What consolation in life can Arthur and I find after that defeat at the hands of Manchester United in the quarter-final replay of the FA Cup, and the manner of it? West Ham and their always hiding fortunes are, and always have been, real life for me; real life, only sport. My father first took me to Upton Park for the first game of the 1966–7 season against Chelsea. I was nine. Even then I had set my face against my father, but the subject of West Ham was a kind of no-man’s land between us, and until the day he died our relationship consisted entirely of conversation about a football team. (Even this was tinged with disdain after old Arsenal programmes discovered in the attic suggested an earlier allegiance.)
My father came from solid West Ham-supporting stock. His father and his father’s brother climbed over the turnstiles at the first-ever Wembley cup final in 1923, the famous ‘White Horse’ final between West Ham and Bolton Wanderers, when a good-natured crowd estimated at between 150,000 and 300,000 crammed into a new stadium designed for 125,000, and it wasn’t until a copper on a white horse cleared the pitch, and King George V turned up, and the crowd doffed its cap and composed its mind to sing the national anthem, that order was sufficiently restored for the match to proceed. And my father’s brother didn’t miss a West Ham home game between 1958 and 2001 — a statistic notoriously cited in his divorce papers. My brother, my sister, my nephew and my grandson are happy or demoralised according to West Ham’s results. Even my dear old Mum, who loves the Lord Jesus Christ, has found room in her heart, over the years, to be quite concerned, sometimes, about the sporting ups and downs of the former Thames Ironworks football team.