a clipboard. Sinewy old men posing as the Cockney Rejects - “OI! OI!” - played their one song, a staccato soft-punk version of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”, as the mics cut in and out. London black cabs adorned in West Ham vinyl stickers paraded great players from the past around the pitch. Lesser players Anton Ferdinand and Marlon Harewood and the rest of the mid-2000s class dubbed the “Baby Bentleys” were there to drivel on about What This Club Means as everyone in the crowd ignored them and sung songs. That’s the thing about football, really: the memories you make up yourself are way more fun than what actually happened. When Carlton Cole’s lanky frame appeared on the stadium’s Jumbotron, the crowd exploded - here was one of the least effective strikers in the club’s history and we sung his name to the tune of Gold by Spandau Ballet like he was god’s own centre-forward.

Mass revisionism is as important to the game as grass and nets. We forget all the times Paolo Di Canio was weird and selfish and quiet and rusty because the beauty of the good times meant so much more.

And that’s what the whole #FarewellBoleyn saga meant, in earnest: the stadium mostly known as Upton Park until the last week is a big steel box with terrible transport links and no decent pubs and a cartoonish medieval castle facade that borders on embarrassing. It’s played host to some of the worst players I’ve ever seen. It’s been the venue of some of the most bitter defeats this club has ever had. It’s been a stage more regularly shared with boredom and disappointment and frustration than it has featured anything approaching success or celebration. But that’s besides the point, isn’t it? The smaller moments - Di Canio’s goals, Joe Cole’s flicks, Bonds’ endless running, Bobby Moore’s aura, Tevez’s volcanic intensity, Moncur’s let’s-fackin’-have-’em tackling, Repka’s reds, Shaka Hislop’s shirts, and Payet’s everything - mean so much more than just what’s noted in the numbers columns of history books.

It’s what this club is based on, the little things, and it’s what we’ll have to work to carry over to Tory Thunderdome, the Olympic Stadium. It won’t be easy, but then being a West Ham fan never is. 

(Images: Rex)